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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.

Friday, August 12, 2005

UMNO, the Enabler

Umno Must Take On Itself First
M. Bakri Musa
[Reprinted from the Sundaily August 12, 2005]

UMNO is the "enabler" for Malays becoming socially and economically dependent. Its policies and practices are directly responsible for the Malay addiction to quotas, special privileges, Ali Babaism and other rent-seeking behaviours, and yes, even corruption.

"Enabler" is the term used in the battered wife syndrome to describe the spouse whose behavior actually encourages her husband to be abusive. Far from discouraging it, she actually reinforces his violence, her protestations and sufferings notwithstanding.

We Malays have been battered for too long. The colonialists told us we were lazy and indolent, and patronisingly called us "nature's gentlemen.” Today, Umno leaders batter us.

Umno leaders boasted of a brave new world of "Glokal" Malays capable of competing locally and globally, and where meritocracy reigns and social crutches an embarrassment. These aspirations will remain a fantasy unless these leaders critically examine their and the party's role in encouraging these negative traits among Malays.

A good place to begin instilling competition is the party. Yet top party positions are not contested! The rules for challengers are so burdensome that few try. Competitions are viewed as potentially divisive; a culture rooted in the Mahathir/Tengku Razaleigh rivalry of 1987.

Consequently, there is no mechanism to grade leaders. Challengers provide much- needed reality checks to the delusion of leaders who think they are doing a swell job. Sadly, this "no contest" mentality now permeates the party at all levels.

Even token challengers can subtly remind leaders who wear sarong pelakat (cotton sarong) that they are not donning samping sutera (silk cummerbund). This is important in a culture fearful of telling the sultan that he has no clothes on when his sarong has slipped.

Even when there are contests, the rules are so opaque that there is no meaningful way to judge the candidates. Campaigns are not allowed, reminiscent of Soviet Politburo elections.

Umno's motto should be: Today, the party; tomorrow, the world! Yet at the assembly there was little discussion on encouraging competition. Hiding behind the mantra of party unity is self serving.

Leaders must realize that the road ahead is uncharted. To be successful they must blaze their own trail. Once leaders learn this vital lesson, it will percolate down to the members.

Related to competitiveness is meritocracy. The Johor delegates voiced their skepticism of it.
Even the distinguished Royal Professor Ungku Aziz weighed in, to my great surprise. Being against meritocracy is like being against virtue. The wise professor surely does not mean to imply that Malays cannot compete, for he is the most illustrious example of that fallacy.

Yet that was exactly what the Johor delegates said; we Malays are "wheelchair bound" and thus cannot compete with the able bodied. Let us keep our crutches!

A more enlightened approach would be to embrace meritocracy. We may legitimately debate what constitutes merit. The Malaysian obsession with examination results is certainly misplaced. Such valuable attributes as creativity, innovativeness and entrepreneurialism cannot be readily tested.

The Chinese dynasty collapsed because of its fixation on test scores. The best and brightest were consumed not with solving society's problems but on acing their civil service tests. That was how they could get close to the emperor. The test scores of the top Mandarins were even chiseled on their tombstones!

America's top universities could easily fill their freshman classes with perfect test scorers, but they do not. These institutions recognize other dimensions of merit not easily uncovered by test scores.

God has not destined Malays for mediocrity. The challenge is to nurture every talent, and we cannot do that if our schools are dilapidated and teachers poorly trained. Nor can we encourage innovation if we punish those who dare stray from the paved path.

Isa Samad's money politics, Rafidah Aziz's Approved Permit controversy, and Osu Sukam's gambling debts are but variations of the same theme.

If the Umno-controlled government were to auction off the APs, have open competitive tenders for its projects, and make those politicians actually work for their money, they would then be less likely to squander their resultant wealth. There would then be less money politics, less influence peddling, and even less corruption.

Only then would Umno be a worthy example for Malays. Before taking on the world, Umno must first take on itself.


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9:34 PM  

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