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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.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reforming Education: Fixing Kampong Schools

Reforming Education: Part One – Fixing Kampong Schools
M. Bakri Musa

(First of Six Parts)

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Muhyiddin Yassin promised to release his “thorough review” of our schools by yearend. I hope that he, his officials, and the slew of expensive consultants he hired will pay attention to the unique challenges facing three particular groups of students: those in our kampong schools, residential schools, and those university-bound with their post-Form Five dilemma.

I will cover these three issues in the order presented. I had earlier critiqued and put forth my recommendations on improving the whole system in my book, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia (2003).

There is no shortage of reviews, thorough and otherwise, of our education system. Unfortunately, just as the recommendations of one new policy were being implemented, there would follow, just as surely as a burp after a roti canai breakfast, a stunning reversal soon thereafter. Unlike a burp where only stale gas would be expelled, with a policy reversal the whole earlier content would be vomited out. It is enough to keep the heads of our pupils and teachers spinning, further distracting and confusing them. A prime example would be the language of instruction for science and mathematics.

In addition to the confusions and distractions from these frequent policy reversals, kampong pupils in particular are further burdened by a triad of formidable obstacles that have remained unresolved for decades despite the multitude of reforms. Incidentally as these pupils are Malays, they should be of particular concern to UMNO, Perkasa, and other champions of Ketuanan Melayu types. On a more general level, Malaysia cannot become developed if a major segment of its population – its rural youths – are deprived of quality education. That is quite apart from the racial implications.

It is pathetic if not reprehensible that after nearly three years as Minister of Education it is only now that Muhyiddin is aware of the glaring achievement gaps between rural and urban schools. He discovered this from perusing the results of the recently-released Sijil Persekutuan Malaysia (Form Five) examination. Muhyiddin’s ignorance is even more incomprehensible considering that he is the product of a rural school. That could only indicate sheer bumbling incompetence or gross dereliction of duty.

As usual, his answer to the crisis was simply a promise to develop a “ten-year master plan” to “transform” (that favorite word again!) rural schools. By the time that committee is formed he would be busy campaigning or scheming to take over Prime Minister Najib’s job, and our rural students would be back to where they are today – ignored.

The challenges confronting kampong students are many and obvious. One is their persistent low English proficiency; two, their less-than-conducive intellectual environment at home and in the community due largely to poverty; and three, inadequate schools and less-than-superior teachers.

The government cannot easily ameliorate their poverty and lack of intellectual stimulation at home and in the community. The authorities can however, compensate for those deficiencies by improving the other two factors. That is, enhance their English fluency specifically and give them superior education through better schools, enriched curriculum, and competent teachers. That will be the pupils’ sure ticket out of poverty. From there they could then change for the better their families’ and communities’ intellectual and socio-cultural environment. This has been proven in different societies and at different times.

Those who continually harp on changing culture as the effective route towards improving educational achievement or ameliorating poverty have it backward. This does not mean that familial and social factors are unimportant in a child’s education; they are. However it is considerably much easier to improve the child’s education first; the results and impact would also be more readily apparent and measured.

Enhancing English Proficiency

There are two immediate and practical reasons for improving the English proficiency of our kampong students. One is to enhance their employability. In today’s world, the least advantaged (or most disadvantaged) are those who can speak only one language, and that language is other than English. This is true whether that language is Malay, Mandarin, or Swahili. The most advantaged are those who are bilingual, with one of the languages being English.

For kampong youths, there is another equally relevant reason for enhancing their English fluency, and that is to increase their self confidence. A major handicap for kampong youths is their lack of self confidence. Increase their proficiency in English and watch their confidence grow. This is more effective than repeatedly reveling in our imagined glorious past during Hang Tuah’s time, or proudly proclaiming our special status under the constitution, as the Perkasa folks are wont to do.

This special aura of the English language is attributable only in a small part to our colonial legacy. English is now effectively the global language of commerce and science. We ignore this reality at our peril. Even China is recognizing this, even though Mandarin is being spoken by more people in the world.

Enhancing English fluency cannot be achieved through endlessly exhorting the young to “study harder” or haranguing them on the importance of that language, but by increasing the hours of instruction in that language and providing these pupils with competent teachers.

That was one reason for the earlier policy (now reversed) of teaching science and mathematics in English. We could just as easily simply increased the number of hours devoted to English, or teach other subjects with high language content such as history or Moral Studies in English. Elsewhere I suggested teaching Islamic Studies in English, or even establishing English-language Islamic schools. English-language Islamic schools would break a major psychological barrier for Malays to learning English: its negative association with Christianity, again a legacy of colonialism.

In Japan, English is taught throughout the entire school years right from pre-school, yet its students remain hopelessly crippled in that language, as with our kampong students. The reason is clear. Both the Japanese and our kampong students have little opportunity to exercise their English skills at home and in the community.

Native English-speaking pupils in Western Canada learning French, the country’s second official language, face the same challenge as that language is not widely used in the community. One of their solutions is French immersion classes, during summer holidays or the first few years of school.

We could adopt a similar approach in the kampongs by having kindergarten and the first few years of primary school totally in English. As the usage of Malay is high at home and in the community, and as these students are also Malays, it is unlikely for them to forget their native tongue. This was how Tun Razak learned English prior to his enrollment at Malay College. This was also the basis for the Special Malay Classes during colonial times and the Remove Classes of Tun Razak’s policy. They were all highly effective.

This was also how Malays of my generation learned English. We were, in a manner of speaking, in total immersion classes throughout our school years. In my book An Education System Worthy of Malaysia I specifically call for establishing these English-medium schools in rural areas.

Malays like me certainly did not lose our native language skills as a consequence of attending English schools. Indeed many of the seminal contributions to Malay literature have been from Malays educated entirely in English. Pendita Za’aba and National Literary Laureates Shahnon Ahmad and Muhammad Haji Salleh are shining examples.

Next: Part Two: The Challenge of Providing Teachers

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Similar Scandals, Different Treatment

Similar Scandals, Different Treatment
M. Bakri Musa

To assert that the Malaysian mass media is nothing more than propaganda arm of the ruling Barisan coalition is no revelation. The personnel in the mainstream dailies, the national news agency Bernama, and the government broadcasting channel RTM are less journalists and editors, more political hacks and spinmeisters. They are, to borrow National Laureate Samad Ismail’s word, the carma (contraction for cari makan, seeking a livelihood) variety.

Less appreciated is the fact that they are hired hands not of the Barisan government but of whatever faction in it that is currently dominant, or trying to be so. Thus one can surmise the tensions and the dynamics of the current swing of the political pendulum within Barisan, specifically UMNO, from perusing the headlines. Perusing is exactly the right word, for there is nothing much worth reading in those dailies.

Consider the contrasting treatment in the mainstream media of the two currently unfolding financial scandals. The first is the National Feedlot Corporation mess (“cow-gate”) that is now ensnaring the husband and family of Women’s Minister Shahrizat Jalil; it had also led to her resignation from her cabinet post. The other is the nearly half-a-million ringgit engagement party for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s daughter and an equally expensive birthday bash for himself that he allegedly tried to on to Treasury, and thus the taxpayers.

Both scandals were first exposed in the Internet through the diligent investigations of Rafizi Ramli, the chief strategist for Pakatan Rakyat. With the first scandal, the mainstream media were quick to pick up on and embellish the story; on the second, there was no mention at all. One can safely conclude that the respective primary players in both scandals, Shahrizat with the first and Najib for the second, are from different factions within UMNO. No marks for guessing which side is on the ascendance.

Rafizi is no rabble rouser throwing off wild accusations here and there. His first exposé of the “cow-gate” was initially dismissed by no less than the chief of police; today the principal player, Shahrizat’s husband, is charged with criminal breach of trust and she was caught in the ensuing wake.

With Rafizi’s track record, you would think that those investigative journalists in the mainstream media would be eager to pursue his leads. At the very least their curiosity should have been piqued. Thus for them to completely ignore the story of the alleged publicly-paid engagement and birthday parties meant that they are journalists only in name, and that they are told what to do.

In terms of monetary value, Najib’s birthday bash and his daughter’s engagement party, both totaling at about “just” half a million ringgit, are but a small change compared to the cow-gate’s RM250 million price tag; cow-gate in turn pales in comparison to the multibillion billion ringgit Port Kang Free Zone Development debacle or the “commission” paid on acquiring the second-hand French submarines that would not submerge.

While the price tag may vary, the underlying mindset of contempt for taxpayers’ money remains. To these leaders the concept of integrity or the diligent exercise of fiduciary responsibility is foreign. At best they are but slogans uttered during election campaigns and then conveniently ignored.

To be sure, this is not a weakness unique only unto Malaysian politicians. In some countries these wayward politicians are caught and brought to justice; in others, well, they continue on business as well, their greed feeding on itself. There is no limit to their avarice. Their “success” would then be celebrated, and they would then become the new role models. Unfortunately that is where Malaysia is today.

What struck me most about this latest scandal, the one involving Najib’s birthday party in particular, was the utter lack of class. Najib has made more than a few UMNOPutras rich through his giving away many lucrative contracts. Surely at least one of them would be generous or grateful enough to host the party for him.

Alas that is the problem with greed; there is literally no boundary to it. Najib’s many rich friends are still expecting to sponge off him! Likewise with Shahrizat’s husband; if he had spread the bounty around just a wee bit as, for example, to include the head of Utusan, Bernama or The New Straits Times to be on the board of directors of his Feedlot Corporation, Rafizi’s accusation would never have gone beyond cyberspace.

Greedy and unscrupulous politicians alone would and could not do in Malaysia. It would take more. There would have to be a general failure of our institutions to allow such abuses and corruption to go on and be tolerated. Toleration soon degenerates into encouragement, and a new cultural norm is established.

This is what happens when the institutions of our society have been let to deteriorate. They are no longer able to function as effective defenders of citizens’ interests. We expect members of the fourth estate to be aware of their awesome responsibility to keep citizens informed. We expect these journalists to be on the vanguard of this sacred task. Alas they too have been taken in; they have prostituted themselves to those in power.

There is an honorable place in this world for cheerleaders, spinmeisters, or even court jesters and others who see themselves doing the bidding of those who hired them, but reporters and journalists they are not. If those in the mainstream media feel that they have to cari makan, then I suggest that they join the advertising and pubic relations industry. If they are talented enough in that endeavor there will get plenty of rewards. They do not need to soil and degrade the hallowed traditions and functions of the fourth estate.

This degradation of our mainstream media is of course not a recent phenomenon, nor is it a subtle. RTM has only a few hundred followers on its Twitter. As for The New Straits Times, if not for its highly subsidized distributions and subscriptions, its circulation would down in the dumps. And if not for the government-paid announcements and advertisements and paid press releases of government-linked corporations, so too would be the paper’s revenue.

Just as the shifts in fortune among the politically powerful are reflected in the coverage of the mainstream media, so too is the dysfunctional leadership among them. We saw this played out during the early days of barely-under-the-surface rivalry between Mahathir and his then deputy, Anwar Ibrahim. Their supporters take their cue from how their patrons were covered in the mainstream media. The New Straits Times rivaled Pravda in this regard. This was repeated when Abdullah Badawi took over; then it was Mahathir’s turn to be at the receiving end.

There is no honor among UMNO leaders. Theirs is a world of hyenas; a world of winner takes all, right to last bit of morsel of their prey. Mahathir did it to Tengku Razaleigh when the latter lost a closely contested leadership contest back in the 1980s. Mahathir did it again later, this time at a more vicious level, with Anwar Ibrahim. Then Abdullah Badawi tried to do it to Mahathir, and learned to regret it.

You would expect the women of UMNO to show some gentleness. Yet there was Shahrizat and Rafidah still at it with their cat fight, now more openly and much uglier.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the present pathetic state in Malaysia. Our callous acceptance of wrong doing among our leaders did not develop overnight. We have been taught, and taught well, to accept these misdeeds as anything but that, aided by those cheerleaders and spinmeisters in the mainstream media.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What Will People Say?

What Will People Say?
M. Bakri Musa

When the late Tun Razak moved his family to Sri Taman, the Prime Minister’s official residence at that time, his children pleaded with him to have a swimming pool installed. The Tun, acutely aware of the costs to the public, would have none of it.

“What will people say?” he told his children.

Not that the Tun did not want to indulge his children or that he was being unduly stingy, rather he was conscious of the need to differentiate the personal from the official. Unlike many especially from the Third World, then as well as now, Tun Razak was the rare leader who did not consider the public treasury to be his. Even when there were grey areas, as with the swimming pool, he would err on the side of not burdening the public with the cost.

It could be argued that since Sri Taman was government property, expenditures on improving it as with building the pool should be borne by the public. However, as the pool would benefit essentially only the prime minister’s family and invited guests, he acted with an abundance of prudence and probity in refusing to have the pool installed.

There was another less obvious but more important reason for his not acceding to his children’s wishes. Malaysia of the 1960s was devoid of gleaming skyscrapers and towering condominiums. There were no modern suburbs with luxurious mansions sporting swimming pools in their backyards. Most Malays were still stuck in their kampongs leading subsistence living and sleeping under thatch roofs. Tun Razak was sensitive to that social environment; he after all had served as Minister for Rural Development. To kampong folks, a backyard pool would have been opulence on an especially grand scale. This more than the cost was probably what prompted the late Tun not to have the pool for his children.

“What will people say?” As Muslims we are reminded to have taqwa at all times, an awareness of the presence of Allah. “Closer than your jugular vein,” as the Koran put it. If you have taqwa, aware that Allah is watching you all the time, that does tend to restrain you.

“What will people say?” could be viewed as a secular version of taqwa, an internal compass to keep us along the straight path, away from temptations and ill deeds. For a leader, that would be a path that would meet the approval if not praise from his followers. The expression reflects the power of peer pressure, the universal human need for social approval. Yes, leaders need this too.

There is a cautionary note however, especially for leaders. Pay too much attention to what people say and you reduce your leadership to a wet-finger-in-the-air mode. That is not a recipe for success, much less greatness. For others, as well as leaders, you risk being reduced to a pathetic fool, as per the fable of the old man, the boy, and the donkey.

Leaders who pay too much heed to what their followers say risk pandering to their lowest common denominator, appealing to their baser and uglier instincts. That is the leadership of the Perkasa types, obsessed with “them” taking over “our” Tanah Melayu, and of chauvinistic leaders forever paranoid over losing their culture and language. In America this is demonstrated by the ugly spectacles of the current candidates in the Republican Party primaries.

Backyard Pool, Luxury Condos, Half-Million Ringgit Engagement Party

Our leaders today are a far cry from the caliber, competence, and integrity so publicly and unambiguously displayed by the late Tun Razak. We are being painfully reminded daily of these deficiencies, including and especially with his son, Najib Razak, the current Prime Minister.

It did not escape citizens’ notice that when Tun Razak died, his estate, while not exactly destitute, was definitely not brimming with assets. The same could be said of his immediate predecessor, Tunku Abdul Rahman, and successor, Hussein Onn. Today, our ex-Prime Ministers live in mega mansions and travel the world in private luxury jets. I do not know who foot their bills. At least American ex-presidents make a show of earning their wealth through their exorbitant speaking fees.

This brings me to Rafizi Ramli’s latest revelation: Najib’s recent half-a-million ringgit engagement party for his daughter allegedly paid for by the Prime Minister’s Office, meaning the public. Rafizi, who is Keadilan’s chief strategist, had earlier brought us the National Feedlot Corporation’s (NFC) “cow-gate” scandal.

Thus far Najib had issued only a general denial to Rafizi’s serious allegation. Significantly, Najib did it not through a formal press conference but through his Twitter site. He has yet to address the specifics. Perhaps Najib is waiting to consult his high-priced public relations consultants on how best to spin this.

I agree with Rafizi that Najib has to level up with the Malaysian people. A general denial would not do it; it insults our intelligence. As Rafizi has clearly stated, Najib has to address the eight points raised by the allegation. Even if the lavish engagement party were to be paid for personally, I shudder to think what the actual wedding would cost. Malaysia’s self-styled “first couple” is competing with the Saudi royals with respect to gaudy extravagance and obscene opulence. The audacity and hypocrisy for Najib to then lecture the rakyats on the need to save and be financially prudent!

As Rafizi rightly asserted, Najib has to show incontrovertible proof (as with copies of cancelled checks) that the funds came out of his personal accounts. That alone would not be enough; he would have to explain how he accumulated such wealth to be able to afford such extravagance. As alluded to earlier, he certainly did not inherit much wealth from his father, and Najib has been getting government paychecks all his adult life except for his brief tenure at Petronas. That too could be considered as a government paycheck.

As for Rosmah, her father, like mine, was a Malay school teacher. And I knew exactly what my father’s wealth was when he died, and he was a man not given to extravagance. Rosmah has to show that she had been a particularly successful entrepreneur to acquire such wealth. Anything less and the rakyats would have a right to assume that those riches had been illicitly acquired.

The sad part is that this obscene extravagance is but the latest show of unbridled rapacious greed in our leaders. Earlier there was that dentist and former Selangor’s Chief Minister with his million-dollar mansion that he bragged to have bought at half price through his “shrewd” bargaining. Then there was the sleepy head, Najib’s immediate predecessor, with his equally opulent mansion in Perth, Western Australia, and another one given to him locally.

Diligent citizens like Rafizi Ramli could not have exposed these shenanigans without the help of honest fellow citizens, especially those on the “inside.” The rash of such recent exposés signals a significant development. Malaysians are now no longer afraid of their leader or the state. When that happens, many wonderful things follow. Look at Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

With such sordid examples at the very top, no wonder lowly ministers and others too are in on the act. At least Women’s Minister Shahrizat had the decency to resign her cabinet post even though as she said, “I really have nothing to do with NFC except that I’m married to the chairman of NFC. But as a responsible member of the government, I feel the right thing for me to do is to step down.” Yes, she did indeed do the right and honorable thing in resigning.

Will Najib do the same? As for the engagement party, it certainly cost much more than the proposed pool at Sri Taman. We will know what people say come the next elections. More important however, is what would Tun Razak say if he were alive today? The unevenness of the tiles at Tun Razak’s mausoleum at the National Mosque was the result of his rolling in his grave.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Keadilan's (and Malaysia's) Shining stars

Keadilan’s (and Malaysia’s) Shining Stars
M. Bakri Musa

Great organizations have great leaders. Everyone recognizes that. Less appreciated is that to maintain its greatness an organization must actively nurture its next generation of leaders. Failure to do so would doom the organization.

The late Tun Razak was acutely aware of this crucial aspect of leadership. In his frequent visits to the districts he was always on the look out for talent. On spotting one, he would bring that promising individual back to headquarters for what we would call today “fast tracking.” Likewise Jack Welch, the legendary chief executive of GE. Whenever he toured the various units, he would ask those divisional heads to name two or three of their promising underlings. He would then ask those managers what they were doing to nurture the talents they had under their wings.

As a corollary to my observation, you can tell much about the potential for future greatness of an organization by looking at its next tier of leaders. It is for this reason that I am bullish on the future of Keadilan. The party is blessed with an abundance of young talent.

Currently in the news is its chief strategist, Rafizi Ramli. It is a measure of the caliber of the young leaders in Keadilan that Rafizi’s rising status does not diminish the other shining stars. Nurul Izzah Anwar, Nik Nazmi Ahmad and Sim Tze Szin are among the many stars that glitter Keadilan’s sky. That augurs well for the future of not only Keadilan but also the nation.

The challenge for current Keadilan leaders is to keep these bright stars shining, for they in turn would attract others into their orbit. Bright talents attract other even brighter ones. They are not like dim candles; the only way to make a dim candle shine brighter (or appear so) is to snuff out the other candles. Bright stars welcome competition, for together they form an even brighter galaxy to light up the evening sky.

Except for Tze Szin, now Penang state assemblyman, I have never met the others. I knew Tze Szin when he was a graduate student and later an engineer in Silicon Valley. His quiet, unassuming but effective leadership clearly shone even then. I recognized his exceptional qualities when he sought my advice on attending an American law school. Such an enquiry from an American would not have surprised me, but for someone from Malaysia who had been brought up under our regimented education system with its trademark forced early streaming, that reflected a mind capable of extraordinary thinking, unencumbered by traditions and expectations. Even more remarkable was the fact that he already had a graduate degree in engineering at the time!

Tze Szin aspired to play a major leadership role and knew the supremacy of the rule of law; hence his interest in pursuing law. I assured him that one need not have to be trained as a lawyer to appreciate this fact. On the contrary we have many examples of those formally trained in law and yet would later be as leader its greatest abuser. Philippines’ Marcos was not the only example, though he was easily the most egregious.

I knew Nik Nazmi, a King’s College honors law graduate, through his book, Moving Forward: Malays of the 21st Century. In my review of that volume I wrote, “At the risk of discomfiting Nik, I am tempted to compare his book to one written nearly 40 years ago by another not-so-young politician. It is not so much a comparison as a contrast. Where Mahathir’s The Malay Dilemma is shrill and emotional, Nik’s Moving Forward is cerebral and rational. While Mahathir irritates, Nik Azmi persuades; while Mahathir excoriates, Nik conciliates. Nik beckons us to share his dreams of Malaysia.” Mahathir on the other hand, imposed his on us. Nik is now a state assemblyman in Selangor.

I judge political leaders not by their soaring rhetoric or oratorical flourishes but on the merit of their ideas and the clarity of their thinking. Nik Nazmi is definitely a promising political leader.

As for Nurul Izzah, she, like Nik Nazmi, is barely 30 and already a Member of Parliament. She won it on her first try at elective office, trumping a veteran and then-popular woman minister. It is to be noted that Lembah Pantai, Nurul’s district, comprised the University of Malaya campus and the upscale Bungsar area. Meaning, her well-educated and sophisticated constituents were swayed less by titles and promises, more by substance and capability.

A Young Tun Razak

Then there is Rafizi Ramli. If there is one person who has caused the Barisan government much embarrassment today it would be Rafizi. If Barisan, specifically UMNO, were to do badly in the next general elections, much of the credit would have to go to him, specifically his dogged pursuit of the National Feedlot Corporation scandal involving the family of Women’s Minister Shahrizat Jalil as well as UMNO and the Barisan government.

Rafizi’s tenaciousness matches his meticulousness in his pursuit of that national mess. Then in a brilliant display of strategy, he released the details in tantalizing bits and pieces, lulling his opponents. Shahrizat, her family, and UMNO leaders fell right into his trap.

When the first brief details were revealed, NFC officials quickly responded with their vigorous denials. Then having successfully lured them into the trap, Rafizi pounced upon them by revealing even more facts, forcing them to essentially recant their earlier denials. Continuing to underestimate Rafizi, they put forth another vigorous line of defense, only to be demolished by yet another revelation from him. Rafizi made them appear unbelievably stupid, embarrassingly incompetent, or both, quite apart from possibly breaking the law.

When Rafizi released the fact of the purchase of luxury condos, NFC officials initially denied it in and tried to gain the offensive by belittling Rafizi, only to quickly backtrack when he released even more specific details. This time they tried to rationalize the purchase as prudent “investment” decision!

The NFC managers were not the only ones snared by Rafizi. The Chief of Police initially dismissed the allegation only to backtrack and reopen the investigation. This time those wise investigating officers went public with their recommendation that NFC officials be charged for criminal breach of trust, essentially preempting his superiors who might be tempted to whitewash his work.

All these conflicting accounts prompted Law Minister Nazri to tell NFC officials to essentially shut up, a very unusual advice from a typically babbling politician.

Rafizi’s biggest trap was to trigger Shahrizat’s filing a defamation suit against him. In a civil suit, in contrast to a criminal one, both plaintiffs and defendants are subject to cross examinations. Now Rafizi will have a forum where those involved would have to testify under oath and in open court. This libel suit may prove to be the most effective way to expose the corrupt nexus of politics, government and business that so blighted our nation over the decades.

In terms of amount, at RM250 million this NFC scandal is but small change as compared to Bank Negara’s foreign exchange debacle or the current Port Klang Development scandal, for example. What it lacks in monetary value however, is more than made up by the sordid details that would be exposed, especially the unbelievable greed and pure hubris of those UMNO Putras.

Rafizi Ramli very much reminds me of a young Tun Razak. Like him, Rafizi is from a village in east coast Malaysia (Trengganu for Rafizi, Pahang for Razak). Both were top students at Malay College, and both were sent to Britain on a scholarship to pursue professional studies, law for Razak and engineering for Rafizi. Again, both had promising careers before giving them up for politics. Razak could have been the first “native” Governor-General of British Malaysia. He gave that up to join UMNO at a time when there was no promise of success or material rewards. Rafizi had a “fast track” career in Petronas and could have been its future CEO but gave that up to join Keadilan at a time when the party had no political power.

Razak’s formidable adversary was the white-skinned, deeply-entrenched colonial-minded British; Rafizi’s was equally formidable – those brown-skinned, deeply-entrenched feudal-minded warlords in UMNO masquerading as Malay nationalists.

It would be easy to dismiss Rafizi as another freelance muckraker or to call him names, as Women’s Minister Sharizat did. It would be worse to underestimate him, as many in UMNO are. Those involved in this shameful greed of the NFC scandal would be better off answering the specifics exposed by Rafizi, and do so without insulting the intelligence of Malaysians.

Rafizi could not have secured those details and documents without the help of “insiders.” That they have chosen to entrust him reflects their confidence in him. That is the measure of this bright young man.

Rafizi Ramli, Nik Nazmi, Tze Szin and Nurrul Izzah are not only Keadilan’s shining stars, they are also Malaysia’s. It is young leaders of their caliber who will guide Malaysia to a bright future.