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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

When All Else Fails, Blame The Dumb Cows

When All Else Fails, Blame The Dumb Cows

M. Bakri Musa

The Sun Daily April1, 2005

The blame game over the environmental disaster at Bukit Cahaya gets shifted lower and lower.

When the Prime Minister recently saw for the first time what had been obvious to many for so long, he quickly pushed the mess onto Chief Minister Khir Toyo. The latter, repeating the pattern, blamed the local council for its lack of oversight. Not to be outdone, the Council criticized the developers. In the end, some lowly functionaries will bear the brunt of the condemnation, and we would have learned nothing from this sorry experience. Of this I am certain.

This saga reminds me of the story of why Argentinean leather products are not competitive in the world’s market. The manufacturers argued that they could produce the best if only they could buy cheap quality imported leather instead of being forced to use the expensive inferior local hides. Blame the tanners, the manufacturers said.

The tanners in turn blamed the butchers, who countered that they could not have good hides when the cows were full of scars and sores. Blame the ranchers! The ranchers too had their explanation. Because of poachers, they had to fence the cows in. Those dumb cows would rub their body against the barbwires and causing those festering sores.

In the end the poor dumb cows were being blamed for Argentinean leather products not being competitive!

The environmental assault on Bukit Cahaya would be obvious to Khir Toyo as he frequently drives by, but he did not notice it because his underlings had not brought it to his attention. Blame them, he in effect said, a replay in miniature of the dumb cow story.

This lack of accountability on the part of top officials is what undermines Malaysia. We have seen it many times before, with the gross lapse in security at the army base in Grik, Perak, a few years ago, to the shoddy construction of schools’ computer labs. No one is held responsible, except of course for some metaphorical dumb cows.

The pattern continues. Everyone blames everyone else. We are all responsible, so we are told. The corollary is that when everyone is to be blamed, no one is.

For an object lesson on accountability, consider what happened recently at HP, the giant computer company. When it was not performing, its CEO Carly Fiorina canned her top managers. When that did not produce the desired results, the board in turn fired her. Somebody high up has to take responsibility and pay the price.

In the case of Bukit Cahaya, Chief Minister Khir Toyo is clearly responsible; he must be held accountable. If he does not resign, he must be fired. Only then would the message register on other public officials who renege on their duties. If Khir Toyo is not fired, then whoever appointed him must be held responsible.

This being Malaysia, the racial element to this controversy is not far from everyone’s mind, but left unsaid. The administrators, from the Prime Minster to the Chief Minister and local councilors and civil servants, are all Malays. To some, this is yet another reaffirmation of the general incompetence of Malays.

Another is that all the construction companies involved have fancy Malay names; they are also owned by or linked to politically powerful UMNO Malays. Their operatives however, are mainly Chinese, the classic Ali Baba arrangement.

This feeds on the already negative stereotype many Malays have of the Chinese: Given the chance they will cut corners, the consequences be damned.

Thus the ecological rape of Bukit Cahaya goes beyond the obvious degradation of the environment; it also pollutes the thinking and perception of Malaysians.

Going by past pattern, in a few months this controversy too will simply fade away. Today the tragedy of the Grik army base arms heist remains a faded memory, and the White Paper promising to explain everything remains just that – a promise.

Meanwhile at Bukit Cahaya, the search continues for those dumb cows. The real question is: Who is dumber, the cows or those looking for them? No marks for those who answer correctly!

The writer, a surgeon in Silicon Valley, California, is completing his latest book, Towards A Competitive Malaysia. He can be contacted at bakrimusa@juno.com


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