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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.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Pak Lah, worry About the Rakyats' Rice Bowl Instead

Happy Holidays and Season's Greetings to you and your family and friend!

May your holidays be safe and joyful!

Bakri Musa

SEEING IT MY WAY, Malaysiakini Dec 21, 2006

Pak Lah, Worry About the Rakyats’ Rice Bowl Instead

Co-written with Din Merican

Editorial lead: This is not the time to be nice to any individual. It is time to be nice to ALL Malaysians and worry about their pots of rice.

As he enters his fourth year as Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi still does not get it! He is concerned with his son-in-law’s pot of rice, not that of the rakyats’. Since he cannot brag about the nation’s economic achievements under his leadership, he is reduced to boasting of his son’s wealth. There is no glory if his son (and son-in-law) were rich but the nation poor.

Someone ought to tell him that he was elected to lead Malaysia, not to take care of the well being of his grown-up family, its friends and cronies. His advisers and family members have convinced him that those critics are out to bring him down. If Abdullah persists with his present pattern, rest assured that this belief would be self-fulfilling.

Abdullah should ponder the fate of another leader who was consumed with filling in the rice pots of his family members. Suharto’s downfall was ugly for him, as well as for his family and Indonesia.

Abdullah hides behind accusing his critics of fitnah, a particularly sinister term replete with profound religious implications. That is just a case of yet another rouge politician seeking subterfuge behind religion.

Being intellectually lazy, Abdullah conveniently cocoons himself and is thus shielded from the harsh realities. There he was a few months ago rationalizing that he was just “warming up!” Now he pronounces himself satisfied with his performance! It sure does not take much to make him satisfied, the smug satisfaction of low expectation.


The Curious Silence of Many

Abdullah is impervious to the plight of the poor devastated by his recent reduction of oil subsidy. The demands by civil servants for a 40 percent pay hike reflect the general increasing cost and declining standard of living.

Gone are his promises of open tenders and competitive biddings. Mega projects like the second Penang link and the new palace are being awarded without much discussion or formal tender processes. He has yet to deny disbursing RM600 million to UMNO operatives at the recent General Assembly, the most obscene and expensive display of money politics. Six months after the cancellation of the crooked bridge in Johore and there is still no full accounting of the total costs, including the hefty penalty payments. He spent hundreds of millions on the Monsoon Cup for a sporting event that hardly registered on the Malaysian consciousness.

The self-serving behaviors of his advisors ensconced on the infamous “fourth floor” of the Prime Minister’s Office are understandable; their very positions depend on their ability to humor the old man. As for his family members, there is the traditional Asian filial loyalty: the father being always right, the son (or son-in-law) always the prince. That will never change with Malays, Oxbridge education notwithstanding.

As for the others, there is the residuum of feudal Malay culture: the sultan is always right, challenge him at your peril. Classical Malay literature is replete with heroes presumed to be derhaka (and suffered the fate) for daring to correct the wayward ways of their sultans. Hang Tuah was only the most famous. Whatever the sultan wishes, he gets, and more. Increasingly, Abdullah is behaving like a pseudo sultan, minus of course the heritage or even regal charm.

It Takes More Than A Leader To Destroy A Nation

Thanks to the British colonial legacy, our nation is governed by laws and institutions. Those laws and institutions however, are premised on having competent and honorable leaders and individuals to serve them. With the corrupt and the incompetent, even the best laws would eventually be circumvented, and robust institutions eroded.

Abdullah alone could not destroy Malaysia; his lack of engagement is perversely an assurance of that. His lack of diligence and attention however could by default let others ruin the country. If that were to happen, the blame must then be equally borne by his advisors, ministers, and senior politicians, pundits, and public servants. They let it happen.

There are men of integrity in Abdullah’s cabinet (not many), but they have remained curiously silent. They are either putting their careers ahead of the fate of the nation, or they condone Abdullah’s shenanigans and incompetence. Or both. We look forlornly for a local Robin Cook or Paul O’Neill in Abdullah’s cabinet, men who willingly gave up their cabinet positions to impress their conviction on their wayward leader. More recently, a bipartisan group of distinguished retired Americans told their president publicly and in no uncertain terms that his Iraq policy is deeply flawed.

As UMNO President, Abdullah is answerable to its members. Judging from their collective behaviors at the party’s recent General Assembly, do not expect them to provide responsible checks and balances.

If ministers and UMNO members cannot provide the necessary oversight, then surely there is the UMNO Supreme Council. Their members, except for the few appointed by Abdullah and thus beholden to him, are elected by the membership. Thus we would expect them to be independent. Yet they too have remained curiously silent.

As we look at the roster of distinguished Malaysians who are now retired, we are humbled by their accomplishments and contributions in academia, the professions, and public service. They too are silent. If they agree with the direction the nation is headed, they should voice their support so as to encourage the leadership to do more of the same. If they disagree, then they owe it to their fellow citizens to voice their concerns. Surely the whole country has not suddenly been gripped by mediocrity and low expectations. We cannot find any other explanation for this curious but far from elegant silence.

An African proverb has it that it takes a village to raise a child. Likewise, it would take more than just a leader to destroy a country. Saddam could not ruin Iraq without those “enablers” around him. They too must bore the blame.

When reality strikes and Malaysians find ourselves in an abyss, yes, we will blame Abdullah. We must also pour our wrath on those others complicit: his ministers, pundits, and intellectuals now singing his praise. That ought to make them pause and examine their stance; to have the courage to impress upon Abdullah of this reality before voters deliver their verdict in the next general elections.

Abdullah’s self-admitted poor time management is not an acceptable excuse. His frequent and obvious inattention and dozing off should not be tolerated. If the burden of the office is too much for Abdullah, his advisors, ministers, and senior UMNO politicians owe it to the nation to tell the man to give it up and let others more capable take the helm.

This is not the time to be nice to any one individual; it is a time to be nice and considerate to all Malaysians and to worry about their pot of rice. To remain competitive, Malaysians, leaders and followers alike, must work hard and smart. Malaysia does not need nor should she tolerate sleepy heads.

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