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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.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Pattern of Indecisions

A Pattern of Indecisions
A Review of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s Performance

This is the first full calendar year for Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi since his impressive electoral victory in 2004. Meaning, he has now stamped his brand of leadership.

His wife’s prolonged and ultimately fatal illness took a heavy toll on him. He has however, a long record of government service, and his pattern of leadership was established long before that sad episode.

After he secured that massive electoral landslide, many thought he would be emboldened to put his mark by revamping the cabinet he inherited from his predecessor. He did not, and the argument went that he was waiting for the then upcoming UMNO’s leadership conference before consolidating his position. That came and went, without his making any significant changes.

The pattern of leadership he has demonstrated thus far is his. We should not expect any changes from this essentially cautious and conservative former civil servant.

A Theory of Third World Leadership

I have a theory on Third World leadership. Briefly stated, the effectiveness of Third World leaders is inversely related to their exposure in Western media. The more effective the leaders, the less well known they are in the West. Americans may not know who the leaders of Singapore, Taiwan or South Korea, yet they have successfully transformed the lives of their citizens.

On the other hand, Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro regularly grab the headlines in the West. Their achievements have been in making their citizens’ life miserable.

Abdullah does not register on Western media’s radar. On this score, he has acquitted himself. Is my theory still operative?

Another observation I have is that the executive ability of a leader is inversely related to his or her penchant for appointing committees. I have worked with dozens of hospital Chief Executives and found this to be true. For a national leader, royal commissions of inquiry serve essentially the same function as committees: a convenient and effective way to defer making the tough but necessary decisions.

Abdullah was widely lauded for appointing the Royal Commission to investigate the Police. The commission submitted its report earlier this year, and the Prime Minister duly responded by appointing a committee to study the report!
The recent furor over “strip ear-squat” of suspects should not surprise anyone who has read the Commission’s earlier report. The much earlier accounts of Kassim Ahmad, Syed Hussin Ali and Raja Petra Kamarudin, all detained under the ISA, reveal the same pattern. Then there was former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, beaten to unconsciousness by no less than the Police Chief.

These are the nonviolent detainees; imagine the fate of those whom the police deem to be violent or uncooperative.
It was initially assumed that the victim in the ear-squat case was a Chinese national, prompting a protest from the Chinese government. Imagine being lectured by, of all people, the Chinese on how to treat prisoners and respect basic human rights! How low can we go?

True to form, Abdullah’s response to this latest embarrassment was to form – you guessed it! – yet another commission of inquiry!

I have a third observation on leadership. A sure sign that a national leader is being overwhelmed by domestic issues is when he or she suddenly becomes more interested in the lofty matters of foreign affairs, and begins taking frequent trips abroad. President Nixon did it during the height of the Watergate crisis. It did not help him.

With the red carpet treatment, fancy state dinners, and the hosts sparing no superlatives in praising you, it is easy to dismiss those carping critics back home.
Indonesia’s Sukarno took this strategy to extremes. He had a Pan American 707 jet at his ready disposal to whisk him at a moment’s notice to exotic foreign capitals. All those impressive honorary doctorates he collected, as well as the Most Esteemed Leader title he garnered from Outer Mongolia, did not help him solve pressing problems back home.

I have not tally up the number of days Prime Minister Abdullah was away during 2005, but I am certain it was more than in 2004. I predict that next year will be even more.

Those foreign trips are valuable only if they produce tangible results. Malaysia chairs the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), yet it has proved impotent and thus being marginalized in the major crises afflicting the Muslim world, from the war in Iraq to the starvation in Sudan. Nor has the flow of foreign investments picked up following those trips.

Related to foreign trips is the local hosting of international gatherings. Abdullah has done more than his share, with the recently-concluded East Asia Summit a feather in his cap. Left unstated however, what exactly was achieved, apart from filling up local luxury hotels and the inevitable symbolic photo opportunities?

Pressing Domestic Issues

There is certainly no shortage of pressing domestic issues. The resignation of Isa Samad over “money politics,” together with the AP (Approved Permit) scandal, reflects pervasive corruption, in government and society. The continuing losses at MAS, Proton, Bank Islam and other Government-linked Companies (GLCs) owe as much to corruption as incompetence.

Our schools and universities are crying for reform, as evidenced by the widespread indignation over the recent the Times Higher Education Supplement ranking of local institutions. Members of our elite have long ago abandoned the system; likewise local employers, as evidenced by the thousands of unemployable local graduates.

Solving these intractable problems would tax the talent of even the wisest leaders. These problems desperately need the attention of the Prime Minister; they cannot be wished away. Our Prime Minister must lead by showing the way. Thus far he has not done so. His supporters attribute that to his basic cautious nature and tendency for due deliberation. To me it reflects lack of competence.

In the test for a driver’s license, passing one out of three questions would require a “re-take.” In the test of leadership, there are no re-takes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

he can take as much time as he want.. after all 90% of MPs come from BN and the next general election is still few years away.... perhaps 'biar lambat asalkan selamat' comes to his mind nowadays?

4:09 PM  

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