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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Opening Minds Through Education

Now that we have a new Minister of Education in the person of Dr. Maszlee Malik, I re-post below my Q&A sessions at the three Alif Ba Ta Conferences organized by the UMNO Club of New York and New Jersey in 2008, 2009 and 2011. At first glance I would be the last person to be invited to such a gathering. That reflects the open mindedness of those students.

Q1: How can we use our schools specifically and education system generally to open up Malaysian minds? Malaysians today are better educated than ever, and some of our leaders have impressive degrees from the best universities, but their mindset is still kampung or underneath the coconut shell.

MBM: That is a profound question and observation. I will respond by stating some simple and obvious facts. First, schooling does not equal learning. If you were to ask the many who dropped out why they did so, invariably their answer would be that they were not learning anything at school.

Second, the classroom is not the only place where you can learn. The boy who helps his father at his warung kopi is learning many things, like customer relations, cash flow, and inventory control. He may not know them by such terms but he is still absorbing the essence of those concepts. If he had stayed in a Malaysian school he probably still could not balance his checkbook.

There was a study many years ago of kampung girls working in the factories of multinational companies–the Minah Karan (Hot girls!). Most had attended only primary school, hence the derogatory label. Yet after only a few years of working there, those girls had social profiles associated more with those who had completed secondary schooling. Meaning, they married late, saved more, and had fewer children. Obviously working in a factory taught them many useful lessons such as punctuality, to value time and money, and be independent. Those are useful lessons of life, and they would have never learned them at schools, at least not Malaysian schools. Working in those factories made them escape their kampungmindset far more effectively than had they completed their local schooling or even attended local universities.

As for opening up Malaysian minds, you would automatically achieve that by not intentionally closing them. What goes on in our schools today, especially religious schools, is nothing more than indoctrination masquerading as education. We are intent on closing minds. Children are by nature curious; they have an innate desire to explore. All we have to do is leave them alone; they would of course go further if we equip them with the necessary tools.

One such tool is language skills. I would like Malay students be fluently bilingual for reasons discussed earlier. The two natural languages would be Malay and English. Then we should ensure that they have the necessary quantitative skills so they could think with some degree of precision and not merely agak agak (wild guesses). Meaning, emphasize mathematics. Additionally, our students must be familiar with modern science and the scientific method so they could understand better the universe around and within them as well as be armed with a tool to solve their problems effectively, that is, go beyond speculating and philosophizing.

Lastly, I would encourage critical thinking through literature, even our simple folklores. Consider my favorite childhood story, Batu Belah, Batu Melangkup. You know, the story of the mother who sulked and ran away to disappear into a cave because her children had eaten all the food leaving her with nothing.

After reading that story in class, imagine if the teacher were to ask the girls to picture themselves as the mother. She is now in the cave alone and a jinn would appear to grant her one final wish:  to deliver her last letter to her children. Then ask those girls to write that letter. For the boys, imagine that you, being the eldest and now responsible for your siblings, the jinn too had appeared and gave you a similar wish. Now write that one last letter to your mother.

Imagine the different responses! That is the sort of assignment that would encourage students to think creatively and explore their inner world. There are no “right” answers or “prep” essays to download! Such an exercise would challenge and bring out the students’ intelligence and creativity.

Literature is exciting; among other things it helps develop powers of critical thinking but only if we go beyond the “who said what and to whom,” and, if I may add, on what page!

Our education system today succeeds only in creating an obsession with paper qualifications–credentialism. I am stunned at how many chief ministers and corporate chiefs who unabashedly display their “doctorates” from degree mills. They are not even embarrassed. Worse, nobody in the media exposes their fraud.

Next week:  How can we unite Malaysians when we have these separate school systems?

From my book Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

FELDA - The Next 1MDB

FELDA – The Next 1MDB
M. Bakri Musa
FELDA (Federal Land Development Authority), the massive plantation development scheme that was Tun Razak’s brainchild and crown jewel of his rural development program, threatens to rival the massive scandal of 1MDB in terms of corruption, grand larceny, and inept management. 
     Its new head (now former, with UMNO’s rout in the May 2018 elections), one Sharil Samad, admitted that title to the prime property on which its head office is sited was transferred to a developer without his or his agency’s knowledge! This character claims to have an MBA but his private venture up till then was to run a laundromat. He in turn had replaced the scandal-ridden Isa Samad (no relation) who earlier was found guilty by UMNO for “money politics.” 
     FELDA is now a large, diversified agro-based GLC having morphed from its origin as a modest federal agency. It boasts revenues (2017 figures) in excess of RM17B. The profit picture however, is another story and best reflected by its stock prices which languishes at about a third of its initial offering price. When FELDA was listed in 2012 as FGV (FELDA Global Ventures), it was the largest in Asia and globally second only to Facebook.
     Visit FELDA’s settlements today and compare them to the 1960s or 70s. Nothing much have changed. The settlers’ standard of living has not improved. If there is any economic enterprise on those settlements, they would be under the control of FGV. The social and economic dynamics of those settlements resemble the old company town, except that the company here, FGV, is not in the least benevolent. 
     There is one significant change which the settlers are not even aware of, or if they are, not appreciate the full financial and other ramifications. Whereas before they had title to their land (about 16 acres each), today that has been subordinated to FGV as part of the IPO. When FGV shares tumbled, those settlers’ assets went with it. 
     Those settlers as well as FELDA managers do not understand such sophisticated financial instruments as dividends, stock offerings, and capital gains. FGV should have emulated Nestlé and invested in its settlers and not be enthralled with pseudo high finance. FELDA is uniquely positioned to execute that as its leaders and managers are Malays, as are the settlers. As such there would be no cultural barriers in appreciating their problems, unlike Nestlé’s European managers had with their African growers. 
     FELDA has done little to stimulate entrepreneurial activities among its settlers. It has not encouraged them through funding or training to be FELDA’s vendors, suppliers, or subcontractors, nothing beyond harvesting the palm nuts and tapping their rubber trees. 
     I would have expected that with the huge profits FELDA often brags about, the schools and clinics in its settlements would be among the best so as to give those settlers’ children a flying head start, as those of Nestle’s African cocoa growers. Instead FELDA schools perform below average. Regrettable considering that the mission of these GLCs is “national development foundation,” in particular that of Bumiputras. FELDA has only recently set up a residential school exclusively for the children of its workers. Over half a century later, and only one school! 
FELDA brags ad nauseum about the few successful “AnakFELDA” (children of FELDA). They are outliers, not the consequence of enlightened policies.
     As for the settlements, few have electricity or piped water, much less a clinic. Again, compare that to what Nestlé is doing to those African cocoa growers. Those Malay managers and executives at FELDA ought to be ashamed of themselves and their lousy performances! 
     FELDA has introduced little innovation to make the settlers’ lives and work more bearable and less dangerous. Oil palm is harvested in the same old, crude, and dangerous manual ways as it was in the 1960s. FELDA have not introduced hydraulic lifts (like the ones telephone repairmen use to fix overhead lines) to make the harvesting of palm nuts more efficient. Those workers still use pitchforks and bare hands to collect those nuts. Not only do the pitchforks damage the nuts, their sharp shells often scrape the workers’ hands giving rise to painful tumor-like growths (granulomas). Those chores are archaic and literally backbreaking; they should have been mechanized. 
     Only through such innovations could you increase your workers’ productivity, not endlessly exhorting “work harder!” or “be more efficient!” 
     FGV is the largest employer of unskilled laborers, meaning, illegal immigrants. Instead of investing in the skills and productivity its workers, as well as modernizing its plantations to be less dependent on unskilled workers, FGV took the easy way out by importing them and with all the attendant social problems. 
     There is also little research done on maximizing the use of land, as with growing flowers and vegetables or raising livestock in between the trees to raise the settlers’ income. 
FELDA has many subsidiaries. All look impressive until you examine their activities; few materially advance the settlers’ plight. Those subsidiaries are but crass opportunities for politicians and civil servants to earn extra-lucrative directorship fees by being appointed to their boards, all at the poor settlers’ expense. 
     With the resources it has and freed from the micromanagement of the the civil service, FGV could have superb build schools to benefit the settlers’ children. 
     These GLCs as exemplified by FGV have failed in their primary mission of developing Bumiputra human capital. They succeed only in duplicating existing governmental programs, and adding to the costs. They do not bring in added value despite the tremendous resources, financial and otherwise, expended on them.  Good enough reason to get rid of them.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

An Observation A Decade Too Soon

An Observation A Decade Too Soon!
M. Bakri Musa

Over a decade ago I was on a panel together with Dr. Azly Rahman at a symposium organized by the UMNO Club of New York and New Jersey. This was one of the questions from the students, and my response.

Has UMNO Youth President Khairy Jamaluddin a future in his party and country? 

MBM: The future of UMNO Youth or Khairy Jamaluddin specifically is peripheral to my interest. Meaning, I could not care less about what happens to him or the organization he leads. The future of Malaysia (and Malays) is also far divorced from that of UMNO or Khairy. 

Your question prompts me to make a more general observation on Malay youths, especially those few bright ones. Too many of them are like Khairy, poorly mentored and not-so-wisely counseled. Far too many think that graduating from a top university with an undergraduate degree is the height of intellectual achievement. Thus they eschew further education and training. 

As so few of our youths end up at those elite institutions, those fortunate few acquire a special sense of destiny. They are imbued with undisguised confidence in their innate ability. They think that they could helm a major corporation or organization without having to gain further experience or training.

In this regard they are no different from other bright students. Nor do I quarrel with their underlying assumption. I too like my leaders to be smart.

Their mistake is in believing that their undergraduate degree is their ultimate achievement and not the beginning. This is not so with bright American kids. Indeed the measure of excellence with American universities is the percentage of their students who go on to graduate or professional schools. Those few who opt for work would choose companies or organizations where they would get the best experience and mentoring.

Our problem is compounded by our institutional rigidity. A few years ago one of the students here was accepted to the graduate program at one of the top universities. Every year literally thousands of bright eager students from all over the world apply to this and similar programs. Yet when our student was accepted, the folks at the ministry back in Malaysia with their rigid bureaucratic mindset would hear nothing of it. She had to return home. 

If I were to advise the Khairys of today (meaning, some of you), this is what I would offer. First, congratulations for having graduated from a top university. You should be justly proud of your achievement. Explore how you could leverage that to even greater heights. Sit for your GRE, GMAT or whatever and get yourself enrolled into a quality graduate or professional program. Then when you are suitably qualified, work with some reputable corporations or organizations where you will have capable leaders and executives to be your role models and mentors. Better yet, set up your own enterprise. If you are pursuing doctoral work, stay back for some post-doctoral experience and have a few papers under your belt. If some bureaucrats somewhere were to dictate to you otherwise, do not accept their decision passively. Fight it. 

If you are related to a very important person, all the more you should take my advice. If you were to bank on your connections to achieve your goals, your achievements would forever be tainted, as Khairy is belatedly finding out.

Unfortunately there are many Khairys out there who look upon their connections as durian runtuh (open season), and exploit that relationship. That will definitely make you rise very quickly as long as your patron is in power. It would not however, be enduring. 

While you are on the rise they will shower you with superlatives. While his father-in-law was in power, Khairy was called “the best investment banker!” Wow! Those things can go to the head of even the most humble. It helps to remember that when they shower you with such extravagant praises, that reflects more on them than on you. 

As for Khairy, he is now a damaged brand; he can never recover. My unsolicited advice to him would be to get out of politics, possibly out of Malaysia too, and find your niche elsewhere. There are many ways to serve your people besides being in politics or even living in your own country. 

From my book Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Making Corrutpion History - Cakap Kosong Je 'Jib!

Making Corruption History – Cakap Kosong Je ‘Jib!
M. Bakri Musa
[Former Prime Minister Najib Razak, while not yet gone, is now awaiting criminal charges that could land him in jail for decades. There is little benefit in expending ink on him now except for some weekend laughs and as a mental exercise in "what could have been."  Here is what I wrote on him then while he was flying high.]   
In San Francisco recently (September 2009), Prime Minister Najib confidently declared “to make corruption part of Malaysia’s past, not its future.” The man’s delusion never ceases to amaze me. The reality is of course far different; corruption defines the Najib Administration.
            Nonetheless if Najib is serious, then he should heed Tengku Razaleigh’s call for Najib to declare his assets. Otherwise it would be, to put it bluntly in the vernacular, “Cakap kosong je ‘Jib!” (Empty talk only!)
            Tengku Razaleigh’s suggestion, if implemented, would do far more good than all of Najib’s lofty declarations of “changing organizational as well as business cultures” or creating “a new governance and integrity minister” and “elevating the anti-corruption agency.” Malaysians have heard all those ad nauseum, not only from Najib but also his predecessors.
            If after doing what Tengku Razaleigh had suggested Najib still aspires higher, he could begin by getting rid of those tainted individuals in his administration. Then if he is really committed to clean and effective governance, he should select only those with unquestioned integrity and solid accomplishments to be his new ministers and advisors.
            As Najib is slow to grasp concepts, let me elaborate on those three simple suggestions.
            Consider asset declaration. Najib does not need yet another highly-paid consultant advising him how to do it. There are plenty of effective models out there, including one recommended by the OECD. The simplest is the one used by American officials including the president, cabinet secretaries, and Supreme Court judges. It covers their spouses and all dependent children.
            Here is President Obama’s, available publicly at: docstoc.com/docs/156786412/Obama-Financial-Disclosure. The simple eight-page report lists his assets and income, transactions during the year, gifts received (he had none), liabilities (his home mortgage), and contracts he is a party to (his old faculty appointment).
            Simple yet effective! As the declaration is filed annually, citizens could tract any sudden ballooning of assets, income, or extra-generous gifts that could prompt further enquiry, as well as monitor contracts and activities that could pose as potential conflict of interest.
            Obama and his senior officials go further; they release their full income tax returns annually.
            If Najib were to do likewise, rumors of his wife buying million-ringgit rings and getting extravagant gifts would not have arisen, indeed they were baseless.
            If Najib’s ministers were also to declare their assets, then we would not have the silly specter of a cabinet minister feigning ignorance of her husband’s quarter-billion ringgit government-funded business, as Shahrizat tried to do recently. The pathetic part was that she truly believed that the public would buy her swiftly-concocted story.
            Beyond publicly declaring his assets, if Najib aspires for a clean administration, then he should remove those tainted individuals in his administration. Since Najib is blind to reality, I will help him identify such proven shady characters.
            The most glaring is Isa Samad, former Negri Sembilan Chief Minister. Dispensing with his lackluster tenure as the chief executive of that state, the man was found guilty of “money politics,” UMNO’s euphemism for plain ugly corruption. Meaning, he is corrupt even by UMNO’s lax standards, assuming the party has any!
            In any system with even a semblance of integrity, slimy characters like Isa Samad would have been jailed. In China, they would be executed. Yet Najib appointed Isa to helm the billion- ringgit Felda Global Holdings, a GLC. One wonders why Najib is so enamored with this character. The more intriguing question is why the powerful hold Isa has on Najib?
            Then there is Ali Rustam, also a former Chief Minister (Malacca). Like Isa, Ali too was found guilty of money politics. At least voters in his state were wise enough to boot him out. Now Ali is eyeing for the UMNO Vice-Presidency, as is Isa. Watch it, Najib will also do an Isa on Ali, that is, appoint him to a senior lucrative position, making a mockery of Najib’s aim of making corruption history.
            Then after getting rid of the Isa Samads and Ali Rustams Najib still harbors even higher aspirations, like wanting a crisp and efficient administration, then he could entice capable Malaysians to join his team.
            I suggest co-opting Keadilan’s Rafizi Ramli. This bright young man has done more than anyone else to heighten public consciousness of corruption at high places. Rafizi shamed the anti-corruption agency. Appointing Rafizi would also go a long way towards a “unity” government. Only the likes of Shahrizat would not welcome his appointment.
            At the very least Rafizi’s appointment would significantly lower the average age of Najib’s cabinet as well as drastically elevate its collective IQ!
            At the other end of the experience spectrum is Tengku Razaleigh. He is from Najib’s own party too. If Najib is deeply serious about and truly committed to memperkasakan ekonomi Melayu (enhancing Malay economy) as he asserted recently, well, the Tengku has been there and done that, and remarkably well too! Look at Petronas and Pernas. Malaysia’s finances were robust during his tenure as Finance Minister.
            Yes, at one time he helmed the once powerful Bank Bumiputra, now long gone. If Tengku’s detractors want to taint him with that scandal, remember this. Tengku Razaleigh is one of the few if not only public figures to have successfully sued for libel the venerable Financial Timeswhen it tried to implicate him.
            Co-opting Tengku Razaleigh would give the Najib Administration some adult supervision. Better yet, Najib should seize the opportunity and take a sabbatical, just like what Lee Kuan Yew once did. Take a temporary leave from UMNO and Malaysia; learn about the real world beyond government. Najib would learn that there is a vast other universe out there not dependent on public paychecks or political patronages.
            At another speech during his recent San Francisco trip, Najib chided his critics especially those residing abroad who “criticize the country but they do not have any idea on how to contribute to the country.”
            Najib is not only slow in grasping concepts but he is also not a careful reader. We do not criticize Malaysia, only his inept leadership. Nonetheless since Najib has asked for specific ideas, here is one.
            Take an extended sabbatical. Let someone like Tengku Razaleigh take over. Three or four years hence, in time for the next election, resume your prime ministership. Meanwhile learn as much as possible about the much bigger and considerably more wonderful world beyond UMNO. You will be a more effective leader for that, and Malaysia would be a much better country, both while you were gone and after you return.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Observing Ramadan In A Secular Society

Published in the June 20 – July 3, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Bakri Musa
To many Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Ramadan means fasting, and only that. Viewed as such Ramadan can be challenging, more so in our food-celebrated culture.
However, Ramadan is more than just fasting from sunrise to sunset. It is a time to pause and to ponder, to be forgiving and to seek forgiveness, and to be generous not only to others but equally important, oneself. It is also a time for self-restraint and self-discipline.
Unlike the other tenets of Islam like praying, paying tithe, and pilgrimage to Mecca, fasting is a private and personal act. Living in secular and predominantly non-Muslim America, nobody forces me to fast. There are no religious police wandering around looking for sinners, as in my native Malaysia. I fast because I want to, and for that reason it is much more meaningful.
In today’s harried and hurried world, it is easy to be caught up in the maelstrom. The change in my daily routine during Ramadan forces me to pause and reflect. In short, it is my “time out.”
The quiet of the morning, with ample time now available that was previously consumed with preparing and eating breakfast, is ideal for contemplation. Those moments, alas, are only too rare during my regular day.
My lunch break is now my most productive time as I am alone in my office, uninterrupted. I can also count on losing five to 10 pounds during Ramadan. It is flattering to hear comments on how fit I look at the end of the month!
Concomitant with the change in my daily routine is the alteration of my metabolism. The inevitable reduction in caloric intake can only be good for my body. Scientists tell us that it enhances longevity, at least in laboratory animals. There is no disputing that excess caloric intake and the consequent obesity is today’s major public health issue.
Experts also tell us that after a few days of fasting we begin breaking down our fat cells. The weight-reduction aspect aside, that invigorates our stem cells, especially those of our intestines. This in turn enhances healing and disease prevention, as well as mitigates the effects of aging. No surprise that experts now advocate fast-mimicking diets.
Sadly today, fasting in many Muslim societies has been “modernized,” with evenings consumed with never-ending feasts. Many gain weight during Ramadan; their gluttony switched from daytime to nighttime, the very antithesis of the spirit of restraint called for during Ramadan.
The traditional teaching is that fasting reminds us of the hunger endured by those less fortunate. It is hard to empathize with the poor when you know that your own hunger will be satiated — no, indulged upon — come sunset.
An element of even greater import during Ramadan is charity. For those who for a variety of reasons cannot fast, the giving of charity is an acceptable substitute. Just as important is the generosity of spirit and the renewal of family and societal bonds, as expressed in our communal iftars (breaking of the fast).
I am blessed with good health that I could partake in fasting; peace that I could do it with tranquility; and prosperity that I could fulfill my charitable obligations as well as being assured that my fast will end come sunset. I am also mindful that millions of others are less fortunate, which makes me even more thankful of my blessings.
Last Friday, June 15, our community celebrated Eidul Fitri, the end of Ramadan. Following a communal prayer, with everyone dressed in their finest, many in their traditional attires, the rest of the day was spent visiting friends and family, enjoying, as expected, food and other tasty treats!
Bakri Musa is a local surgeon and former president of South Valley Islamic Community.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

End The Outrageous "Double Dipping" By Top Public Officials

End The Outrageous “Double Dipping” By Top Public Officials
M. Bakri Musa

The revelation by Transport Minister Loke that the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) Chairman Abdullah Ahmad earns about RM85K a month, while a shocker, is not a secret. It is a long-held practice, and he is not alone. Far from it! 

This practice proliferated under Najib, one of the many manifestations of his cash-is-king schemes to buy the loyalty of senior public officials. He of course received much more in return through their loyalty and cooperation, as evidenced by the loot hauled from his private residences after he was booted out.  

            Prime Minister Mahathir, who earns less than a quarter of what that Mavcom Chairman gets, has ordered Chief Secretary Ali Hamsa to review the remunerations of top public officials as well as heads of GLCs and statutory bodies. 

            There is no need for such a review. Instead, Mahathir should just ban them from having extra income beyond their salaries. They are being paid to devote their time and effort exclusively to their current positions. Theirs is not a 9-5 job; they have no business assuming added responsibilities except in an ex officio(by virtue of their positions) capacity. For that they already have generous allowances to cover the expenses incurred, as with travelling and lodging.

Ali Hamsa is also the wrong person to undertake such an important review. Foremost is the issue of conflict of interest. He is as guilty as that Mavcom Chairman. Hamsa should begin by declaring how much extra compensation he was paid in addition to his regular salary as Chief Secretary by virtue of appointing himself to be on the various boards. The recently-disgraced Treasury Secretary Irwan Serigar was on Khazanah’s and Bank Negara’s Boards, as well as others not yet revealed. He must have raked in substantial additional income from director’s fees.

Ali Hamsa, Irwan Serigar, Abdullah Ahmad and countless others are guilty of double dipping into the public purse. The poor rakyat bears the burden of such rampant lucrative practices. 

Ali Hamsa is also ill-qualified to undertake such a review. He has spent all his career in the civil service. He knows nothing of the culture or value of talent in the competitive private sector. He has been receivingnot giving out paychecks all his life; he has no appreciation of the challenges in having to meet a payroll.

Scrutinize the corporate structures of many GLCs and statutory bodies. They have myriads of subsidiaries and associated companies. The reason is simple – management greed; more corporate entities, more board of director’s positions! Ever wonder why those GLCs and statutory bodies lose money?

If companies like Petronas need outside directors, the Professor of Petroleum Engineering from the University of Malaya would be a far superior choice than a recently retired Chief Secretary to the government. All the latter would do is graft the stultifying civil service culture onto the company.

Appointing that professor as director would also be a way to augment his otherwise meager academic pay. That might just be the inducement for him to stay on campus instead of joining the private sector, to the loss of his students who would be the country’s future petroleum engineers. The professor would also gain real world experience, again to the benefit of his students. Likewise with Tabung Haji. Why not appoint the local Professor of Economics or Accounting to its board? That would be far superior than having that mamakwith a PhD or MBA from Preston University!

Another common and lucrative double-dipping scheme occurs when retired civil servants or former public officials are appointed to statutory bodies or GLCs. The number one culprit in the news today is Isa Samad. He is notorious for other reasons. For this discussion, while he is drawing a substantial pay as the head of SPAD (the Malay initials for the federal public transportation agency), he is still getting his pension as a former MP and a Federal Minister, as well as that of a State (Negri Sembilan) Chief Minister, and as a state legislator (ADUN). Beyond that he is also getting one for being the former head of FELDA. These entities may have different names but their paymaster is the same – the rakyat.

Such “double dipping” should be banned. If a retired civil servant or public official is appointed to a GLC or statutory body and he is getting a regular salary, then he should not be allowed to draw on the pension of his previous job. Instead he should be considered as continuing to work for the same paymaster but in a different capacity. Of course if he were to start his own business or be employed by a private company, that would be a different matter. In that case he should be entitled to the government pension of his old job.

If such a policy were to be instituted, then all those soon-to-retire civil servants would remain busy in their jobs instead of preoccupying themselves lobbying for a post-retirement position in a GLC or statutory body. 

There would two immediate positive effects of such a policy. One, those civil servants would now be less likely to be seduced by their political masters as is the current culture. They would now be more likely to be independent if not outspoken in disagreeing with their political superiors. That could only be good for the country’s administration. 

The other positive effect would be to encourage more Malays (most civil servants are Malays) to enter the private sector either as employees, directors, or to create their own businesses. That would increase the rate of Malay participation in the private sector far more effectively and efficiently than starting expensive and often money-losing GLCs. They would then be more like Rafidah Aziz with Air Asia, or set up their own professional practices as Aziz Abdul Rahman, former Managing Director of Malaysia Airlines, with his own law firm. 

In the 1960s Tun Razak lowered the retirement age (it was 55 then) so enterprising young civil servants could retire to start their own businesses. That initiative spawned many Malay-owned businesses. This was also the practice of the Italian government and resulted in the blossoming of entrepreneurial activities spurred by young retired civil servants who had the safety net of their retirement income. 

            This double dipping by senior civil servants and public officials costs the nation a hefty bundle. With Malaysia’s debt now exceeding a trillion ringgit, the nation can ill afford such outrageous wastages. Time to ban double dipping outright. There is no need for further unnecessary studies.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

1MDB Is Only A Symptom of a Much Bigger Mess

The 1MDB Is Only A Symptom Of A Much Bigger Mess
M. Bakri Musa

Only a few weeks ago that the CEO of 1MDB was telling everyone that the company’s assets far exceeded its liabilities and that it could service its humongous debts.

Today Arul Kandasamy is exposed for what he is, Najib’s campaign errand boy tagged with an impressive title and powered by a massive dose of dedak. Arul is but an inept executive and a bumbling campaigner. What can you say of a CEO who does not even know that his company is insolvent, and has been for months, or a campaigner who could not draw a crowd? As for the title “Chief” Executive, he is 1MDB’s only employee!

I could not care less about Arul or his erstwhile boss Najib Razak. Malaysians however are rightfully concerned with 1MDB as they would end up with the liabilities, now fast ballooning to be multi-billions. What a sorry and very expensive end to what started out as the first state-level, government-sponsored development agency, Trengganu Investment Authority (TIA), to manage the state’s oil revenue. It was a combined Alberta Heritage Fund and Norwegian Sovereign Fund wannabe. 

Najib morphed TIA into 1MDB and borrowed heavily. It is now near bankcruptcy, needing frequent bailouts. Instead of the promised bounty, 1MDB burdens the rakyat and their descendants for generations to come.

Despite that, many still do not or refuse to see the connection between those boxes of cash hauled from Najib’s residence and 1MDB’s insolvency. That scene was more like a raid on a drug kingpin’s house.

This 1MDB scandal is a symptom of a much deeper problem. Time to rethink the whole GLC concept. GLCs and their antecedents, the crown corporations, have a long history. They are not unique to Malaysia. Both capitalistic America and Communist China have GLCs, serving very different needs and objectives. 

Tun Razak gave Malaysian GLCs steroids to leverage and spearhead Malay participation in the corporate sector. His son, Najib, degenerated them into a not-so-sophisticated system for crooked politicians like himself to plunder the state. At least when the Sultan of Brunei wants some cash, all he has to do is raid the public treasury. As there is no differentiation between his and the state’s assets, raid is not quite the right term for that action.

In Malaysia however, Najib needed elaborate shell companies and trusts in such places as Panama and the Cayman Islands, as well as willing intermediaries like his stepson, that chubby moronic-looking fellow, and an Arab potentate among others for Najib to siphon off the state’s assets through a GLC. 1MDB is Exhibit A.   

The frequent exercise of one GLC selling assets to another, each with an ever-escalating price, is reminiscent of the tricks used by Icelandic rogue bankers that led to that country’s economic meltdown in 2008. All those associated paper-shuffling maneuvers with their expensive commissions and professional fees are just schemes to plunder the assets of those GLCs. 

Malaysian GLCs also have a negative influence on talented young Bumiputras, their idealism and brilliance squandered by the corrupt ways of these GLCs. Without those GLCs they could have started their own enterprises and be a local Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, or shine at the local branch of IBM and Morgan Stanley. 

Yet another corrosive effect of GLCs is that they are but a not-so-subtle but very effective scheme to corrupt top civil servants. Be too critical of your political superior and you jeopardize your chance of a lucrative post-retirement job as Chairman of Petronas. Note that of the four Tan Sri’s connected to the earlier investigation of 1MDB who ‘retired,’ only former IGP Khalid, the snitch, was given the chairmanship of a GLC. That is not lost on those bureaucrats. 

The sultans too. A few millions thrown their way and they would titah(command) what a wonderful prime minister Najib was.

 As for the academics, a few thousand dollars for being on the National Professors Council would do it. Likewise the ulamas; throw some crumbs and they would quote ad nauseamhadith on the importance of obedience to leaders. 

My solution to the Malaysian GLC mess is as simple as it is inexpensive while being infinitely more productive and effective. It would also prevent future debacles like 1MDB or the many preceding ones like London Tin and Bank Bumiputra. 

Sell them all! Put the proceeds into a Trust Fund to benefit Bumiputras. Be a combination of the Norwegian and the Alberta variety. Like the Norwegian, be only a passive investor as an individual would with a mutual fund. Half of the income would be reinvested in the fund and the other half be spent as with the Alberta Heritage Fund to improve the quality of Bumiputras’ human capital. This would include supplementing the education of Bumiputras in STEM studies, acting as a source of venture capital for budding Bumiputra entrepreneurs, and providing business infrastructures as with building marketplaces and manufacturing food trucks, as well as modernizing the rural sector through mechanizing farms and rural areas.

I have earlier expanded on these ideas in my book Liberating The Malay Mind

Malaysia should not be satisfied with the current exercise of only punishing those corrupt and incompetent individuals in 1MDB and other GLCs. They should demand more. Get rid of the sources of the problem. Get rid of all GLCs. Sell them!