Symmetrical characters, parallel fates

August 19, 2014

Symmetrical characters, parallel fates

COMMENT by Terence

Men of destiny seek proof of their greatness by exercising a license to go too far, and as the fear grows that destiny may have played a terrible joke on them, they double and redouble the stakes on the wheel of fortune. In this way they destroy themselves.-Terence Netto

hype_najib1Now that the cat has sprung out of the bag and is dashing about among a wider public, the only news would be if anyone has died of shock from the revelation that Dr Mahathir Mohamad has withdrawn support for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

After months of premonitory sniping at the Premier by his satraps, notably A Kadir Jasin and Zainuddin Maidin, the man himself has come out in the open with a formal declaration of hostilities. There is no more cogent example of déjà vu nor self-parody than the producer himself reiterating he is about to re-start a familiar business – the demolition of a sitting PM.

A fortuitous benefit of this incipient extravaganza – to the federal opposition, Pakatan Rakyat – has been the confirmation that their self-destructive shenanigans in Selangor have furnished the opportunity to the premier demolisher of incumbent PMs to fix on this as the most opportune time for the unleashing of his decanal decapitation of national head honchos, not to mention a few deputies as well.

The wonder is that anyone at all, at this advanced juncture of their career trajectories, could be surprised at how the two protagonists, one of the drama about to start and the other of an already running one in Selangor, confirm a truism of classical Greece – that character is fate.

Character here is taken to mean the way in which a person confronts the things that happen to him, a number of which may come about as a consequence of his characteristic behavior. Fate is the sum of the decisive things that happen to a person, whether as a result of his characteristic behavior, or fortuitously, at the behest of some transcendent power.

That the characters of Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim have fed off each other is by now a staple of Malaysia’s modern history. Malaysians are beginning to realise that the one’s career could not have been possible without the other and vice versa.

Truly, the reformasi movement would not have been catalyzed into something urgent and insistent without what Mahathir did to Anwar in September 1998 and how the latter reacted to the events.

Before September 1998, the movement was an inchoate yearning; after Anwar’s jailing and obloquy, reform became a national agenda. Mahathir would not have been able to prolong his tenancy of the PM’s office – 22 long years – without Anwar’s lieutenancy for 16 years of that tenure.

Certainly, the accretion of power to the office of the PM and UMNO President could not have taken place without Anwar’s tacit support, as heir presumptive to Mahathir.

The long running drama of their interaction since they first met in 1971 and their influence on the life of this nation over the last four decades is so pivotal that our history itself becomes confused with their own biographies which goes to illustrate historian Thomas Carlyle’s theory that humanity advances by means of these demi-gods or ‘heroes’.

Succumbing to the danger of self parody

But as the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson cautioned: “Every hero becomes a bore at last”: the two are presently in danger of inducing a yawn in arenas they once bestrode as giants. If it happens it would be due to their succumbing to the danger of self-parody each is tempted to flirt with, Mahathir more so.

Tun Dr. MahathirMen of destiny seek proof of their greatness by exercising a license to go too far, and as the fear grows that destiny may have played a terrible joke on them, they double and redouble the stakes on the wheel of fortune. In this way they destroy themselves.

By claiming at the commencement of his unseat Najib campaign, after the fashion of Brutus, that it is not because he loves his leaders less but that he loves the people and country more, Mahathir is parodying what Anuar Musa, then a young delegate from Kelantan to the UMNO general assembly in 1983, who quoted from the Shakespearean play Julius Caesar the words Brutus used before stabbing Caesar. The Roman emperor was surprised that a friend like Brutus could be part of squad of assassins with regicide in mind.

Anuar cited the quotation in the course of rhetorical flights faintly critical of Mahathir’s leadership of UMNO. Mahathir’s response was characteristically brusque. “Brutus stabbed Caesar” he reminded the UMNO delegates. In other words, back-stabbers are back-stabbers, their lofty motives notwithstanding.

If Mahathir unseats Najib, the wheel would have come full circle in his career: he began his ascent to the top of the greasy pole by destroying one UMNO President (Tunku Abdul Rahman) and is set to end his career by destroying the son of the man (Abdul Razak Hussein) who gave him the chance to rise after a display of Oedipal rage against the Tunku.

If PKR allows Anwar to convert the party into his personal fiefdom, his thrust to the top of the totem pole that began with his rebellion against nepotism, cronyism and corruption in 1998 would flirt with what could well be a fatal contradiction. Not for the first time in history would pivotal allies-turned-adversaries have symmetrical characters/parallel fates.

Gotta’ keep on learning

July 13, 2014

Schumpeternomics: Gotta’ keep on learning

by (Tan Sri) Dr. Lin (07-12-14)

Lin See-YanI JUST returned from the summer meeting of the board of governors (on which I am a long-standing member) and the board of trustees of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati, Manila. It celebrated its 45th anniversary…

To mark the occasion, AIM held its second Asian Business Conference against the backdrop of an emerging ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015. It was well attended by a wide cross-section of Asian businesses, research institutes and universities, under the banner: “2015 Approaching: Priming for ASEAN Integration.”

I spoke at the strategic session on banking and finance with particular focus on the need for Asia (and indeed ASEAN) to keep on innovating to create a truly learning society, in order to maintain its competitive edge and remain relevant in an increasingly hostile and uncertain world. To survive, we just gotta’ keep on learning!

Technological progress

I learned early as a Harvard graduate student in the 1970s from no less than Nobel laureate Robert Solow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) down the Charles, that rising output and incomes can only come about in a sustained way from technological progress (TP), not from mere capital accumulation. Put simply, Solow repeatedly emphasised that TP comes from learning how to do things better; indeed, there’s always a better way.

As a practising banker and economist at Bank Negara after my PhD, I quickly undertstood that much of the productivity increases we see come from small incremental changes – they all add-up, other than the lumpy gains arising from dramatic discoveries or from unpredictable phenomena. It all starts with nurturing our education system and the process of its development to ensure youths are properly educated, not just in terms of literary, quantitative and scientific skills, but also with the right moral values and civic outlook.

Broadly, along what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz (pic) has been advocating – it always makes goodJ Stiglitz sense “to focus attention on how societies learn, and what can be done to promote learning, including learning how to learn.”

Innovation and creative destruction

The seeds of the critical role of innovation in economic growth were first planted about a century ago by Harvard economist and political and social scientist Joseph Schumpeter, a contemporary of John M. Keynes. His economics (hence, Schumpeternomics) is based on the ability and capability of the market economy to innovate on its own.

I recall reading his 1939 book Business Cycle: A Theoretical, Historical and Statistical analysis of the Capitalist Process, where he wrote “Without innovations, no entrepreneurs; without entrepreneurial achievement, no capitalist returns and no capitalist propulsion. The atmosphere of industrial revolutions – of “progress” – is the only one in which capitalism can survive.”

So, Schumpeter went about challenging conventional wisdom in three areas: (i) misplaced focus on competitive markets. He contended that what matters was “competition for the markets, not competition in the markets,” as rightly pointed out by Stiglitz. It is competition for the markets that drives innovation. Sure, this can (and do) result in the rise of monopolies; still this would lead to improved living standards over the long haul (eg. Microsoft, Nokia – acquired in 2013 by Microsoft). (ii) undue focus on short-run efficiency which can be detrimental to innovation over the long-term – classic example is helping “infant industries” learn.

But governments should not be in the game of picking winners; the market can do this better (witness Obama’s failed “clean energy” projects or Malaysia’s wasteful car-maker Proton). Sure, there are exceptions where government invests in research that has since led to development of the Internet and discovery of DNA with enormous social benefits.


(iii) Innovation leads to creative destruction – it can (and do) wipe out inefficient industries and jobs. The Internet has turned businesses from newspapers to music to book retailing upside down. In their place, more efficient businesses have popped up. In his biography of Schumpeter – Prophet of Innovation, Thomas McCraw wrote: “Schumpeter’s signature legacy is his insight that innovation in the form of creative destruction is the driving force not only of capitalism but of material progress in general. Almost all businesses, no matter how strong they seem to be at a given moment, ultimately fail – and almost always because they failed to innovate. Competitors are relentlessly striving to overtake the leader, no matter how big the lead. Responsible business people know that they ignore this lesson at their peril.”

In 1983, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Schumpeter and Keynes, Peter F. Drucker proclaimed at Forbes that it was Schumpeter, not Keynes, who provided the best guide to the rapid economic changes engulfing the world, according to McCraw.

Higher education

The business of higher education has changed little since Plato and Aristotle taught at the Athenian Lyceum. With government patronage and support, close to 4 million Americans and 5 million Europeans will graduate this summer. Emerging nations’ universities are expanding even faster. I was told in Shanghai last month that China has added 30 million university places in the past 20 years.

Indeed, I do see a revolution coming for three main disruptive reasons:

  •  Rising costs – Baumol’s disease has set in, i.e. soaring costs reflecting high labour intensity with stagnant productivity; for the past two decades, costs have risen 1.6 percentage points above inflation annually.
  •  Changing demand – a recent Oxford study contended that 47% of occupations are now at risk of being automated and as innovation wipes out jobs and drastically change others, vast numbers will be needing continuing education.
  • Fast moving TP will change the way education is packaged, taught and delivered. MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) today offers university students a chance to learn from the world’s best and get a degree for a fraction of today’s cost. Harvard Business School will soon offer an online “pre-MBA” for US$1,500 (RM4,778)! The reinvention of universities will certainly benefit many more than it hurts. Elites like Harvard, MIT and Stanford will gain from this creative destruction process. Education is now a global digital market.

What then, are we to do

Corporate giants come and go in a competitive economy. Microsoft and Nokia used to rule the digital world. Now they don’t. No monopoly is permanent, unless enforced by government, which as everyone knows hardly changes, even as the rest of the world passes it by. In the United States, it is reported that the administration wants to prevent Apple’s iTunes and AppStore from abusing the network “lock-in” created by Apple’s tech ecosystem. But the judge has since ruled that “I want Apple to have the flexibility to innovate.” That’s something, isn’t it?

economics-poster-smallMy professor at Harvard, Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow, used to extol about the importance of learning by doing. So, those who want to innovate, let them just do it – hopefully with no government intervention even though there is a compelling “infant” argument for industrial protection, which can be a double-edged sword when it comes to learning and innovating.

Most of the time, the infant seldom grows up. But reinventing the ancient institution of higher learning will not be easy. EdX, a non-profit MOOC founded (and funded) in May 2012 by Harvard and MIT, is now a consortium of 28 institutions worldwide. No one knows how big the online market will eventually be. It’s more akin to online airline-booking services – expanding the market by improving the customer experience.

Still, innovation at MOOC will definitely reduce the cost of higher education, grow market size but with widespread creative destruction collateral damage, and turn inefficient universities on their heads. MOOC estimates that university employment can fall by as much as 30% and 700-800 institutions can shut-down. The rest have to reinvent themselves to survive. Our learning society will change forever, whether we like it or not.

Former banker, Dr. Lin See-Yan is a Harvard educated economist and a British chartered scientist who writes on economic and financial issues. Feedback is most welcome; email: The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

IMD (Switzerland) World Competitiveness Survey: Malaysia moves up to 12th position

July 8, 2014

IMD (Switzerland) World Competitiveness Survey: Malaysia moves up to 12th position

img_enewletter-issue7-01Malaysia  ranked 12 in List of 60 economies

Malaysia moved up the world competitiveness ranking again, securing a spot in the enviable top dozen and improving the country’s attractiveness to investors.

The International Institute for Management Development (IMD), a Switzerland-based top-ranked business school, lifted Malaysia to 12th position from 15th last year in a list of 60 economies.

“The improved rankings will renew interest and attract investments to the country,” IMD World Competitiveness Center director Professor Arturo Bris told the New Straits Times. The country also continues to be ahead of the United Kingdom (16th), Australia (@17th), Finland (18th), New Zealand (20th), Japan (21st) and South Korea (26th).

Malaysia, Bris said, improved its openness to foreign markets and attracted capital and investment at increasing rates.

In a separate statement, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed saidMiti's Mustapa 12th position was Malaysia’s best performance in the past four years and reflected the progress of the Government Transformation Programme and the Economic Transformation Programme.

“Malaysia expects a much better performance in the next three to five years as more of its initiatives begin to bear fruit,” he said.

The Survey

The World Competitiveness Yearbook 2014 is the 26th publication since 1989.The findings are compiled each year by IMD’s World Competitiveness Center in a survey of 60 economies called the World Competitiveness Yearbook.

The yearbook analyses and ranks the ability of each nation to create and maintain an environment that sustains the competitiveness of enterprises.The survey rates at the availability of fixed telephone lines, broadband, railroad network, part-time employment market, illiteracy, medical assistance and other criteria.

The report is based on statistical data and perception data obtained through a survey that reviews 338 criteria in four categories:

  1. Economic Performance covers the domestic economy, international trade, international investment, employment and price.
  2. Government Efficiency looks into public finance, fiscal policy, institutional framework, business legislation and societal framework.
  3. Business efficiency looks at productivity and efficiency, the labour market, finance, management practices, attitudes and values.
  4. Infrastructure rates technological, scientific, health, environmental and educational infrastructure.

In the category of countries with gross domestic per capita of less than US$20,000 (RM64,300), Malaysia remained at the top among 29 economies. Among countries with populations above 20 million, Malaysia climbed up to 4th position from 5th last year.

In ASEAN, Malaysia remains number two after Singapore and ranked third in the Asia Pacific region compared with fourth last year, while Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are fourth, fifth and seventh respectively.

Malaysia has consistently performed well in other international surveys, including being ranked 6th by the World Bank in Ease of Doing Business 2014, 24th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014 and 32nd in the Global Innovation Index 2013 by INSEAD Business School.

Examining ISMA’s Nam Tien Ideology

June 6, 2014

Examining ISMA’s Nam Tien Ideology

UMNO protest

Nation and national soul-searching, despite the romantic connotations behind the term, is always a painful and unsettling process.

A free nation, especially one with a colonial past, will always need to recalibrate its moral position to provide an existential standing. Therefore, a liberation story that is buttressed by a ‘good triumphs evil’ narrative is needed: a new nation sprung from the buds of history, cleansed and desanitised from its past, ready to take on a new course without any entanglements of the past; a ‘New Contract’, but not a renewed contract, so to speak.

This is until it realised, the ‘New Contract’ could not be sustained without hinging on the past, albeit a resented one. A void in history is too borderless for a nation-state with stoic and constitutional borders; be it geographical and psychological, and hence the national discourse is prone to relapse into ‘us-versus-them’ hostility expected of a liberating nation.

The familiarity of achieving a benchmark point of defeating evil (independence) was sought after to achieve cohesion and coherence for a dominating and identifying factor, and therein lies the highly emotive but not necessarily patriotic force of ultra-nationalism. Its digression from patriotism is because those who capitalised on such forces to place imaginative captivity on the masses are usually not patriots themselves. The civil wars and genocides in former African colonies are testaments to that.

Malaysia proves to be an interesting case-study of this “relapse” condition because of its relatively peaceful transition to Independence. The shouts of Tunku’s Merdeka, although invigorating in spirit, did not provide a clean slate for the national conscience to be built upon.

The peaceful transition also meant that there was no post-traumatic stress disorder that originated from a brother-in-arms resistance against invaders for the citizens of diverse origins to direct a common recuperation effort at. Instead, the infantile nation was torn between the political majority rural Malay psyche that the country will “return” to a not-explicitly defined pre-colonial order Malay feudalism and a ‘New Order’ that in practice by the nascent government made little effort in differentiation from the colonial structures.

In other words, there was, and is an expectation for “wrongs” – no matter what they were or are – to be corrected to return the country to a perfect equilibrium before any new projection to the future could be made. The little participation its citizens had in Malaysia’s Independence had left a void being created within the colonial shackles of mind and economics, and it is within this void, contestation of nationhood and identities occurred, as can be seen from the politics of race, language and subsequently, religion that arises.

Ironically, almost every imagination being thrown into the void during that time was retrospective in nature. The Malays longed for a revived domination of the nation’s politics untampered by British intervention, while the Chinese expected a return to the autonomy and free-handedness they enjoyed in commerce and education during colonial governance.

Unsurprisingly, the clash of such nostalgia produced an outcome of retributory nature; the New Economic Policy (NEP) in focus of “correcting” racial imbalances was born. It was a relapse towards the discourse of Malay special position and supremacy, a privilege that was guaranteed by colonial governance to placate Malay fears in the face of a changing nation, demographically, economically and culturally.

Understanding this, Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA)’s classification of the Chinese as being an invading force, the Nam Tien or “southbound invasion” in challenge of Malay or Islam’s indigenous position can be seen as just another episode of the relapse syndrome.

UMNO-ISMA-PERKASASoutheast Asia’s indigenous religion is not Islam to begin with since it is pre-dated by Hinduism. ISMA, however, had made significant efforts in revising of this fact. The fact is that, the invasion from China in usurping the physical or religious status of the locals, simply did not happened. Therefore, the claim that the Chinese are “wrongs that should be corrected” is merely a throwback in a sense. As the vitality of the NEP wears off following the decline of Mahathir’s developmental state, a substituting agenda was needed for “retributory justice” to continue in maintenance of the capitalist elite power structure, and it was in this light a militaristic revisionist account of the Chinese influx into Malaysia was created.

Although not entirely original, the conceived idea of the Chinese as being an “invading” force did have some salient features. Using an invasion analogy, the need to stress constitutional justifications of Malay and Islamic supremacy (a common strategy employed by right-wing ethnocratic organisations such as UMNO and PERKASA) was diminished.

The approach taken to externalise Chinese citizens of Malaysia had shifted the psychology of the siege mentality to one that is even more rudimentary, one that hardly sees co-existence as an amenable outcome. This is because as the logic goes, the threat is foreign and expansionist in nature and had to be repealed to preserve sovereignty.

Placing Islam in the centre of it, in full cognisance of the religious conservatism of the Malays as well as the outright secularist orientation of the Chinese was only a natural move. A frontier that is both distinctive and violent was enforced between the two communal groups.

The demonisation process, not unlike the “history textbook” treatment that was subjected to most colonial powers, was undertaken. A new struggle against foreign evil, the others, is to be embarked; a theme that has mythical origins, also made relatable for the Malaysian context by Islamic concepts like the jihad (although not in the Salafist jihadist sense).

As iterated above, soul-searching is a painful process, especially when history was kept like a gaping hole, filled in by State-controlled narratives that were insufficient in richness, complexity and inclusiveness. Dominated by retro-looking agendas (Mahathir’s Vision 2020 was a breath of fresh air but it collapsed in the face of growing inequality, communal integration and most importantly, the competence expected of a capitalistic developed nation).

ibrahim-ali-perkasaMalaysia’s perpetual search for divergent collective motives were vulnerable to be seized by the romanticism associated with puritanism and evil banishment, for it is these sentiments that fuelled a citizen’s anger against immigrant workers, free trade agreements and foreign cultures.

The inability of authoritative figures to put a stop to all of this, or the civil societies to provide an effective diversion, will only spell trouble for the already economically struggling nation. Despite years of official forward planning, and government mantras of a brighter future, the forward looking narratives have been undermined by the lack of credibility and authenticity of its proponents and implementers. It also makes its present proponents appear hypocritical.

It is dangerous for Malaysia to not have a credible and authentic forward looking narrative. But it is even more dangerous for the ‘Muslim Malay’ (however that is defined) – without this credible and authentic forward looking narrative – to ask the question “Dari mana datangnya saya?” (“Where do I come from?”), and to look to the pendatangs (immigrants) for an answer.

Nicholas Chan is a King’s College London graduate in Forensic Science. He is currently a socio-political analyst with the Penang Institute. He can be reached at:


McKinsey looks set to stay top of the heap in management consulting

September 26, 2013


The future of the Firm

McKinsey looks set to stay top of the heap in management consulting

TPPA: Kudos to Prime Minister Najib

August 18, 2013

TPPA: Kudos to Prime Minister Najib

by BA Hamzah, DSDK

NajibKudos to Prime Minister Najib Razak for taking pre-emptive measures on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). The Cabinet’s decision is a soft reminder to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to be more sensitive to the aspirations of the rakyat.MITI is accountable to the Cabinet, which in turn is answerable to the rakyat.

The Cabinet has set the litmus test for Malaysia joining the TPPA: favourable terms for those affected by the Treaty. The ball is now back in MITI’s court, which must now make sure the Treaty benefits Malaysians.

It would have been a different narrative if, for example, the MITI negotiators were to first consult some experts in trade and investment policy and the affected parties before taking on the “big boys”. [Five of the TPPA members have GNP per capita above US forty-thousand dollars; US$12,000 for Brazil and US$5,000 plus for Malaysia].

One trade expert that MITI should forthwith consult is the Cambridge- educated, former USM colleague and Penang- based columnist for The Star Martin Khor.

Had it held its belated “Open House” much earlier and long before Tun Mahathir and others criticised the TPPA, MITI would not have to go through this wrenching soul searching process. A few of us including my good friend and blogger, Dato’ Din Merican and I are concerned with MITI’s defensive style, which has inevitably dented its credibility. MITI should not behave like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

Members of the public are not privy to the negotiations. While we put our trust in MITI, we also expect it to do rigorous homework. Now, we know that a comprehensive study has not been completed and that no cost-benefit study in two critical areas was conducted.

We can only hope that the results of these studies will be made public as the rakyat has every right to know what is in store for them. MITI is not empowered to act without the consent of Parliament, which represents us, the people.

Whether the MITI Open House on August 1 was an afterthought orDatuk-Seri-Mustapa-Mohamed otherwise, the session was a welcome opportunity to “exchange” views. Unfortunately the forum turned out to be an unusual exercise in public relations. At that session, MITI merely restated its position that everything was overboard. Of course, as expected, it promised to bring the expressed concerns for further discussion.

Knowing what we want is half of the picture. Getting what the Cabinet has mandated is a challenge that our negotiators must live up to. Will the “big boys” continue to listen to our pleas and woes? Is it not too little too late to renegotiate the terms when the clock has started ticking? What is the fate of million Malaysians whose livelihood depends on the state-owned–enterprises (SOEs) and small- and- medium enterprises (SMEs) once the TPPA comes into operation, for example?

Many thousand poor Malaysians suffering from cancer, AIDS and myeloid leukaemia who depend on cheaper generic drugs have reasons to smile after the Cabinet made a decision that it would not agree to any provision in the Treaty that limits access to affordable medicine and healthcare.

Under the TPPA rule on intellectual property right, only patented drugs are allowed. With regard to this, the Indians are more fortunate following a recent Supreme Court decision that rejected a patent for a cancer drug; the cheaper generic version costs only US$165; the would- be- patented drug costs US$2,666 a month!

Renegotiating issues like jurisdiction in the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, status of government procurement policies, status of state-owned enterprises, policies on financial services including capital controls, and the impact of intellectual property rights on the cost of medicine and healthcare, is, in my view, difficult at this late stage.

The multinationals are using the TPPA to rewrite the rules of international trade and financial services. The multinationals are determined to rein in the role of state enterprises and promotion of local small and medium private companies, which they allege have been blocking access to markets in Third World countries.

The role of the state as actor in international relations will likely to be eroded under the TPPA trade-imposed regime; the multinational companies have supplanted their role. The fear in some quarters that the state can no longer exercise sovereign immunity over certain trade -related issues is quite justified.

NajibWith the multinationals in the driver’s seat, anti-smoking pictures or slogans like “smoking is bad for your lungs”, “that second hand smoke kills” or “smoking leads to cancer” will no longer be allowed. Governments can be sued for displaying these slogans!

Whether PM Najib Razak will call- off the unpopular TPPA depends on many factors–external and domestic. Externally, withdrawing from the TPPA will not endear KL to Washington especially when Malaysia is hosting President Obama in October. Domestically, it depends on how much the Treaty will affect his chances of retaining UMNO Presidency in the upcoming UMNO General Assembly slated for October, too. On balance, however, when push comes to shove, the latter will have the final say.

On TPPA: MITI responds

August 14, 2013

COMMENT by BA Hamzah: Judging from the statements of prominentBA Hamzah cabinet Ministers over the TPPA it would seem that Malaysia is now more determined to be a member. More so after Tun Mahathir has openly criticised the treaty for its lack of transparency and unfavourable content.

The TPPA is likely to be debated at the forthcoming UMNO General Assembly in October alongside Pak Lah’s latest “The Awakening”. Don’t be surprised if a few were to thumb the table with late Barry Wain’s book on Mahathir: The Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohammad in Turbulent Times.

Anything under the sun is possible at an UMNO meeting including belacan that Malaysia, under the TPPA, can market to Brunei. Of the twelve, Brunei has the tiniest market. The population of Brunei is one third of Kuala Lumpur. What can we sell to Brunei except for belacan?

Malaysia’s membership of the TPPA is likely to be about UMNO politics as it is about free trade. Well it is not really free trade, as it also talks about financial services. Under the proposed TPPA, Malaysia can no longer introduce capital controls in the event of another Soros type currency speculation. The TPPA is also about state-owned–enterprises (SOEs) and small- and- medium enterprises (SMEs), which have been consciously developed over the years for specific reasons. These two will come under scrutiny.

One Minister has suggested that the TPPA would rein in corruption among Government officials. I have not figured out how this can be achieved, presumably through the proposed intervention in Government procurement policies. It will indeed be a miracle if the TPPA mechanism can rein in rampant corruption in Malaysia.

Without the SOEs, SMEs and Government contracts, not only Malays will suffer. Every one who depends on the Government for business will have to bite the bullet too. It may put an end to the New Economic Policy, which is supposed to favour the Bumiputeras.That’s not a bad outcome since it puts end to crony capitalism and political patronage. But it also means an end to the policy of restructuring the society, the other pillar of the NEP, to eradicate poverty irrespective of race.

Who drives the TPPA? MITI says the decision is by consensus, so it is on auto-pilot mode. Interesting!. Scratch the surface slightly, you will find that the train is auto-piloted by large American multinationals like the tobacco companies and pharmaceutical giants.

Forget about educating Malaysians on the hazards of smoking under the TPPA agreement. Displaying anti-smoking pictures or captions like “smoking is bad for your lungs”, “that second hand smoke kills” or “smoking leads to cancer” is unfair form of trade.

Under the TPPA, Big tobacco companies must be permitted to sell cigarettes, irrespective of the health hazard of smoking.It is OK if it kills people, as long as it fairly traded!

The impact on healthcare is going to be steep for Malaysians who cannot afford patented drugs. Under the TPPA rule on intellectual property rights, only original, patented drugs are allowed. Generics are not.

Imagine those suffering from AIDs and myeloid leukaemia, which need cheaper generics to stay alive.

The Supreme Court in India has done a service to the poor by recently rejecting a patent on a cancer drug that costs a US$2,600 a month. Now Indian drug makers can continue to sell the same drug for US$165 a month. Fortunately for Indians, India is not party to the TPPA.

On the surface, TPPA is designed to benefit the wealthy. The poor must continue to endure and suffer because of bad policies. MITI should have a  heart for the poor Malaysians suffering from cancer and myeloid leukaemia.

MITI should listen to the voices of the educated and well-informed members of the civil society too. It would seem that it is adamant in pushing the agenda. Whose agenda is it? Is a regime agenda? Or should MITI be more concerned with the poor rakyat who voted for the regime?

Fair representation is a key element in a functioning democratic system. Politicians are elected to represent the people and Government officials are mere civil servants whose primary duty is to serve the rakyat. In this particular case, MITI must put the interest of the common people above regime loyalty.

Regime comes and goes; the rakyat stay.

How much of the TPPA is about geopolitics? Plenty. Ten TPPA members are allies, near allies or client states of America: Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.This can probably explain why China is not invited. All eleven have FTAs with the US. Malaysia does not. 

Arguably, the TPPA augments the US military policy of pivoting to the East targeting at China. Since when has Malaysia moved into the US policy orbit of containing China, which is currently our largest trading partner?

The TPPA is a rich-man club, going by the GNP per capita. Except for Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam, the GNP per capita of seven other countries are above forty-thousand US dollars; thirty eight thousand for New Zealand and twelve-thousand for Brazil.

Datuk-Seri-Mustapa-MohamedThe majority of Malaysian rakyat want Tok Pa (Dato Seri Mustapha Mohamed) and MITI to first resolve favourably the fate of small and medium scale enterprises, jurisdiction issue in the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, status of government procurement policies, status of state-owned enterprises, policies on financial services including capital controls, and deal with the impact of intellectual property rights on the cost of medicine and healthcare before moving ahead with the TPPA.

The rakyat will not accept any fait accompli decision. The days when the top can impose their will on ordinary Malaysians are over.

On TPPA: MITI responds

MITI-MalaysiaMPORTANT INITIATIVE: Country’s GDP set to improve, while its goods and services will reach a wider market, says MITI

THE Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), an initiative to establish a free trade agreement (FTA) between 12 countries – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam – will see a market of 800 million people and combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$27.5 trillion (RM89.1 trillion).

The agreement covers new elements such as competition, labour, environment, government procurement and intellectual property rights. The International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti) has put together a Q&A (question and answer) to address public concerns and fears about the ongoing talks.

Here are the excerpts from Part One:

Question: What is the rationale of joining the TPPA negotiations?

Answer: The government views the TPPA as an important initiative as Malaysia seeks to expand market access opportunities, enhance its competitive advantage and build investor confidence. The comprehensive study conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also identified several major economic benefits to Malaysia, including welfare gains of 1.46 per cent and higher wages for skilled and unskilled labour by 2020, in addition to improved GDP growth due to greater market access among member countries.

The successful conclusion of the TPPA will form a huge market of 800 million people with a combined GDP of US$27.5 trillion. This far surpasses Malaysia’s limited domestic market of 29.5 million people and a GDP of US$300 billion.

According to a simulation study done by the Peterson Institute of Economics in June last year, by 2025, Malaysia will benefit with an increase in gross national income by RM26.3 billion and increase in exports of RM41.7 billion.

Admittedly, the government is aware of the challenges and controversies surrounding the TPPA because unlike other FTAs, it is comprehensive and covers more areas of interest, which would naturally invite more public opinion and debate. The government appreciates all views expressed on the TPPA and will continue to engage the stakeholders and NGOs for inputs and feedback.

Question: What are the benefits of TPPA for Malaysia?

Answer: Consultations with various stakeholders prior to joining TPPA negotiations have revealed an increasing request from Malaysian companies for more open markets and trade facilitative measures. There are increasing numbers of Malaysian companies becoming global investors and they require a level of predictability that can be guaranteed effectively through binding agreements like FTAs.

Concurrently, there is also interest from foreign companies from non-TPPA countries that are exploring Malaysia as a base for their operations as the hope to enjoy the benefits of the TPPA. The combination of greater market access for Malaysian products and services under the TPPA and the continued inflow of foreign investments will create a powerful catalyst in driving Malaysia’s economic transformation agenda.

With TPPA, Malaysia will become an integral part of the greater economic integration within the Asia- Pacific region. It will also significantly enhance Malaysia’s engagement with important trading partners such as the US, Canada, Mexico and Peru. As a member of TPPA, Malaysia will also be able to increase it participation in the regional supply and value chains and facilitate access for Malaysian products and services into bigger markets.

Question: What are the challenges of the TPPA for Malaysia?

The government is aware of the many benefits and the challenges involved. For instance, government procurement is one of the new elements in TPP, which was never part of the FTAs that Malaysia has signed. This is one strategic area the government is negotiating cautiously, after taking into consideration feedback from stakeholders, particularly on the concern of safeguarding the interest of local enterprises and the Bumiputera commercial and industrial community.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is another difficult area. One of the main concerns on IPR revolves around access to affordable medi-cine and healthcare as well as longer protection term which might delay manufacturing of generic drugs.

Malaysian negotiators will continue to negotiate an outcome that will give Malaysians access to affordable medicine and healthcare.

Question: What will happen if Malaysia does not join the TPPA?

Answer: The TPPA offers Malaysia an opportunity to be part of a consumer market with 800 million people. Abandoning the TPPA negotiations now would mean allowing other countries to set the terms of agreement without considering Malaysia’s interests and concerns. Acceding to the TPPA later would result in Malaysia having to accept the rules, disciplines, terms and conditions decided by others.

By not joining the TPPA, Malaysia would be at a disadvantage in terms of seeking bigger and better market access for its products and services. The impact of that disadvantage will be even more significant should countries like China, Indonesia and other competitors decide to join later.

Once realised, the TPPA will result in a huge consumer market for Malaysian goods and services. Market access to 800 million people is not an opportunity we can afford to miss, especially since we are an open economy highly dependent on international trade. In an increasingly competitive global environment, our absence will make Malaysia less attractive as an investment destination, compared with those that are TPPA members. As investors avoid Malaysia, this could result in fewer opportunities for job creation.

Question: Who is in charge of the TPPA negotiations?

Answer: The cabinet has mandated MITI to coordinate Malaysia’s participation in the TPPA negotiations. MITI acts as the chief negotiator but other ministries and agencies will lead the working groups for areas under their responsibility. (See Table 1).

With the mandate from the cabinet, the lead ministries and agencies involved are focused on safeguarding Malaysia’s best interest in the ongoing negotiations. Before every negotiating round, the cabinet is briefed on all issues, and for the necessary mandate to be given to all negotiators.

Question: Was there a lack of consultation in forming Malaysia’s position in TPPA?

Answer: The government admits more consultations could have been carried out. In this regard, MITI has made many statements assuring the public that consultations have been carried out by negotiators in their respective fields.

It had also organised a TPPA open day on August 1 to update the public and the media on issues surrounding TPPA, to clear misconceptions about it and to hear the public’s concerns about it.

MITI welcomes the establishment of a bipartisan caucus in Parliament. Its minister had met and briefed the caucus on developments and issues concerning the matter. The caucus provided constructive inputs to the government.

It must be noted that inputs and feedback from industry associations, interest groups and business chambers play a key role in the formation of Malaysia’s negotiating positions. To illustrate a point, Malaysia’s position in the negotiations on government procurement, led by the Finance Ministry, strongly reflects the concerns of stakeholders, the Bumiputera business community and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as well as that the small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Malaysia has also maintained the rights of all states on matters related to land and water. On SOEs, Malaysia’s position is determined by the Finance Ministry and Khazanah Nasional Bhd.

The government will continue to engage all stakeholders. In addition to the open day, MITI met the Coalition to Act Against the TPPA Malaysia on August 6 and discussed ways to enhance engagement with stakeholders. Miti welcomes feedback and opinion from all parties regarding the TPPA.

Question: Why the secrecy in TPPA negotiations?

Answer: While the negotiating texts have never been made public as negotiations are ongoing, the government has and will continue to share its negotiating position with relevant stakeholders during the consultation sessions.

A level of confidentiality is required for two main reasons: (a) regulations and the evolving process of negotiations and rules surrounding TPPA oblige negotiators to maintain confidentiality of the negotiating texts and (b) negotiators advancing the interests of Malaysia, strategically do not want to publicly disclose their bargaining positions to ensure the best outcome during the negotiations.

Mindful of the public feedback, the Miti minister will put this issue on the agenda of the forthcoming TPP Ministerial Meeting in Brunei.

Question: Why rush TPPA by October this year?

Answer: As in all negotiations, there is a need to work towards a target date to conclude negotiations. It should be noted that the Trans Pacific Partnership Leaders Statement issued on November 12 2011, in Honolulu, clearly called on the negotiating teams to continue talks with other Asia-Pacific partners that have expressed interest in joining the TPPA in order to facilitate their future participation. TPPA leaders have set an October target for substantial conclusion of the negotiations.

However, this is not a definitive deadline for the conclusion of the TPPA as the parties involved are still negotiating on a number of sensitive issues. It is in Malaysia’s best interest that TPPA is concluded in a manner that benefits the people.

Question: Why is China not in the TPPA?

Answer: The position of all TPPA members is for this agreement to be a building block for the Free Trade Agreement of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which will encompass all the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) economies, of which China is also a member. Membership in TPPA is voluntary. Every APEC member, including China, is free to decide when to join TPPA.

China is a very important trading partner to Malaysia. As such, Malaysia certainly welcomes China into the TPPA.

Book on Malaysia

July 17, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Malaysia’s Development Challenges

ANU's Hal HillAny book on Southeast Asia that has Hal Hill’s name on it is likely to be interesting and thought-provoking. This book is no exception. Hal, together with Tham Siew Yean and Ragayah Haji Mat Zain returns to a familiar stomping ground – Malaysia, its economic growth and development challenges – at an opportune time, as Malaysia seeks ‘ideas and solutions’ to not only move to a high income economy but also to realign the interests of its political elites with the Rakyat.

In the past two decades, Malaysia has received several book length treatment as individuals and institutions investigate and attempt to identify the variables that have contributed to Malaysia’s spectacular economic growth story, as well as to identify ones that could/are contribute/ing to its growth slowdown. Volumes such as “Restructuring the Malaysian economy: development and human resources” (Lucas and Verry 1999),  “Industrialising Malaysia – policy, performance andJomo prospects” (Jomo 2002), “Modern Malaysia in the Global Economy” (Barlow 2001), “Malaysian Economics and Politics in the New Century” (Barlow and Loh 2003),  “Sustainable Growth and Economic Development – a case study of Malaysia”(Mahadevan 2007) , and “Tiger economies under threat: a comparative analysis of Malaysia’s industrial prospects and policy options” (Yusuf and Nabeshima 2009) are among notable attempts to understand, explain and possibly forewarn Malaysians of the challenges that they face through either the discipline of economics and/or of political science.

This volume follows on in this tradition. It is comprehensive in its scope with a strong policy dimension. The volume contains 13 chapters, written by 17 authors addressing a multiple set of issues. Analysing a country involves many moving parts and possibly moving in various directions simultaneously. Hence making a coherent argument of the causality and organising it in a logical sequence can be challenging. To address that, this book takes the following logic. Chapter 1 by Hal, identifies 6 stylised facts about Malaysia [rapid economic growth; rapid structural change; consistent openness; competent macroeconomic management; social progress; and institutional quality, political economy and ownership structures], and 3 broad and inter-related factors [microeconomic, macroeconomic and distributional] that are central to the Malaysian graduation challenge. The following twelve chapters then speak to these six stylised facts and provides the basis for analysis, assessment and then solution within the 3 broad factors on what needs to be done in Malaysia to overcome the middle income trap.

The volume begins with an excellent preface by one of Malaysia’sm-ariff intellectual giants, Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr. Mohamed Ariff. He provides a broad sweep of Malaysia’s economic history since independence, identifying succinctly the theoretical basis to Malaysia’s economic and political development strategies, the inherent problems – internal and external – faced over time, and the policy success and failures that successive administrations had made which contributed to Malaysia’s economic growth as well as creating the challenges that it must now face. If one needed a fifteen minute in-depth introduction to the Malaysian economy and its challenges, this preface would be sufficient.

Chapter 1 is the most important chapter in the book, with all other chapters providing the supporting evidence. Chapter 1 not only provides the logic of the book, but also narrates Malaysia’s economic development path, summarises the key factors that has contributed to its success, evaluates which are the factors that will continue to put Malaysia in good stead as well as identify factors that will contribute to Malaysia being stuck in the middle income trap. Chapter 1 makes the analysis by bringing to bear the various growth theories (e.g. evolutionary economics, convergence theory, institutional theories, etc.) but also compares with the actual experience of other countries (e.g. Argentina, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, etc.) while identifying the unique issues that Malaysia faces.

The 12 chapters that follow then discusses the following aspects to articulate Malaysia’s development challenges in more detail. Each chapter provides a brief historical overview and then identify where policies have succeeded or failed: Chapter 2 – political reforms; Chapter 3 – corporate ownership and control; (iii) Chapter 4 – economic crisis management; (iv) Chapter 5 – monetary policy and financial sector development; (v) Chapter 6 – public finance management; (vi) Chapter 7 – microeconomic reforms; (vii) Chapter 8 – services sector liberalisation; (viii) Chapter 9 – technological upgrading in the electronics sector; (ix) Chapter 10 – education sector reforms; (x) Chapter 11 – poverty and income inequality; (xi) Chapter 12 – demographic change and labour force issues; and (xii) Chapter 13 – sustainable development.

Dani RodrikThe problems identified in each of the chapter[i] appears to be many, multi-faceted, well-known and well-researched. Using’s Rodrik’s conceptualisation of growth factors into deep determinants (institutions, trade, and geography) and proximate determinants (factor endowments and productivity) as a way of classifying these problems (Rodrik et al. 2004), the usual suspects identified in this volume when traced to its root cause appears to be institutional in nature. Problems such as the debilitating effects of political patronage on a whole range of issues; poor quality human capital development; mismatches in the labour markets; protectionism in key services sector; technological level and innovation that is not keeping pace with the income level of the country; poor quality tertiary education system; underdeveloped private sector especially small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs); fiscal profligacy; mismatch between stated public policy objectives and implementation; and environmental degradation can all be classified as institutional failures.

The more interesting question which this volume appears to haveTerence Gomez neglected is why a government as successful as the Barisan Nasional – the world’s longest continuously elected government – has failed after more than a decade to address the growth slowdown Malaysia is experiencing. This question is all the more interesting as it has been researched extensively for more than a decade. The works of Professors’ Gomez (Gomez 1994; Gomez and Sundaram 1999), R RasiahNarayanan (Narayanan 1996) and Rasiah (Rasiah 1996, 1995) are illustrative as more than a decade ago they had already breached these issues – Gomez on money politics and institutional degradation, Narayanan on fiscal profligacy and Rasiah on labour and technological upgrading. Furthermore, many studies – from individuals and institutions – have identified what Malaysia needs to do, as this volume does. But nothing much has changed in Malaysia, and some would argue that the situation has regressed further.

Here is where this volume could have done better especially with the array of Malaysia experts at hand. The million dollar question for Malaysia is not what needs to be done but how should it be done. Identifying the problems are often the easy bit. Prioritising, sequencing, implementing, monitoring and recalibrating them when needed as it unfolds is the tough part. Intelligently, academics have left these to the politicians. However, a chapter which addresses the ‘how to’ would have been most beneficial and would have made this book a stand out.

As Malaysia’s challenges are institutional in nature implies that what is14766-mushtaq-khan-medium needed is reforms at the very top of the institutional hierarchy. One approach that comes to mind in addressing the ‘how to’ question would be Mushtaq Khan’s revisit of political settlements or as he states it, finding ‘growth enhancing governance’ (Khan 2010). This growth enhancing governance is not the ideal but the practical; a settlement among the competing elites and important stakeholders that allows for institutional stability, while allowing for payments to powerful vested interests, does not negate the overall opportunities for growth and its distribution to the majority of its populace. The ruling coalition in Malaysia may have figured this out in the past but it is clear that this political settlement is not working anymore. It therefore necessitates a new political settlement to graduate into a high income country.

Malaysia can be a model for many countries for many reasons as this volume affirms. More importantly its attempts to reform peacefully is a distinctive feature among developing countries. This volume is much welcomed as it is one source which compiles in a comprehensive manner the issues, analyses them, and suggests reform measures. It should be read by all those who want to understand the challenges Malaysia face as a middle income country and does it in a forthright manner. Most importantly it also makes good reading.


Barlow, Colin. 2001. Modern Malaysia in the global economy: political and social change into the 21st century: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Barlow, Colin, and Francis Kok-Wah Loh. 2003. Malaysian economics and politics in the new century: Edward Elgar Pub.

Cooray, Arusha. 2012. “Malaysia’s Development Challenges: Graduating from the Middle, by Hal Hill, Tham Siew Yean and Ragayah Haji Mat Zin (Routledge, London, UK, 2012), pp. 376.” Economic Record 88 (283):597-8.

Gomez, Edmund Terence. 1994. Political business: Corporate involvement of Malaysian political parties: Centre for South-East Asian Studies, James Cook University of North Queensland Townsville, Queensland, Australia.

Gomez, Edmund Terence, and Jomo Kwame Sundaram. 1999. Malaysia’s political economy: Politics, patronage and profits: Cambridge University Press.

Hirschman, Charles. 2013. “Malaysia’s Development Challenges: Graduating from the Middle edited by Hal Hill , Tham Siew Yean , and Ragayah Haji Mat Zin (eds) PB – Routledge , London and New York, 2012 Pp. xxvi + 348. ISBN 978 0415 63193 8.” Asian-Pacific Economic Literature 27 (1):163-5.

Jomo, Kwame Sundaran. 2002. Industrializing Malaysia: policy, performance, prospects: Routledge.

Khan, Mushtaq. 2010. “Political settlements and the governance of growth-enhancing institutions.”

Lucas, Robert E. B., and Donald Verry. 1999. Restructuring the Malaysian Economy: Development and Human Resources: St. Martin’s Press.

Mahadevan, Renuka. 2007. Sustainable growth and economic development: A case study of Malaysia: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Narayanan, Suresh. 1996. “Fiscal reform in Malaysia: Behind a successful experience.” Asian Survey 36 (9):869-81.

Rasiah, Rajah. 1995. “Labour and industrialization in Malaysia.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 25 (1):73-92.

———. 1996. “Innovation and institutions: Moving towards the technological frontier in the electronics industry in Malaysia.” Journal of Industry Studies 3 (2):79-102.

Rodrik, Dani, Arvind Subramanian, and Francesco Trebbi. 2004. “Institutions Rule: The Primacy of Institutions Over Geography and Integration in Economic Development.” Journal of Economic Growth 9 (2):131-65.

Yusuf, Shahid, and Kaoru Nabeshima. 2009. Tiger economies under threat: a comparative analysis of Malaysia’s industrial prospects and policy options. Vol. 566: World Bank Publications.

[i] Those interested in a chapter by chapter analysis should read Arusha Cooray’s review of the same book (2012) while Charles Hirschman (2013) provides a more historical review.

8 Realities: Why the Malaysian Government should fund Higher Education

July 3, 2013

 MY COMMENT: This is a well written and thoughtful piece byDin Merican Anas Faizli. I thank him for sending it to me and with his permission I am sharing it with you. I personally believe that education of the right sort, that is one which recognises an individual’s natural aptitude, is an income enhancing and profitable undertaking. While I acknowledge the role of government as investor in education, I think it is up to us as individuals to decide whether we are prepared to go through the grind ourselves to get a degree or a professional/technical qualificaton at the tertiary level. Self development is a personal responsibility, not one for the state to decide.

That said, university education is not for everybody, that means we need to create polytechnics and technical institutes, as in the case of Germany, for those who have no aptitude for research and teaching.

Our industrialisation needs mechanics, techinicians, and nuts and bolts types, not just  researchers, academics, managers and bureaucrats. This is the real gap which our country must try to close. So, what our government can do is to allocate public funds for quality technical education for those who are unsuited for university education that Anas favours.–Din Merican

Anas8 Realities: Why the Malaysian Government should fund Higher Education

By Anas Alam Faizli

Education was institutionalized to formalize the process of knowledge acquisition and research in man’s quest for understanding. Earliest universities in the history of mankind namely Al-Azhar, Bologna, Oxford, Palencia, Cambridge and University of Naples (world’s first public university, 1224) have one thing in common; they were built by notable early world civilizations as institutions of research, discourse, learning, proliferation of knowledge and documentation. This contrasts largely from the role of universities today as institutions of human capital accreditation, qualification, and most unfortunately, business and profits.

Ibnu Khaldun, father of historiography, sociology and economics, in his work Prolegomenon (Muqaddimah) argued that the government would only gain strength and sovereignty through its citizens. This strength can only be sustained by wealth, which can only be acquired through human capital development (education), which in turn can only be achieved by justice and inclusiveness for all. Aristotle too proposed “Education should be one and the same for all.” A system that discriminates, in our case, based on household economic ability, can and will rile an unhealthy imbalance in the quality of the resulting labour force and society. These form the basis of our argument here.

 In America, the individual funds his higher education while many European countries have public-funded institutions of higher learning. The latter is the best for Malaysia. Our societal and economic progression (or digression) does not depend on any one factor, but on the interaction of economic, social and political factors over a long period of time. Let’s first look at some realities that we need to contend with to understand why the Malaysian government should fund higher education.

Reality #1: Society benefits from education

 We can never truly measure the immense positive externalities derived from an educated society. Outcomes of university education and research continuously found the progress of mankind. In developing Malaysia, higher education is an impetus for establishing a civic-minded society, highly skilled manpower and competitive value proposition for capital and production. Investing in education may cost the society tax Ringgits, but the consequences in failing to do so will be devastating. Walter W. McMahon (economist at University of Illinois) outlined the “private non-market benefits” for degree-holders. These include better personal health and improved cognitive development in their children. Alongside is the “social non-market benefits”, such as lower spending on prisons and greater political stability.

Reality #2: “Neither here nor there”

 Malaysia is neither here nor there, and education opportunity is a major contributing factor. Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labour and Professor at University of California@Berkeley, made a compelling argument that is very applicable to Malaysia. To attract jobs and capital, nations and states face two choices; one is to build a low-tax but low-wage “warehouse economy” competing on price, another is to compete on quality, by increasing taxes and regulation to invest in human capital for a highly productive workforce.

In Malaysia, wage growth caught up with productivity growth only up until the late 1990’s. Since 1996, we have been living in the “middle income trap”, stunted at the World Bank’s definition of upper middle income; neither high nor low income. In fact, for the past 10 years real wage growth has been negative. Having 77% of the Malaysian workforce with only SPM and below qualification is a structural barrier to us crossing over to the higher income group. The labour force is largely unskilled and unable to move their labour services up the value chain where higher salaries are paid.

Reality #3: Education is fundamental to a competitive value proposition

Another case for education is competitiveness for both FDI and outputs. On the FDI side, our factors of production, in this case labour, needs to be attractive enough. With a labour force that is neither highly skilled nor cheap, our value propositions dwarf next to the likes of Vietnam and Singapore. As a result, technology and automation service the lower-value processes replacing need for labour, while R&D and origination have not caught up due to lack of expertise. Malaysia has been the only country in the region facing net outflow in FDI since 2007.

 On the output side, our goal to move away from producing lower-value manufacturing and primary goods, into the higher-value services sector too have been held back by limited talent and capabilities. Lack of advanced education is one major factor causing this lack of competitiveness.

Reality #4: Efficiency driven economy versus Innovation driven economy

 A study released by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) categorizes Malaysia as an efficiency-driven economy, behind innovation-driven economies. We focus on improving existing processes, but we are not out there inventing new things where the big money is. Focusing on the latter is extremely important now more than ever for Malaysia, because we can no longer offer very cheap labour, land and factories to produce mass generic products competitively.

The number of researchers in Malaysia for each 1 million population is only 365 behind Japan’s 5,416 and South Korea’s 4,231. We are in dire need for more trained professionals and innovators, and we could have harvested them from talents that did not pursue tertiary education due to the lack of opportunities.

 Reality #5: Education is an investment

Like parents investing in their children’s future, the state must invest in the population for the future of the nation. An educated society is able to position themselves into higher standards of living characterized by higher income, production of high value goods and services, longer life expectancy, subscription to civic and moral values, political stability, existence of civil liberties and openness to change and development.

While highly developed nations like Denmark and the Netherlands invest 11.2% and 10.8% (respectively) of GDP in education, we invested only 4.8% last year (majority on infrastructure and emoluments!). To make matters worse, the education budget education is slashed from RM50 billion to RM37 billion this year! To get an idea of how counter-intuitive this is for a developing Malaysia, even Afghanistan (7.4%), Vietnam (7.2%) and Timor Leste (12.3%) spent more.

 Currently, about 80% of the bottom 40% income households are only-SPM qualified and below, while only 5% received higher education. The rest never made it to school at all. The reason is crystal clear; it is education that can lift households into higher income thus significantly reducing poverty and its consequences. If this group were to receive higher education, it is the state that ultimately benefits as social capital is returned from the household to the state in increased production and tax income. Social justice is served; while nobody is left discriminated or neglected from being given an opportunity to develop his or her own merits.

Reality #6: … with a Positive Net Return-on-Investment (ROI)

 Entertain this simple simulation: Consider a fresh graduate entering the workforce with a salary of RM2,500, working for 30 years with a modest increment of 5% a year. Upon retiring at the age of 55 years, he would have paid back at least RM290,000 to the government only in income taxes. Even after discounting, payback in taxes is significantly beyond the investment cost providing education.

 Reality #7: Education correlates with wealth and income

 Tertiary-educated individuals have an average of RM182,000 in wealth to their name, while SPM holders have only an average RM82,000 in net worth. Degree holders have at least 2.2 times the wealth of SPM leavers. But the tertiary education penetration rate for Malaysia stands at only 36.5%. This is only measured at point of enrolment (not completion)! Not only we are significantly behind “very high human development” nations’ average of 75%, we are also behind “high human development” nations’ average of 50%.

In contrast, 86% of Americans, 84% of Kiwis, 100% of Koreans, 99% of the British, 45% of Thais, and 38.4% of Turks are university-trained. As a result, the bulk of our workforce is unable to position themselves in higher-earning jobs. The bulk of our jobs involve the lower portions of the industry value chains. How are we then to move our economy into higher GNI territory, and inclusively move the majority of our population into higher income brackets? Current practice of relying on one-off mega construction projects will not ensure Malaysia move into high-income status, and stay there for the long run!

 Reality #8: Education will reduce income inequality

 Malaysia ranks as the third most unequal nation in Asia, based on a GINI coefficient of 0.4621 (World Bank). Using only GINI, a simple measure of dispersion between the richest and poorest in an economy, we can already see that there are structural problems with the kind of growth that we have been enjoying. A household that earns RM10,000 monthly and above is already considered the top 4% Malaysian households! 60% of the highest earning income households have at least one member that received tertiary-level education. But 60% of the lowest-earning households have only SPM-holders as their most qualified household member. Not coincidentally, only the top 20% income households in Malaysia have experienced substantial income growth. For the remaining 80% it has been moderate. The gap between the rich and poor has been consistently growing from year 1970 until today. Only non-discriminatory access to education for the bottom 40% will arrest the growth of this gap.

 America perceives that the benefits of tertiary-level education are enjoyed most by the individual himself, thus the individual funds his higher education. The Scandinavians believe that the government should pay for higher education. On one hand, we see a privately funded education system in America, and growing inequality between the relatively richer and poorer households. There is at least $902 billion (NY Federal Reserve) in total outstanding student loan debt in the United States today. In contrast, government-funded higher education Scandinavia ranks as most equal nations in the world. The apparent causal-effect relationship here is hard to dispel.

 We expect free access to education to allow inter-generational mobility and narrow this inequality gap. If we let economic disability become a prohibitive factor for education, relatively poorer households will never be lifted out of the low-income bracket.

 One graduate for every Malaysian family

 We need an education system that is inclusive, does not neglect academically-struggling yet vocationally-advantaged pupils, matches industry requirements, yet streams students into disciplines where they will excel most. Most importantly, the system must not allow students to find themselves at the point of entering the industry, handicapped with a student loan on their shoulders, only to realize that they are not employable.

Malaysia has progressed in many aspects by making primary and secondary education free. 100% of Malaysians finish at least primary 6 and 68% finish form 5. The current socio and economic condition in Malaysia now calls to make finishing form 5 legally compulsory and providing free and accessible tertiary education for all.

I  urge the government, non-governmental bodies, policy-makers, and lobby groups to move towards providing free tuition fees for higher education at all our public universities. Where public universities are unable to cater for surplus of qualified students, it is suggested that the same equivalent amount of tuition fee funding is to be provided for private universities in a staggered manner, so as to ensure education accessibility by all.

I also propose the target of one graduate in each of the 6.4 million Malaysian households to ensure inter-generational mobility; that is for at least one child of a self-subsistent fisherman or low-salaried factory worker to uplift the entire family into a higher income bracket. A graduate in each family will be the change-agent that ensures his generation improves the family; via a chain reaction multiplying effect, ultimately affecting the graduate’s surroundings.

Education is way too important for us to risk any mismanagement, oversight and underfunding. The generations that go through a robustly managed quality education system, or lack of them, will ultimately decide Malaysia’s direction and the society that we will live in. Only then we can fundamentally assure that our true north for a high income Malaysia is sustainable, inclusive and is enjoyed by all layers of society – not just for the Top 1%. Let us reflect what Nelson Mandela said for a better Malaysia! “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

 *Anas Alam Faizli is an oil and gas professional. He is pursuing a post-graduate doctorate and is the founding executive director of Teach For The Needs (TFTN).

 ** Data and figures are derived from EPU, DOSM, HIS 2009, HDR 2011, World databank and BNM. For details, please refer BLINDSPOT (

Reinvigorating Rural Malaysia: New Paradigms Needed

July 2, 2013

MY COMMENT: The rural sector of the Malaysian economy has been for din-merican5over 3 decades treated with benign neglect as the government forged ahead with rapid industrialisation driven by foreign direct investment, particularly from Japan. Agriculture should be the backbone of any economy. Take Japan or the United States. Both these countries have not abandoned this important sector of the economy.There is now a need for Malaysia to have balanced economic development, not rapid growth. It makes economic and political sense.

I, therefore, congratulate Murray Hunter for this article. We cannot alleviate poverty if we continue to treat the rural economy as a step child. Politically, it is also not sustainable since the increasing urban-rural income will lead migration of rural less skilled labour into the cities, thereby creating social problems for the government. As Murray says, “[T]here must be a renewed interest in sustainability on the part of both policymakers and communities, as Malaysia’s sustainability is tied up with rural evolution. New forms of community education are needed outside of the traditional education system to deliver community needed skills. The failure to achieve this will result in continued population depletion as the youth abandon rural areas for the cities”–Din Merican.

Reinvigorating Rural Malaysia: New Paradigms Needed

by Murray Hunter (06-30-13) @


There has been a remarkable change in the composition of Malaysia’s rural-urban mix. In the 1980s approximately 70 percent was considered rural, where today 72 percent are urbanized and with the change taking place at about 2.4 percent annually.

It is a change that is taking place all over Asia, from China to India to Indonesia and more. Very few countries outside China have even attempted to cope, with the result that the rural-urban divide has grown and with very little being done to directly alleviate problems of poverty and rustication.

Ranau, SabahIn Malaysia, rural sector development has been debated little, even though the primary sector still represents almost 12 percent of GDP and employs more than 11 percent of the population. Many rural issues affect the future in much greater magnitude than the rural contribution to GDP and employment. The sustainability of Malaysia as an eco(n)-system, the country’s cultural basis, and even political destiny are tied up with rural evolution, with the vote in the kampung remaining a potent fiction if nothing else

In the meantime, deterioration continues in what was once one of the world’s most lush environmental green lungs. Forest cover is decreasing on a daily basis. Conservation has lost out to greed and development. Palm oil, rubber plantations and urban expansion are eating into the forests, with very poor land enforcement on the ground. Well-connected businesses get concessions that are extremely financially lucrative, at great environmental cost. Roads and new townships have divided rural habitats, playing havoc with biodiversity.

Rural Malaysia3The precise needs of rural societies are best obtained from inside those communities. A “bottom up” problem identification process would ensure development objectives and implementation scenarios would remain relevant. Community shura (consultation) committees could be set up at the village level to identify and discuss needs, problems, and desired solutions, and advise village heads.

Such a democratic approach to community would provide policymakers with the guidance they need in setting objectives and programs, and assist in minimizing funding leakages during implementation. This measure alone would signal a very strong redistribution of policy decision-making to the communities themselves, empowering communities to have more say in deciding their own future destinies. The shura system should develop new leaders and champions who are willing to lead and help shape a new community sense of wisdom. Policies will never succeed without people to drive them.

Self-sufficiency and a vibrant local trade economy are the keys to future rural communities. However, rural SMEs should be facilitated to enter national and international markets. There are now many compliance procedures such as Good Agricultural Practice (GAP), necessary for agricultural produce to enter international supply chains. These practices need to be introduced within rural communities so products produced are accepted in international markets.

These compliance processes can be locally enhanced to include halal (Islamic compliance) certification, thus widening the compliance process to one inclusive certification, which would greatly enhance the desirability of Malaysian produce, especially within the exponentially growing halal markets worldwide.

Paddy FieldsWhole sectors like rice paddy production need to be reconfigured from the bottom up so they can become competitive. The paddy production process requires the hands of a number of contractors during field preparation, planting, cultivation, harvesting, and processing stages. Paddy production is an uncompetitive sector.

New methods like System of Rice Intensification (SRI) could be adopted, and more popular aromatic varieties of rice cultivated to increase industry viability. The rice monopoly held by the government regulator Bernas could be ended to allow new approaches to rice products and marketing by entrepreneurial individuals. Such an approach could drastically decrease production costs and add value to rice products, redistributing this added value back to farmers.

University and institutional research should change focus towards communities rather than using scare research funds to chase medals at exhibitions that have no research or commercial significance in places like Geneva and Seoul. The technology developed by Malaysian institutions should be simple, applicable to community enterprise, and appropriate to the size of the enterprises operating in rural areas.

This appropriate technology, if effective and viable is itself a source of competitive advantage that would enable rural enterprises to compete in the marketplace.

This is a major challenge to Malaysian researchers to come out from their academic institutions and into the community with solutions that can enrich society. If state awards with titles were recommended for those who developed technology benefiting the community, one would be sure there would be great focus and resources allocated towards solving rural problems by academic researchers.

Locally relevant new crops research programs should be undertaken to identify locally viable new crops, which are developed as close as possible to the communities it is intended to benefit, with the community’s input and cooperation through Participatory Action Research (PAR), rather than centralizing research under a national agenda. New crops research should adopt an ‘farm to folk’ research and development approach, including the development of know how for processing new downstream products.

FowlThis requires support through developing new supply/value chains that will carry new micro-enterprises to new markets, with new products. The Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA) has a superb distribution infrastructure that could be used to do this. Primary and processed food products can be supplemented with handicrafts, traditional Malay wedding items, batik, leather goods, pewter, and Malay fashion products to develop a national range of indigenous products that can be marketed through franchised retail outlets.

These products could be the result of a host of new rural activities that are developed at micro-SME level. If Fairtrade shops in Europe and OTOP shops in Thailand are any indication of the viability of this proposition, these shops would be extremely profitable.

The nature of entrepreneurship education also needs reconsideration. Currently universities play a primary role in training entrepreneurs, but current courses tend to be academically full of theory, teaching more about entrepreneurship rather than how people can become entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is more about creativity than intelligence. Yet universities focus on measuring intelligence through assignment and exam, rather than project formats. Entrepreneurship education should be technically based and taught with a ‘hands on’ approach, rather than the stiff classroom theory approach.

Entrepreneurship education needs to be refocused towards vocational and community education mediums to reach those in rural communities who need assistance through this form of education.

An entrepreneurial community requires finance which the established banks are hesitant to provide, even with the government sponsored credit guarantee program under the Credit Guarantee Corporation (CGC). Rural community savings cooperatives can be developed as savings and micro-lending institutions, owned by the community, run for the community, by the community itself.

These savings cooperatives can operate according to Islamic finance procedures where venture risk is shared by both the entrepreneur and institution, and as supplementary activities, run special education, Haj and Umrah funds for community members.

These measures would create a new community enrichment rather than a ‘KPI’ orientated development paradigm. All of these measures individually exist and operate successfully in other member ASEAN states today.

New crop research is very much needed to ensure communities are able to successfully adapt to a changing environment due to climate change. Over the next few years, some crops may provide better yields, while others will drastically decline in their productive capabilities. In addition food production for increasing urban populations and restoring water quality will become very critical issues.

There must be a renewed interest in sustainability on the part of both policy makers and communities, as Malaysia’s sustainability is tied up with rural evolution. New forms of community education are needed outside of the traditional education system to deliver community needed skills. The failure to achieve this will result in continued population depletion as the youth abandon rural areas for the cities.

For more than five years there has been talk about the need for change. This has usually been expressed in political terms at the cost of looking at the cultural, economic, and spiritual development. Current development paradigms have eroded traditional Malaysian society values to the point where it is just a national memory and a long gone narrative.

These old narratives once housed Malaysia’s sense of unity in being collectively proud as a nation, where the rituals of ‘balik kampong’ (returning home) during festivals, smelling the scent of durian during season, rendang during festivals, fishing in the longkang (irrigation drains), and flying kites over paddy fields. These activities once signified what was most valued by communities.

Logo FAMA Malaysia BestHere lies the opportunity to enrich rural society along the vibrant cultural traditions that the country once thrived upon; building self sufficient and sustaining communities. These communities would be much better immune to economic downturns. Communities based upon indigenous knowledge and skills will develop much greater cultural pride which has become exhausted through Malaysia’s occidental industrial growth paradigm.

This is the fundamental issue at stake for Malaysians to decide whether the same country will spiritually exist in the future, or be gone and replaced with something else. The rural communities are the last custodians of Malaysia’s culture and this is where efforts must be made to preserve the spirit of Malaysia, if it is to survive.

The role of government linked corporations (GLCs) in Malaysia’s corridor development projects has not necessarily taken into account the best interests of the communities they have sought to ‘develop’. The collateral damage of this ‘development’ may be too much to bear. If rural development serves vested interests, it will surely be piece meal, unbalanced and ultimately destructive. Future development must enrich rather than destroy culture with blind materialism produced through current paradigms. This requires a rethink on rural development in Malaysia before what once mattered to Malaysians is destroyed forever.

Rough-Edged Atomic Pioneer

May 29, 2013

NY Times: Books of The Times

Rough-Edged Atomic Pioneer

‘Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center,’ by Ray Monk

By Janet Maslin (05-27-13)

Ray Monk had begun work on his J. Robert Oppenheimer biography in 2005, when Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s “American Prometheus” was published. That book, billed as “the first full-scale biography” of Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist, gave Mr. Monk good reason to worry. It covers scientific, historical, moral, political and personal aspects of Oppenheimer’s life, conveying his arrogance, brilliance, self-destructiveness and lady-killing charisma. What gaps remained for Mr. Monk to fill?

R OpThe introduction to Mr. Monk’s “Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center” cites at least one of them: physics.

“One would never know from reading Bird and Sherwin’s book how much of Oppenheimer’s time and intellectual energy was taken up with thinking about mesons,” Mr. Monk writes sniffily, noting that the subatomic particle does not even appear in Bird and Sherwin’s index. Mr. Monk’s own book mentions “Thirty Years of Mesons,” a lecture delivered by Oppenheimer in 1966 to the American Physical Society. And according to his index, Mr. Monk gives the meson its due on at least 21 out of 695 pages.

This is a strange way for Mr. Monk to compete. He is a professor of philosophy, with excellent books about Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell to his credit. And he is not a great explicator of physics, merely a not-bad one. Would anyone seriously interested in Oppenheimer seek out a biography for this?: “What, really, is an electron? A particle? A wave? Could it possibly be both? Might it possibly be neither? How should one, if indeed one should at all, picture an electron and its movements?”

It’s also odd that Mr. Monk (right) adopts a vaguely atomic metaphor to describe Ray MonkOppenheimer’s life. His book appeared in England under the main title “In the Centre,” as if Oppenheimer were a nucleus and not a person. Time and again he hits that analogy hard, emphasizing the importance of logistics in Oppenheimer’s personal and intellectual life.

It’s true that he played the crucial role in secret atomic research conducted in Los Alamos, N.M., and that he would never escape central responsibility for creating the atomic bomb. But Mr. Monk takes a needlessly mechanistic approach to a man who has seemed much more interestingly human in other, keener studies.

This lengthy book does aspire to be more comprehensive than earlier volumes. Before Oppenheimer even makes his entrance into Mr. Monk’s narrative, much has been said about the German-Jewish tradition into which he was born, the privilege that allowed him to be so aloof and the Ethical Culture beliefs that shaped his family and education. Mr. Monk also writes at length about anti-Semitism and the kinds of Jews who practiced it, with Oppenheimer among them.

As part of his overall arrogance and superciliousness, Oppenheimer allowed himself to be treated as the antithesis of a Jewish stereotype. He grew from, in his own words, “an unctuous, repulsively good little boy” into such an urbane prodigy that Harvard never bothered to discriminate against him. A quota system applied to Jews in 1922, when Oppenheimer arrived there.

In the earlier, formative chapters, which are better than the book’s treks over the best-known, most public part of Oppenheimer’s adult life, Mr. Monk also illustrates how easily Oppenheimer’s snobbery trumped anybody else’s.

“Instead of 5,000 keen, intellectually alive, well-read young men who have come here to think out ideas and to learn the ideas of others,” he complained about his fellow Harvard students, “I find 5,000 tawdry yokels, yanked from fat farms and snoring small towns, to bellow at ball games.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Monk believes Oppenheimer was intimidated by the broad sophistication he found at Harvard and later Cambridge. Not until he arrived at Göttingen University in 1926, at the age of 22, did he feel free of academic elitism, in a place without “the weight of 700 years of tradition bearing down upon it.”

RO with EinsteinBy this point in his book, Mr. Monk has begun to explain quantum physics and drop the names of the heavyweights. Here is a book that ticks off the reactions of Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, Born and Dirac to Schrödinger’s “wave mechanics,” and shows how remarkably smoothly Oppenheimer insinuated himself into those ranks.

The 1927 “On the Quantum Theory of Molecules” which he co-wrote with Max Born, may not have been one of Born’s greatest hits, but it became one of Oppenheimer’s better-known works. Without Mr. Monk, many readers interested in Oppenheimer’s life might not have known that at all.

Mr. Monk does a strong job of explaining how Oppenheimer, with unwanted assistance from Nazi Germany, helped shift the center of theoretical physics from Europe to California (he taught at both Berkeley and Caltech). That shift leads the book to Los Alamos during wartime, though it is notably more colorless than other accounts of the guarded community there. The familiarity continues through the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the conscience-searing effects on Oppenheimer of his breakthroughs in the science of mass destruction.

Mr. Monk gives very detailed accounts of F.B.I. surveillance of Oppenheimer and those around him. And he replays Oppenheimer’s familiar, contorted, much-dramatized testimony to the Atomic Energy Commission hearings in 1954, which stripped him of his security clearance and branded him a risk to national security.

The remainder of Mr. Monk’s book describes Oppenheimer’s relatively glamorous years leading the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., the ongoing debate about his reputation, and the growing infrequency of his appearances as a public figure. “Thirty Years of Mesons” notwithstanding, he withdrew into a life that is only sketchily explained here.

It is typical of Mr. Monk’s distanced view of his subject that he writes this, in conclusion, about Oppenheimer’s wife and two children: “Oppenheimer loved Kitty, Toni and Peter, but he was never able to be the reliably affectionate husband or father they needed him to be. The problems he had as a child forming close bonds with other people had remained with him throughout his life.” Though Oppenheimer left behind nearly 300 boxes of papers, Mr. Monk says they contain “remarkably little that gives away anything of an intimate nature.” That’s hard to believe. Other biographers have seen Oppenheimer at closer range, in living color.

A version of this review appeared in print on May 28, 2013, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Rough-Edged Atomic Pioneer.

Sudut Fikiran Bakri Musa

28hb. Januari, 2013

Sudut Fikiran Bakri Musa

Masa Depan Melayu

Kalau lebih ramai lagi memberi dan menyumbang daripada mereka yang bergantung dan menerima, cepatlah maju masyarakat itu…

Dr Bakri Musa agak asing kepada sesetengah pembaca Malaysia. Tambahan pula kepada sesetengah pembaca yang kurang terdedah dengan medium internet berbahasa Inggeris, maka mereka dijangka sedikit kerugian apabila idea-idea bernas dari penulis dan pemikir hebat seperti Dr Bakri tidak dapat diakses kepada mereka.

Suaris telah mengambil inisiatif untuk mendekatkan pembaca berbahasa Melayu khususnya dengan buah fikiran Dr Bakri. Selaku anak kelahiran negeri Sembilan, dan mewakili generasi awal Bumiputera yang mendapat peluang pendidikan luar Negara, Dr Bakri tidak pernah melupakan asal-usulnya dan membalas budi tanah airnya melalui senarai idea dan tulisan, yang sebahagiannya dibukukan.

Liberating the Malay MindTerbaru, beliau muncul dengan koleksi tulisannya yang diberi judul ‘Liberating The Malay Mind’ yang diterbit oleh ZI Publication. Sekalipun bermastautin di Amerika Syarikat, membaca naskah tulisan beliau menyebabkan kita berasa amat dekat dengannya.

Dalam kesempatan ini, Dr Bakri berbincang mengenai topik yang penting dan amat relevan dengan situasi orang Melayu di Negara kita, iaitu “Bangsa Melayu dan Masa Depan’. Warga Melayu dilihat berada di persimpangan dalam banyak perkara; persimpangan politik, ekonomi, pembangunan, pendidikan dan sosial amnya. Pendek kata, bagaimanakah rupa perkembangan masa depan orang Melayu dalam dekad akan datang dan bagaimanakah mereka akan menghadapinya?

Ikuti wawancara tersebut selengkapnya.

Suaris:  Apa khabar Dr? Diharapkan Dr dan isteri sentiasa sihat dan diberkati Allah hendaknya.

Dr Bakri:  Beres!  Sehat sahaja, Alhamdullillah!

Suaris : Dr banyak menulis berkenaan ketidaksediaan orang Melayu dalam menghadapi masa depan mereka? Sejauh mana tidak bersedianya mereka ini?

Dr Bakri : Di dalam buku saya Towards A Competitive Malaysia (Ke arah Malaysia Membangun) saya mengemukakan kesimpulan ini: Kemajuan atau kemunduran sesuatu masyarakat dan negeri tergantung kepada empat tiang – pemimpin (leaders), rakyat (people), budaya (culture), dan alam sekitar (geography).

Daripada empat unsur itu, hanya satu sahaja – alam sekitar – yang tidak boleh di ubah. Sama ada negara itu kaya dengan minyak dan tanahnya subur adalah berkat daripada Tuhan. Bersyukur dan untunglah rakyatnya.

Towards a Competitive Malaysia

Tetapi kalau negara yang bertuah itu mempunyai pemimpin yang korup dan tidak bijak, rakyatnya tidak mempunyai kebolehan atau kepakaran, dan budayanya merosot dan suka membazir, lama kelamaan masyarakat itu akan mundur. Banyak contoh di dunia sekarang, antaranya Brunei dan negera Arab.

Di sebaliknya, jika alam atau geografi negeri itu tidak bertuah, tanahnya penuh dengan gunung-gunung yang tinggi dan dibalut salji yang tebal, dan cuacanya sejuk menyebabkan tanaman boleh tumbuh hanya empat atau lima bulan sahaja setahun, tetapi jika mutu pemimpin, rakyat dan budaya masyarakat itu tinggi, ia akan maju dan terus maju. Contohnya Switzerland.

Kita mudah faham betapa mustahaknya pemimpin yang bijak, cekap dan beramanah. Pemimpin yang saya maknakan bukan sahaja dalam medan politik dan pentabiran negeri (menteri dan penghulu), tetapi juga dalam agama (mufti dan ustaz), masyarakat (sultan dan raja raja), pendidikan (professor dan guru guru), ibu bapa dll.

Mutu rakyat atau modal insan (human capital) tergantung kepada dua ukuran: kesihatan dan pendidikan. Kalau rakyat kita tidak sihat (ketagih dadah, dijangkiti malaria dan denggi), mereka tidak akan cekap dan berupaya. Kalau dasar pelajaran kita mundur, pemuda pemudi kita tidak akan mahir.

Seseorang makhluk itu adalah menyumbang dan memberi, atau bergantung dan menerima daripada masyarakat. Kalau lebih ramai lagi memberi dan menyumbang daripada mereka yang bergantung dan menerima, cepatlah maju masyarakat itu. Sebaliknya jika lebih ramai menerima dan bergantung cepatlah mundur masyarakat atau negeri itu.

Apa yang saya maksudkan dengan istilah budaya ialah acara acara, badan-badan serta adat resam dan nilai-nilai masyarakat itu.

Cuba ambil badan-badan. Bila saya beli daging di kedai saya tahu ada badan-badan dan undang-undang yang mengesahkan bahawa daging itu bersih dan halal. Kalau tidak, ramai pembeli yang akan sakit dan mati akibat makan daging busuk. Bagitu juga jika kita tidak ada badan dan undang-undang yang kita tidak percayai, siapa yang akan mengesahkan bahawa rumah yang saya nak beli itu betul-betul dipunyai oleh si penjual? Banyak masa and jasa akan membazir hanya untuk mengesahkan yang penjual betul-betul tuan punya harta yang nak dijual.

Bagitu juga bila saya simpan wang di bank, saya yakin duit saya itu tidak akan hilang dilarikan oleh manager bank itu.

Tentang nilai budaya, jika kita hormatkan penipu, pencuri dan penyangak, itu memberi tauladan kepada orang ramai terutama yang muda. Mereka pun akan menjadi penyamun dan pencuri seperti kaum Mafia di Italy Selatan.

Keempat empat unsur-unsur itu bertindak balas antara satu dan lain. Maknanya, rakyat yang bijak akan memilih atau mengundi pemimpin yang sama bijak dan tidak akan melayan atau tunduk kepada pemimpin yang angkuh dan penipu. Bagitu juga pemimpin yang bijak akan membina dasar pendidikan yang membolehkan murid murid menerima ilmu dan kemahiran yang membolehkan mereka menjadi rakyat yang soleh.

Rakyat dan pemimpin yang bijak akan mengunakan dan memelihara alam sekitar nya dengan bijak. Misalnya Cancun, Mexico, dalam tahun lima puluhan dulu adalah satu kampung nelayan yang miskin. Tetapi oleh kebijakan pemimpin serta mutu rakyat yang bertambah tinggi, Cancun sekarang bukan lagi pusat nelayan tetapi pusat pelancongan yang masyhur dan maju. Nelayan yang dahulunya miskin sekarang mewah berkerja sebagai “tour guide” untuk pelancong dari America dan Europah yang tiba beribu untuk memancing sebagai sport.

Bila kita periksa keadaan masyarakat Melayu sekarang dari sudut keempat empat elemen yang saya terangkan diatas, iaitu pemimpin, mutu rakyat, budaya, dan alam sekitar kita, apakah markah yang patut kita bagi?

Cuba tengok alam sekitar kita. Pantai-pantai kita indah, ombaknya biru, airnya tidak sejuk, dan matahari selalu sahaja bercahaya. Patutnya berjuta orang Eropah dan Jepun melancong ke negeri kita. Kalah Cancun! Apa sebab tidak begitu? Tengoklah, sampah merata rata, kemudahan awam saperti tandas dan bilik mandi tak ada, kalau ada pun kotor.

Di mana salahnya?  Pemimpin? Betul! Rakyat? Betul juga! Budaya? Susahlah nak cakap! Di dalam buku saya Towards A Competitive Malaysia saya huraikan pelbagai cara memimpin, cara-cara untuk meninggikan mutu rakyat, meninggikan unsur-usur budaya kita, serta membela alam sekitar kita supaya mengutungi masyarakat.

II   Melayu Perlu Merdeka

Masyarakat Melayu sekarang berkehendakkan pertolongan racun Roundup bukan baja Urea untuk menghapuskan ahli lalang dalam masyarakat kita. Kebun kita sudah dibanjiri lalang…

DALAM siri temuramah Suaris bersama Dr Bakri Musa bahagian kedua, Dr menyatakan pentingnya orang Melayu bersama pemimpin-pemimpinnya melakukan anjakan dengan mengubah pemikiran mereka ke arah kemajuan dan rasionaliti. Mereka tidak sepatutnya taksub kepada ajaran mahu pun arahan yang meminta mereka supaya berfikiran jumud, mundur ke belakang sekalipun arahan itu datangnya dari seorang ulama atau pemimpin utama. Mereka juga diseru supaya membuang kebergantungan berlebihan mereka kepada tongkat (bantuan kerajaan) supaya mereka lebih berdikari dan percaya diri.

Ikuti temuramah tersebut selengkapnya.

Suaris:  Dr Mahathir dalam satu rancangan di Astro Awani beberapa hari lepas berkata orang Melayu akan terus ketinggalan sekiranya tidak dibantu, yang diistilahkan beliau sebagai tongkat. Adakah Dr bersetuju orang Melayu terus diberikan tongkat berkenaan. Sampai bila bantuan ini perlu diteruskan?

Bakri MusaDr Bakri:  Kalau orang Melayu sekarang masih lagi kebelakangan selepas lebih daripada 55 tahun di “bantu” oleh kerajaan UMNO, kita patut periksa dengan teliti apakah yang disifatkan “bantuan” itu.

Sebagai ibu bapa kita sedia maklum betapa mustahaknya cara kita membantu anak anak kita. Kalau kita selalu sahaja memanjakan, jangan harapkan mereka menjadi cemerlang. Kalau kita terlalu kuat atau “strict,” mungkin mereka akan hilang ketegasan sendiri (self-confidence). Begitu juga kalau kita selalu memburukkan dan memberatkan kelemahan mereka.

Dalam rawatan moden, seseorang yang sudah dibedah tulang punggungnya jarang diberi tongkat; kalau diberi hanya untuk seminggu dua sahaja. Sebaliknya, pesakit diberi physiotherapy untuk tujuan berjalan sendiri tanpa tongkat. Pesakit yang saya bedah, pada keesokan harinya saya menyuruh dia bangun berjalan tanpa pertolongan.

Banyak bahayanya jika si pesakit terbaring sahaja di atas katil, antaranya darah beku (blood clot) yang boleh mengakibatkan maut. Pesakit yang saya bedah kerana appendicitis biasanya keluar dari hospital pada esok hari dan kembali berkerja dalam tempoh seminggu. Dua puloh tahun dahulu pesakit seumpama (akan mengambil masa yang lama) baru nak keluar dari hospital!

Satu wawasan perubatan ialah jika badan kita (sama ada urat, tulang, dan juga otak) tidak di kerjakan atau dilatih ia akan menjadi lemah dan reput. Jika saya ikatkan bujang (pemuda) yang kuat dan sehat di atas katil dan “bantu” dia makan, mandi dan sebagainya supaya dia tak payah pun bergerak satu urat, tak sampai seminggu hamba Allah itu tidak akan boleh bangun sendiri; dia akan memohon tongkat sebab badannya sudah menjadi lemah. Itu bahayanya “menolong” berlebih- lebihan.

Kita perlu kaji dengan teliti mengapa “pertolongan” yang diberi kepada kaum kita oleh kerajaan UMNO tidak berkesan.

Bakri's Book

Dr. Mahathir pernah merawat pesakit. Kalau si pesakit tidak sembuh dengan ubat dan rawatan yang diberi, patutkah si doktor terus dengan ubat dan rawatan yang sama bertahun- tahun? Mungkin si pesakit patut dibantu dengan Penicillin, bukan Panadol.

Kadang kadang, walau pun ubat yang diberi itu sesuai, mungkin sukatan yang diberi tidak mencukupi atau berlebihan. Betul, Panadol akan menurunkan demam, tetapi hanya jika diberi dalam sukatan yang berpatutan. Kalau diberi suku pil sahaja, demam takkan turun, dan kita akan salahkan ubat!

Kalau kita bagi ubat berlebihan, itu pun boleh menjadi bisa dan bahaya. Di Amerika setiap tahun berapa orang kanak-kanak maut kerana ibu memberi Tylenol (ubat seperti Panadol) berlebihan mengikut sukatan yang sesuai untuk orang dewasa.

Kalaupun kita bagi ubat yang sesuai serta sukatan yang berpatutan tetapi pesakit masih tidak sembuh, ini bermakna kita patut dan mesti tukar “diagnosis” dan rawatan kita. Penyakit seperti appendicitis memerlukan pembedahan, bukan penicillin.

Mungkin pembaca kurang selesa dengan metafora perubatan, jadi saya gunakan gambaran peladang. Di ladang, kalau kita tidak cabutkan dengan habis-habisan termasuk uratnya, lalang akan gembur dan menimbun serta merosakkan tanaman yang berharga. Apa lagi kalau kita “tolong” lalang itu dengan membajakannya!

Kebun UMNO sekarang ditimbuni lalang. Kalau kita hendak menolong UMNO dan orang Melayu pada umumnya, kita patut semburkan racun Round Up untuk membunuh lalang-lalang itu supaya kita boleh tanam benda yang berguna dan mereka berpeluang bangun. Tetapi apa yang kita buat sekarang? Kita bajakan lalang! Alasannya, betul lalang, tetapi lalang Melayu! Kita mesti tolong sebab Melayu!

“Pertolongan” yang dihebohkan oleh Dr. Mahathir dan pemimpin-pemimpin UMNO saya sifatkan seumpama membajakan lalang. Akibatnya banyak dan lumayan lalang Melayu sekarang; Isa Samad sekarang sembur sebagai peneraju FELDA. Dia dibuktikan bersalah “wang politik” oleh kerabatnya dalam UMNO beberapa tahun lepas. Khir Toyo satu lagi lalang Melayu yang sekarang sembur dalam istana kayangannya yang dibiayai oleh (wang) rakyat.

Di bahagian swasta, lalang Tajuddin Ramli hampir mengorbankan kebun MAS. Banyak lagi lalang di Utusan dan New Straits Times. Dalilnya, pembaca NST sekarang tak sampai separuh daripada sepuluh tahun dahulu. Lalang Melayulah yang menimbun dan akhirnya memusnahkan Bank Bumiputra. Kita tidak hairan dengan kehijauan dan kesuburan lalang, walau pun lalang Melayu!

Pemimpin Melayu seperti Mahathir patut tekun mencari jalan lain yang lebih bererti dan berkesan untuk menolong kaum kita. Jangan hanya suka memuaskan hati dengan mencaci dan membangkitkan kononnya kelemahan bangsa kita. Masyarakat Melayu sekarang berkehendakkan pertolongan racun Roundup bukan baja Urea untuk menghapuskan ahli lalang dalam masyarakat kita. Kebun kita sudah dibanjiri lalang.

Ada pepatah Kristian yang saya terjemahkan lebih kurang seperti berikut. Kalau kita menolong si miskin dengan memberinya seekor ikan, dia akan dapat makan hanya sehari. Tetapi kalau kita tolong dengan mengajar dia mengail, dia akan dapat makan selama hidup. Kalau tolong lebih sedikit, seumpama memberi pinjaman untuk membeli sampan, dia akan mengail laut yang luas dan dapat menanggung sekampung.

Kita tidak menolong kaum kita dengan memberi kuota masuk universiti dengan senang, lesen mengimport dan kontrak-kontrak lumayan, atau menyuruh perusahaan bangsa lain mengambil pengarah-pengarah (biasanya ahli politik) Melayu. Jauh sekali! Itu hanya membajakan lalang. Mereka hanya “ersatz capitalists” atau perusahaan menenggek, bukan tulen.

Pertolongan yang lebih bermakna dan berkatnya berpanjangan ialah jika kita menolong orang Melayu berfikir sendiri. Bebaskan otak orang Melayu. Kalau ungkapan kita masa tahun lima puluhan dahulu ialah “Merdeka Tanah Melayu,” sekarang slogan kita mestilah, “Merdeka Minda Melayu!

Itulah tema buku saya terakhir, “Liberating The Malay Mind.” Apakah yang saya maksudkan dengan minda merdeka? Konsep ini lebih terang dijelaskan melalui cerita seorang alim, Mullah Nasaruddin. Ia terkenal kerana mengajar melalui contoh yang ringkas dan jenaka diri sendiri.

Dia ada jiran yang suka meminjam keldai Mullah tetapi lalai untuk mengembalikannya. Pada satu hari jiran itu datang untuk meminjam binatang itu. Pak Mullah, (yang telah) menjangkakan permintaan itu, telah dulunya menyorokkan binatang itu di dalam reban dan tidak ternampak dari luar. Bila jiran itu memohon, Mullah Nasaruddin dengan lenang membalas, “Keldai ku sudah dipinjam oleh abangku semalam.”

Bila jiran itu kecewa pusing balik, dia kedengaran binatang itu melaung dalam reban. “Kau katakan keldai telah dipinjam oleh abang kau.”

Bakri on Education

Mullah serta-merta menjawab, “Kau lebih percayai ringkikan keldai lebih daripada suara Mullah?” Seorang yang mempunyai minda merdeka lebih mempercayai laungan keldai itu; mereka yang mempunyai minda yang masih dipenjarakan oleh adat dan budaya akan turut mempercayai Mullah walaupun keldai itu ada di hadapan mata.

Kita mesti melatih orang Melayu supaya bila kita dengar laungan keldai kita mesti mempercayai telinga kita walau pun Pak Lebai mengatakan itu hanya suara rekaan sahaja.

Dalam buku terakhir, saya mengemukakan empat cara untuk membebaskan minda Melayu. Pertama, membebaskan sebaran am dan punca-punca maklumat dan berita serta pandangan. Kedua, mengadakan sistem pendidikan yang bebas (liberal education) dan berlandasan kukuh atas asas sains dan matematik.

Ketiga, mendorongkan perusahan dan perdagangan dalam masyarakat kita; iaitu mengalakkan orang Melayu menjadi kaum perusahaan. Bila kita berdagang, kita sifatkan orang bangsa lain bukan sebagai pendatang tetapi bakal pelanggan kita. Maknanya, asas keuntungan kita!

Keempat, kita mesti kaji semula bagaimana kita mengajar agama kepada anak- anak kita serta bagaimana kita mengamalkan agama yang suci ini. Islam telah membebaskan kaum Bedouin Arab yang kanun, membebaskan mereka dari Zaman Jahiliyah kepada Zaman Cahaya. Begitu juga Islam patut membebaskan orang Melayu memulai dengan membebaskan minda kita.

Tanpa membebaskan minda Melayu, tidak kira berapa billion pertolongan kita beri, seberapa lumayan kontrak, AP serta kuota-kuota lain kita hadiahkan, atau berapa senangnya anak-anak kita masuk universiti, itu semuanya tidak bermakna atau berkesan. Semuanya itu bukan “pertolongan” yang tulin, bahkan hanya candu untuk syok sendiri dan hisapan khayalan sahaja. Semuanya saya umpamakan membajakan lalang.

Sebagai negara merdeka Malaysia telah mencapai banyak kejayaan. Kalau kita merdekakan minda Melayu, tidak terhad kejayaan kita sebagai perseorangan dan juga sebagai masyarakat. Yang indahnya, bila minda kita merdeka, ia tidak boleh lagi dipenjarakan.

Tidak payahlah kita ragukan unsur-unsur seperti globalisasi dan neokolonial. Kita tidak lagi bimbang bila anak kita fasih dalam bahasa Inggeris atau bahasa asing. Dengan minda merdeka kita tidak akan berasa terancam bila makhluk Allah lain menggunakan istilah ‘Allah’.

Merdekakan minda Melayu! Itulah satu pertolongan yang berkesan dan tak terharga!Berbalik semula ke ‘tongkat’ yang paling dihargai oleh Mahathir dan kerabatnya dalam UMNO, bagaimana kita boleh mengharap orang-orang kampung membuang tongkat kecil kayu mereka sedangkan tongkat emas yang beberapa lagi indah dan besar diberi kepada sultan-sultan, raja- raja dan menteri- menteri?

Kita marah bila Pak Mat di Kampong Kerinchi menyelewengkan wang pinjaman MARA dua tiga ratus ringgit untuk memajukan warung kopinya untuk membeli baju sekolah anaknya, tetapi bila suami menteri menyelewengkan berjuta- juta duit rakyat untuk membeli kondo mewah, pemimpin seperti Mahathir senyap sahaja.

Melayu tak payah diberi tongkat apa-apa pun. Pertolongan yang patut diberi ialah untuk membebaskan minda kita. Kalau hendak beri pertolongan, hanya tolonglah sedikit mencabut lalang di kebun kita supaya pisang, timun dan kacang kita boleh berpeluang tumbuh. Kalau enggan berbuat demikian, tolong janganlah bajakan lalang tu!

A Tribute to Sir Patrick Moore

December 17, 2012

A Tribute to Sir Patrick Moore

by Professor Martin Barstow, University of Leicester (December 11, 2012)

Sir Patrick MooreGrowing up a the time of the Moon Landings, like many others I was inspired to become a scientist by Patrick through his coverage of Apollo and his appearances on Sky at Night. He already had a strong connection with the University when I joined the Physics and Astronomy Department and it was a thrill to meet him in person for the first time.

His support for our work has been tremendous over the years and he became a patron of our efforts to create the National Space Centre here in the Leicester (the planetarium is now named after him).

I was delighted when he was awarded the Distinguished Honorary Fellowship of the University in recognition of 50 years of Sky at Night together with his association with the University and was privileged to act as his host for the day. The weather was terrible, but Patrick insisted we walk to the De Montfort Hall. It was slow progress, as everyone we passed stopped to say hello and he took time for a personal word with all.

I always had an ambition to appear on Sky at Night as a young astronomer and, in recent years have had the good fortune to be involved in a number of programmes. Becoming part of Sky at Night is like joining an extended family, with Patrick being the glue that held it all together. He was one of nature’s gentlemen with time for everyone. His hospitality was generous and trips to his home at Selsey became events for my whole family.

When my daughter, Jo, was about to start a PhD working on Venus, Patrick remarked, “I wrote a book on that”. Several days later a copy of the book appeared with a personal message inscribed on the title page. My musician son, Nick, was allowed to try out the famous xylophone and caused some consternation for the BBC film crew when Patrick insisted on delaying a recording while he “dug out” some music for him.

We last saw Patrick in person at a wonderful evening in Selsey celebrating the 55 year anniversary of Sky at Night earlier this year. Many of the Sky at Night family were there and we closed the evening with a truly terrible, but enjoyable (to us at least), karaoke rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. I am not sure what Brian May (another great friend of Patrick’s) would have thought of that.

I have many fond memories of Patrick that I will aways treasure. He was a great man and a great friend. I will miss him tremendously, but he will be missed by millions more.

Professor Martin Barstow, Head of the College of Science and Engineering

What Dr Mahathir told war survivor Soros

September 27 ,2012

What Dr. Mahathir told War Survivor Soros

by Steven Gan of Malaysiakini. com

EXCLUSIVE: Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad told billionaire financier George Soros, a survivor of the Second World War, how he had personally witnessed a British soldier being killed by Japanese troops.

In a three-page personal letter he wrote to Soros six years ago to seek the support of his then-nemesis for his Perdana Leadership Foundation’s global anti-war efforts, Mahathir recalled the unforgettable incident in Alor Setar during the Japanese invasion of Malaya.

“The bayoneting death of a young British soldier by the Japanese in my hometown had left a lasting impression on me,” Mahathir wrote in his January 11, 2006 letter, a copy of which is with Malaysiakini.

“It may seem a minor incident but I cried for this young boy, 8,000 miles from home and family, feeling the bayonet piercing his body. And he screamed two or three times. And then there was silence. I was a teenager and I could not help imagining the thing happening to me. How could we kill people so cruelly and feel no sense of guilt.”

According to author Barry Wain in his book, Malaysia Maverick, this was one of the traumatic events that shattered Mahathir’s teenage innocence, and “thoroughly politicised him and changed the course of his life”.

Horrors of war

Soros himself is no stranger to the horrors of war. Born in Budapest, Hungary, to a Jewish family, he survived the Battle of Budapest, where German and Soviet troops fought house-to-house during the last days of the Second World War. In 1947, still a teen, Soros migrated to post-war England.

Mahathir had written to Soros to urge the much-maligned currency speculator to join him in his Global Peace Forum, which sought to criminalise war and outlaw it as an option to settle international conflicts.

“I write to invite you to lend your name to this effort to achieve the ultimate human rights – the right to life,” Mahathir says in his January 11, 2006 letter.

Both Octogenarians – Mahathir is 87 and Soros, 82 – have had a bitter war of words, with Mahathir calling Soros a “moron” and blaming the currency speculator for igniting the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, while Soros hit back by describing the Malaysian Premier as a “menace to his country”.

Mahathir also says in the letter: “We regard killing a person as a crime punishable with the most extreme punishment.It seems to me hypocritical – on the one hand, regarding killing as murder and a serious crime, and at the same time training our young men to kill people, ordering them to kill and glorifying their deeds.”

‘Identical views’

In highlighting their common war-time experiences both men had witnessed when they were in their teens, Mahathir had hoped that the billionaire philanthropist would “lend his name” to the global anti-war movement.

“Whatever may be the differences between us, we seem to have identical views on war, i.e. on killing people in the pursuit of a national agenda.”

It is not known what Soros had said in his response to Mahathir, but it is likely to have been a polite “no”, given that he did not join the Global Peace Forum.

Mahathir met with Soros in Kuala Lumpur 11 months after his letter to the billionaire financier, during which the two foes buried the hatchet.

Following the meeting, Mahathir said he accepted that Soros was not involved in the devaluation of Malaysia’s currency. However, four days ago, Mahathir dug up the hatchet and took another stab at Soros, claiming that the international financier was seeking regime change in Malaysia.

The enmity between Mahathir and Soros can be traced back to the early 1990s when Bank Negara Malaysia – then considered by financial observers as a rogue central bank for dabbling heavily in high-risk currency speculation – lost a whopping RM5.7 billion to the likes of Soros.

Yesterday: Dr M asks for Soros’ help in peace project

Malaysia slides from 21st to 25th Slot in Global Competitiveness Ranking

September 6, 2012

Global Competitiveness Ranking: Malaysia  slides faom 21st to 25th Slot

by Koh Jun Lin (09-05-12)@

Malaysia has dropped from 21st to 25th slot out of 144 countries in global competitiveness, according to the Global Competitiveness Report 2012 – 2013.

The annual report, released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) today, also shows that Malaysia’s ‘technological readiness’ is ranked 51st, maintaining a five-year downtrend.

This was despite the overall score remaining relatively steady at 5.06 points out of a maximum of seven points, compared to 5.08 previously.

“Malaysia and other countries are putting in a lot of initiatives. There are four countries which are faster growing in terms of their competitiveness here, and they are South Korea (ranked 19th), Luxemburg (22nd), New Zealand (23rd) and the United Arab Emirates (24th),” said Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC) Senior Director Lee Saw Hoon in explaining the drop in ranking.

Lee was speaking at a press conference at MPC’s headquarters in Petaling Jaya today in conjunction with the release of the report.She also said that the report also “upgrades” Malaysia’s status from an efficiency-driven economy to a country that is “in transition” to an innovation-driven economy.

In the report, the criteria for the latter classification is to have a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita between USD9,000 to USD17,000 and the change entails a shift in the weightage of various performance indicators towards those that promote innovation.

The report also places Malaysia’s competitiveness second to Singapore in the Asean region, and eighth in the Asia-Pacific region.

Low level of technological readiness

With regard to Malaysia’s technological readiness, the report notes three areas that require improvement, namely: international internet bandwidth in kilobits per second per user (ranked 83rd), broadband internet subscriptions per 100 population (68th) and mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 population (64th).

“Its (Malaysia’s) low level of technological readiness (51st) is surprising, especially given its achievements in other areas of innovation and business sophistication and the country’s focus on promoting the use of ICT.

“Lack of progress in this area will significantly undermine Malaysia’s efforts to become a knowledge-based economy by the end of the decade,” the report wrote.

In a press statement today, International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed said there is a discrepancy between perception and what the data shows, and does not reflect Malaysia’s actual condition.

“Towards this end, the government will ensure that consolidated and comprehensive data and information is provided to international data sources such as the International Communications Union and the World Intellectual Property Organisation,” he said.

NONEMustapa (right) added that the upcoming launch of the 1Malaysia Affordable Broadband Package could be expected to improve the situation.

Meanwhile the report also praised Malaysia’s markets for being “efficient and competitive” and supported by both a well-developed financial sector (ranked 6th) and business-friendly institutional frameworks (28th).

The report further praised the government’s efforts to combat excessive bureaucracy and lack of transparency, saying, “in a region where many economies suffer from lack of transparency and the presence of red tape, Malaysia stands out as particularly successful at tackling those tow issues.”

Regardless, in an opinion poll of 79 business executives in Malaysia conducted as part of the report, respondents still reported inefficient government bureaucracy as the biggest problem for doing business in Malaysia, followed by corruption and an inadequately educated workforce.

A Post-Industrial Future for Penang?

August 28, 2012

A Post-Industrial Future for Penang?

by Zairil Khir Johari

The advent of the digital era, characterised by seamless and instantaneous transfer of information and unprecedented levels of global interconnectedness, has seen a paradigm shift in social, political and economic strategies worldwide.

In fact, it is commonly said that the world has entered into “the knowledge revolution or knowledge economy”, which some have argued to be “the latest phase of capitalism”[1]. In this age of knowledge, mobile capital and the easy spread of technology have meant that the production of goods have increasingly shifted to low-cost countries.

“This is a natural progression, especially for developed economies,” notes international investment banker Julian Candiah. “As GDP per capita rises and countries gets richer, a lot of the lower-valued components of the economy have migrated to low-cost countries. We have seen this hand-off many times, first in the 1970s to the South-East Asian Tigers, and then in the 1990s to China, and now to Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc. Even China is now moving up the value chain.”

As developed economies begin to decouple themselves from industrial production, it is suggested that future success would no longer be predicated upon traditional factors such as land, labour and raw materials, but upon the creation of value extracted from knowledge, skills and creativity.

In other words, future jobs in the so-called knowledge economy would require working with our brains and not with our hands. Soft power, and not hard power, would drive the world forward.

So how exactly has this experiment fared?


In 1997, Tony Blair was elected as Prime Minister of Britain on the wave of Cool Britannia and the promise of ushering in a new golden age. Having successfully rejuvenated and remodelled a now centrist, market-embracing Labour Party, the youngest British Prime Minister in nearly two centuries sought to catapult a then lagging Britain into the “forefront of the knowledge economy”.

According to Blair and other deindustrialisation advocates, this new knowledge-driven economy is the “equivalent of the machine-driven economy of the industrial revolution”[2].In other words, future British success would lie in the country’s ability to shift from an industrial economy to one based on services. To borrow Blair’s own words, Britain needed to transform the “workshop of the world” into the “e-commerce capital of the world”.

This premise, though an innovation, was not a new one. Margaret Thatcher had been the first, two decades before, to prescribe deindustrialisation as the cure for what she deemed to be an uncompetitive, manufacturing-based British economy. By articulating the “knowledge economy” in the context of a globalising world driven by ICT, Blair gave the strategy renewed direction.

For over a decade, the government pursued this policy, turning the British economy into the world’s second largest services exporter after the US. This was achieved on the back of creative services such as film, music, fashion and advertising, as well as other traditional services such as finance, computing and ICT. The picturesque vision of a knowledge economy looked set to come true.

Today, more than a decade later, Blair’s vision remains just that. Having experienced the largest deindustrialisation exercise in post-war Europe, in which the industrial share of the economy saw a decline from 30% in the 1970s to about 11% today, one would be hard-pressed to opine that the British economy is in a better shape than it was.

The British used to make cars, ships and engines for the world. They gave all that up to sell culture, tourism and financial advice, only to find that selling things simply cannot provide the same volume of employment that making things can. Unemployment is now at its highest level since 1995, while income inequality has reached a 30-year peak.

The British northeast, once the proud home to numerous factories, warehouses and dockyards, has now become the poster child of a post-industrial wasteland, sprawling with hollow buildings and muddy estates. Not only have the cacophonous activities come to an end, so too have the jobs, apprenticeships, local industries and support services that typically characterise an ecosystem built around making things. Meanwhile, the vacuum left behind remains vivid for a generation of displaced Britons.

Services-driven Penang?

Though it took a while, the same debate has now made its way to Penang’s shores. In recent times, certain quarters have spoken out about the need to reinvent Penang’s traditional economic base. Citing a fast-depleting land bank and competition from more cost-effective neighbours, they argue that the manufacturing sector has reached its zenith.

Their solution? To transform the services sector to replace manufacturing as the next engine of growth. According to them, Penang no longer has a comparative advantage in manufacturing, and should instead focus on building resources and talent in service industries such as tourism, healthcare, ICT and finance. After all, Penang is no stranger to economic change, having evolved from a free port into an industrial beacon. The question is, is it time to change?

Today, manufacturing remains the bedrock of the Penang economy, easily contributing more than half of Penang’s economic output. In the last two years, Penang has etched itself as the top destination in the country for manufacturing investment, notching RM12.2bil in 2010 and RM9.1bil in 2011. Of this amount, RM17.7billion came in the form of FDI, which means that the second smallest state in Malaysia had managed to attract nearly a third of total national FDI. At the rate the trend is going, there is nothing to indicate a need for a realignment of strategies.

This is not to say that an over-reliance in manufacturing is without its pitfalls. In fact, Penang’s industrial, export-dependent economy is necessarily more exposed than other states to shifts in global economic trends. This was the case during the 2008 financial crisis, resulting in a GDP dip of over 10% in real terms (based on constant 2000 prices). In contrast, Malaysia’s GDP only fell by 1.6% during the same period. Manufacturing output in Penang also decreased by 20.2%, double the decline suffered nationally.

Global economic forces are of course hard to resist. That said, Penang managed to bounce back with a real GDP growth of 10% in 2010. And despite this rough patch, Penang’s GDP per capita had actually increased slightly over this period of time. This was achieved because, over the years and more so in recent times, Penang has been able to build up an industrial base that is not merely made up of low-skills and low value-added assembly lines but also cutting-edge technology with leading brands such as Intel, Motorola, Sony, Dell, Honeywell, Bose and National Instruments.

As Candiah says, “The trick is not so much to do ‘manufacturing correctly’, but to do ‘correct manufacturing’. The game must be value-added, high-productivity manufacturing. And to the credit of the folks in charge, they have managed to get it right so far.”

Today, Penang is moving towards high-end manufacturing such as solar panels, LEDs, medical devices and the like. Just last year, Singapore Aerospace Manufacturing opened a facility in Penang to produce precision components for the aviation and aerospace industry. Such value-added industries are exactly the kind that will provide the ingredients needed for Penang to move up the manufacturing value chain.

The myth of the services-based economy

But what about the developed countries that have managed to “graduate” into services-based economies? Singapore, for example, is typically used as an example of a successful former industrial power-turned-services provider. Should that not be Penang’s future direction?

Though widely accepted, the above hypothesis is not entirely accurate. Ha-Joon Chang, a leading Cambridge economist, has frequently pointed out that high income knowledge economies that appear to be services-based are in fact highly industrialised economies. For example, Switzerland, believed to be a post-industrial economy reliant on services such as the banking sector and tourism, in fact ranks as the country with the second highest manufacturing value-add (MVA) per capita[3] in the world. Singapore ranks third. And in the Competitive Industrial Performance Index, Singapore is the world number one.

What most fail to understand is that the success of countries like Switzerland and Singapore is based upon their industrial foundations. And it is from such a foundation that they are able to spin off a services supply chain encompassing research, design, engineering, legal, financial and sales. In other words, one first needs to make a product before one can add value to it and finally, consumerise it. The same trend is also evident in other high income Asian economies such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

As the world progresses, there can be no doubt that consumption of technological products will only increase. Economic downturns may temporarily dampen demand, but in the end, more rather than less manufacturing will be needed to cater to the growing market. Instead of reducing manufacturing, the strategy should be to leverage upon the existing base and focus on value-adds through technology, automation and productivity improvement.

Not what you produce, but how you produce

Years after sounding the clarion call for deindustrialisation, the British government is now talking about a “march of the makers”. In last year’s budget speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer proudly proclaimed that the words “Made in Britain” will once again drive the nation forward.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has embarked on a manufacturing drive in a bid to revive the lacklustre American economy. In a recent speech by Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, at a conference aptly titled “The Renaissance of American Manufacturing”, it was pointed out that manufacturing is responsible for 70% of R&D in America, despite being only 12% of the economy.

Not only that, manufacturing jobs pay on average 25% higher than non-manufacturing jobs. Sperling then added, as if struck by an epiphany, that manufacturing would be the key to tackling the country’s ballooning trade deficit.

Whether it is too little too late remains to be seen, but the fact is that the US and Britain have finally realised the potential multiplier effect, in terms of jobs and services, that is inherent in manufacturing. What is understood to be a knowledge-based economy is in fact a corollary resulting from a mature industrial base. In other words, manufacturing is a prerequisite for innovation.

Closer to home, it is critical that we learn from the experiences of others before it is too late. To say that manufacturing has peaked is disingenuous. If anything, it holds even more potential today than it did a few decades ago. What is needed is not to replace manufacturing but to create depth and specialisation through innovation and technology. Moving forward, it will be about how we produce rather than what we produce.

“Today, the buzzword is ‘reindustrialisation’,” says the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) Deputy General Manager Iskandar Basha Abdul Kadir. “After playing an integral role in the industrialisation of Penang for 40 years, it is time for the PDC to facilitate the reinvestment and revitalisation that is currently being undertaken by most pioneer plants and facilities in our industrial zones.

“We cannot afford to lie around idly by while the whole world is moving. Besides attracting new, value-added industries, we also need to revitalise and reenergise the ‘old’ ones so they can become ‘new’ again.”

According to Iskandar, the premise for the future of the Penang economy is simple. “If we can successfully add value to our existing manufacturing capacity, then we will set off a chain of events that will produce higher value services and, ultimately, higher paying jobs.”

Penang’s  Intellectual Capital Incubator

[1] Rikowski, R. (2003), “Value – the Life Blood of Capitalism: knowledge is the current key”, Policy Futures in Education, Vol.1 No.1, pp. 160-178.

[2] Speech by Tony Blair at the Knowledge 2000 Conference,

[3] A basic indicator of a country’s level of industrialisation. The higher the MVA, the more industrialised the country.

Peaceful Assembly Our Legal Right

May 3, 2012

Peaceful  Assembly Our Legal Right

by Azmi Sharom

The Bersih organisers, the Police and DBKL should have met and sorted out the logistics of getting such a huge number of people together in Dataran Merdeka for a couple of hours.

WITHIN hours of BERSIH 3.0 being over, I received an angry e-mail from a reader asking me in no uncertain terms: “Are you happy now?” The writer was furious at the scenes of violence, and I suppose I was a convenient and appropriate target for his vitriol.

After all, I have been a consistent supporter of the right to assemble and have gone on record (along with nine other concerned citizens) to demand that the Government allow BERSIH 3.0 to go on without harassment at Dataran Merdeka.

Well, to answer the question, of course I am not happy that people, mostly participants, were injured during BERSIH 3.0.However, some perspective is needed here.

If thousands of people set out to cause trouble, the damage and injuries would have been astronomical.The fact that the number of injured was minuscule only serves to confirm that the vast majority of people went there with peaceful intentions.

The Police have been going on about how there would have been no trouble if the organisers had just listened to them and staged a sit-in at a stadium.This makes them look reasonable to the casual observer.

Why insist on going to Dataran Merdeka when alternatives were offered? I beg to differ. The issue is not about alternatives; the issue is about the constitutional right of the people to gather in public spaces.

According to our Constitution, and a plethora of international legal documents relating to human rights, the only limitation and consideration that authorities should take into account is with regard to national security and public order.

Traffic jams are not a national security or public order issue.This being the case, the organisers, the Police and DBKL should have got together and sorted out the logistics of getting such a huge number of people together in Dataran Merdeka for a couple of hours.

The duty of the authorities is to facilitate this right, not to offer alternatives based on their own convenience.

The violence on Saturday is unfortunate and regrettable. It is hoped that all culprits will be brought to book. I would also hope that if there is to be another BERSIH rally in the future, less prominence should be given to political parties.It is of course within the rights of political parties to take part in Bersih events, especially if they too have been calling for clean and fair elections.

However, in order to minimise the usual accusations that BERSIH is a mouthpiece for Pakatan Rakyat, it would be prudent if, in the future, the role of political parties be more one of solidarity, with no need for speech-making and the like.

However, what has almost been forgotten amid the accusations, blaming and finger-pointing, is that the largest ever group of Malaysians rallied together to demand clean and fair elections.The fact that so many people would take their feelings to the streets surely indicates that there is an important groundswell here.

Our right to choose our leaders must be done in a way that is above suspicion. The question that remains is: “Are those who matter listening?”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,359 other followers