How can Malaysia become a developed nation? –Practise meritocracy


January 15, 2019

How can Malaysia become a developed nation?

-Practise Meritocracy.

 
2020
 

 

2020 will soon pass us by. 2050? Maybe. If we Practise Meritocracy

On June 12 last year, while delivering his keynote address at the 24th Nikkei Conference on the Future of Asia, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia could achieve developed nation status provided that the right policies were in place, and that Malaysians worked very hard.

When he stepped down as Prime Minister back in 2003, he believed that Malaysia could attain developed nation status by 2020. But the policies put in place were changed by the succeeding Prime Ministers. Even if we work extremely hard, we cannot achieve this by 2020. Maybe by 2025.

In 1970, when the New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced, our GRP per capita was the same as Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. After 49 years, the GDP per capita of these countries respectively is four, three and 2.5 times bigger than ours. These countries do not even have timber to build houses. They import almost everything.

At one time, we were the world’s biggest producer of tin, rubber and palm oil. We also had petroleum. Yet we could not become a developed nation. Why?

The biggest albatross was the implementation of the NEP. The policy of helping the Malays become competitive was very good, but it was poorly implemented.

Of late, many government officers including former Prime Minister Najib Razak have been charged with corruption over huge sums of money. Najib, as 1MDB chairman, had RM2.6 billion supposedly channeled into his personal account. He said it was a generous donation from the Saudi Royal Family.

Corruption is ruining Malaysia, which is now branded as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, worse than many countries in Africa.

My proposal: Practise Meritocracy.

Managing the country is like managing thousands of companies and conglomerates. Mahathir must appoint the best people as Ministers and Deputy Ministers, irrespective of race. If these leaders are really good, they would know how to make rules and regulations to help the people do better than before.

The government must always appoint the best people in its civil service. It must also practise meritocracy in promotions at all levels of management so that the whole machinery can operate efficiently.

Image result for Krishnan Tan

This reminds me of an experience I had when I was on the Board of Directors of IJM Corporation Bhd. All the Directors were engineers, and our Chief Financial Officer was WHO practiseD meritocracy ( pic above Krishnan Tan). When we wanted to borrow huge sums of money from the bank for some projects and expansion, Krishnan suggested that a more effective and less costly way would be to issue irredeemable convertible unsecured loan stocks or ICULS.

As engineers, we did not know anything about ICULS. We all agreed that Krishnan was the best man to manage the company. So we appointed him as CEO in 1984. His management was so efficient that the company continued to make more and more profit every year. As a result, the company’s share price continued to climb. The current market capitalisation of IJM Corp is about RM12 billion.

The private sector knows how to practise meritocracy to make a profit. If the government also practises meritocracy, Malaysia will become a developed nation.

The key to success is to practise meritocracy.

Koon Yew Yin is a retired chartered civil engineer and one of the founders of IJM Corporation Bhd and Gamuda Bhd.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Patronage is king in new Malaysia?


January 12, 2019

Patronage is king in new Malaysia?

by Dr.Terence Gomez

 

COMMENT | When Dr. Mahathir Mohamad led the opposition to a stunning election victory, he had an effective rallying cry that reflected why Umno’s form of governance was problematic: “Cash is king.”

If Mahathir is not careful, worrying recent trends indicate a similarly disconcerting problem about Pakatan Harapan’s government: “Patronage is king.”

When Harapan wanted to capture power, the coalition’s leaders told Malaysians to expect real change if UMNO was expelled from government. These reforms included ending ethnically-based policies, unfailingly applied since the 1970s to justify patronage favouring bumiputera, though extremely abused to enrich politicians in power.

The Prime Minister would also no longer concurrently serve as finance minister who had under his control a slew of GLCs like 1MDB and Tabung Haji, enterprises that had been persistently abused by UMNOo. Politicians would not be appointed as directors of GLCs.

These pledges contributed to Harapan’s considerable achievement of ending authoritarian rule in Malaysia. However, Harapan has been in power barely eight months and already alarming trends are appearing which suggest that this coalition is finding ways and means to renege on its pledges.

Equally troubling is a gradual and perceptible attempt to reinstitute the practice of selective patronage in the conduct of politics and in the implementation of policies, hallmarks of UMNO politics that led to its fall.

Soon after Harapan formed the government, it created the Economic Affairs Ministry, led by Mohamed Azmin Ali. Subsequently, numerous GLCs controlled by the Finance Ministry, under the jurisdiction of Lim Guan Eng, were transferred to the Economic Affairs Ministry.

Malaysia’s only sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional, was channelled from the Finance Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Department. The government did not publicly disclose why the shifting of these GLCs between ministries was necessary, but it is now clear that the Finance Ministry no longer holds enormous influence over the corporate sector.

With Khazanah under his ministry, Mahathir, though not also functioning as the Finance Minister, had secured control of Malaysia’s leading investment arm. When Mahathir argued that Khazanah had deviated from performing one of its original objectives, helping the bumiputera, this contention was disputed by numerous analysts.

Mahathir went on to appoint himself as chairperson of Khazanah, though this was, by convention, the practice. The convention also was that the finance minister should be a member of Khazanah’s board.

Instead, Azmin was given this appointment. Whether the prime minister and the economic affairs minister should have been appointed board members of Khazanah merited debate as Harapan had pledged that politicians would not be appointed as directors of government enterprises.

On Sept 1, 2018, a Congress on the Future of Bumiputeras and the Nation was convened by Azmin’s Ministry. Mahathir stressed at this convention the need to reinstitute the practice of selective patronage, targeting bumiputeras, though no longer would the government allow for the distribution of what he referred to as “easy contracts.”

Daim Zainuddin, the chair of the Committee of Eminent Persons (CEP), established to prepare a report reviewing the state of the economy, endorsed the need for such a bumiputera policy, though he acknowledged problems of the past when he said: “We want to get it right this time.” Daim also stressed that the government would strive to change the mindset of bumiputera.

The nation was not told how this policy will be altered to get it right, nor how mindsets will be changed. Meanwhile, the CEP report, though submitted to the government, was not publicly disclosed.

Instead, the bumiputera policy was stressed when the Economic Affairs Ministry released its Mid-Term Review of the 11th Malaysia Plan, while other ministers have actively affirmed that GLCs will be divested, an issue also in the 2019 budget. Given Malaysia’s long history of political patronage, worrying questions come to mind of these divestments.

For example, one important equity sale by Khazanah, an issue that barely secured any analysis in the press, was that of its interests in CIMB, the country’s second-largest bank. Khazanah reduced its equity holding in CIMB by 0.66 percent, a seemingly small divestment.

However, does this sale mark the beginning of the transfer of control of CIMB to well-connected business people, even proxies of politicians, a common practice by UMNO in the 1990s? Will Harapan, through such divestments, move to create a new breed of powerful well-connected business groups, even oligarchs, a trend seen in other countries transiting from authoritarian rule to democracy?

‘Dr M should know better’

Another worrying issue occurred recently. Rural and Regional Development Minister Rina Harun of Mahathir’s party, Bersatu, approved the appointment of politicians from her party to the boards of directors of GLCs under her control.

This is extremely worrying because, under UMNO, the Rural and Regional Development Ministry was persistently embroiled in allegations of corruption, with MARA being the prime example.

The practice of patronage through GLCs to draw electoral support was rampant under this ministry as it has a huge presence in states with a bumiputera-majority population.

So important is this ministry, in terms of mobilising electoral support, that it was always placed under the control of a senior UMNO leader. During Najib Abdul Razak’s administration, then UMNO Vice- President, Mohd Shafie Apdal, served as its minister before he was unceremoniously removed from office. Shafie was replaced by Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Najib’s close ally.

What Rina, once an UMNO member, has done by appointing politicians to GLCs under her authority is so reminiscent of patronage practices that had undermined the activities of these enterprises.

Azmin subsequently endorsed what Rina had done on the grounds that “there are some politicians who have professional background, such as accountants, engineers or architects, who can contribute to GLCs”.

Mahathir should know better than to allow this. After all, he had stressed that GLCs function to fulfil a “noble vision”, including the alleviation of poverty, equitable wealth distribution and spatial development, promotion of rural industries and the fostering of entrepreneurial companies in new sectors of the economy. Mahathir had also persistently referred to Malaysia’s complex ensemble of GLCs as a “monster.”

During Najib’s administration, this vast GLC network, created primarily to fulfil the bumiputera agenda, became tools easily exploited by UMNO, so visibly manifested in serious corruption associated with Felda and Tabung Haji.

However, Harapan has refused to establish an independent committee to review this extremely complex GLC network that operates at the federal and state levels. Is this reluctance because Harapan plans to similarly employ GLCs for the practice of patronage, as recent trends suggest?

What is clear, even becoming the norm, is Harapan’s consistent message to the nation: selectively targeted patronage will continue. The primary advocate of this message is Bersatu, an UMNO off-shoot.

 

At Bersatu’s first convention after securing power, held two weeks ago, its president, Muhyiddin Yassin, was quoted as saying: “As a party for the ‘pribumi’ or indigenous group, Bersatu should not be apologetic to champion the bumiputera agenda”.

Muhyiddin went on to say: “No one in our society will be left behind. Hence, this agenda is not a racial agenda, but a national agenda.” These statements are strikingly similar to what Umno had stressed when in power.

These trends suggest that for Harapan, and Bersatu in particular, consolidating power, by marshalling bumiputera support, is its primary concern, not instituting appropriate economic and social reforms.

If the government hopes to change mindsets, Harapan must focus on just universal-based policies that assist all Malaysians. In the process, disenfranchised bumiputera will also be supported. Patronage need not be king.


TERENCE GOMEZ is a professor of political economy at the Faculty of Economics and Administration, Universiti Malaya.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

The thinkers M’sian politics have come to rely on


January 1, 2019

The thinkers M’sian politics have come to rely on

Opinion  Phar Kim Beng

COMMENT | If one has had the benefit of following Malaysian politics since 1970 – a lifetime to many – several thinkers who have influenced the course of Malaysian history have become household names.

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Dr. Rais Saniman

The New Economic Policy (NEP), for example, was the handiwork of Rais Saniman and Just Faarland. Both believed in affirmative action, though critics who panned NEP have often pointed out that affirmative action is meant for the “minority” – not the majority.

Come what may, Malaysia would have been a racial havoc if NEP, despite all its imperfections, have not been working. Take some of the latest statistics on household income, for example.

Research by Khazanah Research Institute has shown that four out of five Malaysians would retire without sufficient pensions when they turn 55 or 60. Indeed, 15 percent of Malaysia’s population would exceed 60 years of age by 2023, according to Muhammad Khalid, the economic advisor of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. At this rate, Malaysia will begin to age sooner than expected.

The works of the late professor Syed Hussein Alatas has also been wonderfully powerful, as he referred to corruption as a “cancer” that can eat away the health – and wealth – of the country. Events between 2009-2018, through 1MDB, have proven that and more. Our national debt is now at USD 280.7 billion, while our GDP is merely USD 320 billion.

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The scholarship of professors Terence Gomez and KS Jomo have proved to be just as monumental, if not powerful. Since 1990, both scholars have warned of the insidious effects of “privatisation,” which if done incorrectly, can lead to “piratisation,” where the wealth nest of the government and the people are held captive by the vested interest of the narrow band of elites.

While little has been said, or, revealed about the scholarship of Salleh Yappar, a professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, his papers have identified various forms or varieties of “Islamism”.

They range from the sort one sees in Sufism, such as the order of Nashbandi, to the reformist movement of Angkatan Belia Islam Semalaysia. In fact, Salleh listed close to nine forms of Islamism in Malaysia between 1957-1990. Some of them involves cult like movements like Al Arqam, which has since been banned by Mahathir during his first tenure as Prime Minister.

Though, not strictly Malaysian, the works of William Case at University of Nottingham in Malaysia, have revealed the potentiality of a “pseudo democracy,” that is still “semi authoritarian,” in nature as Australian National University professor Harold Crouch called it.

Other commentators like Patricia Martinez, Noraini Othman, even Dina Zaman, indeed, Marina Mahathir, have warned about the danger of ignoring the gender bias that is embedded in most interpretations of religions.

Instead of “lowering one’s gaze,” as a man is urged by some religious scriptures to do, over domineering male preachers have insisted that women should cover themselves from head to toe.

Come what may, some of the Malaysian scholars in Borneo deserve greater mention too. Professor Jayum Jawan who has an interesting take that Sarawak was never colonised by the British government, let alone James Brooke, is interesting to say the least.

It calls into question the very fabric that makes the Federation of Malaysia: should the rights of the federal government always be greater than the states at hand, including Sarawak, even though it has a history that is unique compared to Peninsular Malaysia?

Elsewhere, professors Chandra Muzaffar,   Dr. Lim Teck Ghee, Francis Loh Kok Wai and Khoo Kay Jin have always highlighted the importance of liberating Malaysia from the iron rule of the bureaucratic or single-party state, especially the feudalism of UMNO.

Indeed, commentators like P. Gunasegaran and Ho Kay Tat have been invaluable to understanding 1MDB, backed by foreign scholarship by Tom Wright and Hope Bradley at Wall Street Journal.

The works of Nanyang Technology University professors Farish Noor and Joseph Liow Chin Yong in Singapore, as was the superb commentary of Dr Ooi Kee Beng, even politicians like Liew Chin Tong and Ong Kian Ming over the years, have made a “New Malaysia” more and more plausible.

That being said, two of the most tenacious thinkers are without a doubt Mahathir and Prime Minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim. Both are determined in their ideals to make Malaysia stronger and better, though with some nuance too.

Image result for Anwar' s Asian Renaissance

Mahathir seems sold on the idea that Look East can redeem Malaysia. Anwar, on the hand, believes that the rise and fall of Malaysia depends on the extent to which it can engineer its own “Asian Renaissance.”

Come what may, 2019 and 2020, are not going to be about transition from one reigning to another incoming Prime Minister only, but the extent to which both can master the art of promoting their ideas and ideals. These ideas and ideals must work too, without which Malaysia is back to the square one of 1970 if not earlier.


PHAR KIM BENG is a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution at Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Never-ending bumi policy dashes hope for ‘New Malaysia’


December 31, 2019

by Dr.Kua Kia Soong 

Never-ending bumi policy dashes hope for ‘New Malaysia’

COMMENT | We will be starting the New Year with our hopes for a New Malaysia dashed by the announcement of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mahathir that the bumiputera agenda (expiry date 1990) will continue.

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The NEP stays for as long as The Malays have political power. Let us not kid ourselves. It is non-negotiable, although I believe it is a major obstacle to Malay economic advancement. Discrimination on the basis of race is a fact.–Din Merican. 

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As in 1970 when the New Economic Policy started, and again in 1990 when the New Economic Policy was replaced by the National Development Policy which then morphed into the New Economic Model in 2010, we are treated to the same ludicrous doublespeak.

Doublespeak has been defined by some as “the ability to accept two conflicting beliefs, opinions, or facts as valid and correct, simultaneously. Doublespeak may happen because of someone being willfully perverse or as a result of faulty logic.” It is of course a word coined by George Orwell in the novel 1984.

Consider this. In the process of announcing the continuation of this Never-ending Bumiputera Policy, the Prime Minister tells Malays to stand without the ‘tongkat’ that the government is going to continue to provide them.

Even more doublespeak was the Bersatu President Muhyiddin Yassin’s pious wish that the implementation of the new bumiputera agenda as part of the Pakatan Harapan government’s core policy “must contribute towards economic growth with benefits enjoyed by all Malaysians”.

Why is it not possible to have an Affirmative Action Policy for the B40?

I find it remarkable that after more than 60 years of affirmative action for the bumiputera, we still cannot find intellectuals who can devise a race-free affirmative action policy! Our scholars and intellectuals have been schooled in the best universities overseas but they still cannot come up with a policy that does not discriminate on the basis of race.

An exception is economist Dr. Mohamed Ariff, who spoke out against such racially discriminatory policies in 2013:

“The NEP had outlived its usefulness and the government must move affirmative action policies from race-based to needs-based. This policy shift will ultimately benefit the Malays as they form the bulk of 40 percent of households in the lower-income bracket… The government’s policies seem to be populist in nature and not focused… hand-outs should only be given in crises, such as famine, as they remove the incentive to work hard. The Malays would not be able to compete in a globalised environment if they continued to depend on hand-outs.”

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Prof Terence Gomez has often questioned the race-based criteria for wealth distribution:

“Why the continuing fixation with numbers when many Malaysians, among them even members of BN component parties, have questioned the veracity of these government-released ownership figures? Even if bumiputera equity ownership is increased to 30 percent, would this mean that wealth has been more equitably distributed among members of this community or between them and other Malaysians? And, most importantly, should we continue to perpetuate a discourse on equitable wealth distribution among Malaysians along racial lines?”

At the Bersatu general assembly, the Prime Minister has justified the continuation of this racially discriminatory policy on the grounds that more than 70 percent of the B40 are bumiputera. If that is so, why not have an affirmative action policy for the B40, which would be race-free and would be agreeable with our Icerd obligations? Why practise racial discrimination and be noted as one of the few pariah nations in the world community that do not ratify Icerd?

What happened to the slogans for ‘New Malaysia’, ‘Asian Renaissance’, ‘Malaysian Malaysia’? Have these all been empty slogans? The other leaders of Pakatan Harapan – Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, Mohamad Sabu, P Waythmoorthy, who have condemned racial discrimination in the past – have not said a word about the continuation of the bumiputera agenda announced by the prime minister. Does silence signify consent or indifference?

Litany of crony capitalists

Given the Pakatan Harapan manifesto, it was shocking, though sadly not surprising, to hear Bersatu vice-president Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman (photo above) supporting delegates at its general assembly by calling for government resources to help the party. The former Election Commission chief said Bersatu must do all it could to win elections “by hook or by crook”. He said, “Looking at the situation now, we cannot defend our position as the governing party because the division chiefs are being left out of contracts.” Right, so contracts for the boys!

And was it surprising that throughout the years of the bumiputera agenda, Malaysia has featured high on The Economist’s crony capitalism index. Uncontrolled rent-seeking has allowed politically well-connected billionaires to double their wealth, thereby posing a threat to the free market, The Economist said. These rent-seeking industries include those easily monopolised, and that involve licensing or heavy state involvement, which it said was “prone to graft”.

This skewed bumiputera agenda is at the heart of the kleptocracy problem the Harapan government claims it wants to fix after the GE14.

From the 80s on, Mahathir’s privatisation of state assets ensured the divestment of state capital into the hands of favoured Malay crony capitalists. The success of the NEP in restructuring capital has, in the process, increased class differentiation within the Malay community. Thus, instead of targeting and providing strategic aid to the poor of all ethnic communities, the Umno ruling elite has continued to use the tried and trusted strategies of race-based cash aid and uplift plans aimed at bumiputeras.

Authoritarian populism of the Malaysian state

Image result for book byas Anne Munro-Kua

The truth is, as Anne Munro-Kua has analysed in her book, the Malay ruling elite in Malaysia has relied on an authoritarian populist style of rule to stem the possibility of the peoples from different ethnic communities uniting into a class-based political force and to simultaneously ensure the continued political domination of the Malay-led coalition.

  • A communal populist approach continues to be used to deflect the economic grievances of the Malay labouring classes against capitalist exploitation into a race-based ideological allegiance to the Malay ruling elite. The results from the GE14 will further ensure Harapan rely on such populist policies to try to capture the Malay rural votes.

While bumiputera policies are intended to benefit all bumiputera, the reality is that these policies have been usurped by the privileged Malay elite whose weak enterprise culture and expertise has had damaging consequences for the economic health of the nation. The bureaucracy has grown in tandem with the populist measures by the state capitalist class to carve out bigger and bigger slices of the rural and urban economic pie.

Institutional obstacles to attaining high-income status

According to an IMF working paper, Malaysia, as compared to other Asian countries, faces a larger risk of slowdown stemming from institutional and macroeconomic factors. A recent Asia Foundation Report also points to a compelling need for Malaysia to shift from a race-based to a needs-based policy in order to address imbalances in society and improve the democratic process to ensure good governance and that the rule of law prevails. It points out that poor institutions could deter innovation, hamper the efficiency of resource allocation and reduce the returns to entrepreneurship.

The report goes on to reason that despite the numerous bold policy measures and long-term plans introduced by the government over the years, Malaysia’s economic progress continues to be plagued by a lack of innovation and skills, a low level of investments in technology, declining standards in education, relatively high labour cost and sluggish growth in productivity. These lagging factors can be traced to the continuation of a backward racial discriminatory policy.

Thus far, Malaysia’s education system has failed to produce the skills and talent required to take the country’s economy to the next level. A key obstacle lies in the government’s failure to promote a fair and open economy. The bumiputera policy and insufficient checks and balances continue to hamper the country’s economy, leading to poor practices in governance. Reforms, especially the replacement of racial discriminatory policies with race-free inclusive policies are critically needed to rally the nation to achieve its economic objectives.

Affirmative action based on need, not race

In Malaysia, since the passing of the deadline for the NEP in 1990, it makes developmental sense to implement a new socially just affirmative action policy based on need or class or sector. Thus, if Malays are predominantly in the rural agricultural sector, the poor Malay farmers would be eligible to benefit from such a needs-based policy while the rich Malay land-owning class would not. Only such a race-free policy can convince the people that the government is socially just, fair and democratic.

The cost and consequences of the racially discriminatory policy in Malaysia have been immense especially since the NEP in 1971. It has caused a crippling polarisation of Malaysian society and a costly brain drain.

While the Chinese middle and working classes in Malaysia have largely adapted to this public sector discrimination by finding ways to make a living in the private sector, this has not been so easy for working class Indians.

Many Malaysian Indians have found themselves marginalised, much like the African Americans in the US were, especially after the destruction of the traditional plantation economy. The cost of preferential treatment has also seen greater intra-community inequality, with higher class members creaming off the benefits and opportunities.

More potentially dangerous and insidious is the effect this widespread racial discrimination has had on ethnic relations in this country. Unity can only be promoted through an affirmative action policy based on need, sector or class, never on race.


KUA KIA SOONG is adviser to human rights NGO Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)..

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Call me racist but Malays are in decline and it’s our fault – Dr M


December 29, 2018

Call me racist but Malays are in decline and it’s our fault – Dr. M

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/458169

 

ERSATU AGM | Bersatu chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s policy speech at the party’s general assembly tonight was full of introspection on the fate of the Malays and their need to be uplifted.

Mahathir said Malays were lagging behind economically but that this was their own fault.

“Yes, I will be accused as a racist for exposing the fate of the Malays and bumiputera. But for 70 years I have seen the decline happening to my people.

 

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This Jamal Fella is a parasite

Malaysian Taxpayer-funded New Economic Policy( NEP ) was introduced in 1970. Now it is 2019. When will it end? We are running  out of excuses. And soon we will be out of oil revenues too.

“It is okay if they tarnish my name as long as my race realises the ill fate which will befall them in the future. Realise that this is our own fault. Don’t find fault in others,” Mahathir said in his closing remarks.

He said the Malays must reject their old culture and create a new culture to save themselves. This includes not relying on a tongkat (walking aid), his decades-old term for affirmative action.

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Bersatu’s positioning as a Malay party has often been criticised by Pakatan Harapan supporters who want the party to be a multiracial one, similar to their allies.

However, the prime minister said in his speech that it was neither racist nor wrong to fight for the Malays who are separated from the other races by a wealth gap.

He said this was because economic disparity with a racial context was a dangerous combination which must be avoided.

“Race can’t be changed but the gap between the poor and the rich can be narrowed if not eliminated.

“It would be irresponsible of us if we do not try to avert racial riots (due to economic inequality) by at least narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor,” he said.

Standing tall

Earlier in his speech, however, Mahathir said the tongkat can’t be used for the long term. “For the week, a tongkat can help. But aid such as this can’t be maintained. When strength has returned the tongkat must be dropped.

“The idea that the tongkat is a sign of honour is wrong. Maintaining it for self-honour is unfounded,” he said.

Instead, the 93-year-old said those who had honour were those who stood tall on their own.

Bersatu, he said, would act as guardians of the Malays but only temporarily as the Malays must learn to be their own guardians.

This he added, could be achieved if they were no longer poor and successful economically, not politically.

“(We join politics) not to become prime minister, minister, menteri besar, or chief minister. We join politics so that one day we will no longer need to rely on politics.

“We join politics to save and free ourselves and achieve success as a race that is capable of competing with anyone with each and every one of us is capable of standing without a tongkat,” he said.

The three-day Bersatu annual general assembly will end tomorrow.

 

A new direction for the ‘new Malays’ in new Malaysia


December 27, 2018

A new direction for the ‘new Malays’ in new Malaysia

by  Dr .Rais Hussin

 

COMMENT | A paradigm, according to science philosopher Thomas Kuhn, is based on consensus. He showed that science was not a mere accumulation of facts through trial and error, but what scientists agreed to be correct.

But Kuhn also argued that all paradigms can be disrupted. And, when they are, the previous paradigm collapses. Sociologist Daniel Bell called this the “end of ideology.” This means when an old paradigm has lost its explanatory and prescriptive value, a new one will naturally supplant and displace it.

In a way, policy makers here have been attempting the same since the country came into being, by revising and challenge each five-year plan. Of late, this can be seen in the midterm review of the 11th Malaysia Plan. One can also include the Bumiputera Empowerment Congress in September.

Since the National Economic Policy formed the backbone of economic planning, the review of any plans or vision documents tends to echo its gold standard. However, this has been corroded by Umno; all that glittered turned out not to be gold, so how can the NEP be trudged out to create a new paradigm?

Under the rule of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, all GLICs were allowed to improve their balance sheets by going abroad. Once there, however, instead of harnessing FDI into the country, these GLICs tried to find greener pastures for themselves.

Felda Global Ventures and Mara went on a buying spree of hotels in the UK and Australia. Even fugitive financier Low Taek Jho did the same in the US until the kleptocratic ruse was uncovered by Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal.

When Najib Abdul Razak took over from Abdullah in 2009, he created 1MDB to borrow heavily  with the financial guarantees of the government to make a success out of Bandar Malaysia. By building it in an already congested section of the city, Najib was crowding out other good investments and making them more costly.

To the degree 1MDB was affected by controversy its debt and liabilities were absorbed by the Finance Ministry. When it could no longer handle the toxic assets and balance sheets, Tabung Haji and other GLICs, even Bank Negara, were brought in to bail it out. Even the National Audit Department was said to have altered its report on the investment firm.

The Umno paradigm

Regardless of what was done and how, and by whom, Umno’s larger justification has always been the self-serving agenda to protect the party elite, rather than the Malays. By focusing on themselves, Umno lost touch with its roots, and failed to protect the provisions of Article 153.

Then Umno resorted to importing cheap labour into Malaysia to keep wages down. Malays were the first to be affected. But Umno couldn’t have cared less, and allowed more and cheaper labour to swarm in, depriving Malays of the right to enjoy liveable wages.

The fact is this though: neither the administrations of Badawi, with his “fourth-floor boys”, or Najib, with his “kitchen cabinet”, knew how to protect the Malays. If they did, several oddities would not have pervaded in the system from top to bottom.

First, a select few controlled most of the financial liquidity of Permodalan Nasional Berhad. These were fair-weather investors, who would bail at the slightest smell of trouble. This is how Malays betray Malays, when plutocrats look after their own material interests, and not that of the Malay laity.

Indeed, if PNB did not offer yields at above market rate, the elites of Umno would have parked their cash elsewhere, even if such a move would destroy the fund’s financial liquidity. The modus operandi of these investors was “me first”, and the rest of Malays last.

Secondly, there are 94 bumiputera development agencies, which spawned 1,137 companies. Yet to date, aside from Mara, there is no telling of these agencies’ annual returns. These agencies clearly have become dishevelled, disorganised and disrupted.

Third, research seems to suggest that since the introduction of the NEP in 1970s, Malays only own 18 percent of corporate entities. Remove the equity participation of institutional investors, and this falls to an abysmally low five percent.

Nor is the goal of 30 percent going to be reached, since Malays tend to want to sell their shares and equities as and when they have made a profit. This is the proverbial moving of goalposts – a weak measure of what Malays can achieve or truly own in perpetuity.

And when the goal cannot be reached, Malays assume others are sticking a knife in their corporate portfolios, when in fact it is Umno cheating them, bringing to mind the Malay saying, “Harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi”. Umno embodied the worst form of this, which is why Malaysia devolved into a kleptocracy, before Pakatan Harapan managed to stop the rot.

Fourth, an NEP-centric document that is numerically tagged to 30 percent may not be a good thing – especially with Umno’s manipulations, which includes keeping the wealth among the elite. By creating a false positive balance sheet economy, Umno was pulling the wool over the people’s eyes, at least until May 9.

Globalisation a must

The fact of the matter is, Malays and Malaysia must globalise. And the economic conditions must become more varied and complex, and not driven by how Umno pads the accounts.

For example, the World Economic Forum listed the top ten risks of doing business in the current international economic system. The United State has its lowest unemployment in 49 years, the European Union in 43 years and Japan in 25 years. But the midterm review of the 11th Malaysian plan seems oblivious to the external situations abroad.

Malaysia has come a long way form 1957 with its US$314 billion GDP, and it can go further. But this is premised on good governance and nimble, effective and strong economic statecraft–not just within the country, but in consonance with the world.

The US Federal Reserve Bank, for instance, has approved eight interest hikes in the last two years alone. The era of cheap money can and will disappear in the next one to two years, if interest rates in Washington continue to rise.

The global economy is also going through more revolutions in apps, algorithm, analytics and automation, which will lead to more Sino-US trade rivalry as both compete to become dominant in these fields.

None of these is apparent in the NEP, the 11th Malaysia Plan nor its midterm review. Yet, Malaysia is right in the thick of these disruptive technologies, as it is the 17th largest trading state in the world, as well as China’s One Belt One Road initiative.

New Malays in a new Malaysia must take these disruptions into account instead of insisting on perpetual protection from the state. In a honeycomb economy, any app can theoretically disrupt old supply chains – Airbnb allowing tourists to circumvent the front desks of hotels, BMW’s DriveNow dismantling notions of ownership, and EdX allowing students to bypass enrolment in formal universities.

A new country

If Malaysia does not try to think of new ways to become a new country, one that can adapt to the latest digital disruptions, a mere fetish with NEP – which has become a vehicle for rent-seeking and corruption to enrich the Umno elite – will only cause resentment among the other 99.5 percent of Malays.

If anything, May 9 was an indication of how mad the rakyat can get when wealth does not trickle down.

As things stand, there are 113,000 Felda settlers, of which 32,000 have been receiving cost of living aid. While they wait, the prices of palm oil will not go up anytime soon, since China has agreed to buy US soybean in order to prevent the collapse of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Little wonder palm oil is doing badly. Workers from Felda have to think of new ways to make a breakthrough. It is also important to diversify new markets for palm oil, including, but not limited to, Russia, Eastern Europe, and South Asia.

New Malays must have the strategic mentality to go where returns are highest, even before GLCs have found the first breakthrough. There are four ways Malays can change. As rudimentary as it may sound, they have to assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Strength can be derived from the willingness to defend their honour, after years of being spoiled by Najib. Nothing is more powerful than the will and tenacity to change or turn over a new leaf.

But just as some are committed to turning over a new leaf, weaknesses lie in certain quarters like Umno and PAS luring people back to the racial and kleptocratic ways of old in time for the 15th general election.

Now that Malaysia has ditched the kleptocracy and kakistocracy, new opportunities are opening up for the likes of Bersatu to field more qualified and capable candidates in GLCs, GLICs and even thinktanks. The party must not lose this once in a lifetime chance. Appointing qualified and capable candidates, rather than mere politicians, is key towards recalibrating Malay minds.

The threats come in the form of the pseudo-Islam peddled by some in PAS, and increasingly, Umno – evident in the PAS Youth Chief’s dictate against the celebration of Christmas.

When Malays can engage, and work with those from any race across the aisle, there is no stopping Malaysia from becoming a major strategic power in Asean.


RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Bersatu. He also heads its policy and strategy bureau.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.