January 31, 2012
Open Letter to Dr Mahathir Mohamad
by Mohd Ikhram Merican
Many years ago, in 1986 or ‘87, I can’t remember the exact year, I had the pleasure of meeting you in a private family dinner. You were the guest of honour and I was a very young boy, excited to be in the vicinity of your towering presence. I had many things I wanted to say to you and when I walked up to where you were seated I could only manage one rhetorical question.
You were very kind. Although in the midst of conversation with my uncles, you stopped and gave me, a little boy, a few minutes of your time. I spoke to the prime minister. It was my two minutes of fame.
For the better part of my life you have been the Prime Minister of Malaysia. In all those years, I saw you as the best Prime Minister Malaysia has ever had. Sadly, I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t despise you or loathe you but I question your rationale for a good many things.
There are so many issues that I would like to raise with you. It is near impossible to cover everything here but let me start with your latest blog post titled “Kaitan Bangsa Dengan Bisnes”. The Malaysian Insider reported this with the headline, “Dr M: Scrapping race-based policies will lead to chaos.”
I find it hard to believe that scrapping race-based policies will lead to chaos. The status quo is more detrimental to the country in the long run. The existing race-based policies have done little to improve the plight of the Malays. In fact it has created a class divide between the Malay haves and have-nots. This WILL split the Malays because severe class inequalities have caused revolutions, even in singular nations.
You believe not everyone has equal capabilities and some people must be given special consideration in business and other areas based on their race. This is an argument that neither makes sense nor justifies special considerations. Let me elaborate. Would you allow an aspiring surgeon to become one via special considerations, even if he is inherently bad at it? And would you trust your life under the knife with this person? This is what you propose.
Allow me to provide a further example. UiTM was founded in 1956 (as Dewan Latihan Rida) to facilitate the creation of Bumiputera professionals. Fifty-six years later, it ranks among the last in the QS World University Rankings. While it is the largest university in Malaysia, and has admittedly created many graduates, it has done little to create world-class professionals.
The IITs of India were created with similar ideals to UiTM. The first IIT was conceived in 1950, a mere six years before UiTM. In the same QS World University Rankings, IIT Delhi ranks in the top 200. The IITs are internationally recognised for engineering and technology with entrance exams that are so tough, candidates use Ivy League universities as a fall back in case they don’t make the cut. Bill Gates has been quoted as saying: “And it’s hard to think of anything like IIT anywhere in the world. It is a very unique institution.”
This happens when you pursue meritocracy. In your blog post you ask if it is true that race consideration in business vis-a-vis the NEP has stifled economic growth. My answer is, yes it has. The NEP’s original intention was noble but it has become a tool to justify and facilitate nepotism, cronyism and, contrary to its original purpose, inequality. The nation’s resources have been unscrupulously plundered to benefit cronies NOT the common man, be he Bumiputera or not. Yes, we’ve had a good run under your stewardship but our fundamentals have been hindering us from the type of progress that Singapore enjoys. In short, a system that does not promote and reward performance is inherently flawed. If you need proof, look at Malaysia Airlines.
I quote the book “Winning in Asia” by Peter J. Williamson (Harvard Business Press):
“Those Bumiputera companies with a continued reliance on preferential treatment and local connections and without a broader set of competitive advantages have been unable to successfully expand internationally. To grow, they have therefore diversified across industries within their home country, often resulting in a loss of focus and an inability to build deep operational competence in particular businesses.”
And so again, yes, the NEP has stifled economic growth. You say that when the distribution of wealth is disparate between the races, there is a high probability of enmity between the poorer and richer races. After 40 years of implementation, and devoid of significant success, don’t you think there is a serious problem with the NEP as a tool to bridge the economic gap? Furthermore, the Malays, Chinese, and Indians have not been at each other’s throats during this period. In fact, it is the ruling coalition that regularly stokes racial fire. The race card has been played to the hilt and it is now a misnomer for economic and social stability. I wish you had more faith in us and our ability to co-exist.
Progress is hindered by fear. It is the fear of change, fear of each other, fear of betrayal, fear of riots, fear of racial tension and fear of so many other things that keep us from progressing. Amplifying our fears by attributing wrong causes to effects is not going to help with nation building. I believe that the socio-economic divide can be closed through prudent management of the economy, a world-class education system, observance of the Rule of Law, and nation-building policies. I ask that you use your influence to condemn corruption, nepotism and cronyism. This is the real problem that undermines Malaysia and stifles its growth. — malaysia-today.net