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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, August 05, 2009

Enough of Pledges! We Need Actions!

Enough of Pledges! We Need Actions!

M. Bakri Musa


Prime Minister Najib Razak’s pledge to improve six key areas (crime, corruption and poverty reductions as well as education, infrastructure, and public transportation) would have met widespread applause if only he had indicated just a wee bit more on how he would go about achieving those lofty goals. Malaysians are rightly fed up with highly optimistic targets and stirring slogans; what we desperately need are leaders who could execute things and get us there.

Najib refers to those objectives as national “Key Results Areas” (KRAs). If he is not diligent and imaginative in the execution, Najib’s KRA could very well end up as KeRA (monkey). Kera would then join up with Najib’s earlier glokal Malay to be the next laughing stock of the nation.

The very manner in which Najib made the announcement does not give us much confidence. He made it at a huge gathering of civil servants and on a working day. Thus during that entire morning work at the various government offices was at a standstill.

More than likely the afternoon too was a washout, with those officers busy rehashing the speech. With their superiors absent, the subordinates would even be more sluggish than usual. I pity members of the public who had urgent businesses with the government on that day.

Najib has acquired one of the many bad habits of his predecessor. Abdullah Badawi used to convene his ministry officials for a monthly lecture a la school assembly. And just like a headmaster, Abdullah would stand on the podium sermonizing in his soporiferous monotone voice, putting everyone to sleep. That is, if he himself had not dozed off first. Of course work at the ministry would come to a screeching halt.

The Chief Secretary to the government Sidek Hassan has not thought of advising Najib to use other more effective and cheaper ways to communicate, like newsletters or even taping the message onto a CD and then distributing it. Perhaps Sidek is in awe of Najib, imagining him to be the civil service’s Steve Jobs. Apple’s Jobs used to gather his employees in a huge hall at the launch of a new product or to make significant announcements.

If only Najib has a fraction of Job’s charisma and executive ability, perhaps such large gatherings could be excused and defended as a means of rallying and inspiring the troops. Having seen the videotape of the assembly however, it was more a torture session, torture for those civil servants to remain awake!

Najib deludes himself if he thinks that simply assigning a responsible minister would solve the problem of execution. None of the six ministers he has selected had excelled themselves or impressed us with their executive talent. Muhyyuddin, for education, has not ‘wowed’ us with his flip flopping on the policy of teaching science and mathematics in school. As for Hishammuddin, responsible for crime reduction, his previous tenure in Education did not enthrall us with his competence.

Then there is Ong Tee Keat, responsible for infrastructure development. This poor soul has yet to explain the rapidly ballooning boondoggle that is the Port Klang Free Zone Development scandal.

I would have been more impressed had Najib in assigning the areas of responsibility also indicate the price for nonperformance. Would Hishammuddin be relieved of his cabinet post should he fail to reduce the crime rate? Heads must role when there is a major lapse. That is the only way to make people accountable and take their responsibilities seriously. If there is no price to pay for failure, there is little incentive to perform, much less excel.

Take crime reduction; Najib is needlessly reinventing the wheel. All he has to do is revisit the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Police of four years ago. Along the same vein, if during the tenure of the present Police Chief Musa Hassan the crime rates have soared, that is compelling enough reason not to renew his contract.

My hunch is that Najib will renew Musa’s contracts, thus making a mockery of the commitment to crime reduction. Najib would do more for crime reduction by firing the glaringly ineffective and incompetent Musa Hassan. Otherwise all those lofty goals would merely be cakap kosong (empty talk), KRA morphing into KeRA.

Likewise in his battle to curb corruption, Najib would do well to get rid of the present director of MACC, Ahmad Said Hamdan. His agency’s record in the two latest high-profile cases is abysmal. Then there is the tragic death of one of its ‘friendly’ witnesses.

Simply upgrading or renaming the old Ant Corruption Agency to the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission would not combat corruption if you are still stuck with the same personnel, procedures, and mindset.

A Better Approach

A more effective approach would have been for Najib to gather his assigned minister and the relevant senior officers to a private meeting where he would lay out his goals and inquire from them the steps and initiatives they would recommend in reaching those goals.

Those meetings would be working sessions, dispensing with time-wasting unnecessary protocols. Everyone would literally roll up their sleeves. That is not the time to be in your three-piece suit. There is much heavy lifting to be done, with ideas critically examined, resources allocated, and markers put in place.

Such meetings would not only be cheap they would also not disrupt the normal workings of the various departments, especially if they are held outside regular office hours. Those meetings would be the time to monitor progress, get feedback, and modify strategies accordingly.

Najib’s meetings thus far have been heavy on press coverage and laudatory comments especially in the mainstream media. This is not the time for premature accolades; there will be plenty of time for that later those objectives are achieved. Meanwhile we should all be critical lest these leaders get carried away with premature and unmerited applauses.

Like his predecessor Abdullah Badawi, Najib is satisfied merely with making highly publicized public pronouncements instead of attending to the necessary nitty-gritty of governance. It is attention to such practical and mundane details on which the success or failure of a policy would depend.

Najib must act more as chief executive and less a sultan satisfied merely with issuing endless titahs (edicts). Malaysia has enough sultans already with the nine that it has; there is little need to add to the roster.

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