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Sakmongkol ak 47

Tuesday 31 August 2010

Don't ask

I saw a posting on the Malaysian Insider re-quoting the speech Kennedy made in 1961. I thought it would be mentally stimulating to place what was written in a wider context. So that, we are not easily engulfed by our enthusiasm over that Kennedy speech which is also regarded by many as a mismatch of homilies and lots of little house on the  prairie wisdoms.
From the introduction to Milton Friedman's 1962 book " Capitalism and Freedom".

In a much quoted passage in his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic "what your country can do for you" implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, "what you can do for your 'country" implies the government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary.

To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served. He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive.

The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather "What can I and my compatriots do through government" to help us discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom?

And he will accompany this question with another: How can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect?

Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp.


UMNO: the long and winding road

The recent Merdeka  centre survey showed that UMNO has still a long way to go. Only 12% of the Chinese respondents said they are satisfied with the Government/UMNO. Malays are split 50:50. The Indians- they are not so critical as they are easily swayable.
The survey also said that if PM calls for early elections, he has to project more of himself to win. The gravity of this finding needs to be appreciated. If UMNO's future depends on the weakened shoulders of one person, this means the party is bereft of leadership material. It is reduced to a party forced to manage its image instead of offering convincing direction and policies.
I am sorry to say this- at the moment what Najib has, is the made for TV image and persona of leadership. He is still struggling to impose his leadership substance. And he isn't helped on by his colleagues who are either disinterested or disconnected with his ideas. Or worse, his party members do not understand his leadership direction.
The party UMNO is so discredited. There were 3 main reasons- the leadership is only interested in themselves( read feathering their nests), playing politics and corruption is seen as growing bigger, aided and abetted by the government leadership.
If the party is discredited because of racist chauvinism as asserted by a senior minister, it would have lost its relevance a long time ago. UMNO has always been identified as a Malay chauvinist party. So, why could it stay relevant with the Malays for a long time? That could only suggest that its posturing on Malayness is an accepted trait. UMNO will always be as UMNO is, but what turned Malays and Malaysians against UMNO are the 3 things exposed by the survey; stupid UMNO politicians are interested in feathering their own nests, the level of corruption has reached its tipping point and there is too much politicking brought about by vacuous leadership material.
I have said it before and will repeat it here- the unfortunate truth is that UMNO leaders reached their eminent stature not because of producing great thinking but because they are adept at playing the political game. Hence instead of the cream rising to the top, you have the scum prevailing over others. UMNO is sliding because there are no more good men in leadership capacity.
In short, if elections were to be called early as in next year, UMNO will lose. The revolution that will occur will come about not because NEPish policies are abandoned, but more because UMNO cannot accept losing power.
Can you imagine, life as many UMNO bigwig politicians know for so long is no more? No more pillaging, no more abuses of power, no more avenue for rapacious greed, no more hiding behind your prowess of outshouting your opponents. No more concealing your mediocrity. That will be the end of the world for men and women accustomed to prevailing over others with bullying tactics and out-maneuvering others in political intrigues. These people will incite rebellion because they will find themselves cut off from their power bases and decapitated from wealth creating resources.
If the survey is taken in Pekan, I think the observations will be more correct. It is impossible for Najib to lose there and indeed there Najib enjoys an unassailable stature like Anwar Ibrahim to some of his followers. He can do no wrong.
But a victory alone in Pekan if cancelled out by massive losses elsewhere is of no use. UMNO still loses and that will be the end of Najib's career as PM. The problem is with UMNO and its leadership in general. It is a discredited brand name soiled by self interested leadership, mired in political intrigues and UMNO is seen as a party that promotes corruption.
How can UMNO redeem itself?
Bring in good men in government which means sack the mediocre material. Even a bad system can still be saved by having good people in leadership capacities. Perhaps it was this factor that made UMNO successful in the early days as they were more good leadership material. Honest and sincere leaders believing they could make a difference to the lives of the public. Good leaders were even forgiven for personal weaknesses. Tunku Abdul Rahman and even Tun Razak were partial to intoxicating drinks, by they were nevertheless tolerated because they could lead and because they don't trample over religion and their race.
Restore the people's faith in a party committed to offering the best and talented to the people. Remove all vestiges of ensconced privileges and political rules that impede and frustrate the emergence of new talent. The insistence of no campaigning for party positions is a mockery to the commitment to let diversity of leaders emerge.
Restore the public's faith in the resolve of the government to stem out corruption by going after the big guns. Start by opening the boxes infamously mentioned by one Ezam Mat Noor and go after the 18 high profile cases mentioned by Rais Yatim. Compel him to turn state evidence otherwise charge him for obstructing justice.

Restore the public's faith in our judiciary by first promoting judges of the highest integrity and sound technical knowledge of the law.
Restore the public's faith in the freedom of ideas by giving real press freedom. Allow opposition parties to publish their papers so that the public is accustomed to a contest of ideas and thinking.
And in this 21st century, there is hardly any justification to have a draconian piece of legislation such as the ISA. It is an archaic piece of legislation more relevant in an age of unreason. It is suitable in an age where we stamp our authority by using coercive instruments. In the age of reason, we secure public's faith and belief in us by the force of reason and civil argument. 

At the end of the day, good leadership must not only be heard, but must also be seen to operate.


Monday 30 August 2010

Leadership and Malay self respect.

I am trying to rationalize some people's fixation with the NEP. I am certain that Ibrahim Ali isn't that stupid to know that the NEP has officially ended in 1990. Yet he and many others still speak of the NEP even though, the NEP is officially dead. It is no more.
They may be talking not about NEP but of and about NEPish policies. The policy is understood to be a collection of policy tools to jumpstart Malay participation and involvement in the economy. That agenda to them, has no time limit.
I am therefore inclined to think that for some Malays, the NEP represents something much more. I am thinking, what Malays feel is no longer just about getting 30% share in listed companies or that Malays control 30% of certain industries. I think, Malays expect much more than just digits and numbers.
I think the fixation with the NEP is the idea behind the NEP. What could be the idea?
The NEP is a symbol of Malay power. it's a symbol of Malay self respect. The NEP represents the Malay amour propre ( amoor proper) hence when Malays demand 30% of this and that, those are symbols of Malay self respect. Take that away from a Malay- he flies off the handle.
Today what they see is that this self respect is being denuded with wanton contempt. They see their self respect being ridiculed. Malays can accept that as Malaysian citizens we are all equal, but we are first among equals. Whether Malaysians think this is unjustifiably so, is immaterial. The Malay public thinks so and expect the world of others to adjust to it. I am merely stating it as it is.
When Malays demand this, it's not irrational. It's totally in tune with eastern filial piety to be respectful the elders, the learned, powerful. It certainly is not childlike for the Malays to demand this. They can justify this on grounds of historical and cultural bond with this country which prevail over the like claims of other Malaysians.
And they see the denudation of the Malay self respect chiefly as a result of a weak and clueless Malay leadership. It didn't happen over one or two days. It is caused when the Malay leadership, especially by those in power coming out with stupid nebulous policies and its over-compromising actions. It is caused, sad to say, by an ineffective UMNO leadership which has failed to monitor the increasing emasculation of Malay self respect. The ascendency of such groups like Perkasa for example is clearly a reflection of weak Malay leadership.
Malays are discomfited when the Malay leadership lets its guards down. Perhaps intoxication with power or being in power for too long has blunted its sensitivities. We, both the supporters and party leadership have been silent over issues like Malay participation in the private sector. We have been silent over issues such as increasing encroachment and indeed colonization over Malay reserve land.
We keep quiet and turn a blind eye when housing and commercial developments in city centers violate and mocked the rules on Malay ownership. We are easily led to believe developers when they say- tuan dan dato and kawan kawan- there are no Malay takers. Cincai cincai lo. So we are forced to open it up to non Malay purchasers.
Which lead every self respecting Malay to question the role of our GLCs as to why they don't buy the Bumi units and hold them 'on our behalf'. If they can hold assets and wealth creating resources on our behalf, yes, we asked- why can't they do the same with Bumi units?
The answer is, the government that controls the GLC has lost sight of the Bumiputera agenda. The leadership is disconnected and has de-sensitized itself on the seriousness of Malay self respect. UMNO leadership is the chief culprit. This is why Perkasa has become the spokesman for the alienated and disenchanted. UMNO has forfeited its legitimacy as the custodian and guardian of the Malay soul.
When Malays see the proprietorship over the usage of the term Allah is compromised, when they see a slew of concessions given to non Malays in economics and in politics, when they see Malay leadership goes around bowl in hand begging for the support of non Malays- all these combined to lead to a general distrust on the capability and resolve of the Malay leadership. Again, the chief culprit is UMNO. Ibrahim Ali has yet to say it explicitly- he is in effect, condemning the leadership of Najib Tun Razak.
NEP is no longer seen as a failure of an economic policy model. It has become the symbol for the failure to guard and protect Malay self respect. As a result, the growing influence of groups like Perkasa is actually an expression of a collective demand by the Malay public, that the leadership of the party which prides itself as the vanguard and custodian of Malay agenda to not flinch its responsibility over this sacred almost religious-like duty.


Sunday 29 August 2010

DEB dan keterunggulan orang Melayu

Apa yang sebenarnya, orang Melayu faham bila mereka bercakap mengenai DEB? Saya rasa faham mereka tidak lagi tertumpu sama ada orang Melayu menguasai 30% pegangan dalam syarikat yang di senarai, atau jenis jenis perniagaan tertentu ada 30% penyertaan Melayu. Saya rasa isiu nya lebih besar dari petanda petanda penyertaan dan penguasaan Melayu itu.
Yang utama lagi utama yang mereka faham ialah 'idea' yang di wakili oleh DEB. DEB bukan lagi di lihat hanya sebagai instrument kepada penguasaan dan penglibatan Melayu dalam ekonomi. DEB sudah merupakan lambang kepada kuasa orang Melayu. DEB sudah jadi lambang kepada keterunggulan bangsa Melayu itu sendiri. Betul, semua bangsa equal dalam Negara kita, tapi Melayu itu first among equals. Yang ini lama kelamaan kian terhakis.
Dan ia terhakis bukan lah sebab ianya terjadi dalam sehari dua. Ia mulai terhakis apabila pimpinan Melayu itu sendiri muncul dengan dasar yang bodoh dan dasar yang berkompromi secara berlebihan. Ia terjadi kerana pimpinan UMNO sendiri lemah dalam memantau pancaran kepada KETERUNGGULAN bangsa mereka sendiri.
Kita sudah bisu misalnya dalam penyertaan Melayu dalam syarikat swasta. Kita bisu dalam melihat pejajahan pemilikan bukan Melayu keatas tanah reseb Melayu misalnya. Kita bisu dan bersikap tidak ada apabila pemajuan sesuatu kawasan kurang penyertaan bangsa Melayu dan kita terlalu mudah percaya, bahawa unit unit Bumiputera dalam sesuatu kawasan yang di majukan, tidak ada 'takers'. Apa yang pelu di lakukan oleh cukong cukong ialah membiarkan tempoh bumiputera takers tamat, kemudian pergi ke jabatan kerajaan yang berwajib dan declare, tuan dan kawan( lebih kawan dari tuan) - tidak ada bumi buyers. Yang celaka nya, apa yang di lakukan oleh GLC Melayu- kalau orang Melayu secara sendirian belum mampu beli mengapa awak tidak beli dan pegang untuk orang Melayu.
Bila orang Melayu lihat kalimah Alllah sudah boleh di kompromi, bila orang Melayu lihat pelbagai konsesi di beri kepada bukan Melayu, bila orang Melayu melihat pimpinan politik Melayu sudah meminta sedekah ehsan dari bukan Melayu- kesemua nya ini menandakan KETERUNGGULAN bangsa Melayu sudah kian luntur. Ia terjadi demikian, pada sebahagian besar punca nya ialah kerana pimpinan Melayu sudah lemah.
DEB bukan lagi lambing kegagalan suatu model ekonomi- bahkan ianya sudah jadi lambnag kepada kehakisan Keterunggulan bangsa Melayu. Maka nya, penyuaraan organisasi seperti Perkasa misalnya ada desakan supaya Keterunggulan orang Melayu jangan di perjudikan. Kerajaan yang ada, mestilah sebuah keajaan yang menjaga kepentingan bangsa Melayu. Ertinya, yang di inginkan oleh orang Melayu sebenarnya ialah jaminan yang di istiharkan bahawa orang Melayu tidak di pinggirkan. Dan saya rasa selagi orang Melayu merupakan majority penduduk dan parti yang memerintah di kuasai oleh orang Melayu, ketuanan orag Melayu akan tetap mantap.
Maka tentu ada sebab mengapa Perkasa sangat lantang menyuarakan kepentingan orang Melayu. Saya rasa, keinginan Ibrahim Ali, ketua Perkasa mencari sautu wadah untuk kekal releven secara politik, sudah menjadi alasan yang terlalu lemah untuk di majukan sebagai penyebab mengapa perkasa menjadi popular.
Dan saya rasa, Perkasa, semakin hari menjadi indictment kepada 'resolve' pimpinan Najib sendiri. Perkasa sudah menajdi suatu wadah untuk sebahagian orang Melayu yang tidak yakin kepada kepimpinan Dato Najib memimpin bangsa Melayu bersuara dan bergerak. Berulang kali orang Melayu melihat terlalu banyak sangat kompromi yang di lakukan oleh Dato Najib. Seolah olah gambaran yang di baca oleh orang Melayu , ialah Najib memberi muka kepada bangsa bukan Melayu untuk mendapat pelbagai kelonggaran dan konsesi. Dan orang ramai melihat konsesi kepada bangsa lain di beri tanpa imbangan dalam bentuk konsesi kepada orang Melayu. Soal pemberian biasiswa contoh nya. Soal konsesi ekonomi misalnya.
Dan yang paling menjengkilkan orang Melayu ialah konsep 1 Maalysia yang di majukan oleh Najib. Apa benda nya ini? Bagaimana konsep ini mahu di realisasikan dalam iklim orang Melayu masih ketingalan dalam pebagai cabang kehidupan? Yang miskin lebih ramai orang melayu, yang susah lebih ramai orang Melayu, yang kurang berpelajaran lebih ramai bangsa Melayu. Yang orang Melayu ada , kurang dari bangsa lain- perumahan, perniagaan, premis perniagaan.
Apa yang orang Melayu mahu, bukan suatu konsep yang 'nebulous' tapi suatu program bagaimana mereka boleh memperolehi kemajuan material. Orang Melayu miskin, susah, belum berjaya dalam perniagaan, belum memiliki premis perniagaan dan belum mepunyai sumber penjanaan kekayaan- mereka tidak peduli sama ada Najib, Rosmah atau Rais Yatim mahu melalak sana sini, nyanyi sana sini mengenai satu Malaysia. Yang orang lihat ada 2 Malaysia- satu Malaysia untuk orang kaya dan pemimpin politik dengan kroni mereka dan satu lagi Malaysia untuk golongan yang kepingin. Yang ingin apa yang sudah di capai oleh golongan yang pertama tadi.


Friday 27 August 2010

Where has our leadership gone?

Sometime in 2007, Lee Iacocca, wrote a book titled 'Where Have All The Leaders Gone?. In light of what is happening, I find the subject matter of the book, becoming more relevant by each passing day. We should now begin asking the same question- where have all our leaders gone?

In the early part of the book, Iacocca asks a question which we Malaysians should also be asking- where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder at what's going on.

The level of corruption goes unabated. Ezam Mat Nor says he has got boxes and boxes of hard evidence against Rafidah Aziz and Mat Nor Yaakob and a slew of UMNO leaders. Why doesn't he turn them over to the government? Rais Yatim should be arrested for concealing material that can help the government bust the 18 high profile corruption cases that he once loudly announced. Was that his pompous piety and righteousness that were on display? Where are the evidence? RTM itself should be investigated as to why only one company seems to monopolize all the advertising rights?

The MAS corruption allegations have to be looked into on an urgent basis. Tenders that run into billions are given without open biddings. Large scale projects are said to be pre-chosen by people close to sources of power. A former sportswoman who didn't accomplished anything of enduring significance, is getting lucrative contracts that run into hundreds of millions. Big corruption cases continue to be swept under the carpet. The economy isn't doing well.

It's nice to paraphrase Iacocca- we've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind- such as proposing to build a new MRT at a cost of 30-40 billion where a simpler tram system which would probably cost only RM 2 billion can do the trick. We actually have a 1 Malaysia dominated and monopolized by the already rich and powerful and another 1 Malaysia inhabited by the voiceless but who are increasingly incensed.

We should all be outraged and not be derailed by infantile labeling of those who speak out as Melayu liberal if those who speak out are Malays. Or if those speaking out are non Malays, they are called anti Malays. That labeling is an intellectual lazy argument and is an attempt to stop people from feeling outraged.

Thus when I rail against the NEP for example, I am not all anti those measures that were meant to help the poor and the disadvantaged but I am angered by the blatant exploitation of the policy to steal from this country.

And the absence of leadership is no more glaring when we see the increasing popularity of ideas talked about by former premier Dr. Mahathir among the Malay public. Although it affects Malays in particular, nevertheless because of the reality of Malaysian politics where UMNO politics make or break this country, these ideas eventually affect national politics. UMNO will be severely hurt unless it can offer leadership to the Malays. Unfortunately the UMNO leadership hasn't done this, i.e. provide an interest-sticking leadership.

One commentator has provided a most perceptive thought to explain what is going on.

The fact that Mahathir is able to take centre stage and speak so loudly is because Najib has forfeited the stage to him - the elegant silence that Sakmongkol referred to. This is an abject failure of leadership. Leadership requires the selling of major ideas, to explain what those policies are, and how the people will benefit. Merely having labs and seminars won't do. The vast majority of the people do not participate, and it is all too complex for them. There is a need to go to the ground, not just to show his face or shake a few hands, but to speak about the key issues and speak repeatedly until people understand the issues clearly. We might remember how Mahathir campaigned against the sultans to take power away from them. That is the kind of effort needed. And he needs his ministers to all read from the same page. This does not seem to be the case. He is the lone voice out there. It won't do.

Lastly, it should be remembered that leaders don't always lead their people to good outcomes. Jim Jones and Hitler are good examples. But to ensure these types have no influence at all we need the good leaders with vision and courage to emerge and lead. Where are they?


Thursday 26 August 2010

Misreading Mahathir- big mistake.


Reading the comments on my article, misplaced pride, I am discomforted at the thought of many people missing the central point. Instead it has invited all round criticisms against Dr Mahathir. Hello UMNO leaders- wake up, the bell tolls for you.
The central point in this very short article is to tell UMNO leadership of the flashing amber lights. For them, that is. If they are not careful, the leadership will fall.
Dr Mahathir isn't speaking as a lone voice. His voice strikes a common chord among the majority of Malays. As much I would like to argue from a liberalist point of view, I can't ignore the voices that echo what Dr Mahathir speaks of. Never mind if the present predicament in which many Malays find themselves in at the moment is an outcome of Dr Mahathir's own policies, as I have said before, he has a reservoir of goodwill that he has built up over the years. He hasn't exhausted his reservoir yet. And I am talking about the Malayness quotient that's in him. He may have compromised his original ultra-ness over the years, but he is till regarded as the doyen of Malay nationalism.
I am saying, those leaders supportive of Najib's vision to better start something more substantial to win over the Malay allegiance. Your elegant silence, either brought about by your disinterestedness and detachment or plain ignorance of the Najib thinking, will result in your political demise- all of you.
What will happen is,  there will be a realignment of the forces within UMNO- the majority will go along the thinking of Dr Mahathir while the few, lethargic in thoughts and deeds, will side with Najib. This is not a battle that Najib can win. Because the majority of UMNO members as well as fence-sitter Malays will go for the simpler and raw thinking of Mahathir.
At 84, Mahathir can still play king maker. Even an aged lion can still scare away the hyenas.


Misplaced pride and charity

I have said and written it before- the present administration will be in deeper trouble when Dr. Mahathir steps up his criticisms on the government and leadership. In lambasting those Malays who support meritocracy, he categorizes them as people with misplaced pride.
Well, it has gone up a notch higher. The Najib administration and Najib's UMNO have better watch out.
I am not sure whether anyone who supports a system that rewards a person according to his ability and contribution has a misplaced pride. If this system is rejected, what do we have? A system that rewards someone based on the personal discretion of another? Or someone is rewarded because he is somebody's son or daughter, or someone is rewarded because he cuts corners and cheats? Then we have a system where someone rises to the top because he is a tricky fellow, he is adept at intrigues and so on. The lazy and the incompetent are rewarded the same as the efficient and competent. In that system, why should be  the more resourceful, cleverer and more competent  work harder than the layabout and lazy bone? What do we call that system- intentional hypocrisy? Misplaced charity?
But I am sure, that is not what Dr Mahathir means. He must have meant this present leadership, in pursuit of any policies, if its minimises or reduces the Malay-ness quotient is bound for failure. Put it simply, has Najib got the right Malay-ness quotient in him?
I am not sure if the PM hears this or not- certainly not from the PR groups who are beholden to him nor from his kitchen advisors- that people are seeing him and his cousin Hishamudin as having less Malayness content in them. This, notwithstanding his occasional and widely publicised forays via his walkabouts into the territories inhabited by the downtrodden masses of humanity.
Where does the NEM fit into Dr Mahathir Malay-ness quotient worldview? Mind you, Dr. Mahathir is not alone in this world. It can be bigger that the world presided over by PM Najib.
As we know, the NEM is a plan for a new affirmative action policy based on needs and merits, market-friendly, "consider all ethnic groups fairly and equally as long as they are in the low income 40% of the households", eliminating rent-seeking and market-distorting features.
These pronouncements are sending antagonistic signals to the world influenced by Dr. Mahathir.


Wednesday 25 August 2010

Righting a wrong

I am not going to get into unnecessary argument about semantics- that a 'right' is always a right, hence we don't have to fight for it. It is obvious that I am not talking about a philosophical right. I am talking about some human construct that is treated as a right by nature. I am not talking about 'kebenaran' atau yang 'hak'.

Let me ask you a practical question. Treating the 30% target for example as a right, what do we hope to achieve? We hope it can make everyone equal, comes the answer.

How do you do that? You use the power of being in the government to put up a clause in the Constitution( which is potentially changeable) to enforce the equality objective. Once you do this, without constant vigilance from a strong leadership watching like a hawk, we have institutionalise the idea of giving our charges their daily ration of fish, instead of giving them a rod. Is that good or bad?

How do you actually and more effectively construct a level playing field and make things more equal? The ones who are going us to get the objectives are people- not clauses in the constitution. How many times have we written, that in order to improve things, we must create inside our people, the desire for 'wanting' things to change.

We think the best way is to use the power of government to get us ahead- legal constructs, coercive powers and instruments and so on. In doing so, we forego and forfeit creating, making, building, selling. Improving technical or academic skills. When we push these more powerful elements which could improve the lot of people better to the sidelines, what have we achieved? What we have improved are not the functional skills which Tun Razak wanted, but political skills. That's what makes a difference. We have more political skills then technical skills.

The objective of political skills is always getting and retaining power. Over the entire period, what we have created more of, are leaders with political skills not the technical skills to effectively move Malays and the country forward. We have more political leaders and less technical leaders.

We have leaders who rise to the top not on account of any elements of brilliance and thinking ability, but as a result of mastering political intrigues. I touched on these in my article about what's bothering UMNO Penang; we actually have a leadership more adept at political intrigues rather than development skills. Hence you have a leadership that is disconnected and doesn't seem to know what to do. You have developed more political skills.

You may recognize a little of what I am talking about in our current system here. More and more, becoming a "have" in our society requires entering the bureaucracy, or getting the bureaucracy on your side. Therefore we shout about something provided for in the constitution.

We have so infected people with this idea that in order to move forward, we need to ally ourselves with powerful bureaucrats and those adroit at political skills. Even the hard working entrepreneurs and innovators among us increasingly need the bureaucracy's help. Vast mazes of regulations give bureaucracies vast power over both us and our competitors. Government can make or break an industry. Make or break a company. It can increase the cost of entry beyond plausibility, or it can make that cost go away.

In the free market, wealth comes from work. You can't legislate wealth. Those who got wealth through legislation have shown that can't hold on to it. RM 54 billion of wealth given to those who sucked it up to political masters has been frittered away! Just as a food for thought, the political system that creates wealth from power is socialism or even communism. Therefore the closer we move toward socialism and communism, the more wealth comes from power. We called our political system as managed capitalism. That's the difference. The similarity: wealth still exists in relatively few hands.

Hence, even state-enforced economic "equality" did not and cannot
make everyone "equal." It can only change the attributes that are most important to getting ahead. Sadly, they are not the right attributes. Sucking up to your superiors becomes more important than working hard. Figuring out which bureaucrats can do the most for you, and ingratiating yourself to them.


Tuesday 24 August 2010

When is a right, a right?

The two principles of the NEP were:-

  1. The eradication of poverty irrespective of race

  2. The restructuring of society by readjusting the wealth distribution machinery.
The overriding objective of the whole NEP was national unity.
I remember reading circa 1974, Time or Newsweek quoted Tun Razak as saying the special purpose of the NEP was to provide Malays the fishing rod so that they can fish every day. It was supposed to replace the customary practice of giving fish directly to the recipient.
That means, right from the very beginning, the essence of the NEP was to eschew the notion that the Malay man is a passive, mechanical recipient of life's bounty. He acquires a tool to be productive and master his environment and in so doing, redeems himself. Its never the intention of the NEP when it started in 1970, to countenance the idea of an absolute right over material comforts and so forth. It has always been a qualified right in the sense of that right having to be earned and fought for by exerting efforts, using the material in between the ears and action or working.
You acquire a right by qualifying for it- fighting for it, earning for it through conscious efforts. You don't acquire a right because its guaranteed in the form of writing on some parchment somewhere.
These principles were forgotten and instead there was tremendous obsession of securing and achieving the so called 30% target. This became the sole criteria by which to judge the success of the NEP. It also became the only measure by which the extent and effectiveness of the NEP is to be judged. If we don't get 30% in every economic endeavor, we haven't succeeded in establishing our Malayness. It was also a self imposed limitation that could suggest that Malay ownership is to be limited to 30%. What if one day, the Malay population is 70%. Would a 30% ownership by 70% of the population be a tenable proposition? What if Malay resourcefulness far exceed this limitation- are we then to impose a limit on Malay calls?
30% target becomes the be all and end all of the NEP. Its success is to be measured only on this qualification. That, says many proponents is guaranteed by the constitution and the reasoning is, that which is guaranteed is a right.
Here is the basic flaw. We have thus acquired a right by virtue of something written on a piece of paper. It acts in rem or against the whole world. But in reality, such a right acquires a quasi permanent status; it remains in force as long as the constitution is enforced. The constitution can, in theory be changed as when the required number of voting rights are secured by the party wanting changes on the constitution succeeds in doing so. Since these rights remain potentially changeable, the rights are not ever permanent.
Hence, that which we know and call rights, because they are protected by provisions in a parchment, are not eternal in the sense that in theory they can be changed.
How do we get a right then? When we have absolute ownership is the answer. We have title over a piece of land because our ownership is enforceable against the whole world. We have absolute right. How did we get the title over the land in the first place? We acquire a right to do whatever we pleased over the physical land. We may have bought it or was given by the government. Even if we are given, we gave consideration in the form something in return to acquire ownership. We paid the premium, we may have paid the survey fees, processing etc. we complete the acquisition of the land, when we apply it productively.
This is the basic quality of owning a right- we gave something to acquire absolute ownership.
Which brings us to something very vexing- the subject of Malay rights. In particular, in my area of specialization, the Malay economic right.
What are the Malay economic rights then? We have certain things guaranteed by the constitution. Conferment of priorities over others in getting employment for example, of being appointed to certain offices, of being given licenses, or permission to do certain economic activities.
Can these be termed as rights? In the preceding paragraphs, the centerpiece of our argument is that a right acquires a quality of permanence if its fought for and earned. That you have absolute ownership over that which you have fought and earned.
What many of us have been taught to believe to a large extent, is that a right is something we are naturally entitled to, without us making exertions-mental and physical to acquire it. This has been taught to us for generations which is simply wrong when read into the original purpose of the NEP.
It was never the purpose of the NEP that we are entitled to something on the basis of who we are- such as, for example because we are Malay. We are entitled to something after having qualified for it through efforts- mental and physical exertions. Using a rod to fish as opposed to being given a fish because of who we are. In other words our entitlement is always predicated on the basis of what we contribute to get it.
In my opinion, this should be the mindset of a self respecting Malay- i.e. moving away from our fixation of an idea that we acquire a right as a matter of natural consequence to a belief that a right is acquired if its earned and fought for.


Monday 23 August 2010

What does UMNO Penang fear?


Some Muslims in Penang were highly agitated when the khatib ( the man who reads sermons) offered prayers for the Penang chief minister. In what manner was it said? Was LGE's name mentioned in the context of something?

Actually we have not heard what actually transpired other than listening to a few emotionally charged statements from some people. Who are these people? If they are UMNO members, then their response was hardly surprising.

To me, the fearful responses thus far only reflect how desperate UMNO is in re capturing the Malay support in Penang. I won't say re-capture Penang, because that is already impossible. what UMNO fears now is losing Malay support in Penang. That is like the end of the world.

What UMNO fears is a rising consciousness among Penang Malays that despite detaching themselves from UMNO, their lot can still be improved. This will be the beginning of a wider consciousness debunking the myth that equates loyalty and allegiance to this country to loyalty and allegiance to UMNO. The two things are not the same. If Penang is successful in demolishing this long perpetuated myth and this awareness becomes a national phenomenon, UMNO is in serious trouble.

Neither UMNO nor Zaid Hamidi who is the Pengerusi Perhubungan UMNO Penang have the answer to counter this rising tide. The only way they can hit back is by manipulating the sermon issue. You hope this will escalate into a tidal wave of resentment.

I say, if we truly love UMNO we should stop this childish and very shallow strategy. offer Penang Malays a better vision and promises of a better future. Zahid Hamidi is wishing he is not the Pengerusi Perhubungan UMNO Negeri. Ini kes nyaya kat chek no.

Since capturing Penang from Gerakan and UMNO in the last elections, the state government has made serious inroads into winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim community. Mosques and suraus have been receiving a lot of facilities and assistance from the state government. What is the civil thing to do if someone has given you assistance? You say thank you sir.

So the particular imam who created the present controversy who happens to be the brother of the Penang mufti was telling the congregation that Muslims should pray the good deeds undertaken by the state government under Lim Guan Eng are carried out continuously. Muslims are thanking the state government under LIM Guan Eng. In addition, Muslims should be hopeful that Lim Guan Eng embraces Islam. What probably happened was perhaps Guan Eng's name was mentioned in that context.

To me, this is a stupid way of trying to leverage on a religious issue. The present controversy serves to further expose our hypocrisy. For so many years while Penang was under the JV government of Gerakan and UMNO, the lot of Penang Malays has not improved greatly. You even had a PM from Penang and he didn't achieve anything much for Penang Malays. He could offer only some nebulous ideas about Islam. People wanted more physical improvements not more sermonizing.

Before that you also had a former deputy PM from Penang, who did not achieve much either. All he could do was gurmal here and gurmal there. Senator Koh Tsu Koon could never match what Guang Eng has achieved in 2 years with what he has done all those years while in power. So really, you don't have any defense against what the present state government is doing.

The better action by Penang Malays is to throw out all those useless UMNO leaders who rose to prominence not through offering great ideas and thinking, but got where they are by mastering political intrigues. It's the comeuppance for many of these hollow leaders. For years you have come up not through the brilliance of your ideas or competency but you rise because you are more skillful at demolishing your political rivals, you rise by stabbing the backs of your political comrades, you rise because you plot here and there- suddenly you find you don't have the substance to sustain your political relevance.

So you have incompetent UMNO leaders thinking they can stand toe to toe with better qualified Gerakan leaders. Suddenly you realize, your skills in removing your own political comrades don't work when dealing with people from other parties.

So I find the Penang UMNO leadership and its 'spokesmen' behaving hypocritical in using religion to counter the state government.

Let's have some finesse fellers.


Saturday 21 August 2010

Same people, different zeitgeist-part 1.

dear dato,i read your blog most days.i find it interesting and factual.

i am chinese,57 years,retired,educated and have financial freedom.
i was educated in english college,johor bahru.i was in the top class and had many malay classmates,in fact slightly less than half the class. They were good and hard working students.of these, half made it to universities,both local,most foreign.those days mostly to uk.most were on scholarship and very deserving too.

one of them was on mara scholarship.on returning to malaysia he made a beeline to mara,to check on repayment terms.can you believe it,they lost the file!my friend then made his own calculation and paid back ALL.

that was some 35 odd years my malay friends are all enjoying a good life and some even retired.we are still very close.
another classmate invited our chinese form-teacher to his daughter's wedding in kl.he paid for the hotel accommodation at sheraton.

it was a good system it is totally different now.i will not bring issues that are all to wellknown to everyone.

now,how do we move forward?
i think you do have most answers.i wish you well and sincerely hope that ALL malaysians read your blog.i think you have the power to change.good luck.

yours sincerely,
chen siung sik.johor bahru.


The e mail sent to me by a Mr. Chen from JB sounds melancholic. What has happened to the present generation that has made many of the things by which Mr. Chen and many of us grew up with, appear diminishing? A sense of personal noblesse oblige, imposed on us by welcomed pressures- from the family, society and state, were treated as powerful motivational elements. The man who came back to pay up his student loan did that as a matter of personal honour. That can come only from the values honed at home and further reinforced by the enabling environment. Many people like Mr. Chen were eager to take up the challenge to cultivate themselves to serve a united Malaysia.
What was it that made the earlier generation behaved in the way described by this Chinese gentleman? Students of all races working hard to redeem themselves. Aware that good education was the great leveler. Racial differences didn't stand in the way to foster a sense of camaraderie. In short, what made them into different material?
In saying that, we are admitting that maybe things have now changed in less desirable ways than that which we would have liked. Racial strife is clearly on the rise. Almost everything now is talked in terms of racial equation. Malays getting more at the expense of other Malaysians. Non Malay Malaysians dismissing or trivializing the need to restructure  society in the name of a level playing field, also talked  of in racial undertones. Education does not seem to have turned students into useful and productive adults, if we measure it by the number of graduates who are unemployed. Measure it too by the amount of re training that we have to give to passing graduates.
Perhaps it was the zeitgeist of the 1960's and the 1970's. The definition of the term as we googled it:-
Zeitgeist is the general cultural, intellectual, ethical, spiritual, and/or political climate within a nation or even specific groups, along with the general ambience, morals, socio-cultural direction or mood of an era.

In modern times, I would put it as the enabling environment- the general ambiance of the times. It is a product of the enabler- the ruling government and the leadership of this country.
The people are the same still. Parents still value education. They are also aware of education being the great leveler. The children of a hawker, a farmer or an estate worker have the same opportunities to advance through education.
What has changed is perhaps the priorities politicians set out. I think the one element that people didn't think was important( I may not be correct) but one which I would argue, was the absence of the language and cultural imperatives. Malay and English evolved as the natural unifying language. English was the working language and Bahasa Melayu was accepted as naturally predominant language. But once language was politicised, it triggered off irrational defences and at times chauvinistic reactions. The government should have left in that way- allowing Malay and English to reach its natural preeminent levels.
Probably many people may have noticed this. The increasing popularity of English medium schools resulted in the natural decline of Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools. The decline wasn't forced in the sense that they were to make way for Malay medium schools. Practical considerations and economic realities made English medium schools the preferred schools for Chinese and Indians. If the government had left it at that, Malay medium schools were to continue along their natural course and English medium schools were the alternatives to vernacular schools, things may have been different. English educated people would still have to come to terms with the predominant lingua franca and would have to make adjustments accordingly. It would have the unintended effect of diminishing the importance of vernacular schools in less painful ways, rather than being seen as victims of language and by extension, cultural hegemony by Malays.


Friday 20 August 2010

Dr.Mahathir and PM Najib

I managed to catch up with the Oracle of Syed Putra. He has been away for sometime accompanying his friend, a former senior leader of the government, abroad. As usual, we talked some politics.
Have you met Dr. Mahathir? he asked.
Not yet said I. His press officer hasn't called me.
I am not sure he will after so many uncomplimentary passages about the man who can walk on water, I wrote in my passages.
But I suppose you know of developments in the country?
Yes, I read the latest speech by Chua Soi Lek. That's going to be a problem. Can the PM handle it?
What's the difference between Dr Mahathir and Dato Najib? The former begun his career branded as an Ultra Malay. That initial image stuck throughout his life. He was an icon to the Malays. His was the voice of the inner Malay. Having cut his teeth deeply which left a permanent mark in the Malay psyche, Dr. Mahathir has that reservoir of 'goodwill' to identify with the inner feelings of Malays at large.
In later years, when Dr Mahathir was to relax this ultra image, people still believed in his core values. Dr Mahathir has the fundamentals. He has that hero image of looking out after Malay interests. He can draw down from his initial fixed deposit. The principal remains, he is reaping the dividends. Whatever he does in those years while in power, even if they seem contrary to his Malay-first persona, were excusable. People still think of him as having the fundamentals of Malayness.
Profound observations , I thought. My own thoughts are as follows.
What about our PM Najib? Dato Najib has none of that. He hasn't build a reservoir of core Malayness values large enough from which he can draw down. People are not sure whether he can really empathize with the plight of the Malay lumpen-proletariat. In the 1980's I thought he had the making of a Malay ultra when he made fiery speeches at the TPCA stadium in Kampung Bharu. Never mind if that was a show of brinkmanship- it could have left an indelible mark on the Malay psyche as did Dr Mahathir before him.
Alas, that was just a low octane spark that wasn't capable of lighting a prairie fire of Malay activism. He became quiet after so many UMNO people and others got sent to the University in Taiping. Those sent got a degree in Ops Lalang.
Everyone knows Dr Mahathir can be funny sometimes. In a matter-of-factly way. Once during a speech he was giving, Dr. Mahathir likened Anwar to one of the Hindu Gods. I don't know which one, but the one which a few heads enabling that god to see all around. So when Anwar speaks at one place, he will say one thing, at another place, he will use another head and speak what that particular audience may like. Many heads make a wise man? A tricky fellow?
Najib has somehow contracted this dangerous disposition. Here he speaks on of one thing. At another place he speaks of another language. He was uneasy at Perkasa's Bumiputera Economic Congress. He had to throw away a prepared speech and dug down deep into the fact he is Tun Razak's eldest son- the architect of NEP. This he proclaimed, is the reason he is not going to be person who besmirches the memory of the father. He quickly said, the affirmative polices, to wit, the 30% requirement shall remain. Perkasa members pee-ed in their pants with excitement.
At the Chinese Economic Congress he sang a different tune. He went back to his NEM mantra. He was at ease at the MCA Chinese Economic Congress. His speech at the Congress actually has entrapped him. His pronouncements on the role of the Chinese Business community is a clear signal that at this moment, he is more accommodative to the Chinese. Because he thinks, his priority now is to regain Chinese trust and win the next elections. He may but this is achieved perhaps at the cost of forfeiting a lot of Malay support. He should have asked about the speech Chua Soi Lek wants to make and do some editing. Soi Lek was crafty enough to corner the PM at the Congress. And I don't think it was a coincidence the MCA invited Nazir Razak given his thinking inclinations.
The problem with Najib, he is always ambivalent. He is a fence sitter. Not a risk taker. Never a politician with steely resolve.
If Dato Najib doesn't have the personal constitution of a Mahathir, what can he do? He must surround himself with the ablest, toughest and dedicated leadership material. The Oracle's friend, a former very senior member of the government, has been a long advocate asking the PM to build a new team. Loyal followers and team members can be rewarded in other ways. Najib operates with people he is comfortable with- no matter if they are ignoramuses.
If he thinks the MInang Rais is super loyal, he can reward Rais by appointing him to the cultural capital of the world. There, Rais can showcase his literary and cultural skills. His 'Doberman' Nazri Aziz can be rewarded by other means too.
Otherwise, a supreme leader with weak constitution, is cannon fodder for the more aggressive second tier leaders.
The one redeeming thing the PM has is the awareness that past policies are not etched in stone. They are not fixed. So they can be changed provided his alternatives are well thought through, articulated well enough and shared by his team members.
I can accept his reasoning that we don't need the 30 per cent requirement as in the old days. Meaning he doesn't need to merely fill up that 30% requirement with just any Bumi material. Better education has resulted in a bumper harvest of abler and tougher BUmiputera material which he can leverage to craft his new affirmative strategies.
He must go back to the basic values that underscore success. These basic values will help him achieve his NEM and an economy with high income. He needs first of all to set up an exceptionally strong government with the ablest, the toughest and dedicated leadership material. What are the basic values?
Leadership material
of high integrity. A person moves up based on merits, an enabling environment that offers a level playing field for talent- undifferentiated in the form of race or gender, articulate leaders who can move others and communicate with people. These are some of the foundational elements that make a successful country.
But has to look past his small plot of vegetable patch. He has to headhunt within UMNO first and then others.


Thursday 19 August 2010

The MCA Chinese Economic Congress-2


MCA Economic Congress- Part 2.

Ibrahim Ali did what was expected of him. My article preceded his statements. Nothing extraordinary. Ibrahim Ali is predictable. He was indeed in the game- he was watching the MCA closely after all. He has said he will teach the MCA a lesson at the next general elections. His people has made a police report even.

He called the MCA extremist for asking the abolition for the special privileges accorded to the Malays. These he asserted are in accordance with the constitution. He called everybody names he could muster. He denounced Nazir the banker. Bank Bumiputera, before it metamorphosed into CIMB had to be rescued so many times by the government's private kitty- PETRONAS said Ibrahim Ali. Ibrahim Ali didn't mention that it was under Nazir 's business leadership and capabilities, the bank became what it is today.

But he has stopped short from criticising the PM. But when he lambasted Nazir and the MCA, it was as good as if he blasted the PM. I wouldn't dismiss outright the methods and ways Nazir described how he turned CIMB into a competitive player now. have a good leadership, good management style and clear quantifiable goals. Leadership with a single minded purpose. Plus get paid more than RM 14 million a year.

The PM himself asked Chinese community to take the lead in making the NEM a reality. Surely this is a clear acknowledgement that Malays and Perkasa cannot be counted upon to deliver the NEM. Or that the views espoused by Ibrahim Ali and Perkasa were not relevant at all. The policies that drove the NEP and vision 2020 were not working. The country needs business leadership of a different kind- different players de-moulded from the old ways. That will bring the present PM into collision course with old style political and business leadership.

The NEM is simply a model to catapult this country into a high income country by 2020. Since it has the same intended aims of 2020, why doesn't it just adopt the same policies on which 2020 depended?

By switching to a different gear, that suggests, the current administration thinks, the old method by which 2020 is to be achieved is faulty. The economy wasn't geared right to drive fast. Can the economy be driven fast if its driven remotely? Certainly, the previous administration thought it could do better by replicating as many Putrajaya clones as it could in this country. Therefore it went on a spending binge and created the corridor –driven economy.

Did the new strategy work? It wasn't successful because the material on which the corridors were built were the same- same policy makers, same leadership thinking style, similar thinking players, all making and creating one excuse after another to make money. The gear was wrong, the drivers were not in the seats, you have drivers accustomed to driving old Land Rovers now asked to drive one of those cars with heavily computerised dashboards.

It meant we didn't have the right political and business leadership, we didn't have the management material and management quality, we forfeited clear goals, we don't have the right players.

If we want to achieve vision 2020 or NEM- a high income economy, the fundamentals of how we play the economic game must change. The economy mustn't be slowed down by pockets of clogging up policies that hold back our drive. Where does it say that the 30% of whatever must be held by mediocre Malays? We can still have a Bumiputera first policy- the mediocre ones can be replaced by the more abler and dedicated.

So, there are many things wrong with the older strategies such that Malaysia finds itself caught in a middle income trap incapable of breaking into the high income country bracket. Faulty policies must have caught up with people and their thinking who thought their ways can drive Malaysia into the high income bracket.

What do we need now? we need competitiveness mentality, competitiveness driven players, we need players with the acquisitive mental mode, different business policies, free market driven rules, level playing field, de clogging the economy from monopolistic entities. The last being an excuse for cornering the market and crowding out competitive players. The government must begin by downsizing and divesting all the GLCs in this country except those of strategic importance. Even PETRONAS must be re-constituted on free market fundamentals. It must be made accountable to Parliament. Any elements that can potentially clog the free market system such as quotas, restrictions, unfair trade practices must go. Gradually or instantly. They must go. And the government must also insist that Chinese business enclaves open up for Bumiputera participation and sharing.

Otherwise, politically, the PM is in dangerous waters. He wants to carry out economic policies and reforms that are more welcomed by the Chinese political and business leadership. That would make it appear that his NEM which is more supported by the Chinese, is at odds with the larger Malay political and economic leadership.

The Malay political leadership will see the PM's policies as marginalising and trivialising Malay interests. Those Malay economic players who succeeded on account of cronyistic policies and were lucky enough to be the anointed ones are suspicious of the PM's intentions to free the market. This apprehension arises principally perhaps because the selected players didn't develop sufficient talent to play a new game.


Wednesday 18 August 2010

Our Superbumis


Last year I wrote about Malaysia's super 30. I was inspired by the Indian educator, Anand Kumar. He selected 30 students from the underclass of Indian society and teaches and trains them to get into the Indian Institute of Technology, which some people say is better than MIT. Last year I also wrote instead of bringing Shahrukh Khan over to Malaysia, let's bring more of Anand KUmars here. 
The Malaysian super 30 are those who champion that Bumis must get 30% of whatever they can think of. I was saying, the target of the 30 percenters is nothing but self aggrandizement for the selected few.
Now, in addition to the super 30, we have our own super 40, the super bumis. Almost 30 of them are non Malays. These are the superbumis.
Chua Soi Lek is asking the government to open up the GLCs, the Oil and Gas Industry- open up everything in the name of competition, transparency so that we will put the economy on high gear. Very ingenious I say. But Soi Lek can't ask these to be opened without also willing to open up Chinese dominated business enclaves and fiefdoms.
So here goes. Why doesn't he call for the opening up of Public Bank to see whether the composition of Bumis there is right? Public Bank in its early days used EPF money too. If there are Bumis there, please publish their names so that we can see whether they are the privileged bumis? Open up Hong Leong, Open up Berjaya Corporation, Open up Sunway, Open up Yeoh Teong Lay, open up the various Chinese Hongs for us to see whether they are practicing 1 Malaysia. open up Tanjung and the various companies owned by Ananda. See whether they, having leveraged on the NEP were also implementing it.
Then we shall ask what Soi Lek wants opened so that we can disembowel them alongside those in the preceding paragraph.
In Malaysia we have our own Anand Kumars of a different kind. These were our political leaders wanting to jump start Malay control of the economy by conferring on them the green lane to economic riches. By giving them monopolies, licenses and special arrangements to acquire shares in listed companies. These are the leaders, my fellow Malays- who bastardised our NEP.
The efforts continue today. Our political leaders entrusted in re-arranging the wealth owning structure in the country are helping themselves first and the people second. Once up there, you draw up all those various hurdles in the forms of these and those regulations, rulings etc, to prevent ordinary bumis from participating in the economic game.
When the NEP was launched, the sources of wealth owned by foreigners were brought back into the hands of government entities. You had London Tin, Guthrie Corporation, Harrisons and Crossfield, Sime Darby and countless others. You didn't see any individuals assigned and parked there to help themselves do you? these were put in the hands of Malaysians through government owned entities.
Those were the early days of the NEP before it was bastardized. It wasn't the NEP any more. We had a new economic model then. It was known by people as the Ali-Baba Economic Model. This model goes right up the upper echelons of leadership. The royalties and the each top leader have their own Baba fence to bring in money for them. for the Malays, they have a special case of economic model- the Putera-Bumi model. Putera first, Bumi later. Not even second. Much much later.
In 1976, Nazir was a primary school student and I remembered a photograph of him and cousin Haris Hussein on in class at St.John's. Today of course he is the CEO of CIMB, a sad reminder of once deceased BBMB. BBMB was essentially an ATM for the political leaders who bastardized the NEP.
I am not going to respond to A Voice's take on what I wrote. He got it wrong. I am one of the earliest to dispute the suitability of NEM being incubated by a few foreign experts who don't know local conditions. I have said before that maybe the PM asked the wrong question- he asked how can I make my economy grow into a high income economy? Give me a model- forget the collateral damage. So he got the standard recipe of the free market economy in the raw. He can still have a free market economy if he asked the right questions. But because he surrounds himself with people who also think like him and not a team with a diversity of opinions, the right question weren't asked.
When I met Ibrahim Ali – I asked him how confident was he in seeing his resolutions taken up seriously by the PM? how sure was he that his resolutions handed over to Najib amidst much fanfare are not given to one of Najib's numerous PAs and then relegated to the backrooms of the PM's office? The resolutions were probably spat on. He wasn't sure. He is like the person who thinks posting a letter means the intended recipient has actual information and his job is completed. Not time to open the budu bottle yet abe hem.
He said he was and I said how could you monitor it? He didn't know. So I am asking his people again- would they be confident the resolutions they passed will be implemented knowing that the PM has spent more than RM 60 million to draw up a new economic plan and had numerous labs on this and that carried out?
The MCA Chinese Economic Congress( not the Malaysian Chinese mind you) is more successful because it reaffirms what the PM wants. Whether that is good is another matter. Whether it is agreeable to Perkasa members is another thing. But I thought the Perkasa Members were peeing in their pants in jubilation after getting assurances from the PM at their congress? Why don't they now openly criticize the PM now that he is actually saying the NEPish policies are finished? What the MCA Chinese Economic Congress is saying are more in sync with PM' thinking. It is successful in those terms. Catching the attention of the PM. The PM must be thinking, with this support albeit from a Chinese Economic Congress he is onto something correct. That's how the PM functions- he just needs to hear some reassuring voices fortifying his discomfiture.
Before I talk about Chua Soi Lek, let me talk about Nazir first.
Nazir himself is a product of this bastardized version of NEP- some residual of the NEP that says affirmative action must include giving ownership to someone close to the political leadership or someone who is seen with an inherent status( such as being the son of a PM, Minister etc). on his own merits, I don't think Nazir would have made it to the top. What happened was he had the situation made for him and people like him. He comes from an eco system where the wealth distribution machinery depends on wide discretionary powers of decision makers. That is why he is now the 3rd highest paid CEO earning around RM 14 million a year. Yes sir, go salivate or drown in your drool.
If I were to give a simpler definition of a bastardized NEP it is just playing favorites. A person holding ultimate power has the unbridled discretionary power to appoint anyone to wealth creating sources. Capability is second. More important is to gain access and be counted of in the leaders inner circle. This is the old story of ascriptive norms- people are identified as worthy of anything by virtue of his inherited status and bloodline.
The superbumis- Indian and Chinese businessmen recognize this- as long there isn't a system to tweak the wealth distribution system but instead its working depended on the discretionary powers of people in power, they knew they can profit from it. All they need to do is to get into the 'knickers' of decision makers and they can manipulate the outcome. Yeoh Teong Lay was just another of those numerous Chinese contractors under the YTL senior who was given a head start by DR Mahathir. Ananda Krishna began business as an oil trader selling basically PETRONAS Crude Oil. He made tons of money selling what belongs to PETRONAS. He then went on and on. And he doesn't want to share the wealth. That's why he turned private many of his companies that were public.
I wrote about our own efforts of creating the super 30. Bumiputeras holding 30% of equity in business organizations notably the listed companies and those companies wanting to be listed. So selected Malays were given shares either free or 100% financed in listed companies. The PM once stated that the value of shares given to Malays from 1970 was RM 54 billion. The figure is now RM 2 billion which means that Malays who got the shares cashed out early. Put simply, these are the saboteurs of the NEP. I have suggested that the names of all these who sold out be published and never to be given any economic concessions forever. The government has of course declined. Probably they didn't even read the article.
Besides our own super 30 consisting of the puteras in the Bumiputera, the sons of UMNO leaders, the cronies of leaders, the well heeled and well connected, the fixers, we have also created another economic caste- the superbumis. You can actually buy yourself a bumi status and acquire the paraphernalia that confer you a status better than real toiling bumis. You get showered with titles of tan sri,dato seri, buy youself a datukship and have all the kampong folks grovel at your feet.


Monday 16 August 2010

Its true- the NEP was bastardized!

What is the fuss all about? Why are we still talking about NEP? It's already dead . defunct. Kaput! It has been replaced many times over. National Development Plan. Plan B. Plan C. They didn't work my fellow Malays and Bumiputeras!
When Nazir said the plan was bastardized it meant exactly that. Instead of giving birth to legitimate offspring, it has given rise to bastards. What these plans have created is a class of super Bumiputeras. These are the Yeoh Tiong Lais, The Vincent Tans, The SP Setia Boss, The GAMUDA bosses, Dr Gan who got thousands of acres given by the diminutive Isa Samad, the Anandas, the Fernandezes et al etc. and recently this buddy to Paris Hilton- Low Taek Jho. Each and every one of these superbumis were given the head start by our own Malay leaders. We should kick out this kind of leaders.
My fellow Malays- these were billionaires made possible by those Malay leaders whom we idolized who gave them all the opportunities. So when the SP Setia boss said he had benefited because of the NEP, he was telling what Malays should realize. The NEP was in fact wasn't intended for them.
So why do we talk about having plans like NEP. The NEP and it successor plans benefited only the privileged classes. We have been had. If PM Najib wants to break up all these cartels and monopolistic entities, we must support him.
My fellow Malays- Ibrahim Ali fights for this version of NEP. We know what it had created and who benefited. We should throw people like Ibrahim out.
I read an article a writer wrote about Najib being a lonely figure at the top. I wrote about that a long time ago. He is a lone ranger who doesn't have his Tontos around. The reason he is alone is because he surrounds himself with duplicates. What's there to ask and invite counsel for if they think like him. He can do the thinking himself.
His brother has got more managerial substance than the PM . Nazir was candid enough to admit that he values diversity of opinions when making decision. Hence his management team consist of people with differing thinking sets. If everyone thinks alike, there will no progress. PM Najib on the other hand wants to surround himself with his thinking carbon copies. He doesn't see the wisdom the brother seems to display.
This was what the younger brother said:-
As a personal example, when I took over the helm at CIMB, I resisted the tendency to surround myself with people who thought the same way as I did or with whom I was socially comfortable.  Instead, I selected a very diverse management team, in age, race and gender, so that I could draw from our varied perspectives and arrive at better solutions than a homogenous team could have achieved.


Sunday 15 August 2010

The MCA Economic Congress

The MCA Economic Congress.
I was watching TV last night. The PM was at the MCA Economic Congress. I saw a number of familiar faces- my former colleagues who are still serving as MCA ADUNs and EXCOs. I sent out text- hello latuk, lu ada pecaya ka apa kita punya PM cakap? He later answered- hey Dato mana lu pegi sudah lama tak dengar? Mesti la kita pecaya- ini kita punya PM.
When I later read what transpired in the MCA's Congress, I understood why he said that. The MCA has scored a class act of a contre-coup to Ibrahim Ali's Congress.
It is ironic isn't it? UMNO hasn't done its own Congress. Not in recent years. But another organisation which claimed its politically neutral but seen as the other voice of UMNO has done so. Perkasa which is seen as the other Voice of UMNO, is led by a non UMNO man is a contradiction in terms. But it carried out an economic Congress insisting that the 30% Bumiputera presence across the entire economic spectrum must be written in stone or blood if we read in between the lines. It spoke for the Malay community.
Now, we shall see what Ibrahim Ali and gang will do. Will he go out in the streets and say Chua Soi Lek be put under ISA? Soi Lek is biadab! Soi lek is impudent, insolent and presumptuous!
The MCA leader has demanded the government jettison the 30% Malay equity requirement in the economy. That's a pincer manoeuvre. The MCA used two arms of the pincer to clip Ibrahim Ali's wings- the PM and his younger brother. Will Ibrahim also rant about Nazir Razak's cosmopolitan speech about harnessing our diversity as a leverage to be more competitive? Will he come out to say, Nazir can speak in those terms because of NEP assist and not despite it?
If he keeps quiet, then everyone in this world knows why Ibrahim Ali started as a highly vocal proponent of the 30% marker. Because to him, that is the only point to stir Malay aggression. Work on the Malay basic fears. Or we will eventually know what is Ibrahim Ali's real motivation- was he all this time posturing as a Malay's Malay so that he can be invited back into UMNO?
That would leave many of his followers in the lurch. We shall see whether his Pemuda, that chap with the 50's songkok( 5 inch high) will take to the streets or make police reports against the MCA or even Nazir Razak.
The MCA has answered Perkasa's Economic Congress by coming out with its own. It called the same person to officiate- the PM and presented in their views on the economy. They did it in a more calm and thoughtful manner. You can see the PM in a relaxed mood rather that appearing hemmed in emotionally. The MCA didn't need to use the portrait of Tun Razak. They did it the more cerebral way. Asking the PM to give an opening speech which was responded with the MCA president's speech. And they had more panache by delivering the coup de grace- inviting the PM's younger brother to give a speech on the economy.
This congress will surely re established Chua Soi Lek as an MCA leader with the strategic thinking.


Saturday 14 August 2010

UMNO’s Islamization


A few days ago Chua Soi Lek came out with statements decrying UMNO's attempts to compete with PAS to show who's more Islamic between them. He was expressing concern that an UMNO reengineered on Islam will slow down our progress. Presumably he has read Syed Akbar Ali's Club of Doom. Everywhere he reads, progress has slowed down where Islam is on the rise.
But he is also sending the message to UMNO leaders- the problems faced by UMNO and this country shouldn't be solved by asking the wrong question- the problems we faced are not caused by less or more Islam. Khir Toyo who came out strongly to condemn Chua should not react as if to show he is championing the cause of Islam now. Would Khir Toyo like it if we say that the problems faced by Selangor now, is the result of him being less Islamic when he was the MB?
Why don't we own up the fact, that our social problems, our economic problems and our political problems have nothing to do with our religion but more with the policies we crafted and imposed on society?
Chua Soi lek must have been severely criticized by UMNO leaders leading him to backtrack and MCA to downplay Chua's opinions. But we all know, UMNO's sudden affinity with Islam is for show. Not that UMNO isn't Islamic, but we don't have to play the game of brinkmanship. UMNO stands for moderation. Chua is partly right to sound out that UMNO does not have to compete in that area. When it comes to Islam, UMNO doesn't have to be more spoon that the spadle. But Chua is making it appear that UMNO's Islam is a Talibanised version. If I were Chua Soi Lek, I wouldn't be overly disturbed by the scathing criticism by UMNO leaders nor would be overly ruffled by UMNO's Islamic tendencies.
The issue here I think is about Islam. Perhaps the MCA leader has been reading too much horror stories about Islam. And I won't also be overjoyed that Lim Guan Eng came out as though to defend that Islam isn't that bad as Soi Lek imagined it to be. Maybe Guan Eng is playing politics to show he is more sympathetic to Islam than MCA and Soi Lek.
Let's forget the game these politicians play. Let's see the state of Islam.
After 911, Islam is looked at differently. It is fashionable anywhere in the world, especially so in the west to condemn anything related to Islam and its people. Hence Europe has been referred to as Eurabia- expressing concern that European countries are overwhelmed by Muslim Immigrants. London becomes Londonistan. Jacques Chirac in one of his campaign forays told of how his Frenchmen were driven mad by the noise and smell of the immigrant father next door with 3 or 4 wives, 20 kids living off welfare payments without working. D' Estaing later even went further by trying to rescind France's policy of giving citizenship based on jus soli to have it replaced with the principle of jus sanguinis ( by bloodline). Imagine if this principle were to be applied in Malaysia, many of our leaders will not qualify as Malaysian citizens. The Chinese and Indians will never get citizenship. Dr Mahathir will not have qualified as Malay citizen.
Why is Chua Soi lek fearful of the Islamization of UMNO? Probably because he has read too many horror stories about Islamic radicalism. Unfortunately the ascendancy of Islam has also been marked with an ascendancy on tragic events. In London, the bombing of the underground station, The Madrid commuter attacks, the Paris Riots, the cartoon crisis in Denmark.
It is fashionable to equate Islam and Muslims as backward, unemployed, criminal and generally disengaged from rational political process. People say Muslims want power through violent means instead of rational political process. I have only one problem- how can people deemed to be backward, disengaged, lazy suddenly and inexplicably become strong so as to cause fear among others?
Chua is guilty with those who repeat the canard that Islam has brought de-progress whenever Islam is made the dominant motivational force. Hence his fears that UMNO wants to be more Islamic. More than PAS. He fears he will get stoned to death.
Let's see Soi Lek's thinking on this Islam issue a bit further. Perhaps what Chua is really saying is, Malaysia does not have to be overly Islamic because by being more Islamic this country will suffer in terms of progress. He accepts the general observations that none of the Muslim countries in the world has become a first world country. He is presumed aware of the statistics of under progress in Islamic countries- literacy rate, low income, idleness and so forth.
It is ironic that these are the same features that are used and perhaps can still be used to described Malays in Malaysia. Could it be then, Chua's criticisms are also veiled criticisms about Malays who happened to also be Muslims? Then Chua's attacks on Muslims and Islam in general can be re interpreted as criticisms on the cultural practices of Malays in particular. That really, the root causes as to why Malays achieved less progress are because of their cultural practices.
And of course the religion of Islam play a crucial role in Malay culture to such an extent that people like Chua himself is able to hold the view that to the Malay their religion is at the center of any discussion as if the only thing that defines their political convictions, their votes, their relationship with their neighbors, with people of other religions is their ability to pigeon-hole everything into halal and haram. And Chua Soil Lek fears, an UMNO re-defined in terms of fundamentalist Islam will haram everything.
While Chua's fears are legitimate( as he sees evidence of under-progress everywhere in the Muslim world) they are also flawed. They are because, the thought of blaming Islam for Malays under-progress is far too simplistic to stand the test of reality. It is as simplistic as the arguments peddled by the Muslim right wing which is that Islam and more Islam is for whatever ails Muslims. Wasn't it Khir Toyo who said that UMNO lost because we were not Islamic enough. I suppose being Islamic enough will allow us to own RM 18 million homes.
Perhaps what Chua Soi Lek didn't say was the march toward more Islam can be a threat to secularization and modernity. The threat may come in the form of spiritual tawdriness- that everything needs to be dovetailed into halal and haram things which to Chua and even modern minded Muslims can have debilitating effects. Soi Lek fails to appreciate that Muslims in general reject spiritual tawdriness if that term means Muslims use their religion as excuses not to cultivate themselves. Even PAS came out to reject Chua's statements which implied that Islam is anti progress.
Like many others Chua Soi Lek is quick to decry the problems that are caused by Muslims but is slower to identify the problems they face in their march towards modernity and progress. Similarly in our local context, we are quick to publicize the problems caused by Malays but slower to talk about the problems Malays faced.


Friday 13 August 2010

Why we write.

My friends and I who continuously write about the ills and problems of UMNO and also on society are often accused as armchair critics. Actions speak louder than words. We could have more credibility if instead of sitting down, we get up and actually do something. Like leaving UMNO and joining opposition parties. So on and so forth.
So why do we write and write articles? I was re reading Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom and found myself in agreement on the reasons why he and his friends write. Of course what he wrote are of tremendously weightier subject that ours.
He gave 2 reasons.
First. To provide subject matter for bull sessions or in Malaysian parlance- talk cock sessions. You talk over these issues over kopi tiam ( halal of course), over Starbucks Coffee, nasi alemak, the tarik sessions. In the end only you yourself can persuade yourself to believe. So you go over the subject matter over and over again, getting fresh and differing inputs, you mull them over. After a long time you turn your preferences into convictions. It is conviction that makes for a firmer decision.
Secondly as Friedman says, is to give ourselves open ended options until circumstances make change necessary. People don't understand that change is not easily taken. There is tremendous inertia on all parties to change what they perceived as comfortable arrangements already. Why re-invent the wheel they asked? We are fully ware that UMNO is like a behemoth. It talks about wanting to change but the huge body isn't moving.
What can effect change will be a crisis. A crisis produces real change. How is this related to the 'work' we do- if that can be called work at all?- continuously criticizing, exposing weaknesses an offering ideas? Because when a crisis takes place, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. So what we are doing is making ideas lying around.
So to quote Milton Friedman- that is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.
I believed that such a crisis is looming. The present leadership of this country will find itself almost infirmed and incapacitated to solve the country's woes. The economy is no longer manageable given the stock and quality of leadership, social tensions escalate, political arrangements break up, so on so forth. Its impossible to imagine a change in government what more of leadership, but the politically impossible may become politically inevitable.
Then we look at the ideas and the people writing about them. we look for alternatives.


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