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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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #107

Chapter 16: Critique of Current Strategies


Thirty years after the death of Tun Razak in 1976, and three Prime Ministers later, the nation’s basic socioeconomic policies still bear his trademark. His NEP gave way to the National Development Policy in 1990, and in 2000 to the National Vision Policy. In 2006, under Abdullah Badawi, Malaysia has its National Mission Policy to take it to 2020.

The labels may change but the policies’ underlying thrust remains the same, and could be briefly described thus: more of the same, but with bigger and further reach together with an ever increasing price tag. There is little attempt at examining the assumptions. As there is little critical analysis, the learning curve is flat, and mistakes get replicated and amplified, and they call that experience!

In its first decade under Tun Razak, the NEP was remarkably effective and there was minimal leakage. Abuses began soon after his death, and accelerated under Mahathir. The rot began slowly, and because it was tolerated and not dealt with harshly, the pattern set in very quickly. When the first few scholarships went to ministers’ children and contracts to politicians and their cronies without there being any howling protest, the message quickly registered that those practices were acceptable.

From there to the present rot, the slope is steep and slippery. Today politicians and ministers, and their kin and kind, are the first to hog the public trough. They consider it their divine right to such bounties; challenge them at your own risk. UMNO’s “money politics” is merely one ugly manifestation, and far from being the most egregious. These abuses are taken in stride; they are no longer considered aberrations. They have become embedded in the normal ethics and culture. That is the most destructive aspect.

There is no shortage of responsible parties contributing to this sorry state. Foremost are the leaders for tolerating and thus implicitly encouraging such behaviors. They do not set the necessary high standards of integrity and competence for themselves and others. These abuses occur during their watch; they must be held accountable.

These leaders do not operate in a vacuum. As per my diamond of development, citizens, culture and institutions, and geography all contribute. If Allah had not blessed Malaysia with all those natural bounties, the greed of these leaders and their level of corruption would have been considerably less. If citizens had not readily endorsed what these leaders were doing, that might have restrained them. If our culture and institutions had been strong, that would have nipped early those corrupt and abusive tendencies.

There is a danger that having implied that all is responsible, no one is. Ultimately the leaders must bear the greatest burden and have the most to answer. Those in the political opposition too have not lived up to their constitutional responsibilities. Leaders of the Chinese Democratic Action Party cannot see beyond their narrow parochial interests. They cannot frame their criticisms beyond racial boundaries. The leaders of PAS are no better. To them, the solution to every problem is in the Quran. Just read it, they would smugly proclaim.

Their simplistic dismissal of those who disagree with them as kafir (a particularly insulting epithet) merely degrades their stature as leaders and as Muslims. Scholars, intellectuals, editors, and pundits too must share the blame. When the nation sorely needs sober analyses and critical evaluations, they grovel themselves to be apologists and spinmeisters for the establishment. They do not serve the nation with such postures, nor are they being true to themselves or their calling.

With Mahathir’s long tenure over and Abdullah comfortably in his, these commentators are now, without any trace of embarrassment, singing a different tune. Many who previously were unabashed supporters of Mahathir are now damning him, all in their effort to ingratiate themselves to the new leader. Scholars like Shamsul A B and commentators like Johan Jaafar who in the past endlessly glorified Mahathir are now using unflattering words to describe him.

Ministers, who used to kiss Mahathir’s hand and unhesitatingly genuflected themselves in other ways in front of the man, are now calling the elder statesman names. Kalimullah Hassan, now an Abdullah cheerleader and appointed by him to head The New Straits Times, once chided me for a critical piece I wrote on Mahathir. Kali’s tune is decidedly different today. He and others are revolting caricatures of Mahathir’s “Melayu mudah lupa!” (ungrateful Malays) and Syed Husin Alattas’ “Ugly Malays.” These and other Melayu Baru (New Malays) have morphed into Melayu Barua (Malay scoundrels).


In part this reflects the general Malay culture that in order to praise someone you have to damn his peers. By attempting to besmirch Mahathir’s legacy they hope to elevate Abdullah’s status. Abdullah should concentrate on ensuring that his candle is burning bright. There is no need to blow out his predecessor’s or anyone else’s candle in order to make his appear brighter.

In this chapter I will critique the current strategies of the Abdullah administration,
applying the same tough criteria I used in evaluating Mahathir’s.


Next: The Umpteenth Malaysia Plan

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