As COVID-19 cases soared in India and its neighbouring countries, Malaysia last Wednesday (May 5) announced a temporary entry ban on citizens of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. It had earlier on April 28 stopped flights to and from India in an attempt to prevent a new COVID-19 variant from entering the country. The coastal state of Penang, which is the Electrical and Electronics (E&E) manufacturing hub of Malaysia, has expressed concerns that this will impact the state’s manufacturers as it is dependent on skilled Indian software and information technology (IT) professionals.
Penang State Executive Councillor for International Trade, Domestic Trade, Consumer Affairs and Entrepreneur Development, Datuk Abdul Halim Hussain expressed concerns that the ban will impact the state’s industrial sector. Datuk is a Malaysian title usually conferred by the King and Datuk Abdul holds the position equivalent to a state minister.
Penang state consists of Penang island which has a land area of 293 square kilometres and the city of Seberang Perai (751 square km) on the mainland of Peninsular Malaysia. The island is connected to the mainland by two road bridges.
Not too long ago, Penang was known to some as the “Silicon Valley of the East”. It has a 48-year-old E&E industry and began attracting international manufacturers back in the 1970s with well-known US firms like Intel, Broadcom, Motorola and Dell setting up international manufacturing plants on the island. However, from around 2005, manufacturing companies gradually left its shores for China which offered plentiful skilled labour at lower cost.
Recent years saw the tide turning. Some manufacturers have returned to Malaysia because of rising costs in China as well as higher tariff – the consequence of the “trade war” started by the previous US administration. Interestingly, some Chinese companies who see setting up overseas plants as a way of getting around US tariffs, are doing so in Malaysia. In fact, Malaysia has specifically targeted Chinese manufacturers and has made it attractive for them to set-up factories in Malaysia by way of tax exemptions and investment tax allowances.
Penang to a certain degree competes with Singapore, which is 700 kilometres further south, for electronics manufacturing investments. Its largest advantage is that it has a significantly lower cost of labour when compared to the island nation.
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FASHION WAS NEVER A PLAN B FOR ME: RANNA GILL
NEW DELHI: Fashion designer Ranna Gill recently joined NewsX’s special series NewsX India A-List . She gave an insight into her journey and shared how the pandemic has impacted the fashion industry.
An alumnus of the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Ranna Gill launched her label ‘Ranna Gill’ two decades ago. Over the years, she has carved a space of her own in the Indian fashion industry. Ranna recently joined NewsX’s special series NewsX India A-List and spoke about not only her journey but also how the pandemic has impacted the fashion industry.
Speaking about how the pandemic has impacted her label and how she overcame the challenges, Ranna said, “We are still fighting. The challenges were big. We overcame them a little bit and then we came back to the fighting ground again. We have two businesses, so we have an export business in the United States and then we have stores and retail in India. So, we kind of need to paddle both. When this side of the river is stormy, we jump to the other side. We kind of need to paddle both sides and somehow try to come out of it, get out of the troubled water and we will.”
When asked about the brand ‘Ranna Gill’ and how was it conceptualised, she responded, “It is a lot of work. I started this brand with my mother, so the company is owned by my mom and me. I always loved fashion as a young student. I went to fashion school, it was my passion, it was my first love. It was what I always wanted to do so it’s not a plan B. It’s not like I wanted to be something else and I just rolled into fashion. I studied fashion. I have got bachelors in fashion from FIT New York, so I am a student of fashion and as well as a fashion designer. So, I have trained in fashion and I have always loved it. Even to this date, after having done designing for over twenty years, I still get excited when I look at products when I look at fashion I look at colours. Colours to me are like what candy is to children. It’s just such a special treat to look at the colour palette, to look at swatches, to dip die, to look at textures. Prints are an important USP to our brand. Even now, I am wearing a print from my collection. I love prints, the play of prints, and colours. We like to do easier, more playful, more ready to wear bodies, using these tools. We always stay closer to the story, what it is speaking, what the brand is speaking to its customers. You will always see colour in our collection and you will always see prints in our collection.”
Talking about the trick or mantra behind increased online sales amid the pandemic, she said, “I think it’s mostly product and the price point. It’s not very expensive, not very pricey and it’s not very difficult to wear. You don’t need to think of an occasion before coming onto our website or our stores to buy a line. To buy our products, whether it is a blouse, a tunic or a dress, you can always buy them over this weekend or two weekends down. You can wear it in the summer or bring it up in the falls. I think the product is always the king and we stay close to our language or the message we are sending to our customers. We don’t pivot from sarees to sometimes go on to make a blouse. We are always going to make the blouses, the dresses and tunics and that’s what we are going to always be designing into and circling back to. I think the product is crucial, that helped us through this time, price point, sensible pricing. sensible making of products. It’s not too fashionable that it won’t be relevant next year or two years down the line. So it’s all of those things that we kind of always come back to.”
Finally, when asked about the lessons she learned during this phase and future plans for her brand, she said, “We want to 100% focus on our online business. That is where we are headed and that I think is the future. Having said that I think we can bring more to our stores maybe. I am a little old school but I still think that they are very lovely to come to our shop. The customer has this special feeling. When she comes to our store, the girls know her she wears the garment so I think it’s going to be a bit of both. It’s really not going to be some clear messaging but at the moment it’s online, of course.”
She added, “There have been some really hard learning lessons. I think one has to for all of us. For our brand, it was just mainly we just decided to fight for the brand. We were not going to give it away or let it go and we just kind of all held hands. When did our business quietly and just fought for what we stood for so many years? One thing we learnt in our business, is working via technology. In the past, we used to take a flight and go to any place and really quickly. We would meet a buyer or meet or go to fashion fair or meet. I feel that one of the great learning is that we all got out of this phase was using technology for fashion, for all streams of business, even to connect with friends and family and fighting for your own business. Those were the two big learnings for me.”
When a selfless approach was needed to fight Covid-19, corruption ruled the roost. A grocery shop owner fleeced customers. A pharmacist hoarded life-saving medicines. Even a crematorium wasn’t spared.
Kautilya sat down to write ‘Arthashastra’, one of the first books of economics in human history, some 2,300 years ago. And he ended up writing a whole chapter on ‘corruption’. He famously said, “Just like it is impossible not to taste a drop of honey that you find at the edge of the tongue, it is impossible for a King’s officer not to eat up a bit of King’s revenue.”
Essentially, it means that even as long ago as in 300 BC, we were rampantly corrupt and as a society, we exploited whatever individual power we had. Kautilya implied that for Indians, the very human nature itself poses corruption. Time and again it was proved in our history. Kingdoms grew or fell through some strategic corruption of individuals who switched sides at a critical time. Even the British India Company walked over this sub-continent and established the rule of Britain over us because we could be corrupted easily, and it was so effortless to divide us and rule.
Transparency International, which places us in the list of nations as a very corrupt society, remarked that over 92% Indians have been exposed to and/or indulged in corruption of either giving or receiving or both at some point in their lives. As a society, we indulge in it as a casual act of convenience. And then, we complain about it, make a fuss and cry wolf.
WHY CAN’T THE GOVERNMENTS ABSOLUTELY WIPE OUT CORRUPTION?
So, whether it is Kautilya’s ‘Arthashastra’ or a review by an international organisation, we have had an indisputable image as a corrupt society that can hardly be changed. In these 2,500 years, we have had several types of governments ruling over us — kingdoms, monarchies, dynasties, Sultanats,foreign colonisation, and democracies. There have been benevolent rulers, autocratic usurpers, people’s leaders, men of the sword, and religious oppressors, you name it and we have had it. But how come any form of government or system of rule could not bring down corruption through force, legislation, counselling, or any other means for thousands of years? Haven’t we punished people enough? Well, the country has historically practised capital punishment, dismemberment of limbs, jailing, public humiliation, seizing of property, and all kinds of punishment for corruption over centuries and millennia. Yet, as a society, we are as corrupt as we have been for thousands of years.
This essentially means that it is not the government or the law which is weak and unimaginative in bringing down corruption. It is just that as people, we are too strong and imaginative to remain corrupt by all means. The people perpetuate corruption as a means of convenience. And morally, we do not attach shame or guilt to being corrupt. Corruption is our blood trait. Corruption is more of people’s character in definition than being social malice that the governance can totally get rid of. What has stayed so for years shall remain the same in the coming years, unless we change at an individual level.
During these testing times, when a selfless and sincere approach was needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, this trait of corruption ruled the roost. A grocery shop owner fleeced customers citing short supply. A pharmacist hoarded life-saving medicines. A piece of basic equipment like a pulse oximeter suddenly disappeared from stores and if available, was sold at a much higher price. Black marketing of oxygen cylinders wreaked havoc on several families in dire need of oxygen. Even a taxi driver charged hefty sums from passengers. This shows that we can exploit any opportunity for money or material. And by stooping this low, we have also defeated all the good works of a large section of people during these difficult times. Individuals, organisations, even political parties, in their own capacities, have been providing free food, medicines, ambulances, oxygen, and all possible support to the needy but they were easily eclipsed by the rampant corruption surrounding us.
In the Covid era, we have seen that corruption has reached the zenith. It is not exaggerating to say that during the times of the pandemic, we have ‘corona’ated corruption and installed it on the throne. Corruption thrives at the juncture of power. And power need not be political or administrative or of any high order. And if the opportunity is critical, rendering the other one helpless, distressed, and weak in some manner, it is all the more easier to exploit the situation. And coronavirus pandemic has become a golden goose of benefit for the heartless, unscrupulous, and ruthless.
People of all stature — from the rich and resourceful to the ones struggling to meet their ends — had to fight this corruption alongside fighting the deadly virus. It was widely reported that once you reach the hospitals, in the hope of some relief and cure, corruption widened its wings. Finding a hospital bed for the patient proved to be a Herculean task and in several cases, the hospital beds were hoarded by unscrupulous agents in connivance with the hospitals. Negotiating for an ambulance to take the critical patients to came as another shocker. News reports of ambulance operators charging Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000 for ferrying patients to short distances of a few kilometres describe this moral corruption in the most absolute terms.
In our country, where total private infrastructure accounts for nearly 62% of all of India’s health infrastructure, it is easier for corruption to thrive at every level of the system. Medical staff were found refilling empty Remdesivir bottles with fake drugs and selling them to patients not only at a premium but also risking their lives, remorselessly. Patients and their families were cheated with fire extinguishers in the name of oxygen cylinders just when they needed oxygen to save the lives of their loved ones.
These instances are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The deep-rooted corruption at the health services goes up to kickbacks given to the health workers to please them and secure better services, thefts of medical instruments and medicines from the hospitals that are sold at a premium outside the hospitals. This ethical and moral bankruptcy have even driven them to the extent of recycling and selling bio-medical wastes like used face masks, PPE kits, and gloves for the sake of a few pennies. Hospitals were also found charging exorbitant fees from Covid patients.
And if one thought this face-off with corruption would end here, a rude shock awaited. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, who would have ever thought of corruption in the cremation grounds. Families of the deceased were charged up to Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 for cremating the bodies that used to be a matter of less than Rs 5,000 on normal days. The cost of woods and ghee spiralled through the sky as bodies queued up at crematoriums.
I began this article by saying that corruption is a blood trait of people. There is very little that anyone can do to remove evil from our surroundings if people act beyond the sanctity of morality. A thing that was never effectively curtailed for centuries will only increase and occupy the centre stage of our lives when people patronise it, benefit from it, and silently subscribe to it.
The present government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has effectively shown how a system can be run without corruption. Having served for 20 years as head of the governments — in Gujarat and then at the Centre — without even a charge of corruption, PM Modi has an impeccable, clean character to inspire our generation to adopt honesty as their way of life. Unfortunately, even the high degree of honesty and morality of our Prime Minister failed to influence our society and proved that corruption was indeed our blood trait.
Governments can only help people’s will to change. But if they don’t want to change, there is no power with anyone anywhere to pull us out of the intricate mess that we have created for ourselves. Let us pledge not to exploit humanity with greed.
The writer is Chairman, Khadi & Village Industries Commission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.
Corruption thrives at the juncture of power. And power need not be political or administrative or of any high order. And if the opportunity is critical, rendering the other one helpless, distressed, and weak in some manner, it is all the more easier to exploit the situation. And the coronavirus pandemic has become a golden goose of benefit for the heartless, unscrupulous, and ruthless. People of all stature—from the rich and resourceful to the ones struggling to meet their ends—had to fight this corruption alongside fighting the deadly virus.
BORIS JOHNSON TO DELAY LIFTING COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS IN UK
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday is expected to delay lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on June 21 as planned.
Johnson told British media from the G7 summit in Cornwall on Sunday that the government “is looking at the data”, reported euronews. “The roadmap was always cautious but irreversible and in order to have an irreversible roadmap, we’ve got to be cautious,” he added.
England’s four-step easing programme planned for all remaining restrictions on businesses—including pubs, restaurants and nightclubs—and on large events and performances—including weddings and funerals—is expected to be lifted on June 21.
The UK has experienced a surge of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, blamed on the spread of the Delta variant.
Nearly 7,500 new infections were recorded on Sunday across the UK, bringing the weekly tally to more than 50,000—a near 50 per cent rise on the previous week, reported euronews.
This is despite the country having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world with 78.9 per cent of the adult population having received at least one dose and more than 56 per cent now fully inoculated.
British health authorities say that the Delta variant is up to 60 per cent more transmissible than the original strain and now represents over 90 per cent of new cases in the UK.
They also stressed last week that although vaccination prevents the risk of severe disease, it does not eliminate it completely or prevent transmission, reported euronews.
PROTESTS IN BERLIN TO MARK SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF HONG KONG UPRISING
On the second anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising in Hong Kong, scores of people including German citizens and Hongkongers jointly organized a protest in Berlin, Germany.
Nearly 100 protestors including representatives of Tibetans and Uyghurs participated in the protest at Alexanderplatz, a large public square in the capital city, on June 12 against the widespread human rights abuse by the Chinese government. Demonstrations were staged in several cities across the globe on Saturday to commemorate the second anniversary of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Since June last year, the sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on the city is being used to stifle political opposition and anti-government protests.
Ousted Myanmar leader Suu Kyi’s trial begins
More than four months after a military coup took place in Myanmar, the trial of ousted democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi opened on Monday with critics denouncing the move as a bogus exercise.
Suu Kyi, 75, is facing several cases ranging from the illegal possession of walkie-talkie radios to breaking the Official Secrets Act, Euronews reported. The National League for Democracy (NLD) leader will also appear on Tuesday on sedition charges alongside ex-president Win Myint. “We are preparing for the worst,” one of her lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said, as qouted by Euronews. The lawyer also denounced “absurd” accusations fabricated to “keep her off the country’s (political) stage and sully her image.”
Last week, Myanmar’s military junta levelled new corruption charges against the deposed leader and other former officials from her government.
The cases are the latest of a series brought against the elected leader, who was overthrown by the army on February 1 in a coup that has plunged the Southeast Asian country into chaos.
The months-long military crackdown on anti-coup protesters in Myanmar has so far taken over 840 lives, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP).
The army overthrew Suu Kyi, saying her party had cheated in November elections, an accusation rejected by the previous election commission and international monitors.
Since then, the army has failed to establish control. It faces daily protests, strikes that have paralysed the economy, assassinations and bomb attacks and a resurgence of conflicts in Myanmar’s borderlands.
Escalating violence across Myanmar including attacks on civilians must be halted to prevent even greater loss of life and a deepening humanitarian emergency, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last Friday.
Bachelet’s appeal follows reports of a continuing military build-up in various parts of the country including Kayah State in the east – where more than 108,000 people have fled their homes in the last three weeks – and in Chin State in the west.
This runs contrary to commitments made in April by Myanmar’s military leaders to regional powers ASEAN, to cease brutal violence against civilians which has followed the 1 February coup.
Pakistan continues assault on civil liberties by attacking press
As Pakistan continues to stifle freedom of speech, the country is pursuing an unrelenting assault on journalism as scribes are fired, harassed and assaulted for their critical reporting.
Umer Ali writes for DW news agency that the military and its intelligence services are among the more “sensitive” entities in Pakistan and so they don’t like being named. Due to that, the journalists use a range of phrases, such as ‘the establishment’ for the military, the ‘agriculture department’ for the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and ‘trips for northern areas’ for enforced disappearances. Highlighting the brutal assault on Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor and the shooting of Absar Alam outside his home for criticising the military, Ali noted that no progress has been made to arrest the culprits despite Islamabad being known for its extensive surveillance camera system.
In July 2020, another prominent journalist, Matiullah Jan, was abducted from outside his wife’s school. However, his kidnapping was caught on camera and he was released later after a severe backlash.
The attacks on journalists are part of a broader assault on civil liberties in Pakistan, as several human rights activists and opposition politicians face arrests and ‘treason’ charges, Ali wrote for DW.
Moreover, the Imran Khan-led government has continued a policy of gaslighting the journalists, which was noticeable when during an interview, Pakistan’s minister for information bragged about taking notice of the latest attack on Toor. He also alleged that it’s “fashionable” in the western media to accuse the ISI and that individuals about Pakistan’s intelligence agencies “lie” to “get immigration”. According to Umer Ali, Khan’s government is pursuing a journalist protection bill, in a similar duplicitous fashion, as well as an ordinance to establish a “media development authority”, which has been unanimously condemned by journalist and rights bodies as “draconian in scope and devastating in its impact.”
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