(function() { (function(){function c(a){this.t={};this.tick=function(a,c,b){var d=void 0!=b?b:(new Date).getTime();this.t[a]=[d,c];if(void 0==b)try{window.console.timeStamp("CSI/"+a)}catch(l){}};this.tick("start",null,a)}var a,e;window.performance&&(e=(a=window.performance.timing)&&a.responseStart);var h=0=b&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-b)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load;0=b&&(d.tick("_wtsrt",void 0,b),d.tick("wtsrt_","_wtsrt", e),d.tick("tbsd_","wtsrt_"))}try{a=null,window.chrome&&window.chrome.csi&&(a=Math.floor(window.chrome.csi().pageT),d&&0=c&&window.jstiming.load.tick("aft")};var f=!1;function g(){f||(f=!0,window.jstiming.load.tick("firstScrollTime"))}window.addEventListener?window.addEventListener("scroll",g,!1):window.attachEvent("onscroll",g); })();

M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Name:
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, September 29, 2013

Making Corruption History - Cakap Kosong Je, 'Jib!

Making Corruption History – Cakap Kosong Je ‘Jib!
M. Bakri Musa


In San Francisco recently, Prime Minister Najib confidently declared “to make corruption part of Malaysia’s past, not its future.” The man’s delusion never ceases to amaze me. The reality is of course far different; corruption defines the Najib Administration.

            Nonetheless if Najib is serious, then he should heed Tengku Razaleigh’s call for Najib to declare his assets. Otherwise it would be, to put it bluntly in the vernacular, “Cakap kosong je ‘Jib!” (Empty talk only!)
           
            Tengku Razaleigh’s suggestion, if implemented, would do far more good than all of Najib’s lofty declarations of “changing organizational as well as business cultures” or creating “a new governance and integrity minister” and “elevating the anti-corruption agency.” Malaysians have heard all those ad nauseum, not only from Najib but also his predecessors.

            If after doing what Tengku Razaleigh had suggested Najib still aspires higher, he could begin by getting rid of those tainted individuals in his administration. Then if he is really committed to clean and effective governance, he should select only those with unquestioned integrity and solid accomplishments to be his new ministers and advisors.

            As Najib is slow to grasp concepts, let me elaborate on those three simple suggestions.

            Consider asset declaration. Najib does not need yet another highly-paid consultant advising him how to do it. There are plenty of effective models out there, including one recommended by the OECD. The simplest is the one used by American officials including the president, cabinet secretaries, and Supreme Court judges. It covers their spouses and all dependent children.

            Here is President Obama’s, available publicly at:  docstoc.com/docs/156786412/Obama-Financial-Disclosure. The simple eight-page report lists his assets and income, transactions during the year, gifts received (he had none), liabilities (his home mortgage), and contracts he is a party to (his old faculty appointment).

            Simple yet effective! As the declaration is filed annually, citizens could tract any sudden ballooning of assets, income, or extra-generous gifts that could prompt further enquiry, as well as monitor contracts and activities that could pose as potential conflict of interest.

            Obama and his senior officials go further; they release their full income tax returns annually.

            If Najib were to do likewise, rumors of his wife buying million-ringgit rings and getting extravagant gifts would not have arisen, indeed they were baseless.

            If Najib’s ministers were also to declare their assets, then we would not have the silly specter of a cabinet minister feigning ignorance of her husband’s quarter-billion ringgit government-funded business, as Shahrizat tried to do recently. The pathetic part was that she truly believed that the public would buy her swiftly-concocted story.

            Beyond publicly declaring his assets, if Najib aspires for a clean administration, then he should remove those tainted individuals in his administration. Since Najib is blind to reality, I will help him identify such proven shady characters.

            The most glaring is Isa Samad, former Negri Sembilan Chief Minister. Dispensing with his lackluster tenure as the chief executive of that state, the man was found guilty of “money politics,” UMNO’s euphemism for plain ugly corruption. Meaning, he is corrupt even by UMNO’s lax standards, assuming the party has any!

            In any system with even a semblance of integrity, slimy characters like Isa Samad would have been jailed. In China, they would be executed. Yet Najib appointed Isa to helm the billion- ringgit Felda Global Holdings, a GLC. One wonders why Najib is so enamored with this character. The more intriguing question is why the powerful hold Isa has on Najib?

            Then there is Ali Rustam, also a former Chief Minister (Malacca). Like Isa, Ali too was found guilty of money politics. At least voters in his state were wise enough to boot him out. Now Ali is eyeing for the UMNO Vice-Presidency, as is Isa. Watch it, Najib will also do an Isa on Ali, that is, appoint him to a senior lucrative position, making a mockery of Najib’s aim of making corruption history.

            Then after getting rid of the Isa Samads and Ali Rustams Najib still harbors even higher aspirations, like wanting a crisp and efficient administration, then he could entice capable Malaysians to join his team.

            I suggest co-opting Keadilan’s Rafizi Ramli. This bright young man has done more than anyone else to heighten public consciousness of corruption at high places. Rafizi shamed the anti-corruption agency. Appointing Rafizi would also go a long way towards a “unity” government. Only the likes of Shahrizat would not welcome his appointment.

            At the very least Rafizi’s appointment would significantly lower the average age of Najib’s cabinet as well as drastically elevate its collective IQ!

            At the other end of the experience spectrum is Tengku Razaleigh. He is from Najib’s own party too. If Najib is deeply serious about and truly committed to memperkasakan ekonomi Melayu (enhancing Malay economy) as he asserted recently, well, the Tengku has been there and done that, and remarkably well too! Look at Petronas and Pernas. Malaysia’s finances were robust during his tenure as Finance Minister.

            Yes, at one time he helmed the once powerful Bank Bumiputra, now long gone. If Tengku’s detractors want to taint him with that scandal, remember this. Tengku Razaleigh is one of the few if not only public figures to have successfully sued for libel the venerable Financial Times when it tried to implicate him.

            Co-opting Tengku Razaleigh would give the Najib Administration some adult supervision. Better yet, Najib should seize the opportunity and take a sabbatical, just like what Lee Kuan Yew once did. Take a temporary leave from UMNO and Malaysia; learn about the real world beyond government. Najib would learn that there is a vast other universe out there not dependent on public paychecks or political patronages.

            At another speech during his recent San Francisco trip, Najib chided his critics especially those residing abroad who “criticize the country but they do not have any idea on how to contribute to the country.”

            Najib is not only slow in grasping concepts but he is also not a careful reader. We do not criticize Malaysia, only his inept leadership. Nonetheless since Najib has asked for specific ideas, here is one.

            Take an extended sabbatical. Let someone like Tengku Razaleigh take over. Three or four years hence, in time for the next election, resume your prime ministership. Meanwhile learn as much as possible about the much bigger and considerably more wonderful world beyond UMNO. You will be a more effective leader for that, and Malaysia would be a much better country, both while you were gone and after you return.



Sunday, September 22, 2013

Najib's Leadership Deficiencies Undermine Malaysia's Future


Najib’s Leadership Deficiencies Undermine Malaysia’s Future

M. Bakri Musa

 

Najib’s glaring leadership deficiencies have now been glaringly exposed. Malaysia deserves better. His performance has not been up to par even when compared to his lackluster predecessor. If under Abdullah Badawi Malaysia had the modernity of Manhattan but the mentality of Mogadishu, under Najib, Malaysia risks degenerating, period.

            Najib is not terribly bright or introspective. Like a little child, he always hunger for approval. He is also severely “charimastically-challenged.” A leader could survive or even thrive despite having one or two of these flaws, but to be cursed with all three is fatal.

            All his adult years Najib has depended entirely on government paychecks. No surprise then that his worldview is narrowly circumscribed. His solution to every problem is to distribute government checks, well exemplified by his many “1-Malaysia” handouts. His recent Majlis Ekonomi Bumiputra was no exception; likewise its hefty price tag.

            Not being introspective, Najib does not and never will recognize his shortcomings. Consequently unlike his immediate predecessor, Najib will never resign voluntarily; he would rather destroy his party and country first. If UMNO does not recognize this, it too will go down with him; likewise the country.

            A good leader, to paraphrase a hadith, is one who protects his followers from his hands and tongue. Najib does neither. Functionally, he slipped his hands into the pockets of Malaysians when he raised the price of petrol. He wants to do it again with his Goods and Services Tax (GST). Meanwhile his smooth tongue bribes us with his ever-generous “1Malaysia” gifts, using the rakyat’s money of course.

            While being smart is an obvious asset in a leader, not being one would not necessarily be a handicap. Reagan, one of the most successful American presidents, was far from being brainy. He however, knew his limitations and duly compensated for that; his cabinet was full of intellectual heavyweights and individuals of proven achievements.

            Incidentally my comparing him to Reagan, no matter how unfavorably, only feeds Najib’s delusion.

            Najib thinks he is super smart; he frequently parrots the latest buzz words. It is not just an increase but a quantum leap! It is not just any strategy but a blue ocean one! Meanwhile the ship of state is headed straight to the bottom. He does not appreciate his fundamental problem. You cannot scour the ocean on a leaky sampan with a crew familiar only with the rakit (bamboo raft), and hope to survive.

            The embarrassing caliber of Najib’s cabinet and advisors reflects his blissful ignorance of his deficiencies. He had over four years to scout for fresh talent, only to end up with the same mediocre core ministers he inherited from his equally dull predecessor. I cringe whenever I hear any pronouncement from them. They are all “half-past six.”

            Even on the rare occasion when Naijb picked a bright star like Idris Jala, the former chief executive of Shell, the sparkle is gone. It is hard to soar like an eagle when surrounded by turkeys. Idris is reduced to and consumed with making elegant Powerpoint presentations to any willing audience.

            Tasked with “transforming” the government (note the bombastic buzz word!), Idris Jala either severely underestimated the enormity of the task or generously overestimated his talent in executing it. He forgot the evident reality that the government of Malaysia is not Shell with respect to size, scope of activities, availability of talent, or any other matrix. The bureaucratic inertia of the civil service pales the physical one of a loaded supertanker.

            If Idris had appreciated the enormity of the challenge, or had a wee bit of humility, he would have focused on only one or two areas, and learned from the experience. Once successful, he would have minimal difficulty selling his ideas and initiatives.

            If Najib had been introspective, he would have assigned Idris a specific portfolio and then let him do his own “transforming.” Idris would then be able to show instead of just merely tell us his managerial capabilities.

            Like a skillful carpenter, a good leader knows when and where to deploy his finest tools. Implicit in that observation is that a good leader must first recognize which tools are sharp and which ones are dull, to be discarded. It is precisely this critical insight that Najib is severely lacking.

            Najib’s second weakness, his hunger for approval, is equally crippling. He tried to ingratiate himself to extremist Malay nationalists by brandishing his kris dipped in tomato sauce, but to no avail. During the last election he had his son utter a few words of Mandarin and gave generous on-the-spot grants to Chinese schools. Likewise, he visited Rome for an audience with the Pope. At home he garlanded himself in that outlandish floral arrangement around his neck while visiting Batu Caves. Voters readily saw through those silly overtures.

            Like a spoilt brat who had grown accustomed to being indulged upon, Najib could not accept the harsh rebuke that was the last election. He reacted like the over-pampered kampong kid by sulking; hence his shameful silence during the many recent crises.

            Lacking self-awareness, Najib has pretensions of great charisma. If contrast is the essence of art, then his on-stage performance with the South Korean Gangnam Group, Psy, during the last election campaign was truly, well, artistic. If that were his only gig, that would be harmless enough. It was however, mildly funny, even if it was at his expense.

            A charismatic leader could at least attract talent to his cause despite lacking competence or not being generously-endowed intellectually. Najib does not attract the best. He confuses endless slogans for substantive efforts, frenetic activities as decisive actions, and sulking withdrawal as deep contemplation.

            Take his endless sloganeering. First there was glokal Malay (contraction for global and lokal, Malay bastardization for local). Lacking traction, he shifted to “One Malaysia.” Streams of slogans later, it is now “Endless Possibilities!” What’s next? Najib is the leader caricatured by Shahnon Ahmad’s lead character in his novella, Unggappan.

            We must change the nation’s sorry trajectory by dispensing with the current leadership. The excuse that there is no one else capable may be solace to Najib but an insult to all Malaysians. Allah would not be so unkind and unjust as to deprive us of our share of leadership talent. To get our rightful due however, we must first stop indulging our present incompetent leaders, beginning with Najib. Only then could we diligently search for better ones.

            Malaysia deserves better than to be saddled with Najib Razak.