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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.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Lead! Or Get Out Of The Way

Lead! Or Get Out of the Way!
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)
(First posted on Malaysia-today on Friday November 3, 2006. This would serve as my regular Sunday posting. MBM)

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi should quit whining. Lead, or get out of the way! He has had three years to make up his mind. If there is any jantan (male) left in UMNO, this is the brutally frank message he needs to deliver to his leader.

There is a place for loyalty to the leader, but not at the price of the followers being led collectively over the cliff.

The singa (lion) in UMNO is long gone; the kittens of the kucing kurap (scruffy cats) have taken over. Their meows would be heard loud and clear (and incessantly too!) only when they run out of milk. The ginger has also been long uprooted from UMNO’s garden. What we have instead are Bell peppers; colorful but pepper only in name, it spiciness long ago bred out of them.

At the upcoming UMNO General Assembly, expect effusive choruses of praise and an orgy of adulation for the leader of the day. In spectacle, it would not match what the North Koreans regularly put on for their “Dear Leader,” but the exuberance of the glorifications and the superlatives used would; their intensity matching the desperation of the speakers in being beholden to their leader.

Abdullah’s sycophants have already bestowed him the glorified title of “Father of the K-Economy,” whatever that means. I suggest he be adorned with a more appropriate appellation, “Bapak Tanah Kayangan!” (Father of Fantasyland!). After all he is heading a cabinet of Mat Jenins (Malaysian Walter Mittys), individuals who fancy themselves as legends in their own fertile imaginations.

Obscenely generous money politics and political patronages have effectively emasculated UMNO. To be sure there will be plenty of gaily-attired putris (princesses) gracing the gathering. They will add color to the otherwise dull background, but nothing more. As for the putras (princes), they will be dozing off, having spent their late nights with the Mat Rempits terrorizing the streets and neighborhoods with their motorcycles.

I long for brave souls along the fashion of the late Sulaiman Palestin. He never hesitated to challenge even the most esteemed leader. If he were alive today, he would courageously introduce a “No Confidence” resolution at the Assembly. Even if it were not successful, it might just prove to the needed shock for Abdullah to come out of his slumber. The man has been daydreaming for too long.


Pathetic Performance with Mahathir

Abdullah’s performance after (and also presumably during) his one-on-one meeting with his predecessor was pathetic. If Abdullah cannot stand up to Mahathir, how on earth can we expect Abdullah to look after the nation’s interests in even tougher negotiations with foreign leaders?

Mahathir effectively reduced Abdullah to an errand schoolboy guilty of being delinquent in his homework and now has to write down a hundred times, “I must pay attention to my work and not doze off!”

According to Abdullah, Mahathir did most of the talking. Abdullah by his own admission was too polite to interfere. Touching! According to Mahathir (and Abdullah corroborated this), he brought up the very same issues he had been harping on for the past few months.

Abdullah does not need to listen to the details again; presumably he had heard them before and would by now be ready with the answers and rebuttals. Malaysians and the world have certainly heard Mahathir’s litany of complaints. What he and we needed were answers. Yet there was the sorry sight of Abdullah pleading for more time! If Abdullah does not get it by now, he never will.

What Abdullah should have done when Mahathir began to repeat what he had said many times before was to stop him cold and assert, “With due respect Tun, I have heard them all before, and many times over. Let me address them one by one!” With that, effectively take over the meeting. Then we would know who was in charge!

After the meeting, Abdullah should have called for a press conference and publicly invited Mahathir to join in. That of course would take confidence and leadership, the very qualities so clearly lacking with Abdullah.

Instead it was Mahathir who gave not one but two press conferences to let the public know what transpired between them. Abdullah was reduced to whining and complaining that Mahathir was spewing “venom.” He took solace behind the protective but ineffectual barks of his ministers and spinmeisters.

Abdullah forgot that the issues Mahathir raised are also very much in the public mind. He owes Malaysians, not just Mahathir, an explanation. Whining, maintaining an “elegance silence,” or asking his surrogates to answer for him merely exposes Abdullah lack of engagement. What we have in Abdullah is not a chief executive but a pseudo sultan, and not a very regal one at that. Malaysia already has nine sultans; it does not need a tenth.

During this past Ramadan, Abdullah was busy being an imam, dispensing homilies and delivering sermons. Again, Malaysia has no shortage of imams and khatibs, what it needs desperately is a chief executive.


The Issue is Abdullah’s Leadership


Mahathir has long retired as Prime Minister; his legacy is for historians to dissect. Abdullah Badawi is a significant part of that legacy. At issue here is Abdullah’s leadership, or lack of it. He hides his inability to make the tough decisions by rationalizing that he leads through consensus. That has long been the excuse of the indecisive.

Mahathir singled out Kalimullah Hassan and Brendan Pereira for their sinister influences on Abdullah. Mahathir is being kind to Abdullah. In my view, Abdullah’s faults and weaknesses are his own making. If he had guts, he would have long ago fired the two, not for their presumed bad advice but for their juvenile commentaries, blatant plagiarisms, and inability to stem the declining readership of the once proud The New Straits Times. If the two cannot even run their paper, how can they presume to know how to run the country?

When the issue of conflict of interest with his family’s businesses arose, Abdullah at first denied it. When confronted with the facts, he did not deny the business dealings rather that he did not know about them! He should have been embarrassed by his ignorance; instead he used it as a pretext! Now that Mahathir had brought the issue directly to him, Abdullah’s latest excuse was that Mahathir’s sons too were involved in the past. Soon Abdullah will exhaust his explanations.

Instead of seeking solutions, Abdullah grabs at excuses. Since his advisors and those on the “infamous fourth floor” have not offered him any, I will offer my solution on avoiding future potential conflicts of interest.

Henceforth, any family member (spouse, sibling, children, in-laws) of the prime minister, minister, or any senior government official doing business with the government would have their contracts and bids subjected to a post-decision independent review by a commission to be headed by a former senior judge. That body would have court powers to subpoena witnesses and records. Its deliberations would also be open to the public. Details like the companies’ capabilities and principals, as well the bids of other competitors, would be examined. Let the sunshine in; that is the only effective way to disinfect the current cesspool that is the government’s procuring process.

Related to the issue of conflict of interest is the increasing private use of public assets by Abdullah and other leaders. The Prime Minister is treating the government’s luxurious corporate jets as his private limousines. Someone in Parliament ought to inquire whether the Prime Minister and his adult children and in-laws reimburse the government for using the jet on their recent umrah. When President Bush uses Air Force One for his campaign, his party had to reimburse the government for the non-official use of the plane.

If we do not make an issue of such abuses at this early stage, it would not take long for more egregious patterns to emerge. Soon you would have some sycophantic politicians suggesting that Sri Perdana be deeded to Abdullah.

Abdullah constantly decries about Malaysians having First World facility but Third World mentality. The government’s fleet of corporate jets is certainly First World, but its current users are not.

Abdullah should draw up clear guidelines of when and under what conditions can members of his family (as well as other leaders) partake in business relationships with the government, as well as when public assets can be used for private purposes. That would go a long way towards satisfying Mahathir as well as other Malaysians.

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