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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, June 17, 2018

Observing Ramadan In A Secular Society

Published in the June 20 – July 3, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Bakri Musa
To many Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Ramadan means fasting, and only that. Viewed as such Ramadan can be challenging, more so in our food-celebrated culture.
However, Ramadan is more than just fasting from sunrise to sunset. It is a time to pause and to ponder, to be forgiving and to seek forgiveness, and to be generous not only to others but equally important, oneself. It is also a time for self-restraint and self-discipline.
Unlike the other tenets of Islam like praying, paying tithe, and pilgrimage to Mecca, fasting is a private and personal act. Living in secular and predominantly non-Muslim America, nobody forces me to fast. There are no religious police wandering around looking for sinners, as in my native Malaysia. I fast because I want to, and for that reason it is much more meaningful.
In today’s harried and hurried world, it is easy to be caught up in the maelstrom. The change in my daily routine during Ramadan forces me to pause and reflect. In short, it is my “time out.”
The quiet of the morning, with ample time now available that was previously consumed with preparing and eating breakfast, is ideal for contemplation. Those moments, alas, are only too rare during my regular day.
My lunch break is now my most productive time as I am alone in my office, uninterrupted. I can also count on losing five to 10 pounds during Ramadan. It is flattering to hear comments on how fit I look at the end of the month!
Concomitant with the change in my daily routine is the alteration of my metabolism. The inevitable reduction in caloric intake can only be good for my body. Scientists tell us that it enhances longevity, at least in laboratory animals. There is no disputing that excess caloric intake and the consequent obesity is today’s major public health issue.
Experts also tell us that after a few days of fasting we begin breaking down our fat cells. The weight-reduction aspect aside, that invigorates our stem cells, especially those of our intestines. This in turn enhances healing and disease prevention, as well as mitigates the effects of aging. No surprise that experts now advocate fast-mimicking diets.
Sadly today, fasting in many Muslim societies has been “modernized,” with evenings consumed with never-ending feasts. Many gain weight during Ramadan; their gluttony switched from daytime to nighttime, the very antithesis of the spirit of restraint called for during Ramadan.
The traditional teaching is that fasting reminds us of the hunger endured by those less fortunate. It is hard to empathize with the poor when you know that your own hunger will be satiated — no, indulged upon — come sunset.
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An element of even greater import during Ramadan is charity. For those who for a variety of reasons cannot fast, the giving of charity is an acceptable substitute. Just as important is the generosity of spirit and the renewal of family and societal bonds, as expressed in our communal iftars (breaking of the fast).
I am blessed with good health that I could partake in fasting; peace that I could do it with tranquility; and prosperity that I could fulfill my charitable obligations as well as being assured that my fast will end come sunset. I am also mindful that millions of others are less fortunate, which makes me even more thankful of my blessings.
Last Friday, June 15, our community celebrated Eidul Fitri, the end of Ramadan. Following a communal prayer, with everyone dressed in their finest, many in their traditional attires, the rest of the day was spent visiting friends and family, enjoying, as expected, food and other tasty treats!
Bakri Musa is a local surgeon and former president of South Valley Islamic Community.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

End The Outrageous "Double Dipping" By Top Public Officials

End The Outrageous “Double Dipping” By Top Public Officials
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

The revelation by Transport Minister Loke that the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) Chairman Abdullah Ahmad earns about RM85K a month, while a shocker, is not a secret. It is a long-held practice, and he is not alone. Far from it! 

This practice proliferated under Najib, one of the many manifestations of his cash-is-king schemes to buy the loyalty of senior public officials. He of course received much more in return through their loyalty and cooperation, as evidenced by the loot hauled from his private residences after he was booted out.  

            Prime Minister Mahathir, who earns less than a quarter of what that Mavcom Chairman gets, has ordered Chief Secretary Ali Hamsa to review the remunerations of top public officials as well as heads of GLCs and statutory bodies. 

            There is no need for such a review. Instead, Mahathir should just ban them from having extra income beyond their salaries. They are being paid to devote their time and effort exclusively to their current positions. Theirs is not a 9-5 job; they have no business assuming added responsibilities except in an ex officio(by virtue of their positions) capacity. For that they already have generous allowances to cover the expenses incurred, as with travelling and lodging.

Ali Hamsa is also the wrong person to undertake such an important review. Foremost is the issue of conflict of interest. He is as guilty as that Mavcom Chairman. Hamsa should begin by declaring how much extra compensation he was paid in addition to his regular salary as Chief Secretary by virtue of appointing himself to be on the various boards. The recently-disgraced Treasury Secretary Irwan Serigar was on Khazanah’s and Bank Negara’s Boards, as well as others not yet revealed. He must have raked in substantial additional income from director’s fees.

Ali Hamsa, Irwan Serigar, Abdullah Ahmad and countless others are guilty of double dipping into the public purse. The poor rakyat bears the burden of such rampant lucrative practices. 

Ali Hamsa is also ill-qualified to undertake such a review. He has spent all his career in the civil service. He knows nothing of the culture or value of talent in the competitive private sector. He has been receivingnot giving out paychecks all his life; he has no appreciation of the challenges in having to meet a payroll.

Scrutinize the corporate structures of many GLCs and statutory bodies. They have myriads of subsidiaries and associated companies. The reason is simple – management greed; more corporate entities, more board of director’s positions! Ever wonder why those GLCs and statutory bodies lose money?

If companies like Petronas need outside directors, the Professor of Petroleum Engineering from the University of Malaya would be a far superior choice than a recently retired Chief Secretary to the government. All the latter would do is graft the stultifying civil service culture onto the company.

Appointing that professor as director would also be a way to augment his otherwise meager academic pay. That might just be the inducement for him to stay on campus instead of joining the private sector, to the loss of his students who would be the country’s future petroleum engineers. The professor would also gain real world experience, again to the benefit of his students. Likewise with Tabung Haji. Why not appoint the local Professor of Economics or Accounting to its board? That would be far superior than having that mamakwith a PhD or MBA from Preston University!

Another common and lucrative double-dipping scheme occurs when retired civil servants or former public officials are appointed to statutory bodies or GLCs. The number one culprit in the news today is Isa Samad. He is notorious for other reasons. For this discussion, while he is drawing a substantial pay as the head of SPAD (the Malay initials for the federal public transportation agency), he is still getting his pension as a former MP and a Federal Minister, as well as that of a State (Negri Sembilan) Chief Minister, and as a state legislator (ADUN). Beyond that he is also getting one for being the former head of FELDA. These entities may have different names but their paymaster is the same – the rakyat.

Such “double dipping” should be banned. If a retired civil servant or public official is appointed to a GLC or statutory body and he is getting a regular salary, then he should not be allowed to draw on the pension of his previous job. Instead he should be considered as continuing to work for the same paymaster but in a different capacity. Of course if he were to start his own business or be employed by a private company, that would be a different matter. In that case he should be entitled to the government pension of his old job.

If such a policy were to be instituted, then all those soon-to-retire civil servants would remain busy in their jobs instead of preoccupying themselves lobbying for a post-retirement position in a GLC or statutory body. 

There would two immediate positive effects of such a policy. One, those civil servants would now be less likely to be seduced by their political masters as is the current culture. They would now be more likely to be independent if not outspoken in disagreeing with their political superiors. That could only be good for the country’s administration. 

The other positive effect would be to encourage more Malays (most civil servants are Malays) to enter the private sector either as employees, directors, or to create their own businesses. That would increase the rate of Malay participation in the private sector far more effectively and efficiently than starting expensive and often money-losing GLCs. They would then be more like Rafidah Aziz with Air Asia, or set up their own professional practices as Aziz Abdul Rahman, former Managing Director of Malaysia Airlines, with his own law firm. 

In the 1960s Tun Razak lowered the retirement age (it was 55 then) so enterprising young civil servants could retire to start their own businesses. That initiative spawned many Malay-owned businesses. This was also the practice of the Italian government and resulted in the blossoming of entrepreneurial activities spurred by young retired civil servants who had the safety net of their retirement income. 

            This double dipping by senior civil servants and public officials costs the nation a hefty bundle. With Malaysia’s debt now exceeding a trillion ringgit, the nation can ill afford such outrageous wastages. Time to ban double dipping outright. There is no need for further unnecessary studies.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

1MDB Is Only A Symptom of a Much Bigger Mess

The 1MDB Is Only A Symptom Of A Much Bigger Mess
M. Bakri Musa


Only a few weeks ago that the CEO of 1MDB was telling everyone that the company’s assets far exceeded its liabilities and that it could service its humongous debts.

Today Arul Kandasamy is exposed for what he is, Najib’s campaign errand boy tagged with an impressive title and powered by a massive dose of dedak. Arul is but an inept executive and a bumbling campaigner. What can you say of a CEO who does not even know that his company is insolvent, and has been for months, or a campaigner who could not draw a crowd? As for the title “Chief” Executive, he is 1MDB’s only employee!

I could not care less about Arul or his erstwhile boss Najib Razak. Malaysians however are rightfully concerned with 1MDB as they would end up with the liabilities, now fast ballooning to be multi-billions. What a sorry and very expensive end to what started out as the first state-level, government-sponsored development agency, Trengganu Investment Authority (TIA), to manage the state’s oil revenue. It was a combined Alberta Heritage Fund and Norwegian Sovereign Fund wannabe. 

Najib morphed TIA into 1MDB and borrowed heavily. It is now near bankcruptcy, needing frequent bailouts. Instead of the promised bounty, 1MDB burdens the rakyat and their descendants for generations to come.

Despite that, many still do not or refuse to see the connection between those boxes of cash hauled from Najib’s residence and 1MDB’s insolvency. That scene was more like a raid on a drug kingpin’s house.

This 1MDB scandal is a symptom of a much deeper problem. Time to rethink the whole GLC concept. GLCs and their antecedents, the crown corporations, have a long history. They are not unique to Malaysia. Both capitalistic America and Communist China have GLCs, serving very different needs and objectives. 

Tun Razak gave Malaysian GLCs steroids to leverage and spearhead Malay participation in the corporate sector. His son, Najib, degenerated them into a not-so-sophisticated system for crooked politicians like himself to plunder the state. At least when the Sultan of Brunei wants some cash, all he has to do is raid the public treasury. As there is no differentiation between his and the state’s assets, raid is not quite the right term for that action.

In Malaysia however, Najib needed elaborate shell companies and trusts in such places as Panama and the Cayman Islands, as well as willing intermediaries like his stepson, that chubby moronic-looking fellow, and an Arab potentate among others for Najib to siphon off the state’s assets through a GLC. 1MDB is Exhibit A.   

The frequent exercise of one GLC selling assets to another, each with an ever-escalating price, is reminiscent of the tricks used by Icelandic rogue bankers that led to that country’s economic meltdown in 2008. All those associated paper-shuffling maneuvers with their expensive commissions and professional fees are just schemes to plunder the assets of those GLCs. 

Malaysian GLCs also have a negative influence on talented young Bumiputras, their idealism and brilliance squandered by the corrupt ways of these GLCs. Without those GLCs they could have started their own enterprises and be a local Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, or shine at the local branch of IBM and Morgan Stanley. 

Yet another corrosive effect of GLCs is that they are but a not-so-subtle but very effective scheme to corrupt top civil servants. Be too critical of your political superior and you jeopardize your chance of a lucrative post-retirement job as Chairman of Petronas. Note that of the four Tan Sri’s connected to the earlier investigation of 1MDB who ‘retired,’ only former IGP Khalid, the snitch, was given the chairmanship of a GLC. That is not lost on those bureaucrats. 

The sultans too. A few millions thrown their way and they would titah(command) what a wonderful prime minister Najib was.

 As for the academics, a few thousand dollars for being on the National Professors Council would do it. Likewise the ulamas; throw some crumbs and they would quote ad nauseamhadith on the importance of obedience to leaders. 

My solution to the Malaysian GLC mess is as simple as it is inexpensive while being infinitely more productive and effective. It would also prevent future debacles like 1MDB or the many preceding ones like London Tin and Bank Bumiputra. 

Sell them all! Put the proceeds into a Trust Fund to benefit Bumiputras. Be a combination of the Norwegian and the Alberta variety. Like the Norwegian, be only a passive investor as an individual would with a mutual fund. Half of the income would be reinvested in the fund and the other half be spent as with the Alberta Heritage Fund to improve the quality of Bumiputras’ human capital. This would include supplementing the education of Bumiputras in STEM studies, acting as a source of venture capital for budding Bumiputra entrepreneurs, and providing business infrastructures as with building marketplaces and manufacturing food trucks, as well as modernizing the rural sector through mechanizing farms and rural areas.

I have earlier expanded on these ideas in my book Liberating The Malay Mind

Malaysia should not be satisfied with the current exercise of only punishing those corrupt and incompetent individuals in 1MDB and other GLCs. They should demand more. Get rid of the sources of the problem. Get rid of all GLCs. Sell them!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Party Politics Would Be Too Confining For Anwar

Party Politics Would Be Too Confining For Anwar
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com


With the Agung’s pardon and Mahathir’s earlier apology, Anwar’s supporters and others expect him to resume his political career where he had left off. In his first public speech after his release from prison, Anwar was his old charismatic self, drawing huge crowds. 

Regardless how strong the urge and great the temptation, a wiser and more prudent choice for him and also Malaysia is for Anwar to resist that path. Party politics would be too confining for him. Anwar is a patriot at heart; his passion is service to his country. Politics is just an expression of and a means of achieving that. There are other avenues to that same end.

The current coalition crafted by Mahathir, though stunningly successful in this election, is as yet untested in the practical realities of governance. There are many centrifugal forces that are now submerged in the celebratory mood of success. 

At 92, Mahathir’s tenure would be brief no matter how invigorated he looks now. It would be natural for Anwar to think that his ultimate political goal is now within his grasp. Caution! The closer you are to your destination the more impatient – and accident prone – you become. The last few miles on the road home are the most dangerous. Anwar does not need to be reminded of that cruel reality.

The present coalition with Wan Azizzah as the designated Prime Minister-in-waiting is working. Little would be added by altering that. Instead, Anwar should acknowledge the historic moment and help make Malaysia’s first female Prime Minister be also her most successful. She has the brilliance. Please don’t make her current appointment a cruel tease on the women of Malaysia and a crush to the hopes of our young girls.

Wan Azizzah has stood by him at his lowest moments. Now it is Anwar’s turn to stand by her on the cusp of her momentous achievement. 

Much water has flowed under the bridge between Anwar and Mahathir. The eddies and whirlpools are only now receding. Anwar’s entry would inevitably create ripples that could disturb the equilibrium. 

Instead of becoming Prime Minister, Anwar should focus on the still one major intractable challenge that has taxed the wisdom and ingenuity of many, from the early colonizers to today’s brightest minds and wisest leaders. I refer to what our great Pendita Za’aba called Masa’alah Melayu– the “Malay problem.” 

Visit any Malaysian city and you would strain to find such signs as Ahmad Accounting, Tahir Tailoring, or Halimah Hair Care. Advertise for an IT position and see how many Malays apply. When former Prime Minister Najib vacated Seri Perdana, he moved into a luxury condo owned by a non-Malay!

Those are snapshots of the Malay problem. At the macro level, consider the percentage of the country’s taxes contributed by Malays.

Masa’alah Melayu presents a whole different set of challenges. A developed Malaysia does not neccesarily mean a developed Malay community. That is plain to all by now. There is no trickle-down development. On the other hand, developing Malays would definitely advance Malaysia.

Tunku Abdul Rahman’s laissez-faire capitalism developed Malaysia but not Malays, and that resulted in the 1969 race riots. Tun Razak’s New Economic Policy (NEP), a massive extension of the colonials’ “special privileges,” produced an entrenched class of Malay economic rent-seekers and an entitlement mentality among us. Mahathir in his previous incarnation thought that was the inevitable and acceptable price to pay. With that, NEP degenerated into crony capitalism. Najib exploited that to benefit himself on an obscene scale previously unimaginable.

I grew up over half a century ago amidst the Malay problem, as did Anwar, in a kampung in the eddies of the modern economy. Our society did not have much financial capital while our human capital was weak. However, our community was strong and stable, meaning, our social capital was robust and resilient. That saw us through.

Far from advancing, today we have two additional marginalized groups:  the poor town Malays, the consequence of rapid urbanization; and the other Bumiputras in Sabah and Sarawak together with our Orang Asli on the peninsula. They have nothing despite Malaysia’s impressive GDP figures. 

The shrill, chauvinistic Ketuanan Melayucry of PERKASA and others reflects the desperate frustrations of that first group still in the kampungs. The Mat Rempits, drug abuse, and abandoned babies are symptoms of the dysfunctional second. The increasing calls for separation from East Malaysia and the seething sufferings of our Orang Asli are manifestations of the exasperated third. 

No one has acknowldged much less solved these challenges. MARA, FELDA, and other institutions that cost taxpayers a hefty bundle are supposed to redress them but those agencies are more concerned with buying luxury properties in London and Melbourne. MARA’s policies on improving Bumiputra human capital are no better. Sixty years after independence MARA still sends students overseas for their Sixth Form. I did mine in Kuala Kangsar way back in the early 1960s at a fraction of the cost. I didn’t end up too badly for that. 

Noting the import of the issue of Bumiputra development, I am surprised that neither Barisan’s nor Pakatan’s pre-election manifesto even mentioned this pivotal issue.

So Anwar, why not head MARA and do what it is supposed to do, mara(advance) our people? The plight of Bumiputras in an otherwise affluent modern Malaysia is downright shameful and potentially dangerous. We are overepresented in all categories of social ills and because of that we do not contribute our share. 

Anwar would be the perfect leader for that monumental job. He could inspire those Mat Rempits to race their talents instead of their motorbikes. He would not resort to such ugly and simplistic stereotypes as “Malays are lazy,” “Malays are not good in business,” or “hard to motivate.” Those are but excuses of inept leaders and their unimaginative policies. The English used to refer to the Irish in those terms; likewise the Japanese, the Koreans.

Through MARA, Anwar could harness the various Bumpitra NGOs like the Malay Economic Action Council into an effective and productive force much like he did to ABIM. MARA’s as well as all those Malay NGOs’ achivements to date are underwhelming. Leading them would be the most challenging and rewarding assignment. Few countries have succeeded in solving this problem of horizontal inequities, of socioeconomic divisions paralling racial, cultural, and other visible markers. To repeat for emphasis, developing Malaysia is not the challenge; developing Bumiputras is and has been for the past century. 

Competently led, MARA would liberate Bumiputras from poverty, ignorance, and feudalism as well as free us from the clutches and crutches of NEP. Give us pride and dignity! Develop Bumiputras and we would solve Malaysia’s dangerous racial dilemma. That can only be good for the economy.

When successful, Anwar would have the satisfaction of having bested Za’aba, Ungku Aziz, Tun Razak, and yes, even Mahathir. Anwar would be a modern-day Jose Rizal. Most of all Anwar would have shown others, especially Malays, that politics is not the only or best route to serve your people and country. 


Agung Is Part of the Problem, Not The Solution

Agung Is Part of The Problem, Not The Solution

May 10th, 2018 
Agung Is Part Of The Problem, Not The Solution
  1. Bakri Musa
bakrimusa.com


Every year Malaysia spends billions of her precious revenue paid for by the rakyat through GSTs and other taxes to maintain the Agung and his fellow nine brother rulers, as well as the four sultan wannabes – the governors of Sabah, Penang, Melaka, and Sarawak – together with their assorted, expensive multitude of hangers-on. The Agung’s new palace alone cost over a billion, quite apart from the running expenses.

The one crucial and very visible duty of the Agung, sultans, and governors is to ensure the smooth and orderly transition of power, as with following an election or resignation of the Prime Minister, or in case of the states, Chief Minister.

It is difficult to say anything positive on the role of the Agung in the transition between Najib and the newly-elected Prime Minister Mahathir. During the more than 24-hour period following the 14thGeneral Election, Malaysia was, as Mahathir reminded everyone, without a government. That is dangerous when you have thousands of illegal immigrants at her borders and warships of great powers prowling the seas beyond.

Indonesia and the Philippines do not have ceremonial heads yet both handled their transitions of power far more smoothly even in more perilous conditions than what Malaysia went through in her immediate post-GE14 days.

If the Agung, sultans and governors could not handle the smooth transition of power during a stable and peaceful period, could Malaysians depend on them during tough and more challenging times?

Malaysians had a preview of that back with GE13 in Perak. Then we had a sultan who was a former chief justice. Yet he too became embroiled in the political battle. He was far from being part of the solution. It looks like the circus is going to be repeated with GE14, this time with his Oxford and Harvard educated son as sultan. The show has not yet begun. Stay tuned! Negri Sembilan has a clear winner but its ruler has yet to swear in the new chief minister. And that ruler has a law degree!

If the Agung, sultans, and governors are not part of the solution, then ipso factothey are part of the problem. Time to reexamine their roles and pose such basic questions as whether the nation needs them.

The history of Malay sultans has not been illustrious. I did not study history and as such I am ignorant of the supposedly glorious days of the Malacca sultanate and the exploits of its luminary knights like Hang Tuah. I can only draw on the experiences of my lifetime, having been brought up in a village in the shadow of the royal town of Sri Menanti.

As could be expected, I was used to the tantrums of those spoiled royal brats having attended the same religious school in the afternoon with some of them. Later when they became adults, they did not change. Only the expressions of their tantrums did, and with far greater consequences. Those are tolerable to me now as I no longer live in Malaysia. If anything, I am bemused.

On to more substantive matters, right after WWII, also within my memory, Malay sultans gave away the sovereignty of the whole peninsula to the British in return for some measly pensions. Only the wisdom and bravery of Datuk Onn stopped that. He did it even after the sultans had signed the papers! Those early colonials should have tried Najib’s current morality of “cash is king.” Or maybe they did, but the first UMNO president was unlike its current one!

Back to the colonials after WWII, I wonder why they did not just banish those sultans to join their uncles and cousins who had been earlier shipped out to Madagascar and the Christmas Islands?

Further back in history, the Sultan of Johore gave away Singapore to the British, again for a few measly pounds and the knighthood of some ancient medieval order.

Back to my childhood in the early post-war period, I remember accompanying my mother fishing in the river with the other women in the village, including the future first Queen of Malaysia. There was nothing regal about her in a tattered cheap sarong fighting over the choice fishing holes in the muddy river.

A few years later, Merdeka. There she was, regal in her glittering tiara. Shehad not changed. Wehad put her up there.

I wonder who coined the canard that sultans are defenders of the faith. Islam does not need defenders, least of all from these characters.

I wish Malaysian economists would study the opportunity costs of these sultans. We could send scores of Malays to the Harvards of the world at the price of maintaining one of them. That would be a wiser expenditure of precious public funds.

These thoughts percolated through me as I saw clips of Prime Minister Mahathir being yanked back and forth to the Istana the day after the election. The palace should release the Agung’s schedule of that day to show the people what was so important that the Agung had to delay Mahathir’s swearing in. It would also be interesting to subpoena Najib’s as well the election chief’s cellphone records for that day.

The Agung was not part of the solution in the immediate confusion of post GE14. Instead he embarrassed the nation.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Reformasi UMNO II - Decoupling Party Positions From Governmental Appointments


Reformasi UMNO – Decoupling Party Positions From Governmental Appointments
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

Second of Two Parts

In the 1999 Tenth General Election, UMNO lost many seats and its Barisan Nasional coalition reduced to a simple majority. Najib Razak, then widely touted to succeed Mahathir, squeaked through with the slimmest majority, thanks to the late arrival of “postal votes.” 

Contrary to the belief of many, the mysterious and late arrival of ballot boxes is not a recent phenomenon. It started long ago during Mahathir’s time when he led Barisan. In the current euphoria over Mahathir’s victory in defeatingBarisan, it is good to be reminded of that fact.

I wrote then in my book The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics In Modern Malaysiathat only Mahathir had the skills, courage, and personality to undertake the much-needed radical changes in UMNO. The party required revitalization even then.

I see no one in the current UMNO leadership who comes anywhere near Mahathir in ability. There are plenty of pretenders – Mahathir wannabes – the most showy being that ‘Brigadier-General’ Khairy. A genuine general would have committed hara-kiriafter letting his troops down. Apologies alone would not do it.

Reading again now what I wrote then about Mahathir, I ponder the irony that by being out of UMNO he forced the most profound changes in his old party! 

I suggested then that UMNO’s top priority was to remove the “no-contest” directive for the party’s top two slots. That regressive move was put in by – who else? –  Mahathir to reduce undue politicking, he claimed. Human nature being what it is, that rule merely moved those maneuverings underground and generated even more dangerous rifts. 

As Mahathir was then anticipated to retire soon, that would have been a good time to implement the change. Alas that was not to be. As a consequence, UMNO and Malaysia were blighted by the inept leaderships of Abdullah and Najib. Being weak, they found that provision a convenient crutch.

I also suggested revamping UMNO’s Supreme Council. The party president could not control who gets votedinto that body. However the president could appointup to 15 members to complement the 25 elected. That is substantial! Mahathir could use that route to recruit new talents into the party’s upper echelons, a technique Tun Razak had used to great effectiveness. Instead, Mahathir selected the flunkies.

As for a successor, I had suggested that Mahathir buck tradition and pick someone other than his three vice-presidents. All three were duds. He had already fired his capable Deputy President, Anwar Ibrahim. Had Mahathir not picked Abdullah and Najib, the party would have been spared the current humiliation. The past precious decade and a half would also not have been wasted, and Malaysia would not be saddled by a trillion ringgit debt.

Mahathir also failed to address money politics. As UMNO was the ruling party, corruption in UMNO meant corruption in government. It is corruption, specifically of 1MDB, that brought Najib and UMNO down.

One initiative I proposed was decoupling party positions from governmental appointments. That is, once you are appointed to a government position, whether Prime Minister or local dog catcher, then you have to give up your party posts. That meant the Prime Minister would no longer be party president. 

It is tough enough being a cabinet minister without also being UMNO treasurer. Such a policy would also dilute and diffuse power, creating some semblance of checks and balances, both sorely lacking in UMNO (as well as in the government). Najib was Party President as well as Prime Minister and Finance Minister. Bad things could happen with the concentration of power, quite apart from the fact that you could not commit 100 percent to any one position.

A perennial divisive issue in UMNO (as well as other parties) is with the selection of candidates for the general elections. The current process is opaque and opens up avenues for local “war-lordism.” Worse, the process does not attract fresh capable faces. 

I suggested that local divisions nominate four or five viable candidates, listing them in order of preference, and then have the central committee select one together with an alternate from that list, and only from that list. That mechanism accommodates both local input and a central quality-control mechanism. Those five could be selected by the local committee or be nominated through a mini election of its local members. That would also discourage “money politics.”

UMNO no longer attracts talented Malays, especially young professionals. Those who join do so to spearhead their otherwise lackluster careers. The not-so-terribly smart lawyers on becoming UMNO members get a crack at some high-profile cases and contracts. Accountants who could not attract private clients become chairman of PNB or Pernas. Likewise academics; they have nothing original published but upon joining UMNO they catapult to the Dean’s or Vice Chancellor’s office. Few physicians join UMNO because if you are a lousy doctor, joining UMNO would not bring you many new patients. 

Talented individuals would not waste their precious time working their way up the party hierarchy. They are busy with their careers. So why not have a central admission pathway for them to bypass parochial and ever-jealous local divisional chieftains? 

The responses of UMNO leaders to the recent debacle have not been impressive. Najib rightly resigned immediately. He should do that but stay on until the party has its new leadership. Instead he tried to abscond after resigning! Acting President Zahid, with the backing of his Supreme Council (what’s changed?), was scheming to join the ruling coalition, however improbable or laughable that was. Vice-President Hishammuddin was silent, nodding to whatever Zahid (and Najib earlier) said. Women’s leader Shahrizat mumbled about a post-mortem. Youth leader Khairy emphasized stabilizing the membership (thus inadvertently revealing that many are contemplating bolting) and being a good opposition party. He also talked about “collective responsibility.” Had he really believed in that and acted on it, he too would have joined Najib in resigning. As for Puteri head, she remained demure, like an ornamental princess.

I see nothing that would lead me to believe that UMNO leaders are ready, willing, or able to change. UMNO’s implosion has begun.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Reformasi UMNO - Compelling Reasons Why UMNO Must Be Resuscitated



Reformasi UMNO – Compelling Reasons Why UMNO Must Be Resuscitated
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

First of Two Parts

UMNO was severely mauled in the recent GE-14 election. The wounds it suffered could prove fatal. However, with some skillful interventions and an abundance of patience, the party could recover and be rehabilitated to emerge stronger, wiser, and more effective. That would serve not only its members but also other Malaysians and the nation. 

There is also a third possibility. The party could be permanently scarred, crippled, and forever be the laughing stock of the world. UMNO would then be like its current members,  forever demanding its due from others as a matter of privilege based on its claim of having brought independence to the country. It would mock its slogan of “UMNO being Malay and Malay, UMNO,” perverting it into the very antithesis of its noble original intent.

Such a fate would be far worse that if the party were to just fold. 

The future of UMNO is not divinely ordained. Its fate depends less on prayers, more on the collective actions and wisdom of its leaders and members. Thus far the signs are not hopeful or encouraging, despite its president Najib “taking responsibility” and resigning.

The defeat notwithstanding, the fact remains that UMNO as an individual party still has the largest number of seats in Parliament. Yet its members behave as if they are in a fast sinking ship, bailing out not wanting to be the last sucked in under the waves.

There are many compelling reasons to be aggressive in resuscitating and thus saving UMNO. For Malays and the nation, the party is iconic. Its motto Bangsa, Agama, Negara!(Race, Faith, Country) is no empty slogan. UMNO was the first force that woke Malays up and made us emerge from our slumber of insularity. Before UMNO, Malays thought themselves only as subjects of the local chieftains and sultans. Malays still have that residuum of feudalism. 

On a more sentimental level, UMNO is the rare if not only Malay entity that has proven that it could survive beyond a few years of its showy opening ceremonies. Most Malay entities have the lifespan of fireflies. Peruse the records at the Registrar of Companies and Societies. They are filled with volumes of titles of Malay organizations that now exist only in those stacks. Many have fanciful names and noble objectives. The only thing they lack is durability.

Not UMNO. Many Malays trace their UMNO membership through generations.  

For Malaysians, there is another and also sentimental reason to save the party and restore it to its original vigor. It’s the party that spearheaded and then successfully negotiated for the peaceful independence of the country. That ought to count for something. Many others too had the same aspiration and tried, peacefully and otherwise. However the central and key point remains:  It was UMNO and its brother parties in the old Alliance that ultimately succeeded. In the final analysis, that is what counts, not the what-might-have-been or I too had tried.

A more practical reason to save UMNO is that Malaysia – indeed any democratic system worth its name – needs a strong viable opposition, one capable of taking over the government at any time. I do not see any other party outside the winning coalition that had survived the shellacking of GE-14 let alone be ready to govern. MCA and MIC are just about dead; likewise Gerakan. PAS is too busy reciting the Koran and hadith. Those other parties in Sabah and Sarawak have not bothered to think of spreading their influence in the peninsula even when they are not squabbling with each other.

Thus far the current UMNO leaders have not yet proven themselves or shown any indication that they are up to the difficult task of resuscitating the party. That is unfortunate and sad. Consider the party’s 72ndAnniversary held a few days following the debacle of the GE-14. It looked less like a birthday celebration, more a funeral. There were no inspiring speeches from the leaders to rally and inspire the troops after the humiliation they had just endured. Instead they resorted to a collective reciting of Surah Yaseen, the traditional last rites and funeral ritual for Muslims. 

I am not sure that the symbolism escaped the participants. It could well be that they were all aware of the straits they were in and that the occasion was not celebratory but the dispensing of the last rites, if not the actual burial of the party!

It is not enough for party president Najib Razak to resign, though that was a necessary first step. Allhis enablers in the party should also follow suit. That would include the party’s deputy and vice presidents, the heads of all three wings (Youth, Women, and Princess), as well as all members of its governing and policy-making Supreme Council. They all contributed and were responsible for the party’s debacle. Najib was not smart or charismatic enough to get things done his way without their explicit approval. 

While they all should resign right away with Najib, they must however stay in their posts until the new team takes over. Meaning, Najib and those others have a responsibility to call for the party’s General Assembly right away and then ensure a smooth transition. It would be irresponsible for Najib or any other leader to just walk away.

As I see things developing now, the same old, tired characters of Zahid, Hishamuddin, and Khairy, especially the last, all angling for the top leadership. They have not yet even acknowledged their responsibilities for the debacle. They should have the grace to withdraw from consideration for the new leadership. They too should take the blame and then get out along with their president. Grace and class however, are exactly the very qualities so glaringly lacking among top UMNO leaders.

Next:  Reformasi UMNO – Decouple Party Positions From Governmental Appointments

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

A New And Very Dangerous Low For Malaysian Politics

A New And Very Dangerous Low For Malaysian Politics

M. Bakri Musa


The tampering of the plane that would have taken former Prime Minister Mahathir to Langkawi last Friday May 27, 2018, for his nomination for the upcoming election marks a new and very dangerous low in Malaysian politics.

            Tinkering with your opponents’ car, sound system, or power supply is a standard ploy in third-rate, Third World politics, the Malaysian variety included. Those tricks could be performed with ease and by a saboteur with no to minimal skills. The results of such mischief are rarely catastrophic, except for the occasional car explosions. Not so with the tampering of airplanes. 

For Malaysians, that brings back haunting memories of the plane crash of June 6, 1976, dubbed the “Double Six Tragedy” that killed the just-victorious Chief Minister of Sabah, Fuad Stephens, together with a number of his senior ministers. The report of that “accident” is still classified to this day.

What is stunning about Friday’s incident is the uncharacteristic silence of Prime Minister Najib. He commented only much later. Najib, a man who could not figure out whether the hundreds of millions from Saudi Arabia that ended in his personal bank account was donation or a gift but at any rate he has returned the money, accused Mahathir of engaging in the “politics of lying.” The irony escapes Najib, of course!

I commend Transport Minister Liow for responding immediately. The others were in their typical civil service mode, still waiting for a report or arahan(orders from above). The Chief of Police and Chairman of Civil Aviation admitted in a bland statement that there was “a minor and routine technical fault.” They would be smarter and gain a modicum of credibility had they released the full report, if indeed one was done. Anymalfunction on a plane has to be taken seriously. There is no such thing as minor and routine. That comes only after a thorough inspection. 

What the pilot did was spot on, that is, refuse to fly the plane. A true professional. It is his life plus that of his passengers he would be risking. 

It would take someone highly skilled to tamper with an aircraft so as to avoid detection by the pilot during the routine pre-flight checkout as well as bypass a modern jet’s sophisticated warning systems. As such those saboteurs do not come cheap. They have to be either strongly motivated or highly compensated, or both. Meaning, there has to be a strong, elaborate, and well-funded background support system.

This upcoming May 9, 2018 election already shows every sign of being very competitive, a novel experience for Malaysia in recent years. This election also brings many eerie reminders of a similar hotly contested one back in 1969 that resulted in a horrific race riot, except for two significant but not widely acknowledged differences. That election saw the ruling coalition defeated for the first time in many states. Voters’ polarization then was interracial, between Malays and Chinese. By contrast in the current contest it is intraracial, among Malays. That can be even more volatile and explosive. 

UMNO and other Malay chauvinists try to inject into the current intracommunal schism racist elements in order to galvanize their base. They hope to subvert it into a Malay-Chinese conflict. Hence the constant harping on Malay unity and using  the predominantly Chinese DAP in the opposition coalition as a convenient fuel and scapegoat. There was even a malicious suggestion that DAP members would assassinate Mahathir. Laughable and preposterous! Such sinister thoughts reflect more the desperation of Najib’s supporters.

 The other difference is that this election has been reduced to a contest between two personalities – Najib and Mahathir. Hatred, passion, and other strong emotions have been personalized and focused on the two.

Najib is a formidable campaigner not because of his personal magnetism (he has none) or oratorical prowess (he lacks that too) rather he is the incumbent and also Finance Minister. He holds the key to the Treasury. With that he has been disbursing cold cash to  potential voters with the desperation of a hawker getting rid of his pile of unsold overripe durians. Like overripe durian, the stench is fast becoming overpowering. 

 Mahathir is a cool campaigner and has great aura about him, qualities so conspicuously deficient with Najib. Nobody could call Mahathir an amateur politician or statesman. Najib tried that and ended up making a fool of himself. 

Mahathir’s supporters are bound to him by commitment, emotions, and most of all a missionary zeal in the singularity of their purpose – to get rid of Najib. Najib’s supporters on the other hand are dedak-driven and conspicuous by their lack of personal enthusiasm for or commitment to their man. Once Najib runs out of dedak, as inevitably he would, his supporters would wither away or worse, turn against him. Many already have. 

Despite the airplane incident, I do not worry of any attempt at doing away with Mahathir (divine intervention excepted). Instead I fear for Najib. If ardent Mahathir’s supporters feel that  their man is being in any way threatened or even humiliated, the fury heaped by them upon Najib would be merciless. Imagine if harm were to befall upon Mahathir! Remember amok is a uniquely Malay word. No word in any other language could signify the furor, frenzy, or savagery of amok.

I couldn’t care less of Najib’s personal fate, but I worry about the impact of such an action on the nation. Once that dangerous line is crossed, there would be no turning back. Welcome to Pakistan!

Mahathir’s supporters do not take lightly last Friday’s plane incident. They and other Malaysians remember only too well the Double Six tragedy as well as what had happened to that Mongolian model, the banker Hussain Najabi, and prosecutor Kevin Morais. All happened under Najib’s watch; all unbelievably gruesome. The pattern is hard to miss.

As for civil wars, Malays are not immune to that. Many had been camouflaged as insurrections against the sultans and their colonial backers. The most protracted (and also most gruesome) in the Malay world was the Padri War across the Strait of Malacca. That led the opponents of the Padris to seek help from the Dutch. The Dutch continued “helping” those natives for over a century. 

The dynamics today remain the same, only the players have changed. If a civil war were to break out among Malays, and the minorities in particular the Chinese were threatened, rest assured that China would not remain idly by but would “help” alathe Dutch in Sumatra. What with China’s already significant investments in Malaysia, such interventions could be with ease be justified on the world stage. The Padri War would be a ready historical precedent.  

UMNO recently sent its Secretary-General to China’s Communist Party 18thNational People’s Congress. Rest assured that he was not received there as an exalted guest rather as an emissary from a vassal state, reliving the memory of the 15thCentury Malacca Sultanate.

Those thoughts ought to temper the excesses of and sober up those Malays within and outside of UMNO with their delusionalKetuanan Melayu

As a side observation, I am surprised that Mahathir, being a former Prime Minister, does not get the equivalent of Secret Service protection. In America, former presidents as well as all presidential candidates get that. Mahathir had it until recently. The withdrawal of such protection for him must have been a decision taken at the highest level. 

Najib’s continued silence on last Friday’s plane incident reveals volumes. Today it is a minor tire leak. Tomorrow?