The Colour of Inequality: Development and Malaysia’s New Economic Policy

September 21, 2014

The Colour of Inequality: Development and Malaysia’s New Economic Policy

by Kamal

Dayak Headhunter

IN development thinking and practice, no policy has captured the imagination nor created more controversy in its implementation among scholars, politicians and the public alike than the New Economic Policy (NEP), introduced some 45 years ago. A generation had debated, lived and benefited from the NEP, until its formal ending in 1990. Or so it seems in hindsight.

The policy debate and the concerns surrounding the policy never really ended, for the issues of inequality along class and ethnic lines in our multiracial country remained stubbornly intransigent, even after its success (a controversial notion in itself) and new incarnations of the NEP in subsequent years. Emotions, politics and myth-making continue to track the development debate even when statistics were adduced to support its successes (read economic growth, poverty eradication, rising middle class, inter-ethnic distribution).

Now a new post-NEP generation has taken over. Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid is a member of this second generation of scholars and policymakers. His book is an important scholarly contribution to development economics in Malaysia, in particular, to clarifying the controversies surrounding the NEP.

Employing historio-statistical narrative, his book, The Colour of Inequality, rightly addresses the core ofInequality the NEP debate. This latest entry into the development policy debate, now clothed in the notion of inclusive growth, deals head-on with the central issue of development in this millennium: inequality in all its dimensions.

Most importantly, as the Latin American economist Hernando de Soto had shown two decades ago, that asset ownership and wealth are crucial to success and livelihood in the capitalistic economy. In my view, Muhammed, at some risk of being politically incorrect, has bravely succeeded, by using the latest data at his disposal, to cut through to the core issues of economic inclusion and inequality through the prism of ethnicity and class.

NajibThe NEP reincarnations, in particular the Bumiputera agenda, slowly lost steam towards the end of the Mahathir era, was regenerated under the Abdullah Badawi administration through the Ninth Malaysia Plan and generalised further the distributive mission in the Malaysia Plans through the introduction of the New Economic Model.

In many ways, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, our second Prime Minister and the main author of the NEP, had launched the first transformation in Malaysia’s development experience. The New Economic Model and the ETP/GTP, introduced by Datuk Seri Najib Razak, a generation after his father, is the second transformation.

For those wanting to understand the history of development policy in Malaysia over the last 45 years, to know what had been achieved, what has failed and what’s next in our drive towards developed status and social justice, Muhammed’s book is indispensable reading. This is his contribution to the next generation of politicians, policy advisors and implementors, as well as the new millenials.


Ini lah Melayu by Usman Awang. The NEP is not about helping the Malays at the expense of other Malaysians. It is about national unity and eradication of poverty.


Mariam Mokhtar’s Take on Mahathir and The Malays

September 17, 2014

Mariam Mokhtar’s Take on Mahathir and The Malays

by Mariam

The Malays will be around, with or without UMNO Baru, but the converse does not hold true. Malays do not need UMNO Baru, but if UMNO Baru were to lose the support of ordinary Malays, the party would cease to exist. Without UMNO Baru, the Malays would thrive. UMNO Baru is like a poison to the Malays. Day in, day out they are inundated with the emotional baggage of race, religion and royalty.

Dr.MahathirDid the Malays let him down?

The outburst last week by former PM Mahathir Mohamad should be considered a betrayal. Mahathir rewards the people on whose backs he rose to absolute power by insulting them. He pushed affirmative action policies, which slowly eroded Malaysia. Behind the backs of ordinary Malays, Mahathir handsomely rewarded select Malays and non-Malays, whom he deemed worthy of his favours. He killed off the aspirations of many generations of Malaysians. Disillusioned by the lack of leadership many left, never to return.

As a doctor, he should have realised the dangers of making the wrong diagnosis. Remember the story about the man who consulted many doctors about his terrible headaches. Eventually, one surgeon said that he could cure the problem; but the remedy was an orchidectomy.

Unable to bear the pain, this man underwent the surgery. He was delighted that his pain was gone. To celebrate the freedom from pain, he decided to buy a new suit. The tailor asked him on which side he “dressed”. The man said he had never given it any thought and asked if it was important. The tailor said it was of paramount importance; if the trousers were not cut correctly, it could cause terrible headaches.

The analogy with Malaysia is similar. Malaysian problems have been misdiagnosed and the wrong treatment has been prescribed. After decades of manipulating Malaysians, dividing the various ethnic groups and rewarding only those from his inner circle, Mahathir turned on Malaysians, in particular the Malays, and called them lazy, dishonest, cheats, liars and Mat Rempits. Mahathir forgot the provisos. Most of the Malays he refers to are UMNO Baru Malays, and the opportunists who are found in every racial grouping.

Mat Rempits2The Mat Rempits

There are millions of Malays who are hard-working, honest, loyal and law-abiding. Like many of their non-Malay peers, ordinary Malays may not have access to the resources needed to succeed. Malaysians are hampered and crippled by the UMNO Baru Malays, many of whom occupy positions of authority, and dictate what can, or cannot be done.

They say that timing is everything in politics. Why did Mahathir insult the Malays in the week before we celebrate Malaysia Day? Was he trying to undermine the reputation of his hand-picked successor, Najib Abdul Razak? He need not bother. Najib has little credibility left.

If anecdotal evidence is to be believed, Mahathir is “upset” that his cronies are losing out on their share of the rich pickings, which are currently being enjoyed by Najib’s cronies.

Is Mahathir angry that his legacy will be forgotten? Is he concerned that many ordinary Malays are beginning to realise that they do not need the crutches of the New Economic Policy (NEP)? Is he angry that time is running out for Mukhriz to win the most coveted prize in Malaysian politics – the Prime Ministership? Is he disturbed that Malays are ignoring racist and religious rhetoric, and joining the exodus to work and live abroad?

What about the large-scale plunder of Malaysia? Mahathir said that some Malays were stealing from his company, ‘The Loaf’. What about the large-scale plunder of Malaysia by UMNO Baru, BN and their cronies, including those from MCA and MIC? The true purpose of UMNO Baru is to prolong the political life of its leaders. With political power comes the ability to squander the wealth of the nation.

The employees of ‘The Loaf’ should be rewarded. They are following the example of UMNO Baru. Most industrialists know that when employees steal, there is something seriously wrong with the management of the company. How were the people who allegedly stole from ‘The Loaf’ punished? Were they arrested, charged and punished by the courts? Malaysians are angry that many multi-billion ringgit government projects, built with taxpayers’ money have failed. Incredibly, no one has been punished.

In Malaysia, many murderers are not made to account for their crimes. The murderers of political aide Teoh Beng Hock, car salesman A Kugan, and teenager Aminulrasyid Amzah, to name but a few.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah

When Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah challenged Mahathir in 1987 for alleged vote rigging in the UMNO internal elections, the High Court declared UMNO an illegal party. Mahathir was humiliated and exacted his revenge on the Judiciary. He could have been brought down, but the Opposition were in disarray and probably caught by surprise.

Over the past 20 years, several ordinary Malaysians have accused Mahathir and UMNO Baru of destroying the nation; but these people were branded ungrateful, traitors and even apostates. Some received hate mail, death threats and were accused of being in the pay of the opposition, or the communists.

After Mahathir’s outburst against the Malays, the diehard defenders of Mahathir and UMNO Baru supporters, are silent. Did his remarks find their mark? Or did they feel numbed by his betrayal? Mahathir’s latest attack against the Malays is a paradox. He calls Malays lazy, then says that the NEP should continue and that Malays should take advantage of this affirmative action policy.

Mahathir introduced a culture of fear in Malaysians. Look at how Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is emulating Mahathir, and silencing any who disagrees with the government. The Sedition Act is being used to try to cripple the opposition and teach the rakyat a lesson.

Mahathir is wrong about the Malays. One man, Najib, has chosen to ignore Mahathir. That does not mean that all Malays are lazy, or liars, or cheats. The Internet, which Mahathir would love to ban, has opened up Malay minds and brought all Malaysians together. Malaysians have one common enemy. A repressive government! Perhaps that is why Mahathir is scared and feels betrayed by modern Malaysians. In a sense, we have all failed him. We have failed to become his mindless slaves. Yes, we are the recalcitrant children of Mahathir!

Tun Dr. Mahathir and the Malays

September 17, 2014

Tun Dr. Mahathir and the Malays

by Baradan

The former premier’s latest remarks about ‘lazy Malays’ cause a stir among Malaysians.

TDMTUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad used to have only two upmarket bakery outlets known as The Loaf – one in the picturesque Telaga Harbour, where luxury yachts berth in Pulau Langkawi, and the other at Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur.

The number of his outlets, which sell breads and pastries using Japanese techniques, has grown to more than five. As such, he has to hire more staff.A few months ago, a manager was caught stealing money from the cash register.

 The suspicion began when the daily collection was not deposited into the bank. The Malay manager was caught red-handed and the incident infuriated Dr Mahathir.

“I am operating a bakery and have given many opportunities to Malays to hold management positions. Unfortunately, time and time again, honesty and integrity appear to be lacking as there have been staff who keep stealing money,” he said at the launch of the book Wahai Melayu: Allah Tak Akan Ubah Nasib Melayu Kalau Kita Tak Ubah Nasib Kita Sendiri by Anas Zubedy.

“They do not seem to understand that it is wrong to take what is not theirs; they do not think of the big picture or the long term,” he said.The statesman repeated the criticism in an interview with Utusan Malaysia last Sunday.

That led to various interpretations, particularly on his criticism of the leadership, especially the current prime minister, especially at a time when the UMNO General Assembly is coming up.But those present at the book launch believe that his remarks were in line with what he has consistently brought up, whenever the occasion suited it. They dismissed any suspicion of political conspiracy.

The book by Anas, a writer and speaker on motivation, is aimed at young Malay entrepreneurs. In the foreword, the author debunks the myth that the Malays are a lazy race who are only good in politics and the arts, but not in business. “These are self-limiting artificial boundaries and we ought to break them.“What we need to do is to find the right motivation and inspiration for a specific culture like the Malays,”,” he writes.

But in his hard-hitting speech, Dr Mahathir spent 20 minutes arguing that Malays “lack honesty and inte­grity” and that they fail to “handle money properly” unlike the Chinese or even Myanmar nationals. Ethnic Chinese, he said, were more honest compared to native Malays where money is concerned. He said these were the reasons for the Malays’ economic failures.

“We have to be trustworthy so people will give contracts to us. When we want to give contracts, we give to the Chinese instead because we know they will do their work properly. This is our weakness – not being trustworthy,” he added. “If we fail, we should not blame anyone but ourselves. We have failed because we did not do what was right,” he said.

In the Utusan interview, Dr Maha­thir said Malay men were still lazy, citing the gender imbalance at institutions of higher learning, where the majority was women.“They (the men) are not interested in studying and revising. If we go to the universities, 70% of the students are women. Where are the men?They prefer to be Mat Rempit, that is why I said they are lazy.”

Dr Mahathir’s comments raised a storm, with some in social media suggesting that he should be arrested for sedition. The Selangor chapter of Malay rights group PERKASA, however, termed his remarks as “father­­ly advice”.

Veteran journalist Datuk Kadir Ja­­sin reportedly said people should not get upset or sulk over Dr Maha­thir’s remarks, especially with regards to the Malays being lazy, as there were those who were hardworking and excelled in whatever they did.

“Give them a crutch and they will turn it into a paddle and a pillar,” he said, adding that there were those from the community who had succeeded and made a name for themselves in the country and all over the world.

Citing legendary warrior Hang Tuah’s famous rallying cry that Malays would not vanish from the world, Kadir said the Malays were rulers and made up the bulk of the civil service, such as the Police Force, Customs and Immigration departments, and the teaching profession.

Not all Malaysians would agree with Dr Mahathir’s assessment, with some saying he is still caught up in racial stereotyping, even if it is aimed at his own community.

Nobody in his right mind would say Malays are lazy, Chinese are greedy, or Indians are disho­nest. In fact, few Malaysians, especially the younger ones, would link any race in Malaysia with any specific trait or even a vocation.

The NEP has, in many ways, succeeded in its two-pronged strategy of eradicating poverty for all Ma­­laysians as well as reducing and subsequently eliminating identification of race by economic function and geographical location.

Lazy and indolent natives were a favourite theme of 19th century colonialists who wanted the natives to work at producing food while putting migrants to work on the modern economy for their benefits.

Thus grew the myth of “lazy” natives and this myth continued after independence and was even believed by some Malaysians. It was only put to rest by scholars like the late Dr Syed Hussein Alatas, who wrote a seminal work The Myth of the Lazy Native to explain British colonial policies.

PerkasaDr Mahathir is, however, a smart man. Not only was he the longest ser­ving Prime Minister, but he also turned the country into an economic powerhouse, and only smart people could achieve that. He also believed in throwing good money at individual Malays in the hope that he could achieve a successful Malay entrepreneurial class in a short time.

Some of his efforts ended in failure while others succeeded – but the failures always got the bigger headlines. Thus was born one of the great themes of his political life – that he had failed to change the Malay mindset and that they preferred to live poor in a rich country.Thus was also born the phrase, Melayu Mudah Lupa (Malays forget easily).

But while such generalisations will guarantee headlines, the reality is that one simply cannot tar a whole race with the same brush, the way you tar a person or two. Dr Mahathir might have repeated the “lazy native” syndrome perhaps to get the attention of the Malays, in particular UMNO members who are in the midst of divisional meetings and passing resolutions in support of Islam, Malays and the Rulers.

It is a given that even after his retire­ment, Dr Mahathir needs to be at the centre of national life. He needs to have everything revolving around him and needs to command the national dialogue.So he relies on an old theme that is sure to spark a huge controversy – like the myth of the “lazy Malays”. But Malaysians want to move on. They want to get out of this race trap and the least said about such stereotyping would be better for Malaysia.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

September 16: Time for Sober Reflection and Renewal

September 15, 2014

September 16: Time for Sober Reflection and Renewal

by Malaysiakini



As Malaysia Day approaches, Putrajaya is reminded of the need to address discontent in Sabah and Sarawak over the perception that it is often left out of the Federation, said NGO Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM). For instance, its chairperson Tan Yew Sing contended, Malaysia has traditionally celebrated National Day together with Independence Day of West Malaysia on August 31, and the anniversary is often counted from 1957.This is despite the Malaysian Federation, the union of West and East Malaysia, coming into being on September 16, 1963.

“In recent years there has been rising discontent, especially from our Sabah and Sarawak brothers andshabery sisters, with the way our National Day is traditionally celebrated,” said Tan.  However, Tan said Communication and Multimedia Ahmad Shabery Cheek’s announcement that from next year onwards August 31 will be clearly stipulated as Independence Day is a “step in the right direction.”

He added the Minister should go a step further by defining Malaysia Day on September 16 to also be National Day. “The Federal Constitution defines Merdeka Day as August 31,1957, it does not give a specific definition for National Day.As such the selection of a date for National Day is a matter of administrative action,” he said.

Irony in using Sedition Act

Tan also expressed concern about the recent string of arrests under the Sedition Act 1948, pointing out that it was ironic to use a colonial era law post-independence.”The British introduced the Sedition Act as a means to suppress the opposition to their rule. How ‘merdeka’ (independence) are we today if the law that the British used to advance their colonial interests, has not only being enhanced after our independence, but also has been applied selectively?” he said.

Tan added despite these prosecutions, groups that have been perpetuating hate speeches appear to go unpunished. As a coalition of NGOs from different backgrounds, GBM urges all the citizens of Malaysia to be part of the effort to bridge our differences – ethnically, spiritually or ideologically – and prove that diversity is strength that needs to be upheld as part and parcel of our nation building,” he said.


Malaysia@ 51: Happy Birthday

September 14, 2014

Malaysia: 51 Years Old on September 16

by Din Merican

Jalur Gemilang

On Tuesday September 16, Malaysians celebrate our country’s 51st Birthday. It was the day in 1963 when Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaya to form Malaysia. There were high expectations all round. I remember that day well since I was on duty at Wisma Putra (located in the Secretariat Building opposite the Royal Selangor Club, Kuala Lumpur) during the night of September 16, when our Embassy in Jakarta was attacked by angry anti-Malaysia mobs. For two years, our  brave soldiers, friends and allies defended our country against hostile forces which were determined to break up the new nation by force, while our diplomats worked tirelessly to convince the world that Malaysia was not “a neo-colonialist plot.” Much water has gone under the bridge since then.

It would be churlish if we did not acknowledge that Malaysia made tremendous strides towards becoming a developed nation. Look around; everywhere we go, be it in Sabah, Sarawak, or on the mainland, we see and feel the change. Yet we are neither excited nor hopeful about our future as a people and as a nation. Progress is visible but the Malaysian dream remains unfulfilled. Unity is under threat from ultra nationalists and the self proclaimed defenders of the Islamic Faith. Authoritarianism rears its ugly head in recent weeks with the indiscriminate use of the Sedition Act, 1948, a relic from the British colonists who granted us independence.

Economically, yes as measured on GDP per capita basis, but socially we are increasingly divided along lines of religion and race. Politically, we have yet to mature as a democracy, and national integration has stalled. Sabahans and Sarawakians are made to feel that they are not in the mainstream of our national life. 1Malaysia is a slogan devoid of much meaning since politicians choose to separate us. We have become very hostile towards one another.

There is talk of secession. Banish that thought and focus on development and good governance, please. Those who promote that idea need to ask themselves whether they would have been better off if Sabah had joined the Philippines, and Sarawak had chosen to be part of Indonesia. Would Sabahans and Sarawakians have fared better if they attained independence on their own from the British in 1963 ?

Joining Malaysia was definitely a good decision, and Sabahans and Sarawakians wisely chose to join Malaya to form Malaysia. It has survived and prospered for 51 years and there is NO reason why our country should break up now and there is no way, in my view, we can allow Sabahans and Sarawakians to go their separate ways.

Why are politicians in two states promoting this secession idea now? People like Jeffery Kitingan and his supporters basically want power. Their best chance to get power is to exploit the rising tide of discontent among indigenous people. Putrajaya would, therefore, be well advised to address the root causes of this dissatisfaction with the existing federalism where too much control resides at the center (in Putrajaya). It is going to take a special breed of leaders to instill an acute sense of patriotism for Malaysia in the people of Sabah and Sarawak. What kind of a leader is such a person. In this connection, I wish to quote Teddy Roosevelt who said:

“In order to succeed we need leaders of inspired idealism, leaders to whom are granted great visions, who dream greatly and strive to make their dreams come true; who can kindle the people with the fire from their own burning souls. The leader for the time being, whoever he may be, is but an instrument, to be used until broken and then to be cast aside; and if he is worth his salt he will care no more when he is broken than a soldier cares when he is sent where his life is forfeit in order that the victory may be won.”

 No 4 Kamsiah and DinThis is a message (from Dr Kamsiah and I) to all our leaders in government and  to those in the political opposition. It is true that our politics is adversarial in nature. That is fine as long as politicians engage in reasoned discourse, and take responsibility and are accountable for their words, promises, policies and actions. They would be well advised not to engage in the politics of race and religion. The way forward is the politics of national unity.

It is time we in Peninsula Malaysia walk together with our brothers and sisters in Sabah and Sarawak in an exciting journey towards a truly united Malaysia with opportunities for all. We must dedicate ourselves to the quest for freedom, peace, justice, democracy and economic progress. Our country is still a work in progress and much depends on what we do from here on. There is plenty for each and every one of us to undertake to make Malaysia an oasis of opportunity. We must contribute towards making national integration a reality.

Let us stay connected to each other via, sms,  e-mail, Facebook, blogs, What’s App, and twitter and to our respective state assemblies and Parliament. Happy Birthday, Malaysia.


A Return to Mahathirism for UMNO?

September 12, 2014

A Return to Mahathirism for UMNO?

by Khoo Kay Peng


It looks like Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s reform initiatives are going to take a few more steps backward if the use of Sedition Act against several politicians, activists, reporters and academicians is seen as a reaction against the criticism of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that his government has gone weak on the repeal of the Internal Security Act and the Restricted Residence Act.

It is not a coincidence that some of them, especially Law Professor Dr Azmi Sharom, were charged withAzmi Sharom 3 making seditious statements from as far back as 2009. It is unlikely that the charges were made without the knowledge and tacit support of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Dr Mahathir has claimed that Najib’s slide began when he gave in to his “enemies’ demands” to repeal the draconian acts. UMNO leaders and members have taken the cue and are lobbying for the Sedition Act to be maintained and the Internal Security Act to be reinstated. They see the greater call for reforms and criticism against the government as a threat against social harmony or more accurately their political dominance.

NajibNajib has reaffirmed his intention to replace the Sedition Act with national harmony laws after a series of sedition charges were made against various individuals and online news portals. This is a significant reminder of the influence of Mahathirism as a leadership model that represents the most successful period of UMNO’s electoral dominance via a multiparty Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

Any attempts to make changes to and replace key elements of Mahathirism, a leadership model linked to soft authoritarianism and a paternalistic government, are going to be subjected to the yardstick laid down by the admirers of Mahathir’s leadership and the patriarch himself. It sums up UMNO’s reaction to failures and perceived weaknesses in the leadership to regain their electoral support.

Some members will call for a return to Mahathirism as soon as  post-Mahathir leaders are unable to wield a similar dominance and control enjoyed during the period of Mahathir’s rule after implementing their own programmes. Najib is facing the same kind of resistance encountered by his predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for their disastrous electoral performances.

However, is the return of Mahathirism the answer for UMNO’s dilemma? As a party, UMNO remains the biggest force in the Malaysian political landscape. The party is still enjoying the majority Malay-Muslim support compared to its main opponents, PAS and PKR.

UMNO’s main dilemma is its role in weakening the support and influence of its component partners in BN. Predictably, the party has denied all claims that it had played a big part in the electoral losses of the non-Malay Muslim parties in BN. But a return of a soft authoritarian leadership ala Mahathirism would definitely be the final nail in the coffin for most of these parties, which are fading away after the last two general elections.

On the other hand, can UMNO survive in the post-Mahathir era? It can if the party can refocus its attention to rebuild its political dominance by strengthening the multiracial and multiparty BN. A selfish UMNO is a recipe for disaster. If BN breaks up through a meltdown of some of its component parties, it is most certainly self-inflicted and not caused by an equally clueless opposition.

But there are key challenges and obstacles for UMNO to be far-sighted. First, the party is still in denial over its role in weakening the BN coalition. The party’s preoccupation with strengthening the Malay supremacy over multiracialism is a key contributor. It is an antithesis to the formation and spirit of BN.

UMNO’s dominance has grown over the years and the party’s control of most key positions in the government has weakened power sharing in the coalition government. Most of the component parties are seen as “useless and ineffective” in the government. They are also criticised for condoning UMNO’s excesses and abuses of power.

UMNO needs to correct the perception by refocusing its efforts to rebuild the coalition if it wants BN to regain its electoral dominance. It needs to accept the main responsibility for BN’s electoral setbacks in the last two general elections.

Second, the party is seen as arrogant and authoritarian. If the party accepts electoral democracy, it must accept the need to win over public opinion through sensible dialogue and good governance. This is not the forte of Mahathirism. In the age of Internet, it is almost impossible for any government to try suppressing public opinion and expression.

It is a public relations disaster for the UMNO leadership to try to suspend the use of Facebook and other social media platforms. The party may be able to block the use of these social media platforms but it is impossible to supplant the social media and Internet culture.

To remain relevant, UMNO must adopt a new culture. It must learn to engage, to change and to improve its own performance. Calling for the restoration of outdated and old draconian laws is hardly a comforting move for its members who are hoping for the party to extend its rule for another 50 years.

Hisham_KerisFinally, UMNO must decide how and where it wants to steer the direction of this country. The party is responding uncomfortably to criticisms and constructive feedback. Reacting to criticisms and negative feedback by resorting to sedition charges is not going to help UMNO win back more support or to take a stride in improving its performance.

The party needs to feel comfortable to address criticisms openly, like any democratically elected governments would do. By doing so, it may even win over its detractors and enhance its credibility to rule. It has nothing to fear the opposition because the biggest enemy lives and strives within the party.

The fact that more than 160 divisions are against the administration’s intention to replace the Sedition Act and are calling for the reinstatement of the Internal Security Act shows that it is a long struggle for the party’s awakening. There’s hope still if moderates in the party can work together to ensure that their voices are not drowned out by the rowdy ones.