The Karyawan — Volume 12 Issue 3

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Economically Inactive Malay Women: The Need for Intervention






EDITOR Mohd Anuar Yusop

Economically Inactive Malay Women: The Need for Intervention by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim POLITICS


Cabinet Changes: More Diversity Needed? by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim



Youth Poverty: A Lurking Social Issue? by Nabilah Mohammad


The Elusive Next Job: Unemployment Among PMETs by MH Nazzim


Promoting Skills Upgrading to the Malay Community in Singapore: Perspectives of a Training Provider by Suhaimi Salleh & Siti Hawa Samsuddin COMMUNITY



Understanding Islamic Finance: Beyond Profit Maximisation by Mohd Kamal Mokhtar OPINION


Let’s Talk About the Hijab by Derek Cai


We welcome letters, comments and suggestions on the issues that appear in the magazine. Please address your correspondence to:

Othman Wok: The Man and His Literary Legacy by Ng Yi-Sheng

Editor, The Karyawan Association of Muslim Professionals 1 Pasir Ris Drive 4 #05-11 Singapore 519457


T +65 6416 3966 | F +65 6583 8028 E


EDITORIAL TEAM Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim Nabilah Mohammad Nuraliah Norasid Nur Diyana Jalil Winda Guntor

A Seat in the C-suite: An Interview with June Rusdon by Nabilah Mohammad

Proposed Changes to AMLA: A Step in the Right Direction by Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim


42 How the Role of Malay Women Has – or Hasn’t – Evolved by Filzah Sumartono & Firqin Sumartono

Binds and Fissures: Reflections in the Big Apple by Nuraliah Norasid

The Karyawan is a publication of the Association of Muslim Professionals. The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of the Association and its subsidiaries nor its directors and the Karyawan editorial board. © Association of Muslim Professionals. 2017. All rights reserved. Permission is required for reproduction.


It is widely expected that the future economy will bring about employment challenges and opportunities for everyone. But it would be a mistake to assume that the challenges and opportunities will be the same for everyone. For example, the challenge in finding new employment for someone from the PMET group who had recently been retrenched would be very different from a mother who is returning to the workforce after being away for decades. Youths trying to find employment for the first time after completing their studies would also face very unique challenges. While the introduction of useful initiatives such as SkillsFuture to lessen the impact of the future economy challenges should be lauded, there is also a need to understand the challenges that are unique to these different groups of people. This issue of The Karyawan highlights employment challenges faced by three groups of people – economically inactive women, youths and PMETs – and discusses possible strategies. An article in this issue also explores how active the Malay/Muslim community is in upgrading their skills, which is an important endeavour in order to face the challenges of the future economy. I hope that this issue of The Karyawan will offer some insights into the challenges faced by our youths, women and PMETs in finding employment and start a conversation on what we as a community can do in order to support and assist them.



Cabinet Changes:


On 27 April 2017, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced changes to the Cabinet. Key among the changes was the promotion of two Senior Ministers of State to full ministers. The cabinet is poised for expansion as the promotion of Mrs Josephine Teo and Mr Desmond Lee are just two of more that are expected to take place in 2018, according to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The future will not only see the appointment of more ministers but also the newer ones helming their own ministries.

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The changes in the cabinet since the last General Elections (GE) reflect ongoing efforts to introduce greater certainty to public administration and political succession as Singapore braces itself for tougher decades ahead. Back in 2015, two coordinating ministerial portfolios – Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies and Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure – were created. They added to the portfolio of Coordinating Minister for National Security, which was implemented in 2003.

Apart from diversity in terms of ethnicity and gender, talents scouted for ministerial positions should also include those who have excelled in the private and nongovernmental sectors, who have a track record for delivering results that benefited the stakeholders they serve. The post of Coordinating Minister for National Security was conceived at a time when threats to national security were growing in scale and complexity, and projected to be a long-term global challenge. It can be inferred that the two new coordinating minister positions were created to cope with similar complexities emerging in other fields: economic restructuring in the face of slower growth, the diverse needs of a rapidly evolving social landscape fraught with problems

such as ageing and poverty among certain groups, and infrastructure to support population growth, particularly in the areas of housing and transport. The current coordinating ministers, Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, are experienced leaders tasked to ensure relevant ministries remain aligned with national objectives and policies are in sync with one another. An example of lack of coordination in the past, according to some observers, is housing and transport systems lagging behind population growth. The outcome – soaring property prices and overcrowded public transport – led to much public disquiet.

Home Affairs and National Development. PM Lee remarked during an interview with Channel NewsAsia in April that Mrs Teo was paired to work with Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say while Mr Lee will be given greater responsibilities by the primary Ministers at Home Affairs and National Development. If PM Lee’s comments are anything to go by, it can be deduced that the newly appointed ministers are being groomed to helm their own ministries. CABINET RESHUFFLING The appointment of two new Ministers, the promotion of Ministers of State to Senior Ministers of State and the impending changes to be announced in 2018, provide hints that a major cabinet reshuffle is in the works. PM Lee shared previously that he himself will step down sometime after the next General Election (GE), which must be held by April 2021. It is likely that, along with him, several current older Ministers will go too. Where the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs is concerned, unless another Malay ministerial potential is appointed and follows a path as dramatic as Mr Heng Swee Keat’s ascension to full minister, or if Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman is promoted to minister from his current appointment as Senior Minister of State, it is likely that Mr Masagos Zulkifli will succeed incumbent Dr Yaacob Ibrahim.

Minister of State Koh Poh Koon, who made his formal entry into the political arena in 2013 but lost the Punggol East Single Member Constituency (SMC) by-election to Workers’ Party candidate Lee Li Lian, was fielded again in the 2015 The trend of ensuring a smooth transition GE, winning this time under a six-man Group Representative Constituency (GRC) to a new team dates back to the era of the late former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. team led by PM Lee. Since then, his rise to While Mrs Teo and Mr Lee were appointed the Senior Minister of State position can be described as relatively swift, raising Ministers in PMO, formerly known as speculations that he may be a future Ministers without portfolio, they are ministerial candidate. There are parallels second Ministers in various ministries: between his case and that of Mr Ong Ye Mrs Teo in Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Mr Lee in Kung, one of the two Ministers for JULY 2017



Education. Mr Ong likewise lost during the 2011 GE at Aljunied GRC to Workers’ Party’s most formidable team but returned to contest in the 2015 GE at Sembawang and won. Within a year, he became the Senior Minister of State for Defence and Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills).

representation should be at least 30 percent to have a real impact on political style and content of decisions.

The Government has instituted a sturdy process to ensure administrative continuity and efficacy as one team hands over the baton to another. This is crucial especially during a time when uncertainty looms over Singapore’s economic outlook, DIVERSE REPRESENTATION The current cabinet is the most diverse in rocking its social and political paradigms. There are, however, gaps to be bridged terms of its ethnic and gender make-up. in terms of diversity in the cabinet. Two For the first time in Singapore’s political history, there are two Malay and two key aspects that have gained relative female cabinet ministers. While their prominence are ethnic and gender promotion to full ministers were on merit, representation. In addition, there are it came about amid discussions about other areas that have not been given Malay and female representation in the due attention. nation’s highest policy-making body. CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE FUTURE For the Malay/Muslim community, the A trend readily observable, and which is presence of two full ministers apparently likely to persist in the foreseeable future, did not assuage its aspiration to see greater is that the cabinet comprises mainly Malay presence in positions of leadership. those with distinguished educational Dr Yaacob said in November last year that attainments and careers in the public the desire for a Malay president reverberated service. As Singapore progresses well into across the community, based on his the developed economy phase, the observations during closed-door economic, social and political landscapes discussions. He added that the “psyche” of the future demand a more nuanced of the Malay community and the understanding of issues and experience “historical burden” of being perceived as in various sectors to develop policies an “underachieving community” stoked a that could help Singapore effectively yearning greater than in other communities negotiate the rapidly evolving terrains to see one of their own recognised for and paradigm shifts. excellence and leadership. Apart from diversity in terms of ethnicity The lack of female representation in local and gender, talents scouted for ministerial politics has been raised on a number of positions should also include those who occasions, particularly by gender equality have excelled in the private and advocacy group, AWARE. Writing to non-governmental sectors, who have a TODAY in October 2015, which marked track record for delivering results that 20 years of commitment to gender equality benefited the stakeholders they serve. after the Singapore government acceded to They are neither necessarily those who the Convention on the Elimination of All have achieved educational excellence or Forms of Discrimination Against Women have public service experience nor those (CEDAW) in 1995, it noted that, while from specific sectors such as medicine and commendable steps were being taken law. They could include those from the towards gender equality, only five of the social service and arts sectors. The 37 office-holders are women, making up humanities background of the latter is just 13.5 percent of Cabinet. Only one full as essential in policy-making because, Minister, out of 20, is a woman. CEDAW ultimately, the aim of policies is to nurture recommends that women’s political the progress and prosperity of people. 04 T H E K A R Y A W A N

Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim is a Research Projects Coor er / dinator with th e Centre for Research on Islamic and Ma lay Affairs (RIM the research A), subsidiary of the Associatio Muslim Profe n of ssionals (AMP ).


Youth Poverty: A Lurking Social Issue? BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD

JULY 2017



POVERTY: IS IT REALLY ALL ABOUT THE MONEY? After witnessing decades of spectacular economic growth in Singapore, poverty was thought to have disappeared by the 1990s. However, in the recent years, growing inequality and stagnation of wages of bottom earners have resulted in an expansion of social welfare policies. The word poverty definitely provokes strong emotions and while there is no clear definition of poverty in Singapore, it does not mean it does not exist here.

Development (OECD) standards, the relative poverty line is set at 50% of a country’s median household income, and anything below that can be considered as a household living in relative poverty. The median household income among residents in Singapore was S$8,846 in 2016. If we follow this standard, $4,423 is about right on the mark for Singapore. In addition, based on the latest Household Expenditure Survey conducted in 2012/13, the Average Household Expenditure on Basic Needs (AHEBN) for a four-person household was about S$1,250. By these Poverty should not simply be viewed estimated and projected benchmarks, as a lack of income but, rather, as the based on the income figures from the configuration of the economic situations Singapore Department of Statistics (DOS), that disconnect them from the society. more than 10% of our population lives in ‘absolute poverty’ and a significantly There are different terms to poverty but higher proportion in ‘relative poverty’, all the two widely-used definitions of poverty of which are well hidden within our that the rest of the world takes are absolute public housing apartments. In addition, poverty and relative poverty. Being in the latest Manpower Ministry data shows absolute poverty refers to being deprived that younger workers are slower in of basic necessities such as shelter, breaking out of this low-income bracket clothing, and food, which most of us in compared to other age groups. Singapore are less likely to experience. Relative poverty, on the other hand, is What is of major concern is that, there is more commonly adopted in developed growing evidence of a shift in the age countries. It is the condition in which distribution of poverty. According to data people lack the minimum amount of on families receiving ComCare help, income needed in order to maintain the the number of young Singaporeans who ‘customary’ standard of living in the are in need and having to rely on the society they live in. Being in relative Government for handouts is increasing. poverty means being socially excluded The number of young households who and deprived of opportunities and received their aid in 2015 increased by 40 comforts that the rest of the society per cent as compared to 2012. Although enjoys. For instance, you are using a the qualifying criteria have been revised to mobile phone from a decade ago while allow more recipients to receive their help, everyone else is using the latest what is worrying is the persistent smartphone because you cannot afford proportion of young recipients despite a smartphone. While you can physically implementation of government efforts survive without these gadgets, you are such as subsidies and schemes. likely to be socially excluded and probably be deprived of progress. These are the youths who were promised to be on the track of profitable careers Measuring poverty is complex and has by following the prescription of success: a multidimensional approach to it. to pursue a higher education. Today’s youth The most simplistic way of drawing the are the most educated batch thus far, and ‘relative poverty’ line is by identifying this most educated generation in history is income. For instance, by the Organisation also on track to becoming less prosperous, for Economic Co-operation and at least financially, than its predecessors. 06 T H E K A R Y A W A N

Relative poverty, on the other hand, is more commonly adopted in developed countries. It is the condition in which people lack the minimum amount of income needed in order to maintain the ‘customary’ standard of living in the society they live in. Being in relative poverty means being socially excluded and deprived of opportunities and comforts that the rest of the society enjoys.

Vulnerabilities that result from poverty extend over the life course of young people, their families and communities, and likely transmitted across generations. It is of prime importance then for us to address the issue of youth poverty.

Studies have also shown that as median income rises, the rate of poverty decreases in close correlation. This relationship, to an extent, confirms that employment is one of the best mechanisms to lift people out of poverty, including youths.

CHALLENGES IN YOUTH EMPLOYMENT One possible reason why the number of youths relying on handouts is increasing is due to their high unemployment rate. Unemployment leads to financial struggles and reduces the overall purchasing capacity of an individual. This in turn results in poverty followed by the possible increasing burden of debt. The rate of joblessness for those below 30 years old has risen over the years and was at 5 per cent last year, double that of other age groups. Youths typically experience higher unemployment rate than the overall labour force and are more likely to be employed in part-time or temporary jobs compared to other age groups.

LACK OF ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE SERVICES Early-career workers like youths also tend to fall through the holes in the economic system that delivers them inadequate income and support.

Unemployment in youth has been shown to have lifelong effects on income and employment stability, because affected young people start out with weaker early-career credentials, and show lower confidence and resilience in dealing with labour market opportunities and setbacks over the course of their working lives. A small-scale, qualitative study was conducted by the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA) in 2016 to explore the challenges faced by Malay / Muslim youths in Singapore. One of the key findings was issues encompassing employment. For many of them who cited employment as a challenge, the problem lies in getting opportunities for a decent employment while some were unemployed because they are taking time to find a job suited to their abilities and aspirations.

Singapore has introduced many initiatives, including SkillsFuture, to aid youths in improving their employability. However, for young households who are unemployed or earning low wages, such grants are only sufficient for basic courses or not enough to cover the bulk of the course fees for intensive courses that would enhance their employability. Most of the aids are hardly sufficient to enable these young households to boost their material conditions since the cash assistance would be used up to buy food, pay debts, and for other immediate needs. Other schemes that target low-income workers are also not accessible to these young workers. Workforce Singapore (WSG) schemes such as Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) and Workfare Training Support (WTS) for instance, target older low-income workers who are above 35 years old, leaving the younger at-risk group with lesser support to fall back on. Other existing employment resources such as universities, prioritise their graduating students through internships or hiring programmes, while government agencies tend to be more preoccupied with assisting older workers.

JULY 2017



Moreover, as the outlook for jobs worsens, many young people might see little benefit in furthering education or training, which would have considerable negative socio-economic consequences in this era of accelerated evolution, where skills upgrading are crucial and seen as a continuum. Without access to affordable services, young households with limited income are not able to fully participate in social and occupational activities. This can threaten the self-sufficiency of young vulnerable households and cause them to be at greater risk of poverty. IS THE GIG ECONOMY WORKING? Young workers today are also looking for jobs that are different from those who have vacated them. Technological change has given rise to the gig economy. Freelance gigs that used to appeal mainly to skills-based workers such as photographers, plumbers and writers have expanded to include on-demand jobs, such as privatehire car drivers and food delivery riders. Gigs appeal to the younger generation, who value diverse experiences, work-life balance, flexibility, greater career freedom and their need for instant gratification through this pay-onthe-go concepts. Despite the lack of employment benefits such as medical benefits and paid annual leave, young workers are at the forefront of the gig economy. This tech-savvy generation is riding the wave and seeing their incomes rise but their short-sightedness may cause long-term financial consequences.

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The gig situation is potentially explosive, because something like Uber or Grab, for instance, might collapse at any time and leave them jobless. This should worry us because thousands of young Singaporeans are now reliant upon the gig-economy services for survival. The gravest danger here is that there is no safety net for gig economy workers. In an economy where industries are constantly disrupted, we have to help our young workers stay in their jobs and minimise the time between transitions. LACK OF FINANCIAL LITERACY AND MANAGEMENT SKILLS One of the challenges that keeps people mired in the poverty trap is also financial illiteracy. Understanding how to make financially responsible decisions and managing one’s credit and debt are essential skills to protect ourselves from financial predators and poor decisions that lead to poverty. Surveys have shown that youth in Singapore are overwhelmingly pessimistic about their financial situation and readiness. Majority of the youths surveyed are not confident about their current financial situation, and a high percentage feel they are not financially ready for the future. Another worrying trend that explains why it is difficult for families living in poverty to get out of the cycle is that these families earn less than they spend. The DOS shows that the bottom 20 percentile of household is spending more than what they earn. Even though they are still spending less than the rest of Singapore from an absolute value point of view, they are still spending more than 100% of their income.

Unemployment in youth has been shown to have lifelong effects on income and employment stability, because affected young people start out with weaker early-career credentials, and show lower confidence and resilience in dealing with labour market opportunities and setbacks over the course of their working lives.

ACKNOWLEDGING YOUTH POVERTY The combination of rising costs for raising children, falling wages, increased unemployment, disruptive economic system and high debt places young people at a greater risk of poverty. A good deal of vulnerability also emerges from the way in which groups of people are treated by the rest of society. Socially excluded minorities are more likely to endure unequal access to resources and opportunities because of who they are, or are perceived to be. The interconnection of social exclusion, inequality, and poverty tend to reinforce one another. Singapore, despite its comparative economic power, is not immune to poverty. On the contrary, too many people remain without the sufficient means to be able to lead their lives with dignity. If we are to overcome the vicious circle of poverty and related phenomena, investment in young people is urgent, through the generation of employment opportunities, equal access to resources and adequate financial literacy. Making poverty history will require the entire society to join the efforts.

Nabilah Moha mmad is a Re search Analyst the Centre for at Research on Islamic and Ma Affairs (RIMA) lay . She holds a Bachelor of Science in Ps ychology and a Specialist Diploma in St atistics and Da ta Mining.

JULY 2017



The Elusive Next Job: Unemployment Among PMETs BY MH NAZZIM

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“Jobs must be a key focus for Singapore to lead and drive to transform economy”

Mature professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) are hit harder. In the first quarter of this year, PMETs constituted the majority (71 percent) of residents who were made redundant, the bulk of whom were 40 years old and above: 34.7 percent were between 40 and 49, and 35.5 percent were 50 and above. To compound the problem, the rate of re-entry into employment for mature PMETs has declined, falling to 60.6 percent in the first quarter of 2017 from 63.4 in the first quarter of last year.

PM Lee Hsien Loong, May Day Rally 2017. It is imperative that jobs are central in an economy where GDP growth was two percent last year and forecasted to be in the range of one to three percent this year. Growth is expected to be uneven across sectors and the restructuring process could intensify, ushering profound changes into the job market. It is inevitable that workers will be displaced as companies restructure. In Singapore, the unique tripartite collaboration among unions, employers and the government has worked to create and match jobs for displaced workers as well as those entering the workforce. The unemployment rate in Singapore is much lower than in any other developed countries, but economists project this to rise. The rate inched up from 2.2 percent in December 2016 to 2.3 percent in March 2017 but remains considerably lower than the five to 10 percent seen in most developed economies. OLDER WORKERS The Singaporean economy faces the same pressures as other developed economies: an ageing workforce in industries that are in a constant state of flux. The share of those aged 60 and over in the resident labour force has more than doubled over the last decade from 5.5 percent in 2006 to 13 percent in 2016.

An ageing workforce not only has a bearing on the acquisition of new, industry-relevant skills – impeded by the possible need to unlearn the irrelevant old skills and relearn the relevant – but also one that is more expensive due to cumulative salary increases. It is not a simple case of wage increase outstripping increases in productivity. That is an economics discourse and the metrics involved are subject to debate and are not the focus of this article.

It is imperative that not only the overall unemployment rate in Singapore is monitored but also unemployment according to age, income bracket and occupation. The underlying factors contributing to youth unemployment and unemployment among older workers are different and may vary as the economic landscape changes.

During the May Day Rally 2017, the strategies outlined included creating new jobs. The business-friendly climate has been Singapore’s winning formula for the last 50 years. However, the high value This article discusses the social challenges investments being attracted into Singapore today need further unpacking. faced by the ageing workforce; the costrelated commitments incurred by them over It would be interesting to know what the number of jobs created per $10 million the years such as mortgages and children’s investment in technology is; the ratio of schooling; and fixed costs that cannot be Singapore Citizens being hired vis-à-vis adjusted in the short to medium term. Permanent Residents and foreigners (Pass Holders); and how these metrics are Mature workers who lose their jobs tend changing over time. to take longer to find new jobs. The unemployment rate for those aged 40 years and over rose to 2.8 percent in March It is worth noting that data from the Economic Development Board (EDB) this year, up from 2.3 percent in March suggests that investments secured are not 2016. The average time taken to secure a job was the highest among residents aged directly proportional to the number of jobs between 40 and 49 at 2.33 months in 2015. created. There is a valid concern at the policy level on whether there are qualified The decline in re-entry rate was the highest for residents aged 40 and over, at 58.7 percent in 2016, down from 67.7 percent in 2015. JULY 2017



TRAINING WORKERS TO GROW IN THEIR JOBS TO PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE In Singapore, there is no shortage of support for displaced workers to upgrade their skills and knowledge. The Adapt and Grow scheme, which helps displaced workers switch sectors and find new jobs, may be applicable to PMETs in Band I. The Public Service has been particularly helpful in transiting mid-career Band 1 Singaporeans PMETs and placing a value on their experience and maturity. It must be to fill these jobs. Yet, certain recognised that 1,000 Singaporeans found groups have found it a challenge to be rehired, in particular, the more mature and new jobs in 2016 through schemes such as Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) senior PMETs. and Career Support Programme (CSP), a third of them in the Public Service. It is evident that mature PMETs are particularly vulnerable to being laid off as A willingness to try something new, not the Singapore economy restructures due just new jobs with new employers, is a to ripple effects of technology or lower hard reality especially for PMETs in Band operating costs overseas. To generate a better analysis of the plight of older PMETs, II. Due to their seniority, there may be little transferability of skills from their there is a need for a more granular definition of PMETs. This is because there past employment to a potential new career in a different industry. Consequently, this is a vast difference in the rehiring triggers a mismatch between remuneration prospects and available alternative jobs amongst the three broad bands of PMETs: and obligations. This is the reality despite the Ministry of Manpower’s reskilling support for employers through 1. PMET Band I: Younger PMETs (below 40 years) who programmes such as the PCP. The efficacy are in the S$90,000 per annum income of such a programme on Band II is doubtful. bracket I dub Band II PMETs the ‘Sandwiched Class’ in the employment realm. The 2. PMET Band II: reason is that this group managed to ride Middle-aged and matured (45 and the wave of meritocracy during the years above) senior PMETs who are in the S$225,000 per annum income bracket of economic expansion but now find themselves at a crossroads. Those in this category are at a very uncomfortable 3. PMET Band III: junction: their middle-class lifestyle is Very Senior, ‘C’ level Executives who being rocked, akin to birds flying just are earning in excess of S$500,000 above the threatening waves, susceptible per annum. to every economic turbulence as the wings of their career skim just above the waves. They are workers who formed the bedrock of Singaporean society but who are now 12 T H E K A R Y A W A N

being assisted by a myriad of programmes and initiatives. A new social safety net is gradually being woven by society to ensure that they lead a dignified life. Band II PMETs or the ‘Sandwiched Class’ is at a juncture where, if a job comes looking for them, say, via a headhunter, they can expect a job offer that tops their current earnings by up to 45 percent However, if they are looking for a job after being made redundant, they would have trouble finding one even if they lower their salary expectations by 60 percent. It is thus not a case of lowering expectations, neither is it reskilling nor embracing the digital-aged future economy. In contrast, those who are either born with a silver spoon in their mouths or who have reached the top rungs of the income brackets through meritocracy have built an egg nest for themselves and their families. This, and the support of outplacement assistance, puts them in a relatively secure position. Thus the adage, “you are never too old to learn”, and the advantages of the well thought-out Industry Transform Roadmaps (ITM) revealed by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) in 2017 may not apply uniformly across the PMET bands. The 2,000 PMET jobs expected to be created in the logistics industry in the next five years primarily addresses the needs of Band I but may not be efficacious for the needs of Band II. The tripartite partnership has served us well from the time of Great Britain’s withdrawal east of the Suez in 1971 to the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s. Together, as a society, we made changes, made sacrifices and forged ahead. However, we have never had to deal with Band II PMETs in such numbers.

A senior Human Resource Director of a US$160 billion US technology company told me in a job interview in 2007 that “your next job will come from someone who knows you, or from someone who knows someone who knows you.” The firm’s market capitalisation exceeds US$700 billion today. Anecdotally, there is an addition to the already rich tapestry of former senior executives driving taxis and ‘for hire’ private vehicles in Singapore. A few of my interns from local universities casually shared with me that, from their observation, a proportion of the MBA students in their universities were middle-aged and in between jobs. Can we match a job for these fellow citizens? The time will come when they will stop looking for a meaningful new job but instead are prepared to give meaning to any new job. Can we afford to neglect this group and the families they are supporting?

Today, I am a reluctant entrepreneur in cognitive analytics, a Singapore-based venture builder and a sympathiser of Band II PMETs, because I recognise their challenges. Working amongst younger and more energetic colleagues since 2009, I am grateful for this opportunity at this stage of my career.

ating Officer of the Chief Oper MH Nazzim is Pte Ltd. ic) cif Pa sia (A ard Vector Scorec

A senior Human Resource Director of a US$160 billion US technology company told me in a job interview in 2007 that “your next job will come from someone who knows you, or from someone who knows someone who knows you.”

We are primarily a double-income family. A spouse who is meaningfully employed does cushion the impact on the family. However, we still have to deal with the prevalent ‘value’ of frowning upon a situation where a wife is gainfully employed while the husband is, at best, underemployed. Will society open up to new social norms or will the resulting tensions preoccupy the ministry responsible for family matters more than the ministries responsible for the economy? Conventional wisdom states that the average person in a developed economy goes through seven careers in a lifetime. While there is no evidence to support this assertion in Singapore, my current experience seems to suggest that there is some truth in this. I am from the Baby Boomer generation.

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Economically Inactive Malay Women: The Need for Intervention BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM

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While the Malay community has made significant socioeconomic progress over the last three decades, it continues to grapple with the problem of overrepresentation in the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. At stake is its social mobility. The problem is compounded by the economic outlook for Singapore, which can be described as the most uncertain in its post-independence history. In his Budget 2017 speech last February, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat outlined some developments that could pose serious challenges to Singapore’s economy: slowing global trade and investments, which Singapore is highly dependent on; and rapid advances in technology that is disrupting traditional businesses and jobs. This is not to say though that the future is all gloomy. New opportunities may emerge, which may make available pathways for progress that those from the lower socioeconomic backgrounds could capitalise on. For example, the shifting emphasis from academic qualifications to skills, which threw up possibilities such as Earn and Learn Programmes (ELPs), promises the prospects of acquiring deep skills while drawing an income.

nor unemployed. The incidence of economic inactivity among ever-married females in the Malay community stands in stark contrast with that of their peers in other communities, as shown in Chart 1. CHART 1: RESIDENT EVER-MARRIED ECONOMICALLY INACTIVE FEMALES AGED 15 YEARS AND OVER BY ETHNIC GROUP

60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0%







Malay ever-married females who are economically inactive also tend to have more children than those who are economically active, as shown in Chart 2. This statistic poses the question of whether caregiving is a key reason that some Malay women are not seeking employment. CHART 2: RESIDENT EVER-MARRIED MALAY FEMALES AGED 15 YEARS AND OVER BY NUMBER OF CHILDREN BORN AND ECONOMIC ACTIVITY


The upside of the future economy 14% notwithstanding, it is imperative that, to adapt and thrive in an economy that is 12% likely to be characterised by disruptions and phenomena such as the gig 10% economy, developments which destabilise employment and thus increased instances 8% of redundancy, more families are often made up of dual income earners.


In the Malay community, among females who have been married before and who are currently married, widowed, separated or divorced (ever-married females), 50.4 percent of them are economically inactive, which is defined by the Singapore Department of Statistics as those aged 15 and above who are neither working

4% 2% 0%


1 Child

2 Children

Economically Active

3 Children

4 Children

5 or More Children

Economically Inactive


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It is also worth noting that, based on the General Household Survey 2015 data, regardless of economic activity, an overwhelming 62.1 percent of ever-married Malay females who have four children or more possess only lower secondary qualifications and below. Given the income that could possibly be earned with lower educational attainments, the perception among the economically inactive from the lower educational category may be that the opportunity cost of forgoing paid employment is not very high. This could be another motivation for not actively seeking employment. Of particular concern is the economic inactivity among ever-married females in lower-income households. In 2016, according to the Singapore Department of Statistics' annual Key Household Income Trends survey, the lowest and second lowest deciles recorded real average household income growths of 1.4 percent and 3.4 percent respectively, down from the 10.7 percent and 8.3 percent that they achieved the previous year. The government has been responding to the needs of poorer households by rolling out a number of schemes to raise the wages of low-income workers and households. The substantial increase in real wages of the bottom two deciles in 2015 was due in part to ongoing initiatives to raise the wages of low-wage workers. The Progressive Wage Model was introduced in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors. It is hoped that the growth in real wages of poorer employed households could be sustained over a long period as it is crucial for upward social mobility.

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Other initiatives to help low-income households include ComCare being tweaked to benefit more families who require short- to medium-term assistance. Among others, the household income cap was raised from $1,500 to $1,900, and the per capita income criterion was reviewed so that families with more dependants could qualify. There are however still many households struggling to eke out a living and the trends are changing. Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) data shows that 5,644 young households, with applicants aged below 35, are receiving ComCare's short- to medium-term financial aid in the financial year of 2015. For the Malay/Muslim community, in addition to the array of schemes rolled out by government agencies and community self-help groups targeting low-income families, another initiative to be considered is how economically inactive women among lower-income households could be encouraged to enter the workforce so that there will be more dual income families to tackle job uncertainty and financial constraints. There is a need to gain a deeper insight into why some women, especially those from low-income households, are opting to remain outside the labour force. According to the Ministry of Manpower’s Labour Force Survey, as at June 2016, among females aged between 25 and 54, 77.7 percent cited family responsibilities as the reason for not working and not looking for a job. 43.7 percent attributed it to housework and 24.5 percent to childcare.

In the Malay community, among females who have been married before and who are currently married, widowed, separated or divorced (evermarried females), 50.4 percent of them are economically inactive, which is defined by the Singapore Department of Statistics as those aged 15 and above who are neither working nor unemployed.

The Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA) conducted a focus group in 2016 involving Malay women from low- to middle-income households to understand their reasons for choosing to not seek employment. The following are some of the key reasons cited: 1. The need to attend to their children’s needs is often construed as lack of commitment to their job by employers, thus leading to their decision to leave the workforce. 2.




There are already existing initiatives to incentivise flexible work arrangements (FWAs). Work-Life Grant for FWAs provides funding and incentives for companies to implement structures to accommodate flexible work arrangements so that families can better manage work and family responsibilities.

Benefiting from FWAs should not undermine their career prospects or lead to poorer performance evaluation. Rather, striking a balance can make for a more positive view of work. MSF funds child care centres that run the Integrated Child Care Programme (ICCP), making it possible for children with disabilities between the age of two and six to attend childcare centres with their peers. There is apparently a lack of awareness about such programmes among parents of children with special needs; hence, the need to raise awareness.

In addition to this, more could be done to educate employers that workers who have to juggle family needs and work commitments are neither problematic Lack of confidence in childcare centres. workers nor are they less productive than This could be due to cases of abuse those with lesser family commitments. they have heard about or because their CHART 3: children have special needs which RESIDENT HOUSEHOLDS WITH TWO OR MORE FAMILY NUCLEI they think childcare centres are not AND ETHNIC GROUP equipped to deal with. Discouraged due to difficulty in finding employment opportunities that offer flexible work arrangements. The need to juggle between caring for elderly parents and young children. Sending the former to an eldercare centre and the latter to a childcare centre are perceived to be a financial challenge. Some of the participants are concerned with their children’s education and that their absence could undermine their children’s educational attainments.

7% 6% 5% 4% 3% 2% 1% 0%

One or Two Generations

Three or More Generations

Three or More Family Nuclei

Two Family Nuclei

It was also found during the discussion that the participants would prefer to work than to remain economically inactive if they are assured that their concerns about their children or their elderly parents would be taken care of.




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Singaporean societal values, the Malays being no exception, tend to assign to women disproportionate responsibility for caregiving to children, the elderly and disabled family members if any. The decline in women’s labour force participation rate after age 30 is especially telling. For those in the lower income brackets, it would be too costly to delegate such work to paid foreign domestic workers.

18 T H E K A R Y A W A N

In the Malay community, there is a higher incidence of households with two-family nuclei with three or more generations living together, and three or more family nuclei, compared to the national average, as shown in Chart 3.

At the workplace, as noted by sociologist Noeleen Heyzer, former under-secretarygeneral of the United Nations, and University of Michigan economics professor Linda Lim in their letter to The Straits Times in April 2016, the assumption held by employers, co-workers Multigenerational families juggling care and government that it is women who for elderly and young dependants should will bear caregiving role results in be given more help to cope with their discriminatory treatment in hiring, situation, by roping in existing eldercare promotion, training and salaries. This in and childcare centres. A better assessment turn makes it financially rational for of the needs of such families should be families to "choose" to surrender women's done so that they are aided not only incomes for caregiving purposes. Thus, financially but also in terms of facilities for education initiatives should also be their dependants. extended to the workplace so as to address factors that keep women out of Singaporean societal values, the Malays the workforce. being no exception, tend to assign to women disproportionate responsibility for caregiving to children, the elderly and disabled family members if any. Abdul Shar The decline in women’s labour force iff Aboo Kass im is a Rese Projects Co archer / ordinator wi participation rate after age 30 is especially th on Islamic and Malay Af the Centre for Resear ch fairs (RIMA) telling. For those in the lower income subsidiary of , the resear th ch Professional e Association of Muslim brackets, it would be too costly to s (AMP). delegate such work to paid foreign domestic workers. In the household, while modern lifestyle has applied some pressure on men to participate more in caregiving, there is still a need to accelerate the mindset shift. Traditional gender roles with regard to caregiving need to be discussed at the community level. National bodies and community self-help groups can perhaps do more to educate men that caregiving is a shared responsibility between spouses.


Promoting Skills Upgrading to the Malay Community in Singapore: Perspectives of a Training Provider




Amidst the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous global environment, the rhetoric by policymakers, scholars and analysts continues to emphasise the importance of skills upgrading as a means to mitigate these uncertainties if not to enhance one’s employability and economic relevance.

In this article, we share briefly our experiences in adult training, and offer insights into the training outputs drawn from internal sources, before concluding with recommendations for a more integrated approach to promote skills upgrading to the Malay community in Singapore.

4. Generic Manufacturing Skills (GMS) Series contain modular courses and qualifications for the manufacturing workforce. 5. International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL) courses are an international standard in end-user computer skills. These courses enable learners to become fully competent in The SSA Consulting Group (SSA) has been the use of a computer and computer providing training programmes, both applications1. Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) and non-WSQ courses, for more than 30 years. Since these courses are governmentAs one of the early adopters of the WSQ approved, each course is highly subsidised, initiative, SSA has experienced first-hand between 70% and 95%, for Singaporeans the changing dynamics in Singapore’s and Singapore Permanent Residents, adult training landscape. This article depending on the eligibility criteria. discusses the adoption of skills upgrading Companies too, stand to benefit from the programmes within the Malay/Muslim Absentee Payroll scheme, if they sponsor community from the perspective of SSA as their workers for training2. a training provider in adult training, using empirical evidence from SSA’s own database. Despite these incentives, barriers to learning exist. To overcome them, SSA EXPERIENCES IN ADULT TRAINING developed several solutions, including SSA trainees comprise individuals from having training venues islandwide. Many all walks of life. They may be companyof the venues are in the heartlands, with sponsored workers or self-registrants; good proximity to public amenities the latter includes the employed and especially MRT stations. Access to training unemployed. People of all races and ages is further facilitated with flexible training attend SSA’s courses, from 20-year-olds to schedules, including weekends, senior citizens; some in their 60s and 70s. weeknights, and even graveyard shifts. They hail from various educational Where necessary, training is conducted backgrounds – ranging from primary to on-site (at client’s premises), even in places tertiary/post-graduate levels. like Tuas and Jurong Island. Since a sizeable portion of these trainees are less SSA offers five groups of WSQ courses, fluent in English, SSA’s team of trainers each focusing on specific skills set, namely, are required to be able to converse in 1. Workplace Skills (WPS) Series Mandarin, Malay or Tamil, besides English. comprising 44 courses on soft skills for rank-and-file workers. TRAINING PLACES 2. Executive Development and Growth Based on available data from January 2014 for Excellence (EDGE) Series to December 2016, total training places3 generated in all five groups of WSQ comprising 21 courses on soft skills courses were almost 40,000. These for professionals, managers and comprise trainees from all races. Malays executives (PMEs). made up slightly less than 5% of this. 3. Workplace Literacy & Numeracy Interestingly, Malays made up almost 54% (WPLN) Series offer 12 courses on of the 2,000 total training places at SSA English literacy and numeracy for Culinary Institute (SSACI) alone. This workers of all levels.


20 T H E K A R Y A W A N


figure was recorded over a five-month period, between November 2016 and April 2017. It must be noted that the baking courses offered at SSACI comprise two types, i.e. WSQ and courses offered at SSACI under the SkillsFuture Credit scheme. The primary differences are: the former is designed as competency-based learning; contains an assessment component and a learner gets a Statement of Attainment post-assessment. These outputs do not suggest that Malays/Muslims lag in upskilling programmes. We think the higher representation of Malays in baking courses compared to other types of skills programmes might be due to their preference towards food-related courses and activities, possibly triggered by cultural and/or religious factors. Indeed, a qualitative or quantitative study should be undertaken to understand this phenomenon better and the extent of its prevalence. CALL TO ACTION Amidst the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous global environment, the rhetoric by policymakers, scholars and analysts continues to emphasise the importance of skills upgrading as a means to mitigate these uncertainties if not to enhance one’s employability and economic relevance. In the SkillsFuture agenda, the government outlines a “more sophisticated strategy”4 to promote lifelong learning, encouraging the pursuit of “mastery, meritocracy and self-discovery”5 in and for every individual. Unlike previous government schemes and programmes of yesteryears, SkillsFuture is backed by a more pronounced political and financial will. And so, it is not surprising that three years after Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced the SkillsFuture movement at the official opening of the Lifelong Learning Institute in 2014, the current discourse in the popular media tends to gravitate towards the adoption rate of this

4 5

agenda and its extent, including whether Malays have increased their participation. It is important to emphasise that skills upgrading courses are only one of many interesting features of SkillsFuture that the Malay community, along with the other communities, should capitalise on. Other features include: SkillsFuture Credit, SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme for fresh Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates, enhanced subsidies for mid-career Singaporeans (aged 40 and above) for courses funded by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG); and SkillsFuture Study Awards . We argue for a more coordinated approach in this matter. First, data should be captured at the national level covering all training and adult education providers to identify the rate of Malay participation in all skills upgrading programmes. If this has already been done, the data should be published so that our Malay leaders, with support from the Malay community and other stakeholders, are better informed in identifying strategic and targeted approaches to address the issue. A detailed analysis should be done to understand the reasons behind such trends, and intervention measures be introduced quickly.


Second, to urge more Malays to embrace the spirit of lifelong learning, and inevitably achieve the aims of SkillsFuture, a more persuasive marketing approach is required. Our experience informs us that the engagement process with Malay employers and workers is different from their non-Malay counterparts. We observe that the former group requires a different form of buy-in to convince them before taking the decisive step to enrol in a course.


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We recommend a coordinated approach to better articulate the philosophy and objectives of the SkillsFuture agenda, particularly amongst the Malay community so that they would be able to fully benefit from the SkillsFuture movement.

22 T H E K A R Y A W A N

Third, a task force should be formed, whose purpose is to create better awareness of SkillsFuture within the Malay community. To this end, the task force should replicate some of the outreach activities used to educate the public about the Pioneer Generation Package. Hence, it should go to the ground and engage with various segments – from workers, union leaders to business owners in small enterprises, to housewives and congregants in mosques. Its agenda should be to help the layperson make sense of the various schemes in SkillsFuture and reap its benefits. The task force should also comprise members of the community representing various sectors and ages. In conclusion, our experiences in adult training inform us that Malays participate in skills upgrading programmes in varying degrees. Our data show Malays constitute about 54% of the total training places in baking courses. However, their participation in soft skills courses are rather low at 5%. We recommend a coordinated approach to better articulate the philosophy and objectives of the SkillsFuture agenda, particularly amongst the Malay community so that they would be able to fully benefit from the SkillsFuture movement.

Suhaimi Salleh is the CEO of SSAGroup, one of the leading companies providing a diverse range of professional services. He has more than 40 years of post-graduate experience in audit and finance, management consulting and corporate training. An author and a business mentor, he is also active in charity and non-profit organisations, currently serving as President of Lembaga Biasiswa Kenangan Maulud (LBKM) and Board Member/Audit Committee Chairman of SG Enable.

er and or Manag in is a Seni ment) of SSA dd su m Sa elop Siti Hawa ign & Dev e rning Des ked in thre about HOD (Lea A, she wor of SS to r io for a total ns tio Group. Pr sa ni lim orga Malay/Mus 16 years.


Proposed Changes to AMLA: A Step in the Right Direction BY ZHULKARNAIN ABDUL RAHIM

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In early 2017, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) sought public feedback on the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Amendment) Bill 2017. Various community groups provided their inputs on the proposed amendments including AMP which, through its Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), conducted a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) to collate feedback amongst various stakeholders and interested individuals. As the proposed amendments are broad in scope, this article seeks to highlight only key amendments including specific feedback that RIMA had provided. Passed into law and effective since 1968, AMLA’s stated purpose is to regulate Muslim religious affairs and to constitute a council in order to advise on matters relating to the Muslim religion in Singapore and a Syariah Court. AMLA made possible the establishment of three key Muslim institutions: the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), Syariah Court and Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM). Throughout the years, as our Muslim community evolved and our own Syariah law jurisprudence developed, various amendments were made to AMLA. The following are 3 broad areas which the Bill seeks to achieve: (i) reinforce existing Muslim institutions; (ii) enhance the management of Muslim assets; and (iii) strengthen Muslim families.

Presently, the Syariah Court has jurisdiction to hear application for divorce if (i) parties are Muslims or (ii) parties were married under the provisions of Muslim law. Where the marriage was solemnised outside Singapore, it must first be determined if the marriage is one which falls within the definition of “parties were married under provisions of the Muslim law” before the Syariah Court can exercise its jurisdiction to hear the divorce. This has led to foreign Muslim marriages being heard in the Syariah Court, which puts further strain on the resources of the system. Some of the key amendments to the Bill focus on changes to insurance practice, ROMM and Syariah Court powers and jurisdiction, such as: (i) allowing Muslim policyholders to make revocable insurance nominations; (ii) introducing domicile requirements for parties applying for divorce whereby the Syariah Court will not hear cases involving foreign parties with no connection to Singapore; (iii) inserting a specific provision for men to apply for divorce as plaintiffs in the Syariah Court without pronouncing the talak so as to discourage pronouncements of talak outside of court; and (iv) clarifying that couples must first seek ROMM’s in-principle approval for their marriage to be registered if they wish for a wali to solemnise the marriage.

In a small city-state like Singapore, there can be serious implications on the social fabric of the community if frivolous talak REINFORCING MUSLIM INSTITUTIONS Since AMLA came into effect in 1968, the pronouncements are rampant. There is a strong argument, as found by the RIMA demographics of Muslims using the Syariah Court system have changed rapidly FGD, that it should be made mandatory for with the increasing number of Singaporean men to pronounce the talak in Court so as to tackle a number of problems: the delay Muslims living overseas and expatriate Muslims living in Singapore, creating new in initiating Court proceedings, easing the burden on women to be the ones to issues not envisaged 50 years ago. initiate action and enabling Syariah Court to take the pre-emptive step of encouraging the couple to go for counselling. 24 T H E K A R Y A W A N

Since AMLA came into effect in 1968, the demographics of Muslims using the Syariah Court system has changed rapidly with the increasing number of Singaporean Muslims living overseas and expatriate Muslims living in Singapore, creating new issues not envisaged 50 years ago.

To clarify, the AMLA amendments do not take away the right to pronounce the talak, which remains as a matter of Syariah law. What the amendments seek to do is to encourage Muslim husbands to file divorce proceedings instead of making frivolous pronouncements of talak. This seeks to remedy a situation which we often see in the cases we handle: where the husband pronounces the talak but does not take any action thereafter and parties do not proceed to the Syariah Court to file or register the divorce. In the meantime, the status of the wife remains in limbo and parties continue to cohabit with each other and this perpetuates other issues like family violence, issues of maintenance and in extreme cases, illegitimate children conceived after talak had been pronounced. In terms of stricter wali requirements for solemnisation, the Bill does not allow a marriage to be solemnised by the wali of the woman unless there is in-principle approval by the Kadi or Naib Kadi in writing to register the marriage. A more stringent verification process of the wali is warranted especially for cases where the bride is brought up by her stepfather or is a child born out of wedlock. In the RIMA FGD, there were also suggestions, for instance, to have all solemnisations by a wali to be conducted in the presence of the Kadi or Naib Kadi.

ENHANCE MANAGEMENT OF MUSLIM ASSETS With regard to enhancing the management of Muslim assets, the Bill seeks to: (i) introduce various requirements in relation to trustee-related appointments which include: a. prior approval by MUIS for any new trustee appointments and before any court proceedings related to trustee appointment/ removal; b. expanding the grounds by which a trustee or MUIS-appointed mutawalli can be removed; c. establishing a separate sinking fund for sustainability of wakafs; (ii) expand the use of the Mosque Building and MENDAKI Fund (MBMF): a. for purchase of new or additional land, as well as lease of land or property, for existing and future mosques; and b. to clarify that the religious education component within the MBMF can be tapped for related premises and facilities.

present mutawallis and those contemplating making a wakaf on the roles and responsibilities of wakaf management. In the long run, I hope that a legislative framework based on Islamic dispute resolution mechanism to adjudicate disputes on wakaf management and trustee/mutawalli replacement and/or removal can be developed within the AMLA framework itself under MUIS. Such a framework can incorporate concepts of mediation, arbitration and the Islamic concept of sulh (amicable settlement) and lead to much costs and resource savings for parties, away from the public glare of litigations in Court. This will not only empower the robust management of our wakaf in Singapore but also enrich and develop the body of law and jurisprudence on wakaf management in Singapore.

STRENGTHEN MUSLIM FAMILIES The third scope of change sought by the Bill is to further strengthen Muslim families by way of the following: (i) prior to marriage: a. making it mandatory for minor couples (where either one party is The amendments are consistent with below 21 years old) to attend a recent caselaw in the Singapore High marriage preparation programme Court on management of wakaf which before an application to ROMM brings the purview of such management for their marriage can be made; strictly within MUIS and under AMLA. It b. an application cannot be made to is generally accepted that in terms of ROMM for the solemnisation of a good corporate governance and wakaf minor marriage without parental management, sound and clear guidelines consent. This amendment seeks to are to be set for the management of wakafs reinforce the importance of and trustees in Singapore. Further, broader parents’/guardians’ support in a powers given to MUIS to administer and minor marriage. manage such wakafs would allow parties (ii) in divorce situations: to avoid the unpleasant public litigation a. enshrine a more “child-centric” of any disputes. The criteria for removal approach during proceedings and and appointment of mutawallis should allow parties to be referred for be made as explicit as possible so as to counselling or a family support forestall any disputes arising thereof in programme; the longer term. Given the legislative b. divorcing parties are required changes and developments in the to attend counselling or any caselaw in Singapore, it may also be an other specified activity before opportune time for MUIS to embark on commencement of divorce a public education discourse amongst proceedings;

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(iii) in matters related to ownership of household property and inheritances: a. In the ownership of household property, where there is a removal of presumption of ownership by a husband of a matrimonial property b. In the granting of letters of administration to the estate of a Muslim dying intestate (i.e. without leaving a will). Mandatory counselling and parental consent for minor marriages are crucial because statistics show that these are the marriages that are at the highest risk of divorce. We have to balance the expedient administration of justice with that of saving the institution of marriage. Once divorce proceedings are commenced, parties’ claims on custody and division of matrimonial assets would further complicate the process of reconciliation. Hence, as shared by the participants in the RIMA FGD, the “moratorium” on commencement of divorce proceedings prior to counselling is useful to attempt reconciliation. In terms of the ownership of household property, presently AMLA states that when a Muslim husband and wife live together in the same house, all the household assets and property are presumed to belong to the husband and that means that the husband’s creditor can execute against those assets. In our present modern Singapore society, the wives often either work or have their own spending power, independent of the husband’s. They may own such assets in their own name. As such, it would not be fair if the husband’s creditors are allowed to execute against the wife’s own assets. Hence, by removing such presumption, the Bill would do justice to such wives.

26 T H E K A R Y A W A N

In the long run, I hope that a legislative framework based on Islamic dispute resolution mechanism to adjudicate disputes on wakaf management and trustee/mutawalli replacement and/or removal can be developed within the AMLA framework itself under MUIS. On the amendments to letters of administration, presently, if a female Muslim dies intestate, there is an order of preference for the male inheritors to be entitled to apply for the grant of letter of administration in order to administer the estate of the deceased. No such preference applies in the case of a male Muslim. This amendment removes such preference based on gender by giving the court the discretion to grant letters of administration to any entitled next-of-kin, regardless of gender. CONCLUSION Whilst not all proposals would be adopted in the end, I am heartened to note that some of the proposed amendments by the Law Society of Singapore’s Muslim Law Practice Committee found their way into the present Bill, and that MCCY is considering feedback from RIMA FGD and other stakeholders. We should welcome this consultative approach in seeking feedback from the ground, namely legal practitioners and various Malay/Muslim organisations, on matters that would have a direct impact on the Muslim community in Singapore. The changes, whilst not radically ground breaking, are much needed in our Singaporean Muslim context and are just but a step towards the right direction.

a partner at a dul Rahim is Zhulkarnain Ab where he re po ga Sin d in ion law firm base dispute resolut d an n tio ga liti e specialises in member of th a o als is He n. w and arbitratio ittee of the La actice Comm Muslim Law Pr the Vice-Chairman of the as ll ). Society as we ssionals (AMP Muslim Profe Association of


How the


Has – or Hasn’t – Evolved

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role models in the community are often one-sided representations of married women who are outstandingly capable of fulfilling the duties of the kitchen and office. However, women like worldrenowned architect, the late Zaha Hadid, who conceptualised Singapore’s One-North and remained unmarried until her passing, have shown that having an alternative life trajectory can be equally celebrated. Thereby, showing that women are responsible agents of their futures and In Singapore, Malay women are increasingly their identity should not be dictated by their marital status. pursuing higher education, achieving management positions and taking on Within the family, rigid gender roles that more leadership roles. Many are also contributing financially to the household; marked the households of our foremothers remain largely dominant. Women are some are even the main breadwinner of a expected to take on the primary roles of household, on top of performing their caregiving, extending from childcare, traditionally subscribed caregiving and housekeeping roles. One would think that elderly care to the physical space of the changes in the socioeconomic realities of a home itself. This is on top of holding full-time jobs and contributing to the Malay household in Singapore would entail a corresponding change in the ideas household income, a role traditionally designated to the husband. A 2013 survey of what it means to be a woman or a man in today’s contemporary society. However, on social attitudes of Singaporeans done by the Ministry of Social and Family Malay women still find themselves, Development showed that women spent overtly or otherwise, subjected to longstanding cultural ideas of gender roles overwhelmingly more time on household affairs such as caregiving and chores than and gender-related expectations that their spouses did. Hence, while the role of restrict and hold back their progress and women has greatly diversified in today’s potential. society, this same diversification is slow to catch on among the populace. Current THE KITCHEN AND OFFICE Despite having made significant progress policies such as the short period of paternal leave fathers receive, do little to in education and at the workplace, the encourage or allow men to shoulder more marker of ideal womanhood for Malay caregiving roles. This results in most women is still highly dependent on women having to bear the responsibility marriage and motherhood. Single, of homemaker and caregiver alone. The unmarried women wishing to pursue a PhD or focus on their career development 2015 General Household Survey found are commonly dissuaded on the basis that that 50.4% of Malay women are economically inactive compared to the by the time they obtain that doctorate or national rate of 40.9%. 78% of women career success, they will be labelled an in general, aged 25 to 54 who are “anak dara tua”. This term carries the stigma of an old maid, with few prospective economically inactive choose to remain so due to family responsibilities, namely partners. Additionally, her “overqualification” brings about the concern of housework, childcare or caregiving to intimidating potential suitors. Successful families or relatives1. This leaves many More women are entering into the public sphere in contemporary societies than they have before. However, events such as the Women’s March in January 2017 continue to highlight the frustrations that women feel: that despite the progress they have achieved, struggles continue over gender roles, sexuality and representation as still many women around the world have not achieved parity and equity at every level of society.


PROGRESS, YET VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN CONTINUES The unequal power dynamics of gender relations in the household, despite it being nuanced and subtle, can have disastrous effects on the community. In the 2013 International Violence Against Women Survey conducted in Singapore, nearly 1 in 10 of the female respondents surveyed experienced at least one incident of violence by a man in their adult lifetime. The Sexual Assault Care Centre saw 338 cases in 2016, an increase of 26% from the previous year. Additionally, PAVE, a family violence specialist centre in Singapore, reported that victims of domestic violence from the Malay community are overrepresented2. There is a strong link between attitudes towards violence and attitudes towards gender. Traditional gender roles and notions have been the most consistent predictor of attitudes supporting violence against women3. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between men’s adherence to sexist, patriarchal, and/or sexually hostile attitudes and the likelihood of being violent against women, while women who express traditional gender role attitudes are less likely to report violence and abuse by their partners4. A video taken during a marriage preparation event that went viral recently showed a religious teacher propagating the idea that women should be of service to their husband. This severely undermines a woman’s autonomy within the household and promotes unequal relationships within the marriage. Arguably, the most


28 T H E K A R Y A W A N

women financially dependent on their husbands or male relatives and is a contributing factor to the lower economic profile of the community. For women to continue to progress in the workforce, there must be more policies that encourage gender equality and a renegotiation of gender roles at home.

disturbing was that it seems to condone physical domestic violence in the form of assault and wrongful confinement as justified responses to adultery committed by wives. Unfortunately, religion is often used as the rationale for these beliefs despite the fact that leading religious scholars have repeatedly declared that domestic violence is not acceptable in Islam. The community must continue to recognise and consistently reject attitudes that excuse and enable violence. Dismissing this incident as just an isolated case is extremely naïve because these ideas, which threaten equality, respect and life itself, are not as uncommon as we may think. WHAT NEXT? It is important that we do not dismiss these as “women’s” issues or “gender” issues. Labelling them as such would only distant ourselves and propagate the idea that it is irrelevant to our brothers in the community. Men, such as those who have been appointed, or self-appointed, as head of their household or as leaders of the community, also have a part to play in challenging and debunking myths of male superiority and stereotypes of masculinities that serve to perpetuate violence against women. Furthermore, Minister for Social and Family Development, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, mentioned in his speech that “violence against women is unequivocally wrong” and we should work towards “a more equal society”5,6. To do this, we need seismic shifts in our community’s perception of gender roles. Such a change cannot happen if women work on these issues alone. It is a reality that currently, more men are in leadership and positions of influence compared to women in Singapore. Therefore, we need more men on board prioritising these issues and working towards a culture of gender equality. After all, an egalitarian community is a marker of a progressive and inclusive one.

5 6

It is also imperative that we have more discussions on gender relations within the Muslim family. Gender equality and justice is not a foreign concept to the history of Muslims. Prophet Muhammad himself has helped out with household chores and his first wife Khadijah was a very successful business entrepreneur. In a talk conducted by the Association of Women for Action and Research on marriage education in June 2017, some of the male participants spoke out about the need for more gender equal relations within the family; that it is important for men to also carry the responsibility of the mental load of managing the household and caregiving, a task usually relegated to the women. Other examples that have encouraged conversations about gender roles within the community is the anthology, Perempuan: Muslim Women in Singapore Speak Out, a compilation of essays and poems written by Muslim women in Singapore. These stories introduce alternative narratives that challenge conventional ideas of the role of women in the society. Even though these harmful ideas of gender roles are not specific to our community alone, they are deeply entrenched ideas justified and perpetuated by problematic patriarchal interpretations of religion and prevailing cultural norms. By using religion and tradition to rationalise these ideas, many have not questioned or challenged them. We assume we have progressed in gender equality, when in reality, we are still subjected to the same restrictive norms as our foremothers. Conversations about Malay women’s role in Singapore are sorely needed. However, the battle for parity needs that revolutionary courage to speak out against injustices in society. Moving forward, we need a paradigm shift in our ideas of gender roles so as not to limit the potential of our future selves and the next generation, who deserve to be free.

Conversations about Malay women’s role in Singapore are sorely needed. However, the battle for parity needs that revolutionary courage to speak out against injustices in society. ociation of works at The Ass Filzah Sumartono (AWARE) as rch sea Re and Women for Action nity tor for the commu Project Coordina nder Equality Is "Ge led cal t jec engagement pro culture as works to reclaim s Our Culture" which conducts workshop o als zah Fil e. ips. gender-equitabl healthy relationsh and t sen con , lth on sexual hea practice of for an end to the She also advocates n. pua sunat perem tics graduate is a recent linguis Firqin Sumartono jects in research on pro rks wo tly ren oing and cur guages. Her ong lan and iety soc to ns of the related lving speech patter evo the at ks loo study research community. Her alism and Singaporean Malay iolinguistics, bilingu soc e lud inc sts intere s. icie pol and language planning


JULY 2017



Finance is the science of money management and whenever there are discussions about money, it is often related with methods on gaining profit and maximising it. What about Islamic finance (IF)? How does it differ from conventional finance? Is it a mere replication of mainstream finance with just the inclusion of religious connotation or is it a stand-alone field which brings about different values and principles?


Islamic Finance:

Beyond Profit Maximisation BY MOHD KAMAL MOKHTAR 30 T H E K A R Y A W A N

NOT A REPLICATION OR ALTERNATIVE TO CONVENTIONAL FINANCE Generally, the term Islamic finance is used to refer to financial activities that conform to Islamic law (Shariah). Despite being seen as relatively new to the finance industry, IF has actually existed since the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) whereby rulings on financial transactions as well as the fundamentals of contracts were established. However, it was never developed as a system nor implemented in financial operations and transactions. It was only in 1963 that IF began to establish its foothold in the finance industry with the establishment of the very first Islamic bank in Egypt. The founder, El-Naggar started the Mit Ghamr Islamic Savings Bank with the intention for the bank to mobilise the idle savings of the majority of Muslims in accordance to the Shariah and to provide halal returns on their savings. Since then, the progress and development of IF have increased by leaps and bounds and it continues to enlarge its global footprint in various parts of the world. IF does promote profit generation and maximisation like its conventional counterpart apart from sharing other basic principles of finance. However, IF has its own distinctive principles and values which differentiate it from conventional finance. Among the pertinent principles are (i) Prohibition of interest on transactions (riba); (ii) Financing must be linked to real assets (materiality); (iii) Engagement in immoral or ethically problematic businesses is not allowed (e.g. arms manufacturing or alcohol production);

and (iv) Returns must be linked to risks. Ultimately, IF strives to create a balanced economic system by ensuring money and wealth creation are a result of real asset transactions and that the rights and responsibilities of all contracting parties are duly preserved and observed. With such principles and values, IF is definitely not a replication or alternative to the conventional finance. Instead, it is a system of its own that has only recently been formalised and recognised by the industry players and the public worldwide. DEALING IN GOODS AND NOT IN MONEY The Shariah views that profit should arise from real asset transactions and that money itself is not able to create more money. Thus, the existence of subject matter or underlying asset is essential in validating a financial contract in Islam. In Islamic deposits, financings and investments, it can be observed that there are real assets involved in the execution of financial contracts and the real assets can be in the form of investments, properties, commodities and such. In a brief overview on IF provided by World Bank in its website, it is reported and proven that IF can significantly contribute to economic development, given its direct link to physical assets and the real economy. The use of profit and loss sharing arrangements for example, such as musharakah, encourages the provision of financial support to productive enterprises that can increase output and generate jobs. The emphasis on tangible assets on the other hand ensures that the industry supports only transactions that serve a real purpose, thus discouraging financial speculation. As such, the economy will grow with real economic transactions being executed. Dealing in goods is evident in Islamic banking transactions and this can be seen in the structure and operations of Islamic banking and finance products. In the case of providing loans to customers, the Shariah does not permit charging interest on it. Thus, in order to aid customers to purchase properties for example, an

To ensure that the transactions comply with the Shariah, the returns must be justifiable with the risks undertaken and that there should be no oppression or injustice inflicted on the contracting parties. This is because IF’s primary goal is not merely to maximise profit, but to achieve social, economic, and environmental wellbeing in the communities that they serve. Islamic financial institution (IFI) will execute a sale contract in which it will assume the role of a trader or investor. The role of the IFI changes according to the contracts that it executes with the other party. Hence, with the various roles that the IFI can assume, such as being a lessor/lessee, investor/investee, and buyer/seller of the goods or service – depending on the contracts utilised – the returns that the IFI gets from the various transactions is then justified and the IFI directly involves itself with economic activities to drive its growth. NOT A MERE RELIGIOUS OBLIGATION WITH COMMERCIAL INTEREST To attain returns or maximising them is among the primary goals of every business and financial transaction. The IFI in particular serves as a financial intermediary and is considered as a business entity. Hence, IF is not excluded from pursuing this goal as returns are needed to ensure the sustainability of a particular business. However, what differentiates IF from conventional finance is that in the pursuit of profit or returns, there are also other elements that should be observed. To ensure that the transactions comply with the Shariah, the returns must be justifiable with the risks undertaken and that there

should be no oppression or injustice inflicted on the contracting parties. This is because IF’s primary goal is not merely to maximise profit, but to achieve social, economic, and environmental well-being in the communities that they serve. An example which illustrates this is that in the operations of an IFI, apart from disallowing financing for pork-related activities, liquor-related activities, gambling businesses and other businesses which engage in non-Shariah compliant activities, the IFI also does not permit financing to be granted to immoral business activities or businesses that are detrimental to the society and environment at large such as arms or weaponry businesses. Thus, it can be deduced that the main concern of IF is to ensure that money received from deposits and money extended for financing can contribute to producing positive socio-economic changes. This itself proves that the application of IF is not just limited to Muslims, nor is it to only accommodate to the religious obligations of Muslims, per se. In fact, people of different religions, races and backgrounds can subscribe to Islamic finance without any restrictions, provided that the principles of Shariah are observed. Globally, IF has been embraced by many JULY 2017



countries including non-Muslim countries and it has experienced rapid progress. It is reported by World Bank that in many countries where Muslims are the majority, Islamic banking assets have been growing faster than conventional banking assets. There has also been a surge of interest in IF from non-Muslim countries such as the UK, Luxembourg, South Africa, and Hong Kong. This can be observed via the issuance of Sukuk (Islamic bonds) in June 2014 by the UK, making it the first non-Muslim country to issue Sukuk and the issuance of Sukuk by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority in September 2014. Interest from non-Muslims to subscribe to IF validates the basis that IF is applicable to all people and not just restricted to Muslims due to the values that it upholds. RESPONSIBLE AND ETHICAL FINANCE As IF has specific requirements in order to ensure that its application complies with the Shariah and that it contributes to the social and economic well-being of the society at large, IFIs have imposed on themselves strict provisions to avoid contributing to the existence and sustainability of Shariah non-compliant businesses and businesses which bring about negative implications to the society. The importance of this matter is highly emphasised and this can be observed from the imposition of Shariah screening checklists for financings by IFIs which dictates that IFIs will not finance these businesses despite the profitability that it can achieve. IF also promotes financial inclusion from all sectors and it does not restrict its application only to the bankable. Financial inclusion is broadly defined as a measure of the proportion of individuals and firms that use financial services. The benefits of comprehensive financial inclusion go beyond individuals and firms as greater access to financial services for both individuals and firms can help in reducing income inequality and accelerating economic growth. This is because through financial inclusion, it enables a wider 32 T H E K A R Y A W A N

group of individuals and enterprises to access financial services. Through these types of services, IFIs are then able to reach the economically and socially underprivileged who may have been excluded from the conventional financial sector due to various factors such as socio-economic deficiencies that include, inter alia, financial capability and literacy, geographical inconvenience and a religious concern of prohibited elements such as riba, maysir and gharar (MIFC,2015). As such, IF has specific instruments that can enhance financial inclusion such as utilising risk-sharing contracts to stimulate the microfinance industry and SMEs, and applying contracts that will result in wealth redistribution. In stimulating the microfinance industry, contracts such as mudarabah can be utilised where IFIs are the capital provider and the profit is shared according to what has been agreed between the IFI and the entrepreneur. With regard to wealth redistribution, the redistributive instruments such as zakat, sadaqah, qard al-hasan and waqf will complement the risk-sharing instruments to target the poor sector of the society so as to offer a comprehensive approach towards reduction in poverty and building a healthy economy. Considering the above discussion, it can be deduced that the principles of IF goes beyond profit maximisation and that it can be subscribed by all; regardless of differences in beliefs as it is not just a religious obligation with commercial interest.

ntly serves Ustaz Mohd Kamal Mokhtar curre ittee of as a member of the Shariah Comm a board Maybank Islamic Berhad. He is also Scheme member of the Asatizah Recognition ic Religious under the supervision of the Islam Council of Singapore (MUIS).


Let’s Talk About The


On the everlasting gobstopper that is the hijab issue, I have just three questions: What are we arguing? For whom? And why? The choice to don a hijab is deeply personal. It's an individual's choice. For a country that boasts racial diversity and harmony, caveating that choice is hypocritical – except maybe under a few circumstances. The public and the state's tussle with this issue is cyclical at best. Every few years, someone or something happens to remind us of the dust swept under our carpets. The first time it surfaced, at least to the best of my memory, was in 2002 when JULY 2017



four Muslim children were suspended from school because they were in hijab. Then again in 2013 when a polytechnic lecturer asked in a forum why nurses weren’t allowed to wear the hijab. DEBATE IN THE PARLIAMENT A few months ago when Member of Parliament (MP) Faisal Manap raised the issue of hijab in the parliament, it revived in Singapore the decade-long debate. During a discussion on women's aspiration, he asked for the okaying of hijab on Muslim front-line officers. Front-line roles refer to those requiring daily contact with other Singaporeans. The ban is enforced on public servants, though it is not consistent. For example, my primary school English teacher wore a hijab, but a nurse can't. As for private companies, enforcement is left to their discretion.

What happened here wasn't just a perfunctory dismissal. It was a deliberate act to distract from MP Faisal's point: can Muslim front-line officers be in hijab? But Minister Masagos' reply moved the needle with the dexterity of Houdini. So, okay. Let's be distracted for a bit and talk about that. Minister Masagos supports closed-doors discussion but MP Faisal advocates an open conversation between the state and the public. The problem with closed-doors discussion is that you're shutting out voices of the ones most invested in this debate: Muslim women.

The problem with closed-doors discussion is that you're shutting out voices of the ones most invested in this debate: Muslim women.

Two years ago, a petition surfaced in Can extra yards of cloth increase chances Singapore on It asked for of cross contamination or hinder police allowing the hijab in our workforce, investigation? I've asked friends both specifically in uniformed and front-line in the hospital and the police force. occupations. Thousands of Muslim The answer's inconclusive, hence the women signed it. But it was ultimately fuzzy views. dismissed by the government, saying the petition flirted with the strategy of My vision is 20/20, however, when it "astro-turfing," a campaign disguised as Minister Masagos Zulkifli from across comes to protecting job seekers in private unsolicited comments from the public. the aisle chastised MP Faisal for sowing spheres. I believe in equal chances. discord. Later that day, Prime Minister Lee The person who initiated the campaign has not identified him or herself so there's Private companies should not have the Hsien Loong joined the chorus. He said no way to validate the response. championing divisive issues publicly, to power to discriminate based on outfit pressure the government and win unless there's just cause. Going against But in the same vein, we should have a communal votes, will only stir up "company policy" or "company image" is discussion with the community. Then emotions and damage Singapore’s not just cause. Hyperbole notwithstanding, we can begin to answer MP Faisal's real multi-racial harmony. insisting on wearing a swimsuit to work is question: are we as a society ready for just cause. Muslim front-line officers to don the That has always been the government’s hijab? go-to response when the issue of hijab We're a multicultural nation. Just look at pops up. Overuse has reduced the words the posters along our pristine Singapore “balance” and “social harmony” to nothing PRIVATE VS PUBLIC POLICIES streets. Any image or policy of a private For uniformed professions, my views are more than a party hack for glazing over company operating on our soil should this sticky subject. As a journalist, I'm used fuzzy. Though I believe the state should reflect that. As long as the hijab does not not deny a Muslim woman her dream of to stock answers from the government. infringe on safety or hygiene, the ban becoming a nurse or a police officer Though not surprising, it doesn't get any should not hold water. because of the hijab, arguments have less frustrating. been made for safety or hygiene. In 2016, I stumbled on a Facebook post by What furrowed my brows was Minister 24-year-old Sharifah Begum. It was the In 2016, a consultant anaesthetist in Masagos’ misdirection after that: post that encouraged me to research London's National Health Service (NHS) deeper into the contentious issue of hijab was suspended for insisting a Muslim "There are other ways to raise these in Singapore. surgeon remove her hijab. He was sensitive issues, such as engaging people reinstated after investigation showed he quietly behind the scenes." According to Sharifah, she had trouble was simply enforcing the hospital's strict landing jobs because interviewers had codes to minimise infection. problems with her hijab. 34 T H E K A R Y A W A N

If the government continues to skirt the issue, we would never truly move forward. Though, I am proud to say that in a race of racial progress, Singapore is lightyears ahead of our friends in the west. A rising global concern we see in the media is how the hijab represents oppression, submission, and a threat to women’s rights. Here, it represents freedom.

"The usual reason [I get] would be that it's against company policies," she told me. I contacted her after reading her post. Again, that's a standard boilerplate reply from private companies. In February of that year, Sharifah interviewed at a private preschool. She was applying for the assistant administrator role, a position that would invariably put her on the front-line. According to Sharifah, the interview was going well until she was asked if she could wear a bandana instead of a hijab. "I asked what the reason was, and [the interviewer] said they have had many incidents where parents (were) afraid to hand over kids to staff wearing hijab. She said kids get frightened themselves, too," said Sharifah.

I understand that this issue, like all controversial ones, is difficult to handle. It deals in abstract currencies like freedom, choice, and identity. Those words have built and brought down empires much bigger than our island. If the government continues to skirt the issue, we would never truly move forward. Though, I am proud to say that in a race of racial progress, Singapore is lightyears ahead of our friends in the west. A rising global concern we see in the media is how the hijab represents oppression, submission, and a threat to women's rights. Here, it represents freedom. But to continue progressing, we have to stop avoiding and start talking with the public on both sides of the fence, and not behind closed doors. Contrary to what the state might think, it wouldn't be our final hour.

Despite the insensitivity, I found the reply to be a breath of fresh air. It wasn't suffocated by political correctness. It was It could very well be our finest. real. And real is what we need to begin correcting the misinformation about what the hijab means and what it represents. Why were parents from the preschool afraid to hand over their kids? My guess is their inadvertent association of hijab with Islamic extremism, born from the rise in global terror activities. Any other reasons make little sense.

, and works on Derek Cai is a journalist by trade l news in general assignments and internationa st in human Singapore. He has a special intere coverage, and rights and international relations of fries. enjoys political debates with a side

BREAKING DOWN WALLS I was born and raised in Singapore. I grew up learning not just about my own culture, but the culture of my Malay friends, neighbours, and colleagues. While I may not fully understand what the hijab represents, I've never been afraid of it. It's as much a part of their culture as it is a part of mine. I can't speak for every Singaporean Chinese, but I hope my words represent a majority. That's another issue altogether. But I believe lifting or amending the ban on the hijab will send a much kinder message to the concerned but misinformed public. JULY 2017



Othman Wok: The Man and His Literary Legacy


36 T H E K A R Y A W A N

On 17 April 2017, Othman Wok passed away in Singapore General Hospital. In the days that followed, many citizens shared their memories of this remarkable man, who had rose from obscurity to become a member of independent Singapore’s first Cabinet. Some thanked him for his work as our first Minister of Social Affairs, a role which he used to found the National Council of Social Services. Others honoured him for his unofficial position as our “Minister of Sport”, pushing for the building of the National Stadium. A number of politicians, including PM Lee Hsien Loong, dwelt on his loyalty to the PAP and the vision of Singapore as a multi-racial society, in spite of the threats of UMNO leaders who called him a kafir (infidel) and a khianat (traitor). “We are indebted to him, and will always be,” DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam wrote on his Facebook page. “He made a multiracial Singapore possible, which matters more than anything else we have.” However, amidst all these accolades for public service, there were mourners who honoured him for a very different reason. These were fans of his horror writings, especially readers of his best-selling short story collection Malayan Horror: Macabre Tales of Singapore and Malaysia in the 50’s, published in 1991. Malaysian columnist Farouk A. Peru actually praised him as a “literary genius” in an obituary for the Malay Mail Online. What few young people realise, however, is that Othman wasn’t just another horror writer of the 1990s. He was a pioneer in the field, having originally written his tales in Malay as a young reporter for Utusan Melayu and Mustika magazine between 1952 and1956. These stories were fantastically popular, making him a household name in the Malay-speaking world, years before his political career took off.

A pallor of dread permeates “The Golden Lantern”, which ends with a young man counting down the minutes to his death, after all his brothers have been killed by a PAK OTHMAN: THE EARLY YEARS pawang’s inescapable curse. In contrast, Born in 1924 into a family of Orang Laut the plot of “Knocks on the Wall” is descent, his upbringing was steeped in Malay tradition. He grew up with stories of simultaneously sweet and horrific. Adnan and his maidservant Kak Jah discover a his great-great-grandfather, killed by a woman’s skeleton behind a wall; the two tiger in Singapore before the arrival of Stamford Raffles; when he caught malaria end up falling in love and marrying, while the dead woman’s ghost strangles her at the age of five, he was diagnosed as being “kena sampuk” and was treated using husband to death. rituals by a visiting dukun. Crucially, these are not simply retellings of old kampung legends of pontianak and toyol. At the same time, his father insisted on Instead, they are thoroughly contemporary, giving him a modern education. Unlike most Malays of his generation, he studied often set in urban environments, told from the English language and developed a taste the viewpoint of modern professionals. As the protagonist of “A Mosque in the for mystery novels. Jungle” says, “In this age of the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb, how could After the Japanese Occupation, he was swiftly recruited by Yusof Ishak, editor of ghosts exist?” the Utusan Melayu and future President of Singapore. He was set to work as a roving Farouk A. Peru appreciates how Othman’s reporter, principally covering crime stories. tales have a cosmopolitan, yet undeniably Malay flavour. “He normalised the Malay Oddly enough, he was not seen as a professional in different scenarios to show particularly talented writer. His how they have truly embraced modernity, then-colleague and future Malaysian but have not left their folkloric elements literary giant Abdul Samad Ismail which symbolised their heritage behind,” dismissed his work, saying, “As a writer, he’s remembered most for his ghost stories.” he wrote. another mark of distinction: that of Singapore’s very first horror writer.

What, then, motivated him to begin writing ghost stories in 1952? Again, credit must go to President Yusof. "Malays just love stories like these and Yusof Ishak asked me to write one every week for the Sunday edition called Utusan Zaman,” Othman said in an interview with The New Paper. "Sure enough, the circulation almost tripled.”

TRAILBLAZING MALAYAN HORROR It’s easy to see why readers fell in love with the stories. They’re a pleasure to read even today, whether in English in Malayan Horror, or in the original Malay in the collection Kisah-Kisah Seram dan Misteri. They’re filled not only with supernatural Pak Othman has already been honoured as apparitions, but mystery, suspense, romance, murder and gore. a statesman, ambassador, journalist and entrepreneur. But perhaps he deserves

As a non-Malay, I’m also struck by how the stories feature characters of different races. For instance, in “The Anklets”, a mortuary doctor encounters the disembodied feet of a murdered Indian woman. In “The Guardian”, an archaeologist’s assistant hunted down by a Dayak mummy—a tale almost certainly inspired by the Universal Pictures’ films about vengeful Egyptian mummies. These tales also hearken back to a Malayan identity: a time when there were fewer cultural boundaries separating Singapore and Malaysia. Some tales here, like “The Ring-seeker”, are specifically set on our island; others, like “the Skulls of Kuala Banat”, take place in isolated villages and abandoned islands, the likes of which are foreign to us today. JULY 2017



The stories’ success was evidence of the public’s appetite for horror fare. It’s therefore possible that they directly inspired Cathay-Keris Productions to create the region’s first horror film in 1957: Pontianak. This film was wildly popular with Singaporeans and Malaysians of all races. It marked the beginning of Malay horror cinema, being followed within the next two years by classics such as Hantu Jerangkung, Sumpah Pontianak and Orang Minyak. Decades later, the horror lore of our region would be further developed by books such as Russell Lee’s True Singapore Ghost Stories series and Pugalenthii’s Nightmares series. It’s arguable that such works laid the foundations for a shared Malayan culture, uniting us across race, class and nationality. Even today, a Singaporean or Malaysian of any race is likely to identify a female ghost as a pontianak. THE LATER FICTIONS Othman’s political career with the PAP lasted from 1959 to 1977, when he left Singapore to be the Ambassador to Indonesia. Officially, he retained his portfolio as Minister of Social Affairs until 1981. In practice, his relationship with the party had already taken a blow after news broke of his secret marriage to a second wife. PM Lee Kuan Yew reportedly met with him, telling him, “Go ahead, but if you can’t solve your problems, pack up.” This did not bring an end to his work, however. He continued to be active well into his eighties. Nor did he stop writing. Between 1981 and 87, he created a further set of horror stories, published in Utusan Melayu and Berita Harian. These were later translated by Tan Poay Lim to form the collections The Disused Well and Unseen Occupants.

38 T H E K A R Y A W A N

Intriguingly, Othman used these later tales to track the changes in the politics and landscape of Singapore. “Strange Happenings at Tanah Merah Camp” takes place while the narrator is doing military training in the Singapore Civil Defence Corps in 1966; the introduction notes that the camp grounds were later bulldozed to make way for Changi Airport. “Hidir’s Trial” is set during a fireworks show at the Padang in 1984; the main character follows a beautiful woman past the new Raffles City shopping mall, but finds himself time travelling to a colonial courtroom of the 1930s and executed by firing squad. “The Old Lady’s Hairpin” concerns a ghost at Toa Payoh MRT station, which only opened in 1987. There’s also an autobiographical element to these tales. In several cases, Othman appears to be describing his own encounters with the paranormal. “The Disused Well” is told from the viewpoint of a Raffles Institution student in 1939, while “The Demon House” and “The Guardian of the House” are narrated from the viewpoint of a Singaporean ambassador to Indonesia. It was also in the late 1980s that Lily Othman resolved to have her father’s early work republished. She travelled to Kuala Lumpur and explored the dark warehouses of Utusan Melayu, uncovering old copies of his stories. Former journalist Hussin Amid helped her to choose tales that reflected an old Malayan identity, meticulously transcribing the tales from Jawi into Romanised Malay. M M Basalamah then translated them into English. Malayan Horror ultimately sold 15,000 copies and went through five reprints. Lily has told me that there is interest in republishing her father's biography and this first collection of ghost stories, both of which are hard to come by in bookstores. More tantalisingly, many more of Othman’s old tales still languish in the

Utusan Melayu archives. One can only hope some enterprising scholar ventures into the archives, interprets them from Jawi and disseminates them, before they are lost forever. When some politicians die, their countrymen curse them for leaving behind a legacy of fear. Pak Othman, too, left behind a legacy of fear, yet his was of a very different sort. He tamed our superstitions into a shared culture. He transformed terror into joy. Let us return to his tales. Let him speak to us from beyond the grave. And let us give thanks to him for delighting us with horror.

Ng Yi-Sheng is and journalis a writer of fiction, poet ry, drama m. In 2008, he won the Literature Pr Singapore ize for his de but poetry co last boy. His other books llection include Eatin SQ21: Singap g ore Queers in the 21st Ce Air, Loud Poems ntur For a Very Ob liging Audien y and ce.


A Seat in the C-suite:

June Rusdon

An Interview with

Women are making impressive inroads into the Singaporean labour markets and more are smashing the ‘glass ceiling’ and taking their seats in the ‘C-suite’. With Singapore clinching best Asian country for women-owned businesses in the inaugural Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2017, women’s entrepreneurship have also seen a rise here, with some achieving high levels of growth and crossing into the global market. Women have proven to be equally capable entrepreneurs as their male counterparts and evidence suggests that companies with strong female representation at the board and top management levels perform better than those without.


However, while cultural or societal gender norms still exist, hindering equal participation of women in ventures that men undertake, being in genderstereotypical industries such as retail or childcare is not necessarily disadvantageous for women. Instead of viewing it as a drawback, women can capitalise on female-oriented or dominated businesses, and June Rusdon is the perfect example of such an instance. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Busy Bees Asia and a pioneer in professionalising childcare in Singapore, June Rusdon has been building her international high-quality childcare empire for over 20 years. As a mother, June easily understood the needs of working parents and had an idea to turn high-quality childcare into a profitable business. JULY 2017



The Karyawan team interviewed June in her office at Changi Business Park to find out more about the entrepreneurial spirit that drives her. Q: What made you enter the early childhood industry and how many brands in the industry have you developed since then? June: I first conceptualised Learning Vision in 1989, from my desire, as a new mother, to establish a quality early childhood centre for my children. I was a stockbroker then and had been in the stockbroking company for 10 years, but saw the need to provide a good head start for my child. I began researching on early childhood, and attended workshops conducted by Nury Institute, which utilises the Glenn Doman concept to design programmes tailored for young children. My first centre started in 1989 at Bukit Batok. As my business expanded, I realised it was crucial to have quality teachers since the children would be at a critical stage in their growth. That was when I was determined to open Learning Capital, a teacher’s training college which has since been rebranded as ‘Asian International College’.

implements the Montessori approach. Then, we have Odyssey the Global Preschool – the Ivy League of preschools, and The Children’s House – Malaysia’s most prestigious brand in early childhood education. My entrepreneurial genes are from my parents – themselves entrepreneurs; growing up, I used to help them with their small business. It afforded me an abundance of insights that no institution could offer, and taught me how to set myself up for success. Q: How did you expand your business across the borders? June: I have always believed a global exposure enables us to benefit from a wider range of perspectives. Concurrently, we also wanted to take advantage of Singapore’s reputation as a regional education hub. Parents from other countries willingly enroll their children in Singapore’s schools because our country is recognised as having one of the best curricula in the region.

People assumed I had good networks to be able to penetrate the international market. However, our success to compete internationally was not attributed to only a network of connections. Rather, it was Learning Vision is now part of Busy Bees, a mainly driven by sheer hard work and meritocracy. We have to be good and leading global organisation in early childhood, based in the UK where it is the competent in what we do. Even if you have largest and most comprehensive childcare good networks, your business will not thrive if you lack commitment and services provider. We also own and competencies. manage six successful early childhood brands in Singapore and Malaysia. We started with 8 to 10 employees and now we have 1,700, across 57 centres in Each of our brand has its own distinct Singapore, 13 in Malaysia, and one centre strengths, and is uniquely positioned for coming up in China in September. different market segments: Learning We are also planning to launch our Vision provides on-site early childhood centres in Japan, especially now, when education services to corporations, there is a huge demand for childcare. hospitals, government agencies and Recently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo institutions of higher learning. Pat’s Abe started a campaign to empower Schoolhouse caters to the premium women and boost the economy by market, and Brighton Montessori

40 T H E K A R Y A W A N

encouraging higher female participation in the labour force. He has also campaigned to increase childcare slots. We are excited to capitalise on this opportunity. Q: Can you describe the culture of your organisation? June: We have a performance-driven culture. As a private company, we do not rely on other bodies or organisations for funding, so we have to work ten times harder than other childcare brands. To drive this, our bonus for all levels of staff are performance-based. In terms of hiring, I personally feel that paper qualifications are not enough on their own to ensure success. In fact, sometimes, those with paper qualifications can be very rigid and go ‘by-the-book’. I do feel, however, that papers will boost confidence and self-esteem, thus, it may help to a certain extent. Discipline and willpower are what’s needed for success. Q: What are some of the challenges you faced when you first went into business? How did you overcome these challenges? June: Getting good teachers has always been a challenge but that is a challenge anywhere in the industry. Previously, quality was not a priority since parents only needed space to place their kids. Now, operators need to ensure that centres provide quality teachers, safety and cleanliness. Compared to the past, the whole industry today has evolved and parents’ expectations are higher. Another challenge I faced at that time was that, as a minority, it was not easy to start a business. Back then, when parents called me to ask if I owned the company, I had to say no and claimed that it was owned by a group of professionals instead. I knew I had to prove myself first. Now, I am proud to say that I am Malay and I own the company.

I do feel that minorities have to work harder. You can’t change the perception of others, so you have to change yourself. You have to go all out to win. You have to prove yourself first, and you cannot make the colour of your skin be a hindrance. If you feel that you are not treated well, you have to speak up. You have to demand and ask, or else people will take advantage of you. Q: What are some of your proudest business achievements to date? June: There are many achievements that I am proud of: firstly, we pioneered professional childcare in Singapore, committing significant investments to upgrade our teachers. For this, we received the National Training Award by the then PSB 20 years ago, paving the way for us to become the first childcare provider to be awarded the People Developer Standard. Over the years, the company has also received numerous awards for excellence, including the Singapore Quality Class (SQC), Outstanding Programme Award, ECDA Award for Excellence in Teaching & Learning, and even Best Employer Award – and we’re the only company to win this twice. These awards firmly position us as the recognised market leader and trendsetter in Early Childhood and Teacher Education. Q: From your personal experience, do you think gender discrimination within the labour force exists in Singapore?

“In my opinion, there is no such June: You need to study the market thing as gender thoroughly, and have a good business plan; with this, you then run feasibility studies discrimination at and financial analyses. You must know how much money you need because you work. At the end do not want to be cash-strapped. Then execute your business plan, and track your of the day, it is milestones closely. about drive and The first six months will see losses. At competencies. any point when your milestones are not reached, for example, when revenue We cannot be misses the target, you need to find the fundamental problem. If the losses preoccupied with consistently recur and cannot be recuperated, dispose the business and move on. what others think There are a lot of opportunities out there of us. It is how you as investors are ready to pump money into good business ideas. What you need are carry yourself that good ideas and good people to execute the plan. matters.” Q: What advice do you have for young women who would like to become an entrepreneur?

st at h Analy esearc and Malay d is a R a ic m m la m a Moh h on Is f Nabilah e for Researc a Bachelor o s tr t the Cen IMA). She hold d a Specialis (R an ining. Affairs hology M yc ta s a P nd D e in Scienc in Statistics a a Diplom

June: In my opinion, there is no such thing as gender discrimination at work. At the end of the day, it is about drive and competencies. We cannot be preoccupied with what others think of us. It is how you carry yourself that matters.

JULY 2017



Binds and Fissures: Reflections in the Big Apple BY NURALIAH NORASID Even if you’d grown up far away from it both geographically and culturally like I have, New York rings a familiar bell, owing its iconism to the slew of popular cultural material on the cinema and television screens: the tall blocks from every Spiderman movie, the urbanite life from the Friends sitcom, the chic streets from Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada and 13 Going on 30. New York is one of those cities you see in the backdrop of beautiful life lessons and dramatic fictional moments. Yet, planning for that trip, which was to take place on the Christmas week of 2016, had been nothing short of a fear-ridden worry-fest as I watched a man with an 42 T H E K A R Y A W A N

artificial tan and a blonde toupee, deliver anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim diatribes to garner votes for his presidential campaign. The man himself appeared more a caricature than a fearsome leader. However, especially chilling was the uproarious support from a buzzing angry mass determined to see an “unadulterated” American way of life returned, and everything that "threatens" it eliminated. I had hoped that he would not make President (because I already bought the tickets and paid for the accommodations). Yet win he did, much to the dismay of those watching with bated breath all around the world.

It did not look good for anyone who looked like they came from somewhere decidedly "not-America" even though they are as likely to be born-and-bred in New Jersey. It didn't look good for me and my travel companion with our Muslim passport names and huge luggage. However, travel is nothing but a life lesson in taking chances and going down the road less travelled. So when my travel companion asked, "So how?", my reply had been, "Why not?". We could take heart in the fact that Trump had not started his term then even if the rising incidences of Islamophobic attacks and abuses were a valid cause for concern.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK You hear whispers and stories of Muslims being taken aside for hours of questioning. I feared what was awaiting me as I arrived at the JFK International Airport. Anti-Muslim sentiments, growing conservatism within the community and news upon news of violence carried out by Muslim extremists would do that to you. But I made it through immigration without incident. The only incident was being asked if I was related to my travel companion because the officer thought the "Binte" in our names was a family name. We were soon in the bitter, 4 a.m. cold, hefting our belongings up and down the shadowy subway stairs, searching an empty Brooklyn street for our apartment building. New York did not feel quite as foreign as I had expected. Perhaps every cosmopolitan city with its underground transit networks, the bustling streets and shop windows displaying merchandise from familiar brands ran the same sister bloods, only through veins in different bodies. Perhaps it could even be that there was nothing distinctly Asian or Singaporean about the capitalism that exists in my hometown. Perhaps the places in which people of various origins come together carried in them the same sense of hope and competition. Connectivity not only make for a smaller world, but also created similarities within it. We all know the Singaporean girl who wanted "Korean eyebrows", and much as we want to roll our eyes at her, we need to look at how many in the community turn to foreign imams and ustazs for religious guidance. As if "Singaporean-Chinese eyebrows" are not good enough and local leaders lack in authenticity and accuracy. The subway trains in New York can sometimes feel a bit like an MRT train heading towards the CBD on a Monday morning. Except, any freestyle dancers doing routines with the handhold bars will be "Stomped" and they will likely be fined.


Food was surprisingly easy to find in New York. Almost every food cart or hotdog stand is halal. There are Middle Eastern and Indian-Muslim restaurants, and if you are hurting for a place to eat in Manhattan, there are eateries that serve buffets where you pay by the pound. Here, we went for vegan meals at reasonable prices. The must-try in New York would be their pizzas, for which the city is known and which New Yorkers declare no other place can do better. I would recommend the margherita pizzas.

the street in front of the tower. It was as if the recent elections had been nothing but an amusement. I looked up at the tower, took a lazy photo and watched a street artist make surreal sci-fi posters using spray paint and Tupperware covers.

The New York experience would not be complete without a visit to Times Square and a Broadway show. We watched The Color Purple, which was about a young black woman who lived through abuse We did the tourist-y things: waited 2 hours from her father and husband, and who in line to go up the Empire State Building, found the strength in herself to passionately waited 2 hours in line to go into the belt out the famous line, “I may be ugly. Museum of Natural History and trudged in I may be poor. But I am here�, attesting to a wall of bodies to see the Rockefeller Tree the dignity and presence of the poor, from Home Alone and the Trump Tower, which are so easily forgotten by privileged which had a police barricade blocking the groups. entire street front and officers bellowing, "What are you here for?" to anyone who REMEMBERING 9/11 wanted to cross it. It was funny seeing Where the Twin Towers once stood is tourists from South America, China, Japan now the Ground Zero memorial. I was a and Korea taking grinning selfies across teenager when the attacks happened. I didn't know what it meant then. JULY 2017



remember going into English class and my teacher had spoken to us in a sombre tone about the tragedy. Afterwards, my Malay teacher spoke to us about the importance of tolerance during Mother Tongue class. We all went for recess after and then went right back to struggling to improve our dismal Social Studies grades. A prominent white arching building was the first thing that caught my attention— a high-end mall. Every tragedy a capitalist venture, eh? In another building, a museum has, as part of its showcase, a steel beam that had once been part of the Twin Towers infrastructure. Skipping the queue, I peered through the glass at the beam, still a brilliant grey and with the construction markings still on it, thinking that this was how the Sisyphean task of figuring out the nature of inter- and intra-religious fractures started. Where the Twin Towers once stood are now two A MONUMENT AT THE SITE OF ONE OF THE TWIN TOWERS massive wells into which water flowed. Carved into the black marble are the The endearing thing about New York, names of all who had been lost during I found, were the uncanny. There were that attack. street-side chess matches. We met a poet writing prompt-based verse on his I had expected more poignancy because typewriter for commuters in the subway. that September day seemed like the A Buddhist meditation group chanted tipping point in the world's already sutras at the intersection in Grand Central tenuous relationship with Islam. Yet, Station. Samaritans came out in the cold, I felt as eerily quiet as the monument's seeking aid and donations for the surroundings. homeless. The street culture in New York was vibrant and there was something THE PARTING beautiful about these unlicensed acts of On departure day, the long lines at the kindness in one form or another. airport confirmed all expectations: the frantic removal of shoes and coats, the Conservatism, divisive attitudes and random selection for additional security religious vigilantism are empty acts checks and the unnerving impassivity of compared to these. To embark upon them, the officers. even in the delusions of righteousness, is New York was not without its takeaways, to wound our society with gaping holes in the ground—a reminder of a past grandeur however. The outgroups were clearly in the stretch of an empty, silent sky. identified in the city: the unkempt poor with their heads bowed, the children trying to make a coin or two from banging rhythms on the bottoms of upturned buckets. I had complained about the miserable cold but I grew to be mindful of the many others sleeping out in the cold. 44 T H E K A R Y A W A N

Associate id is a Research Dr Nuraliah Noras in Islamic and rch sea Re for e with the Centr Doctor of MA). She holds a Malay Affairs (RI tion in Creative lisa cia spe a h wit Philosophy, sis from mporary Mythopoe Writing and Conte iversity. She is the Un al gic olo hn Nanyang Tec er writings eeper and her oth author of The Gatek Perempuan: Muslim in ed lish pub n have bee y Literary t and the Quarterl Women Speak Ou . ore gap Sin w Revie

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