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

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.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mistaking Sarong Pelekat For Samping Sutra

Mistaking Sarong Pelakat For Samping Sutra

M. Bakri Musa and Din Merican

The recent flurry of toadying commentaries praising Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi remains unabated. We are of the view that when the emperor wears superb finery, there is little need for the courtiers to praise him. Indeed if they were to do so, he would be rightly offended for it implies that on other days his attire was wanting. You expect your emperor to have fine clothing every day and every time, anything less would be less than regal.

Recent punditry by Johan Jaaffar (A Prime Minister’s Fine Obsession – NST April 8th , 2006), A. B. Shamsul (Not Just a Mechanic But a Good Social Engineer – NST April 10th), and Kamal Khalid (Time For Real Work In the Plan to Begin – April 9th ) are a sampling of the embarrassingly effusive praises for Abdullah.

To them it is business as usual; they are oblivious of the fact that they are their straining their credibility. To us, it reveals something else: Put metaphorically, used to seeing their sultan with only a barked loincloth, when he put on a sarong pelakat (cotton sheet), they thought he is donning a samping sutra (silk cummerbund).

The Art of Positive Spinning

Johan’s follow up essay to his television interview with the Prime Minister was an attempt to put a positive spin on the Prime Minister’s less-than-inspiring performance. The Prime Minister’s body language on camera demonstrated anything but the “fine obsession” with his policies, in particular the Ninth Malaysia Plan.

Abdullah certainly would not have survived a tough grilling of a Stephen Sackur of BBC’s Hard Talk. The Prime Minister showed remarkable lack of conviction; he did not look directly onto the cameras when he responded to Johan’s soft questions.

Obviously Johan had structured his interview in consultation with RTM, Information Minister Zam, and the spinners in the Prime Minister’s office to ensure that the Prime Minister would not be embarrassed or taken off guard.

Despite that, Abdullah appeared worn out and unsure of himself. He could deliver only vague generalities on the Ninth Malaysia Plan, “probably the most important document in his tenure as Prime Minister,” as Johan put it.

Johan did not ask how the RM 220 billion for this “holistic” development would be financed, and the impact that would have on interest rates, inflation, the Government’s fiscal position, balance of payments, and the private sector.

At one time Abdullah’s spinners and apologists warned that the Government was out of cash, as Mahathir had exhausted it on the Petronas Towers, Multimedia Super Corridor, and Putrajaya. That assertion must just be cakap kosong (empty talk).

If there is any “fine obsession,” it would be that of a man desperate to depart from Mahathir’s Vision 2020. Thus Johan observed, “[A]nyone watching the program certainly agreed with me how passionate he [the Prime Minister] was on the 9MP. He was at ease articulating some of the minor points ignored by the media. He wanted the people to look at the Plan in [its] totality, so it was crafted not in thematic form.”

If by “minor” Johan means unimportant, then we agree. Abdullah is totally inept in comprehending the necessary details and technicalities on getting the economy moving again. Malaysia is paying for his benign neglect.

His administration is becoming increasingly bureaucratized. His answer to every problem is to form a committee! He now needs two national committees to help him monitor the Plan. We have long believed that the executive talent of a leader is inversely related to his penchant for forming committees. Abdullah demonstrates this dramatically.

What Malaysia desperately needs is bold and hardheaded leadership to chart its course in this rapidly changing and technologically driven world. Abdullah needs capable ministers and senior civil servants. His current team, which he essentially inherited from Mahathir, is tired, tainted, and ageing.

Praising in the Old Malay Way

A.B. Shamsul’s commentary was no less effusive. Thus, “...[W]hatever his detractors have to say, the 9MP is solid proof that Abdullah is a political inclusivist par excellence. He has even changed the DAP leadership’s viewpoint.” To Shamsul, changing DAP’s viewpoint is the height of political skills.

True to our Malay culture, of which he is an expert, Shamsul displayed fine skills in praising Abdullah. It is not enough for him to refer to Abdullah as “a good social engineer,’ surreal as that may sound. Shamsul has to denigrate Abdullah’s peers, in this case his predecessor, Mahathir, in order to make Abdullah look good. While referring to “our beloved Mahathir,” Shamsul then enumerated Mahathir’s alleged “collateral damages.” To make his point further, in case it was not grasped the first time, Shamsul intimated that Mahathir owed much of his achievements to his predecessors!

Kamal Khalid seems to be laying the ground work for the inevitable blame game, “The objectives are noble and the direction is correct. But weaknesses in implementation and execution of the Plan will be the Achilles’ heel that will undo all good intentions.” Abdullah is ready to shift the blame to the civil service should the Plan fail to deliver!

This comes right after Kamal praises Abdullah’s management style. Consider Kamal’s blatant attempt to liken Abdullah to the legendary Tun Razak: “His preference for giving coordinating implementation agencies his walkabouts around the nation, recalls the management style of Malaysia’s second Prime Minister.” Kamal may portray Abdullah as the great manager, but not great enough to wield control over the civil service. Even Abdullah would be embarrassed by that comparison!

We have been around long enough to remember similar toadying articles by Johan Jaafar, Shamsul A B and others in praising Mahathir when the man was in control. The passage of time may indeed temper one’s judgment, and one is certainly entitled to change it. Their revisionist versions of recent events may thus be understandable and even pardonable.

More incomprehensible however are the flip flops that occur in the matter of weeks or months. As late as a few days before Abdullah announced the cancellation of the crooked bridge to replace part of the Johore causeway, the mainstream media were carrying articles praising that wonderful project, dutifully listing the benefits that would accrue to the nation. Following the cancellation however, there was an immediate chorus praising the Prime Minister for his “brave” action.

Our first thought was that the likes of Johan and Shamsul have changed their views of Mahathir. On further reflection however, we concluded that these pundits have not changed. In fact they are revealing their true self: their ability and ingenuity to ingratiate themselves to the powerful. That is their core character, their constancy. To them, the sultan (or prime minister) is always wrapped in samping sutra, never in sarong pelekat, no matter what the reality.

These commentators and intellectuals may think they are being true to themselves, and we certainly to do not wish to disabuse them of their delusions. They are certainly not being true to the nation, our leaders, or their calling.


Post a Comment

<< Home