In Sungei Buloh, Anwar reacquaints with the Bard

February 21, 2015

In  Sungei Buloh, Anwar reacquaints with the Bard

by Terence (02-20-15)

Sungei Buloh JailAnwar returns to jail

A reform-questing politician striving against great odds must allow the worst of what he has to face pass through his soul, as if he is grinding sausage. With Anwar Ibrahim, now in his third spell of incarceration in a near 50-year political career, the buffer against the shriveling effects of the grind is reading.

A peripatetic life on the hustings and at endless meetings the last eight years could not have afforded him much time for this solitary pursuit, save perhaps in cars and planes – provided he was not trying to catch up on sleep – that transported him to the events of a hectic and harried schedule.

Anwar will never surrender

But now, behind bars for five years on a sodomy conviction so shaky his adversaries have to go on a road show to make it stick, prison time can seem providential in reacquainting himself with the states that singer-songwriter Paul Simon limned in The Sound of Silence – that signature ode to angst.

Initially, Anwar wasn’t allowed reading material during his second spell in prison (1998- 2004, the first was in 1974, under the ISA). However, after letters of appeal from world leaders, including then United States President Bill Clinton, the philistine disposition of his jailers altered.

Reprieved, Anwar rifled through the Shakespearean corpus several times, a familiarity notable enough to draw an invitation from the organisers to present a paper, Shakespeare in Prison, at a conference on the Bard in Australia shortly after he was released and while undergoing a spell in decompression in the grooves of academia, at Georgetown University in the US and at Cambridge in England.

After the two-year sojourn in academia, his return to the hurly-burly of the political round in 2007 and to the rigours of incessant stumping for his party, Parti KeADILan Rakyat (PKR), and the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat – not to mention his recurrent legal tangles – meant that there was not only very little time for leisurely reading, there was also no space for a contemplated project.

This was a book of vignettes mined from his encounters with world leaders, ranging from Indira Gandhi to Nelson Mandela. The hypothetical project – the provisional title was Glimpses from a Political Life – would almost certainly have been finished had Anwar not been incommoded by the contretemps with Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, his aide who turned out to be his accuser in his second trial for sodomy.

Anwar’s current reading-fueled spell in prison is not likely to be filled with lamentation for the loss of what Pope Gregory, who left the monastery for the Papacy, described as “borne onward by the disturbance of those endless billows”.

As Anwar’s Jesuit friends in Georgetown University would readily agree, a spell of immersion in the contemplative life – enforced by prison or self-willed matters little – is good preparation for a return plunge into political activism.

Analysts have predicted the end of Anwar’s career because at age 67, he cannot, they say, be expected to resurge after a five-year jail term and another five years, from the date of his release, of a ban from politics that convicted felons have to endure in Malaysia. This means a possible 10-year removal from the political fray from which a younger person can be expected to return but not, analysts say, a 67-year-old like Anwar.

But in political history, the wilderness of prison or of exile has been one of those romantic stretches from which the most triumphant of returns have been accomplished. For an inkling of the entelechy that drives his life, Anwar’s aides reveal that the next book from his home library he has requested is Robert Blake’s acclaimed 1966 biography of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), the outsider who became Prime Minister of Britain.

Disraeli, a writer who aspired – and successfully made – the transition to the activism of the political arena, is owner of that luminous phrase, “the top of the greasy pole.” That was how he described his arrival at the post of PM of Britain.

Anwar’s climb up the “greasy pole” in his own country has stalled, now that he is in the Sungai Buloh Prison. But it is not certain that this halt is terminal.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.

On Taib Mahmud and The Rape of Sarawak

January 25, 2015

Taib Mahmud: Money Logging and The Rape of Sarawak


Book Review on Money Logging By Lukas Straumann, Bergli 

A sad tale of the Asian timber mafia and the man who did more than anything to create it, Abdul Taib Mahmud.

On October 3, 2011, a depressed and paranoic former Chief Operating Officer for a San Francisco-based property company called Sakti International named Ross Boyert slipped a plastic bag over his head, taped it tight and suffocated himself to death in a Los Angeles hotel room. He was 61.

But Boyert, however delusional he was when he died, left behind him an explosive legacy – the details of virtually all of the properties owned by Abdul Taib Mahmud, the longest-serving public official in Malaysia.

It is a breathtaking collection according to the documents that Boyert – who was fired by the Taib interests — gave to a crusading journalist named Clare Rewcastle Brown. They show that Taib, through nominees, family members and other subterfuges, is worth in excess of US$21 billion.

Taib and Timber

Taib is not mentioned on the Forbes list of Malaysia’s richest, but if he were, he would be worth almost twice as much as the man listed as richest — Robert Kuok, whose fortune is in property, sugar, palm oil and shipping. He would also be about halfway up the list of the world’s 50 richest billionaires although his name is not mentioned there either.

That is because, according to this book by Lukas Straumann, Taib amassed his entire fortune illegally, as undoubtedly a handful of others have around the world that remains hidden. Nonetheless, according to Boyert’s documents and the research by Rewcastle Brown and Straumann, he is an engine of corruption the likes of which the world has never seen.

Taib built his real estate empire in Canada, the United States, Australia and the East Malaysia state of Sarawak on timber. In the process, in his 33 years as Chief Minister, he staged some of the most depressing environmental destruction on the planet. An estimated 98 percent of the old-growth timber of Sarawak, a state three times the size of Switzerland, is gone, sold via timber permits to logging companies, many of them connected to him, that shipped the logs to Japan, China and across much of the rest of the world.

Using the documents furnished by Rewcastle Brown, and with considerable additional reporting, the story of Taib’s looting of Sarawak is told by Straumann, the Director of the Basel-headquartered Bruno Manser Fund, an NGO named for a Swiss naturalist who fought to save the indigenous Penan tribe from the depredations of the loggers’ bulldozers, and who disappeared into the forest in 2000 and has never been found.

Sarawak--Rape of the ForestMassive Deforestation in Sarawak

It is an explosive book. Taib has threatened to sue Amazon if it distributes it. So far, Amazon has backed away from delivering it.

The book, Money Logging: On the Trail of Asia’s Timber Mafia, published by Bergli Books, also of Basel, tells the story of Taib’s rise to power, starting in 1965 as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

By the end of that decade, he would be Sarawak’s richest politician. Today he holds interests in property companies that own prestigious buildings in Seattle, San Francisco, Ottawa, London, Adelaide and in Malaysia itself. The major companies he controls through family members or by proxies, according to Boyert’s documentation, include Sakti International, Wallyson’s Inc., Sakto Group, Citygate International, Ridgeford Properties, Sitehost City and literally scores of smaller ones. He is believed to control more than 100 companies.

One of the most important things about this story is that Taib was first anointed by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Father of Malaysia and the country’s first Prime Minister. Abdul Rahman was followed in office by five other prime ministers who sat in Kuala Lumpur and later the Putarjaya government complex and did nothing about him.

It was hardly a secret that he was both looting the country and stealing, on a breathtaking scale, the resources that belonged to the Dayak, Murut, Penan and other local tribes that make up the peoples of Sarawak.

Nothing was done about him because he developed a political machine that could deliver votes to the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition in Peninsular Malaysia. Taib is a Muslim. Most of the Sarawak tribes are either Christian or animist. And, to the government across the South China Sea, it would have been unthinkable to have a non-Muslim government leader in charge.

Later, during the current administration of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, it became clear that the Barisan’s very survival depended on Taib and his fellow kleptocrat, Musa Aman, who continues stealing the people of the neighboring state of Sabah blind, although on a smaller scale.

What’s worse is that Taib’s activities in Sarawak, according to the book, spawned a series of giant timber companies including Concord Pacific, Samling, Shin Yang, WTK and Ta Ann Holdings – all of which have received backing from the international banking community including HSBC and others – and have expanded far outside of Malaysia to Cambodia, Australia, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo-Brazzaville, Papua New Guinea and just about every other country with less than reputable governments and tropical timber to loot.

“Virtually all of this timber (from Papua New Guinea) was exported to China in the form of logs and other Asian destinations and the trickle-down of wealth in the country itself remained minimal,” Straumann writes. That is true of virtually every country in which the Malaysia-based lumber companies operated.

There is one more sad corollary to this story. As a December. 23, 2014 story in the New York Times about Costa Rica’s rainforests demonstrates, tropical forests will regenerate, and, given the space of time, return to their former state. The forests of Sarawak, if not all of Borneo, once one of the world’s greatest green lungs, will not. Sarawak’s forests are being replaced with oil palm plantations.

Taib has stepped aside as Chief Minister and is now the state’s governor. He ostensibly is under investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission after the Swiss government forwarded allegations to the Malaysians of money-laundering into Swiss banks.


“It is up to his successors (as Chief Minister) to correct the state’s course of action and the government’s condescending attitude towards its indigenous peoples,” Straumann writes. “Now, the Malaysian Judiciary and Anti-Corruption authorities need to live up to their responsibility. While it is a good thing that Sarawak’s last ‘White Rajah’ has finally stepped down, he does not belong in the governor’s residence. He belongs in jail.

P.S: That last sentence is sadly unrealistic. Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission and the Attorney-General have no intention of doing anything about Abdul Taib Mahmud. He remains far too valuable to the ruling coalition in Putrajaya to keep the state in loyal hands.

Revise the 2015 Budget, and replace Minister of Finance, says Opposition MP

January 19, 2015

COMMENT: The Prime Minister’s decision to revise his 2015 Budget is the right one. Unfortunately, he has also taken the unusual step to present his revised proposals direct to people on January 20. Procedurally, he should table his revised budget  to Parliament for formal debate and approval. It is clear to me at least that Prime Minister Naib does not take Parliament seriously for a good reason. If you care to watch national television or youtube, you know that our Parliament is no longer a serious forum for debate on issues of national importance. It is being monopolised by Parliamentarians like Bung Mokhtar and the like  who are disruptive. Najib as Finance Minister

Ideally, the post of Finance Minister should not be held by the Prime Minister. In practice, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or Finance Minister is the Prime Minister who is first among equals. He is consulted on a daily basis on all major expenditures to be incurred by his government.

There is no reason to ask him to step down. That will not change anything. As a citizen, I would urge the Prime Minister in his capacity as Finance Minister to be prudent and fully accountable  and transparent about the use of taxpayers money. We can no longer afford to waste public funds since we can no longer depend on funds from PETRONAS and other sources to finance operating and development expenditures without downgrading  our international credit rating –Din Merican

Revise the 2015 Budget,  and replace Minister of Finance,says Opposition MP

The coming revision of Budget 2015 in light of falling world oil prices should include a change of the Finance Minister, a DAP parliamentarian said.

“While I welcome the supposed presentation of a belated revision of Budget 2015, I know that the people – especially those from corporate Malaysia – are now hoping to see the appointment of a new full-time Finance Minister.

“The revised Budget 2015 should focus on cutting prime ministerial slush funds, and not to target (cutting) social expenditure,” said Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong (above) in a statement today.

He said the country needs a “full-time finance minister” who has the skills to tackle the country’s economic challenges, for example, that posed by the falling crude oil prices.

“If you talk to anyone fairly involved in the corporate world and the financial market, they would tell you that having a revised budget is no longer satisfactory.We need a new full-time Finance Minister with deep knowledge of the economy and sufficient powers to make informed and enlightened decisions,” he added.

Since coming to office, Najib has held the dual posts of Prime Minister and Finance Minister. At one point he even held a third, the post of women and community minister, when the incumbent Shahrizat Abdul Jalil stepped down due to controversy.

‘Slash PM’s Dept budget’

Liew noted that the first thing the new Finance Minister should do is slash the “prime ministerial slush funds”.

Najib’s administration has been highly criticised for the increasingly bloated size and proportionately obese budget for the Prime Minister’s Department.

“While Budget 2015 has allocated only 18 percent or RM50.5 billion (of the total of RM273.6 billion) for development, the Prime Minister’s Department has taken the lion’s share, 25 percent of the total development budget or RM13 billion,” Liew pointed out.

He said the budget revision should not penalise basic and essential government expenditure such as education, health, welfare and other social expenditures. Instead it should target expenditure “hidden mainly not only in the Prime Minister’s Department, but also in the Finance Ministry”.

Some of these more “outrageous” expenditures, he said, were:

  • (00102*) Projek Kemiskinan Semenanjung/Sabah/Sarawak – RM160 million
  • (00104) Penyusunan Semula Masyarakat – RM750 million
  • (00108) Program Pembangunan – RM1.1 billion
  • (93600) Projek Mesra Rakyat – RM670 million
  • (97000) Dana Fasilitasi – RM2.5 billion
  • (93000) Projek-projek Kecil – RM300 million
  • (93500) Projek Khas – RM1.6 billion

* Federal expenditure estimate item code

Vague expenses, scant information

“The above cost the taxpayers RM7.08 billion, far more than the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) payments. These items are just the tip of the iceberg and not inclusive of budget items in the Finance Ministry,” he said.

Liew added that they were “particularly outrageous because it is so vaguely worded with scant information for any scrutiny”.

“And, it is under Najib’s total control as he can literally give it away by a stroke of pen,” said the DAP lawmaker.

Meanwhile in a separate statement today, DAP Gelang Patah MP Lim Kit Siang questioned Najib for not convening a special parliamentary meeting to present the restructuring of the budget.

Lim stressed that it was the proper thing to do since it had been the Parliament which first approved the RM273.9 billion Budget 2015.

Najib said he will unveil his revised budget on Tuesday, following calls to explain how the drastic fall in oil prices over the past month is affecting the running of the government.


Where values begin

January 8, 2015

Where values begin

by Tricia

Tricia YeohFOR all of our technical analysis of how to improve such-and-such a public policy, the most current of which being the deforestation decisions that may have contributed largely to the flood disaster, the main question often asked is whether there is political will to follow through.

This is the conundrum that policy wonks like us in think-tanks have to face squarely each day: whether or not facts and figures really influence policymakers at the end of the day (both civil servants and politicians).

Sure, it is still crucial that someone does the job of number-crunching and doing comparative policy research. But perhaps it is equally – if not more so – important that non-governmental organisations like ours get our feet dirty to wade in the more difficult waters of changing cultural values in a more direct way.

It is our values that shape us, which influence our weltanschauung (worldview), sometimes “through a glass darkly”. These values are inculcated at a young age, influenced by the society we keep, both family and otherwise. The great divide we have observed in the ethno-religious debate in Malaysia is a perfect example. Just like how you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, it is near impossible to convince several deeply entrenched NGOs that the Sedition Act should be abolished, for instance.

If I were to recall my personal motivations for doing the things I do today, one would need to trace the values imbibed from a young age. Books that I read, experiences encountered during those very impressionable years of teenagehood, and most profoundly, people I looked up to as leaders, who eventually became – and still remain – mentors to me during periods of vocational self-doubt in this journey.

It is for this reason that IDEAS, after much deliberation, decided to embark on a new and exciting project, based on the understanding that it is the shaping of values from a young age that can truly transform the future of this now fragile nation. Through this, we hope to provide the same experience that many of us now working hard in civil society had the opportunity of having those many years ago.

We are calling for 20 of the brightest young Malaysian leaders from all over the country to be part of a nine-month National Unity Youth Fellowship programme, during which they will engage in a series of roundtable discussions, seminars and national conference where they will interact with community and religious leaders and other speakers we will identify. This is being done with the support of the National Integration Research and Training Institute at the Department of National Unity and Integration.

We hope that by the end of this period, we would have built up a strong and united, multi-ethnic and diverse “fellowship of 20″, whom, through their close-knit interaction, discussions and purposeful sessions of working together to formulate solutions, will become advocates for liberal ideas in tackling the problem of unity that we face today.

Values TreeIt is not enough that the youth of today have access to online media. Being connected to the internet ensures young Malaysians are exposed to the many dimensions of a particular issue. But a structured programme like this allows for young leaders with the greatest potential to be given specialised training on technical skills, the opportunity to build relationships with academics, opinion-shapers and thinkers, and most importantly, the ability to network with other like-minded leaders from different states across both Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak.

It is a continuing challenge for the moderate-minded in Malaysia who feel frustrated over the way this nation of great potential has instead regressed. Overhauling the system would be ideal, but it will also take a long time, with many corresponding layers to tackle.

We have instead chosen to channel those frustrations into this programme that can have an immediate impact upon the young. It is hoped that at least one or two eventually feel that this intervention was meaningful to them, and that the right leadership, mentorship and training helped them reframe the way they see Malaysia and its plethora of identities. Perhaps we would then have contributed to the values of these future leaders, whatever they choose to do next with them – this is where values begin.

Dedicated to the families of those affected in the floods and the recent AirAsia crash.

Be ready for Tough Times

December 20, 2014

Be ready for Tough Times

by Dato’ Zaid

We have often heard the phrase ‘we must change our lifestyles’ and the truth is that it will be difficult to adjust – but adjust we must.

PREDICTING the future is always a hazardous act: we can be correct on some insignificant things but we invariably miss the big ones.

Before this year, who could have anticipated the rise of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Who could have predicted that Russia would swallow up Crimea and try to annexe eastern Ukraine? Who could have foreseen the two terrible tragedies of MH370 and MH17?

ZaidI do not wish to make any kind of forecast for the world in 2015 because it would be pointless – but I have a “wish list” for Malaysia that will make me happy if it is fulfilled.

I wish our leaders at all levels would come together and ponder what it would be like if our country were to face a deep economic crisis.

I am no alarmist but experience teaches us that once-wealthy countries can suddenly become poor due to a variety of factors: we should not forget the economic crises that have plagued Argentina and Brazil as well as, more recently, Ireland, Greece, Spain and other countries caught in the European sovereign debt problem.

A similar fate could befall us and I believe our leaders must determine if, in 2015, some “cuts” should be put in place so that we can start living within our means again.

For this to happen, however, we must agree on what constitutes “unnecessary spending”. Next year will be economically tough according to most analysts because our oil revenue will likely be reduced by as much as 40% – and possibly more.

In addition, other commodity prices are also expected to be depressed for long periods. The value of the ringgit will be much lower than it was 2013-14, making our imports (including food) more expensive while real wages remain stagnant.

As such, civil servants and technocrats at the apex of the bureaucracy must be willing to make unpopular decisions, such as budget cuts, early so that we can save enough to pay for essential services.

As it is, some of us will have difficulty adjusting to lower income levels because this is “unfamiliar territory”: as a rich country that has enjoyed many years of uninterrupted growth, some of us have a propensity to be lavish, spending consistently more than what we earn, while others have already gone into debt just to get by from one day to the next.

We have often heard the phrase “we must change our lifestyles” and the truth is that it will be difficult to adjust – but adjust we must if we do not want bigger complications to emerge later. In this sense, nations are like individuals: they have difficulty changing their habits but reality must be faced head-on.

Najib and his gang

It’s not just the Government in Putrajaya that will have to adapt. Those in the private sector must also do the same, for currently the trend among corporations is to invest heavily abroad.

Some have done so with the clear intention of keeping their money overseas, and we can’t do much about that unless Bank Negara becomes more meticulous about what kind of overseas funds transfers it allows.

Other corporations are investing abroad because they are just following the trend – overseas deals are seen as successful and profitable for these companies and it is also prestigious to be involved in businesses in London, Saudi Arabia, Melbourne, Beijing and so forth.

The commissions are attractive for the deal-makers and the returns on foreign investments might be better than those available in our own country – but perhaps corporations should remember that risks abroad are also quite different compared to those at home.

Investing abroad also provides top Malaysian executives the opportunity to spend time in the wonderful capitals of the world but those tasked with specific socio-economic mandates (such as Tabung Haji, the Armed Forces Fund and the Employees Provident Fund) must never forget their duty to help the members and society at large and not get carried away by their business ventures.

In these perilous times, it makes more social sense to invest in Malaysia. Those of us with the means to do so should take active steps to help our country keep its head above water. In fact, why not stop investing overseas altogether, at least until the storm passes?

More investments should be directed to small towns, enterprises and industries where profits are still possible but – much more importantly – capital stimuli will go a much longer way in terms of developmental impact.

Likewise, private education in Malaysia has become completely unaffordable for most families, although the nation needs an increasing number of tertiary graduates if we are to close the income gap in the future.

Investing in private education can make it more affordable, while investing in public education can help raise the much maligned standards of national and national-type schools – although in the latter case, the Government must first admit that there is a very serious problem and be receptive to external support.

Corporations with socio-economic responsibilities should look at ways to help educate people rather than be interested only in investments in London and elsewhere. Surely investing in our own future is an obvious priority?

As for cost cutting, I suggest we start with small changes that can then develop into a culture.

Just the other day, I was driving along a main thoroughfare but was pushed to the side of the road by traffic police accompanying a royal family – there were eight police outriders and a large number of cars escorting the royal vehicle.

I suggest we reduce such escorts to two outriders. This will result in huge savings and the police can be deployed elsewhere while our royalty will still be protected with dignity: Queen Elizabeth II, for example, is quite happy with the modest escort that she has following her.

Other cost cutting should include barring public officials from claiming travel expenses if their travels are primarily for personal or political purposes. More stringent checks should be made and there must a general willingness to stop the abuse of government funds.

I have seen some politicians using government vehicles and making claims on their travels when they were actually on election campaigns or attending to party matters – as a camouflage, they sometimes arrange meetings with a local government department. This practice should be stopped immediately.

The way to curb abuses is to train our people the value of integrity and compliance with the rules.

It’s high time that we learn to differentiate between government, party and personal functions. In the good old days we could be less particular about this distinction because we had a lot of money. That is no longer the case.

Finally, in 2015 I hope to see our newspapers producing more stories about the lives of ordinary Malaysians.

It’s true our news agencies are required to give full coverage to some leaders, or fill their pages with stories about the rich and famous (because people want to read about them – particularly if there is something juicy or scandalous involved).

But media owners could also give more space to the stories of ordinary people that might be inspiring or interesting to read, and I believe that we will need more of such stories in difficult times.

The recent endeavour by Universiti Sains Kelantan to establish a full symphony orchestra was extraordinary and worthy of support and congratulation – but there was nothing about it in the press.

Who would have thought that the students and academics in Kelantan could get together to learn music and then give their full attention to staging a successfully symphonic performance of (among other things) Getaran Jiwa to an appreciative public?

So, while we call our public officials and corporations to account, let’s also focus on the wonderful things done by the rakyat that can help us be more positive about the future.

We will certainly need more optimism in the days to come. Of that, I am sure.

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, true to his Kelantan roots, is highly passionate about practically everything, hence the name of this column. Having established himself in the legal fraternity, Zaid ventured into politics and has been on both sides of the political divide. The former de facto Law Minister at one time is now a legal consultant but will not hesitate to say his piece on any current issue. He can be reached at views expressed here are entirely his own.


Political Will and Drastic Action against Warlordism in UMNO

November 27, 2014

COMMENT: Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has said what should have been Din Merican lastestsaid a long a time ago. UMNO must change, not in small doses (as Azmi seems to suggest) but drastically if it is to regain the confidence of Malaysian voters, not just the Malays.

I can say with confidence that none of us question UMNO’s mission to defend the special position of the Malays, Islam as the official religion of our country and our system of constitutional monarchy. These matters are embodied in our constitution. At issue is the means of accomplishing its mission and the quality of its leadership.

In recent years, under Najib as Prime Minister we see that Malayness has been taken to extremes and our country is divided along race and religious lines. It has become Us (Malays) Versus Them (The Pendatangs and Kafirs). The Prime Minister has allowed PERKASA and ISMA to dictate the Malay agenda and run amuck with Islam. It is time for him to show that he is Prime Minister for all Malaysians.

While claiming to be a Moderate, he has allowed extremism to fester, necessitating the tabling of a White Paper on ISIS in our Parliament just a few days ago. Even JAKIM and JAIS have been permitted to persecute those who disagree with them on religious matters.

Patronage politics and endemic corruption continue unabated. Helping the Malays has been used to justify national policies when in reality these policies benefit  only cronies and a select few, usually members of the UMNO elite. There is a lot for UMNO to do, if it is to remain relevant.

Now we must hear what our Prime Minister has in mind when he delivers his Amanat Presiden to the UMNO General Assembly. Will he contradict his Deputy Prime Minister who has set a conciliatory tone for UMNO delegates? Embrace Malaysia with its rich diversity and face the challenges of intense globalisation with strong faith in our own people.–Din Merican

Political Will and Drastic Action against Warlordism in UMNO

by Azmi

DPM MalaysiaDeputy Prime Minister sets the Tone for UMNO GA

UMNO Deputy President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin delivered a humdinger of a speech on Tuesday night that startled critics because of its “confessional” nature — part plea, part reconciliation, part therapeutic and part self-criticism — as he earnestly examined the party’s prowess of rights and litany of wrongs.

He was unapologetic in defending the rights that UMNO has fought and struggled for, notably, the special Malay position, Islam as the official religion and continued constitutional monarchy, blended within Malaysia’s unique form of political stability and socio-economic equality, buttressed by well-meaning, long-standing affirmative action.

He stood aghast at the lagging Bumiputera disparity in property ownership, income and employment, and, despite a 44-year run, the New Economic Policy designed to level the odds for the Bumiputera lot is still sputtering, unable to fly on cruising speed as idealised.

He was also unapologetic in critically judging the wrongs plaguing UMNO, notably the unfavourable perception of the young against the party and its infamously unruly warlordism, whose depravity for power and wealth threatens the party’s cherished values.

Muhyiddin didn’t air his thoughts in a fit of frustration, although frustration was the heft in his lengthy tome: he offered hardened statistics, rock-solid studies and unassailable research on the maladies afflicting Bumiputeras, not just lamenting on their deprivation, but also their unconscionable inability to get out of the rut.

His list of Bumiputera listlessness was jarring: unemployment is highest among ethnic groups, as high as 70.3 per cent; unfair treatment of Malay graduates vying for private sector jobs despite equal qualifications; lowest paid among the races as much as 20 to 40 per cent less; and, comparatively lowest in property ownership.

Muhyiddin’s dirge is inescapably true yet, there is a simple explanation: to wit, a newly-minted director-general of a statutory body dealing in the arts was recently making his familiarity rounds, inspecting his communications unit, whose key task was meeting and dealing with foreign clients.

When a group of Americans came by seeking details of facilities and services, the communications people unfathomably “disappeared”, leaving nobody to assist the visitors.

When the Director-General investigated the fiasco, what he discovered infuriated and saddened him: the communications people “vanished” for no other reason than none were able to speak fluent English, fearful of embarrassing themselves with their malfunctioning grasp of the international language of doing business.

Ironically, when it comes to business trips to English-speaking countries, everyone in communications is able and willing to travel, never mind their linguistic lethargy.

Yes, unfairness, prejudice and preferential treatment is the dirty cost of doing business in the real world, but even then, many firms desperately wish they could recruit the dream Bumiputera candidate — if only he or she could speak and write decent English, a crucial non-negotiable prerequisite.It is an alarming blotch in the whole Bumiputera debacle that education — education in English, to be precise — has jacked up the statistics of the unemployable.

Why this stubborn resistance to learning English? The education system, for one, which has relegated English to a bottomless pit that only urbanites dare to dive into gladly in their ease of accepting Western culture of books, music, TV and movies, something which the “village” Bumiputera are loath to embrace.

It also does not help that certain politicians and activists campaigned ruthlessly against teaching Maths and Science in English while decrying such “yellow culture” in case it “infected” impressionable youngsters. As Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister, Muhyiddin holds the magic wand to reverse this English proficiency malaise. He knows what needs to be done.

In reaffirming the spectre of UMNO warlordism, Muhyiddin needs committed help to defang the warlords who, while enriching themselves silly, are also subconsciously killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

UMNO could start small: impose term limits in party elections and in key government posts, just to neutralise the warlords’ dominance while protecting their “dynastic heirlooms”, to be succeeded by only by their kin or crony.

True, it will take a gutsy manoeuvre to outwit these warlords, especially the entrenched ones, but there is a working precedent: the government’s direct 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) to youngsters, circumventing these warlords effectively, denying them power, control and commissions.

The warlords will undoubtedly retaliate with threats and thuggery but that’s chicken feed compared with the long-term damage to the party, if not the nation.

Muhyiddin is right about young prospects not being wrong in perceiving UMNO’s hierarchical peculiarities, having laid out the problem head-on.

All that needs coaxing is for strong political will to adopt the adage that UMNO has to be ruthless in order to be kind in defeating all that is bad in the party. It could be that simple but the reality is something else.