Friday, January 9, 2009

You do us proud, Jomo!

Jomo Kwame Sundaram and I aren't exactly drinking buddies but I'm glad we bumped into each other and shook hands at least a few times when he was at Universiti Malaya. Always liked the man for his quiet, unassuming aura of heart-centered intelligence.

To me, Jomo KS (as he prefers to be called) has always represented the befriendable human face of intellectuality. My instincts about Jomo as an inherently noble soul have been convincingly borne out over the decades. The man has consistently spoken out for the exploited and oppressed underclasses in the sanctified halls of elite academia, and in the Olympian Councils of the UN.

Jomo was among the featured speakers at State of the Planet 2006, a conference on sustainable development hosted by The Earth Institute at Columbia University

Jomo and his family now reside in New York, because of his job with the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs as assistant secretary-general for economic development. Now here's a robust intellect Malaysia could certainly use at this juncture. How on earth did we succeed in losing Jomo KS to the United Nations?

I'll tell you how. Although never actively involved in politics, Professor Jomo was often an outspoken critic of Mahathir's top-heavy development policy and his flirtations with despotism camouflaged as "guided democracy." Jomo was among the tiny handful of academics who voiced their displeasure when Anwar Ibrahim was publicly accused of sodomy, unceremoniously sacked, and brutally mistreated by the police. When his contract with Universiti Malaya expired in 2004, Professor Jomo wasn't offered an option to extend his tenure. Born a Chindian with two African names (after Kenyan president Jomo Kenyatta and President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana), Jomo KS was certainly well placed to speak out on behalf of the voiceless in Asia and Africa - but here in his own homeland, he was deemed to be of the wrong ethnic origin and therefore not a suitable candidate to head a national think-tank or serve as economic advisor to the government.

Well, Malaysia's loss is the whole world's gain. Always good to see you back, Jomo!

Jomo: Global Financial System Reform Needs Our Inputs
Malaysiakini | Jan 9, 09 1:43pm

The world’s seven richest countries, also called the Group of 7 or G7 - United States, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and United Kingdom - have by and large dominated discussions on the global financial system.

The United Nations recently set up a group of experts, called the UN Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, with the aim of including viewpoints from those outside of the exclusive G7 club.

The commission, headed by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz is tasked with suggesting proposals for systemic reform of the global financial system and is expected to deliver its final report by mid-2009.

Among the commission members is former Universiti Malaya economist Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram, who is also assistant secretary-general for Economic Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Jomo, in an interview on the Fairly Current Show, said that the commission’s “idea is that at the beginning of the 21st century, the process of systemic reform should involve the voice and participation of the vast majority of countries in the world”.

Malaysia's best known economist, who is now based in New York, was in Kuala Lumpur on December 6 to deliver a keynote speech on the current global financial crisis.

The Fairly Current Show interviewed leading economist Dr. Jomo K.S. during his recent return to Kuala Lumpur in December.

Dr. Jomo sheds light on the ongoing global financial crisis, and the daunting challenges that economies across the world, including Malaysia, will face in 2009.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram (born 11 December 1952), better known as Jomo KS, is a prominent Malaysian economist, who is currently serving as the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). He was also the founder chair of International Development Economics Associates (IDEAs), and sat on the Board of the United Nations Research Institute For Social Development (UNRISD), Geneva. Jomo is a leading scholar and expert on the political economy of development, especially in Southeast Asia, who has authored over 35 monographs, edited over 50 books and translated 11 volumes besides writing many academic papers and articles for the media.

Jomo is widely perceived to be an outspoken intellectual, with unorthodox non-partisan views. During the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98, Jomo was one of the earliest advocates of capital control measures, which then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad eventually introduced to curb excessive currency speculation. However, when then Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim was imprisoned without trial under the Internal Security Act, Jomo publicly condemned the repression. In late 1998, he was sued for defamation for 250 million ringgit by Vincent Tan, a Mahathir era billionaire.

Named after two African nationalist leaders, Jomo was born in Penang, Malaysia, soon after Jomo Kenyatta was incarcerated in late 1952. He spent his early years studying at Westlands Primary School (1959-63) and later at Penang Free School (1964-66). He later won a scholarship to the Royal Military College (1967-70) where he was selected as Malaysia’s delegate to the World Youth Forum in 1970. He later attended Yale College (1970-73) on a full scholarship. After graduating cum laude from Yale with a degree in economics, Jomo went on to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard to obtain his MPA in 1974. He lost his father in early 1974 and returned to teach at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in mid-1974, before beginning work on his Ph.D. at Harvard which he completed in late 1977 while teaching at Yale after earlier teaching stints at Harvard while working on his doctorate. The title of his Ph.D. dissertation is Class Formation in Malaya: Capital, the State, and Uneven Development (1978).

Jomo returned to Malaysia to research his thesis in 1976 before joining the economics faculty of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in early 1977. Five years later, he moved to the University of Malaya, where he remained for more than 22 years. During this period, Jomo was British Academy Visiting Professor and later Visiting Fellow at Cambridge (1987-88, 1991-92), Fulbright Visiting Professor at Cornell University (1993) and Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. He was also founder director of the independent Institute of Social Analysis (INSAN) until late 2004, President of the Malaysian Social Science Association (1996-2000) and Convenor of the first and second International Malaysian Studies Conventions (1997, 1999). In January 2005, Jomo moved to New York City as UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development after retiring from the University of Malaya in 2004.

Jomo’s extensive writings have covered industrial policy, privatization, rent-seeking, cronyism, financial liberalization, macroeconomic policy impacts, economic distribution, ethnic relations, Islam and Malaysian history. His better known recent books include Privatizing Malaysia (Westview, 1995), Southeast Asia’s Misunderstood Miracle (Westview, 1997), Tigers in Trouble (Zed, 1998), Malaysia's Political Economy: Politics, Patronage and Profits (Cambridge University Press, 1999), Rents, Rent-Seeking and Economic Development (Cambridge University Press, 2000), Malaysian Eclipse (Zed, 2000) and The New Development Economics (Zed, 2005).

Related article on Malaysiakini - Jomo: Time for joint global action on economy