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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, June 23, 2019

Excerpt #22: UKM's Misplaced, Expensive Priorities

Excerpt 22:  UKM’s Misplaced, Expensive Priorities
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com

            At about this time UKM’s medical faculty received a huge loan (gift?) from the Saudi government, with a substantial amount dedicated for surgical research. As Mahmud had no research experience, he sought my advice. I reviewed the blueprint prepared by the “experts” the Saudis had hired.

            One item struck me, an operating table for the proposed animal lab. Each cost about RM14,000 and they had ordered six. RM$84,000 may be small change in the context of RM50 million, but still the figure astounded me. I told Mahmud that I could design a set similar to the ones I had used in Edmonton for my research and then have the local Chinese metal sheet worker fabricate it for a fraction of the cost.

            Neither Mahmud nor the university was interested in my proposal. They just wanted to hear from me whether those tables were of suitable design. Of course, they were, at $14,000 a piece! They did not need to ask me that. However, if you were to ask the vets in town, they won’t buy any, not at that price. It would bankrupt them as there was no way they could recoup the costs.

            Here I was spending my limited personal funds to publish those papers of my trainees, all UKM appointees. UKM would not contribute a penny. Just the mechanical process of getting the papers published cost me a bundle. I had to rent a Selectric IBM typewriter and buy double-bond papers. Those cheap see-through rice papers, the staple at government offices, would not cut it. I had to use the commercial Xerox copiers downtown. Then there were the costs of making diagrams and slides. This was pre-Microsoft Office Suite days. Even airmailing those submissions cost me a bundle!

            Yet UKM was willing to pay $14,000 for an operating table for their planned surgical research animal lab that did not have any faculty member capable of undertaking the work!

            Today I read of Malaysia Airlines paying 40 percent more for its jets than its competitors, and that the proposed East Coast Railway would cost more per mile than the one built across the Swiss Alps. Those Malaysian wasteful ways have had a long genesis.

            That animal operating table was far from the only instance of misplaced expensive priorities. Soon after my arrival, Mahmud took me on a tour of the hospital, describing it as Asia’s most modern with its award-winning design, with wide corridors and expansive stairways.

            We were on the top floor when my eyes wandered onto the busy Circular Road towards its end where it intersected with the roundabout at Jalan Pahang, a busy section even at that time. There was a fender-bender that just happened.

            I turned to Mahmud and inquired, “Suppose that was more serious and the driver had busted his spleen. How would they get hold of us?”

            Mahmud was stumped. “Somehow the A&E (Accident and Emergency) docs will find us!” he stammered.

            To save him from further embarrassment, I broke the sequence into pieces, beginning with how the victim would get to the hospital, whether there was an emergency 911-equivalent number, and whether those manning the ambulances were trained or just a “scoop and go” team? Mahmud did not know those details either.

            We both decided to find out. We went to the A&E Department and were met by its Director, a Sikh fellow with a huge colorful turban, sitting at his desk reading a newspaper. Mahmud introduced me to him. He promptly excused himself as he had a sore back and delegated one of his medical officers to take us around. When I repeated my earlier queries to this young doctor, his immediate response was that indeed contacting the on-call surgeon was a perennial problem and consumed much of their valuable time.

            As for the ambulances, I was right. They were nothing more than a free government taxi-van service. The attendants were untrained, not even in basic first aid much less CPR.

            Later I suggested to the Deputy Medical Director to equip the on-call doctors, especially surgeons, with beepers. His response was the usual “No funds, lah!”

            I made some queries with the commercial operators of pagers in town and had a quote. I suggested to Mahmud to have the university pay for a couple, one for the surgeon on call and another for the medical officer. No funds for that either. I decided to get a personal one at my own expense only to find out that for individuals it would cost twice as much and would consume a major chunk of my pay!

            I wanted to discuss that with the Director of A&E. He was not interested in hearing me out. I was later told that he was just biding his time until retirement. He had earlier sought full, early retirement because of an injury but was denied – thus his petulance as the head of A&E. He was, to put it in my pathologist-colleague Kutty’s wise words, drawing haram(illicit) salary.

Next:  Excerpt # 23: More Former UKM Faculty Members
Excerpted from the author’s second memoir:  The Son has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia, 2018


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