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A Speech Delivered at the Seventh ASIA Fellows Annual Conference PDF Print E-mail

A Speech Delivered at the Seventh ASIA Fellows Annual Conference

Asian Scholarship Foundation

On July 8, 2007 at The Davis Bangkok Hotel

By Gothom Arya

 

            Good morning, Dr. Mary, Dr. Lourdes, Dr. Judy, ASIA Fellows, Dear friends,

            Dr. Judy just talked very eloquently about all aspects of Asia that you will embody in a certain way, as ‘Embodying Asia' is the theme of your Conference. You are promising researchers of Asia who received ASIA fellowship to undertake meaningful Asian studies in South and Southeast Asia. In previous years, the themes of your Conferences have been, for instances, Asianizing Asia, Globalizing Asia, Re-inventing Asia, Changing Asia Landscape, so I am eager to learn what do you mean by Embodying Asia this time.

            I was told to share some of my thoughts with you this morning. As you are going to talk about Asia and how to connect ourselves together, allow me to talk less about Asia but more about what we share as human beings.

            You may know that the world leaders, in their Summit in September 2000, made a declaration wherein they set targets to be reached in 2015. They are the so-called MDG or Millennium Development Goals. Let me summarize them as follows:

            1) Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger: halve the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day by 2015

            2) Achieve universal primary education by 2015

            3) Promote gender equality and empower women: eliminate gender disparities in all level of education by 2015

            3) Reduce child mortality rate among children under five by two-thirds by 2015

            4) Improve maternal health: reduce by three-quarters the ratio of women dying in child-birth

            6) Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases: halt and reverse their spread by 2015

            7) Ensure environmental sustainability: reverse the loss of environmental resources, reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water

            8) Develop a global partnership for development

 

            Theses are the goals, but the question to be asked may be about the aim: ‘what do we want to develop our society for?' One answer could be: we want to develop our society to achieve harmony between man, society and environment. The next question would be: ‘how to achieve that harmony?'

My assertion is that to achieve harmony we must all work for PHD. Don't take me wrong: I do not mean that we should all have a PhD degree. What I meant is that we should work for Peace, Human Rights and Democracy the acronym of which is PHD. Unfortunately, we in Asia are far away from achieving both the MDG and the institutional building of PHD. When we look around, instead of peace, we see everywhere violence and suffering: the plight of migrant workers, displaced persons and refugees; human trafficking; discrimination against indigenous people; rape; extrajudicial killing; ethnic or religious conflicts etc.

We also see an emerging and threatening violence namely terrorism. Terrorism is defined tactically as unpredictable violence as to who-how-when-where (as compared to predictability of regular military action) but more predictable generally on the question of whom the victims are (civilians and innocents). Its ideological definition is violence for its own sake with fundamentalism as cognitive perspective and hatred as emotional resource. In fundamentalist's view, the world is divided into two parts (no neutrals): who is not with the good, is with the evil and evil yields to nothing else but violence. Remember that George W. Bush once said: "You are either with us or with the terrorists". To which Bin Laden replies "We are believers, they are infidels".

Today hatred, centered on the US, overshadows former colonial powers. It is too easy to point out that US have committed, since World War II, hundreds of cases of political violence including bombings, interventions, perversion of election, political assassinations, torture and invasion. These cases seem to be more compatible with the class conflict than with the ‘clash of civilizations'. What ever is the case, they look like an open invitation to terrorist retaliation.

The terrorist discourse leads to either the search and punishment policy: court-ordered police action and due process of law or uni- or multilateral military action to search and destroy. The retaliation discourse leads to either more retaliation, hit back, an eye for an eye or exit from the retaliation cycle with the change in policy.

The change in policy means an opening to peace. The process of peace building should involve all stakeholders and be based on devolution of power, democracy and pluralism. Most importantly, peace building requires the respect of human rights.

The protection of human rights depends most of all on political will. Political leaders and high officials should understand the values of human rights and give them high priorities among other policies. The level of socio-economic development is an important factor in ensuring human rights protection: well educated and economically thriving population would be in a better position to defend their human rights. Civil society can play a significant role in human rights monitoring and protection.

I have touched on the issues of peace and human rights, now let me turn to some aspects of democracy. I think that democracy means, inter alias, the rule of laws

The highest law of a country is the constitution. The draft Constitution of Thailand 2007 states that its essence is to promote and protect rights and liberties of the people, to support public participation in the governance and inspecting the exercise of state power, to define political institutions for both check and balance and efficiency, to strengthen the functioning of judicial and constitutional bodies in a fair and just manner, and to give priority to good governance. So democracy needs participation and good governance to be able to deliver what we expect from our political system. A vibrant civil society is required if we want to bring participation to any significant level. However, for civil society to function properly, it has to define its position with respect to the government: are we friends or foes? We may ask the following questions:

  • Is partnership with government doable, desirable?
  • What are the mutual expectations?
  • Which areas are witnessing the growth in partnership and which the difficulty?
  • How to make the most effective use of comparative advantage?
  • Who and what are the catalysts of partnership?

I mentioned at the beginning that we need development to achieve MDG. But most of the time, development is rendered ineffectual by corruption. Corruption is generally understood as misuse of entrusted position for private benefit. Corruption means behaviour on the part of officials in which they improperly and unlawfully enrich themselves or those close to them and includes corrupt conduct in the private and civil society sectors that has negative public consequences. In a more subtle manner, conflict of interest is corruption in disguise. A conflict of interest arises when a person is influenced by personal consideration when doing his or her job. However, corruption may not always be a matter of black and white. We may ask the following questions:

  • Would paying less bribe means loosing the contract to higher ‘payer'?
  • Would paying petty bribe as a token of appreciation have a ‘spiral effect' into an institutionalised bribery?

Juana Ines de la Cruz, a Mexican poet, wrote about prostitution in 17th century:         Whose is the greater blame in a shared evil? She who sins for pay, or he who pays for sin? What do you think and is this related to corruption?

Can corruption be completely eliminated? I think that it will simply be too expensive to do so! Strong enforcement and deterrence is anything but cheap. Single-minded focus on corruption may have a negative impact on personal freedom and institutional efficiency. Without condoning corruption, I think that the aim should not be to achieve complete rectitude but to realise an increase in honesty, fairness and efficiency. A positive approach in dealing with corruption is to practice good governance. The social goal of good governance is to set moral and ethical standards, to develop solidarity etc. While its economic goal is to share resource, to adopt environmentally sound development etc. In pragmatic terms, good governance means better and more predictable results (output, outcome and impact), efficiency, follow-up and evaluation, transparency, access to information, accountability, and to be open to scrutiny.

Dear friends, you are the intellectuals of Asia who have certainly a big role to play in order to move our society towards PHD in general and MDG in particular. You are the leaders of your generation: much is expected from you. I would like to invite you to reflect on what kind of leader you wish to be. Do you wish to be a leader who leads the way? What is the motivation underlying your leadership? Is it the desire to dominate, to lead, to hold power OVER others, to decide whose needs are to be met, to pass judgment, to give rewards and punishment?

Or do you wish to be a leader who is a servant? What is the motivation underlying service-minded leadership? Should it be the desire to understand human beings as they are, to contribute to life joyfully without coercion, to measure the success on how well life is served, to make decision in as consensual a way as possible, to hold power WITHIN as well as WITH others?

Finally, let me tell you a short story. Once upon a time there was an old wise woman in China. One day a young boy tried to test her wisdom. He held in his hands behind his back a small bird. He planned to ask her if the bird was alive or dead. If she answers that it is alive, he would squeeze it and kill it to prove that she was wrong. If she says otherwise, he would release it to show that it is alive. He then asked the wise woman the question "Is the bird in my hands alive or dead?" She replied "The bird in your hands, only you can determine if it is alive or dead".

Dear friends, Peace, Human Rights and Democracy are in your hands, only you can make them realized or forgotten.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.
 

 

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