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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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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, October 17, 2005

Exchanges with Din Merican

Dear Bakri,

I read your piece on Endon’s health. You said a lot there, short of suggesting that Abdullah Badawi is unfit to govern, given his mental and emotional state. Those who understand what you are saying know that Badawi will have to make a choice: leave office to concentrate on helping his wife in her valiant effort to recover from her cancer, or concentrate on the affairs of state fully. He has to make the difficult choice between personal and national priorities. In my view, he should do a Nixon (in 1974), that is, just step down and let Najib Razak take over. Abdullah should not leave matters to his inexperienced son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin and his fellow Oxbridgdians.

It is true that Badawi is not concentrating on his job. This is common knowledge in KL. You are the first to have come out in the open. Here in Malaysia everyone is so polite. The 2005-2006 Budget was written while he was LA to be with Endon, leaving his second-in-command at the Finance Ministry to deal with it. Nor Mohamed is, in my view, a washout, given his track record.

We need another Daim-and-Mahathir (DM) team) to fix our current economic slowdown and uncertainty. Both of them were hands-on and knowledgeable stewards of our economy. Both also had significant business experiences and they had the guts to execute their policies.

Badawi returned from LA just in time to deliver the Budget Speech without really understanding the thinking and strategies behind it. When the media questioned him about the specifics, he fumbled. When the Finance Minister fumbles, investors and the public lose confidence. Our international rating like Standards & Poor will slide further. We are also down again on the International Corruption Index. He promised a lot but has done nothing. Badawi has become a bullshitter of the highest order.

The Prime Minister’s job is not ceremonial or symbolic. We have our King to play that role. The Prime Minister must truly be a chief executive and a “nut-and-bolts” manager with a clear head and guts. His job is to run the country, including the economy, with macro policies. He should manage the implementation machinery to make sure it executes his policies faithfully and properly. Badawi urgently needs to create jobs, promote sustainable economic growth, and keep inflation in check.

Cutting the budget deficit without any clear strategy is foolhardy. He did that purely to be seen as being different from Mahathir. All Badawi succeeded was to effectively put a sudden break on the economy and thereby stalling it. It would take at least 18 months for the momentum to build up again. The lack of consumer and investor confidence, poor ratings by international agencies, and low tax revenues cause Malaysia to raise foreign bonds at a higher coupon rate and at deeper discounts because of the rising US interest rates. The ex-TNB Chairman, Jamaluddin Jarjis, is persuading Badawi to borrow via international bonds to fund our biotechnology program. This coming from the man behind the TNB bond issue fiasco!

Badawi should leverage our high savings and Petronas cash. Instead, he encouraged the private sector to invest abroad. In truth, we require domestic investments so that foreign direct investments would follow suit. If we do not have confidence in our economy, we cannot expect others to be bullish.

You were right when you said we should not have postponed the double-track KTM railway project. We also should not depress the construction sector by sending Indonesian workers home in disgrace.

In short, Badawi has become a laughing stock of the investing community, local and foreign, and the Malaysian public is getting very agitated. I am furious as you can see from my exchanges on your website.

The above is my reaction after reading your piece on Endon’s health.

Regards, Din

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