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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.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #139 (Final Excerpt)

Note: This concludes the series. Beginning next Wednesday and every Wednesday thereafter, I will begin serializing an updated version of one of my earlier books, Malaysia in the Era of Globalization, that was first published in 2002.]

Chapter 21: Gemilang, Cemerlang, Terbilang … atau Temberang?
(Excellence, Glory, and Distinction … or Merely Hot Air?)

Selecting Ministers

The next time Abdullah chooses his cabinet, this is what I would suggest, assuming of course that he gets another chance! First would be to select a stable of capable candidates to contest the general elections so he would have no shortage of cabinet material. The process outlined earlier would ensure that. Immediately following the election, he should send out letters (or preferably emails, to assess their ICT familiarity) to all winning coalition candidates inviting them to consider a cabinet or other governmental appointment. These communications would be in Malay to non-Malay MPs, and in English for Malay MPs (a quick and dirty way to check their skills in the two languages). The following would be a sample query:

To the Honorable Member of Parliament-to-be:

Congratulations on your recent successful election campaign! I look forward to working with you in serving the rakyat (people). Currently I am in the process of forming my cabinet. For each ministry, I would need a Minister to head it, a supporting Deputy Minister, and a Parliamentary Secretary. If you are capable and interested in any of these positions, please e-mail me before midnight (date) with the following information.

Please state the position you are seeking (Minister of Finance, Parliamentary Secretary to the Tourism Ministry, etc.), and then kindly address the following five questions.

I. Why do you consider yourself uniquely qualified to assume the position you select?

II. Do you have anything in your personal and professional background that could possibly embarrass and detract my administration’s goals of having a clean and honest government, and my theme of “excellence, glory and distinction?”

III. What do you think are the major issues facing the position you are seeking?

IV. What do you hope to achieve as short-term (within a year or two) and long-term (five or more years) goals in the position you seek? Please share your strategies on achieving them.

V. What are your plans following your tenure in politics and government?

Again, congratulations on securing the voters’ confidence and I look forward to working with you.


Abdullah Ahmad Badawi

Questions III and IV would quickly reveal whether the candidate is interested merely in being a minister or whether he or she has special expertise and specific policies in mind. This would reflect whether they have given much thought to the position.

The second question would quickly weed out those with less-than-sterling backgrounds who had somehow managed to filter through the screening process of candidates for the election. It would also prevent the embarrassing scene of one Tengku Adnan, a minister involved in an embarrassing bankruptcy proceeding. Such glaring gaffes should not have occurred had there been a proper vetting mechanism.

The last question is a reminder to would-be ministers that cabinet appointments are not lifetime positions. If they have a viable career to fall back on, then they would be less likely to hang on tenaciously to their political appointments. They would then be much easier to let go without having to be literally kicked out screaming.

A simple enquiry like this, sent out by the staff under the Prime Minister’s name, would greatly help in selecting the right personnel and uncovering hidden talent. After this initial weeding out process, the Prime Minister could supplement it with personal interviews, with the staff ready with the tough questions ahead of time. This personal encounter is vitally important; it would give the prime minister a chance to test the personal chemistry of the individual.

Meanwhile the staff should vet the candidates to ensure that they would not prove embarrassing to the administration by their incompetence or shady background. This should include police background checks and prior clearance from the Anti Corruption Agency. All these could be done within a few weeks. Only after such a careful and rigorous selection process could Abdullah be assured of getting the best talent.

For Malaysia to be competitive and to launch into its next trajectory of development, Abdullah must assemble a competitive leadership team. Endlessly exhorting Malaysians to “work with me, not for me” would not do it. The scheme I outlined would ensure that he would get that highly select team. This proposal is surely more superior to his present method (or lack of one) of simply winging it. The road to Malaysia’s excellence, glory and distinction must begin with Abdullah, and then his team. From there, it would filter down to lesser officials, and then the citizens.

The cabinet is a political team, and the Prime Minister has to balance various factors like state, ethnic, gender, and party representations. These are important, but they should be secondary to the overriding considerations of competence and integrity. Malaysians (except the few chauvinistically inclined and outright racists) could not care less whether the Minister of Education is a Malay or Singhalese as long as he or she is competent and could make our schools stand out.

There is no pride or joy in having a Malay, Chinese, or Indian as a minister if he or she proves incompetent or corrupt. We have too many ready examples of those. Neither the nation nor the Prime Minister would be well served. With a team of individuals with distinction, Abdullah would more likely achieve excellence, and thus lead the nation to glory. Sadly thus far, the performance of Abdullah and his team has been anything but cemerlang (excellence). It would be hard to have a straight face in referring to them as gemilang (glorious). Only they fantasize themselves as terbilang (distinction). Abdullah’s present team, now securely ensconced, is nothing but temberang (hot air).

[Note: This concludes the serialization of my book Towards A Competitive Malaysia: Development Challenges in the Twenty-First Century that was published in 2006. The book may appear to end abruptly here; that is because I have reversed the sequence and had the last chapter, which was essentially a summary of the book, posted at the beginning of the series.]


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