CIMB Group Nazir Razak’s Departure sends the wrong message: Competent Professionals are not wanted, only politics matter


September 25, 2018

CIMB Group Nazir Razak’s Departure sends the wrong message: Competent Professionals are not wanted, only politics matter

by Ho Kay Tat@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for CIMB's Nazir Razak

 

“Don’t be afraid to speak up – express your opinions with honesty.”–Nazir Razak. He has integrity. I admire him for this rare attribute. It is the reason why Nazir is respected and highly regarded in Cambodia. He will be missed by his staff as a role model of professionalism.–Din Merican

COMMENT | CIMB Group Holdings Bhd chairperson Nazir Razak was an early and vocal critic of 1MDB and the opaque manner it was managed.

It is, therefore, sad that he is now a casualty of the 1MDB fallout, as the new government which came to power on the back of public anger over the financial scandal makes further leadership changes at government-linked companies (GLCs).

Most people will point out that Nazir had received money (now discovered to have originated from 1MDB) from his brother Najib as contribution to be passed to others for the 2013 general elections. Like many, he would not have imagined back then that the money came from 1MDB and he has since expressed regret about what he did. It was a mistake.

When 1MDB was set up in September 2009, Nazir had questioned the need for another sovereign wealth fund and the fact that 1MDB was not governed under the GLC framework of governance. After 1MDB issued its first bond – the RM5 billion 30-year sukuk arranged by AmBank Bhd – he criticised the mispricing of the bond, which was issued at a steep discount and carried a high coupon rate of 5.75% despite being guaranteed by the government.

Suspicious about where 1MDB was heading, Nazir issued a directive that CIMB does not do any business with it. It was a decision which upset some of his staff because of the loss in potential revenue from corporate lending and investment banking transactions, and there were billions worth of deals between 2010 to 2013.

When the troubles at 1MDB began to surface with the delay in the release of its audited accounts sometime in late 2013, Nazir worked hard behind the scenes to engage his brother and other senior government officials to address the problems. He warned them of the threat an implosion of 1MDB would pose to the country’s financial well-being – which is what has happened now.

After it became clear to him that no action will be taken, Nazir began to make his views public especially via his Instagram postings.

In January 2014 he penned an article ‘Remembering My Father, Tun Razak’ as an oblique reminder to his brother not to taint the reputation of their father.

Nazir wrote that one minister who served under his father told him: “As the custodian of the nation’s coffers, his frugality was legendary. You had to account for every cent, or he would be on your back.”

In February 2015, responding to a New York Times article which quoted a Najib’s spokesperson as saying that the prime minister was wealthy because he had inheritance money, Nazir and his three other brothers issued a statement to dispute what was said.

“We wish to put on record that Tun Abdul Razak was a highly principled man, well-known to all who knew him for his frugality and utmost integrity and any statement or inference to the contrary would be totally false and misleading to his memory and to his service and sacrifices for the nation.

“We take issue with anyone who taints his memory, whatever the motive. We would also like to add that our whole family is united on this issue,” said the statement which was signed by Nazir, Johari, Nizam and Nazim.

Attacked by pro-UMNO bloggers

Nazir was among those who pressed for Parliament to investigate and he criticised 1MDB’s first CEO Shahrol Halmi and Arul Kanda Kandasamy when they refused to attend the inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Because of his criticisms of 1MDB, Nazir was attacked by the mainstream media controlled by UMNO as well as by UMNO-sponsored bloggers. He and his family were also victims of a blogger – Ahrily90 – who posted vicious attacks on them.

The Edge on Feb 4, 2015 exposed that this blogger was the same person who attacked our chairperson Tong Kooi Ong and Dr Mahathir Mohamad who, like Nazir, had been asking questions about 1MDB.

Ahrily90 was also behind two websites (since taken down) that promoted Jho Low as a smart financier and generous donors to various charities. This confirmed to us that our criticisms of 1MDB were correct and that Jho Low and his cohorts were getting uncomfortable with all the questions we were asking.

It was a frustrating time for us as our efforts were going nowhere. 1MDB, by then led by Arul Kanda, kept refuting our reports and denied that anything was wrong.

Image result for nazir razak and Tun Razak

 

I can reveal that The Edge and Nazir worked together, in our respective ways, to expose the wrongdoings at 1MDB to get the government to act against those responsible.

Work was done behind the scenes for a solution. But none could be found.

Instead, in July 2015, Najib sacked his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and removed investigators. And The Edge and The Edge Financial Daily were suspended as part of the crackdown.By then, there was nothing more Nazir could do.

He was misled by his own brother. Nazir was also personally conflicted – his brother was the creator of the monster that he had warned against. Despite that, Nazir was probably the only corporate leader who had publicly voiced out concerns about 1MDB. He could have chosen to keep quiet.


HO KAY TAT is publisher of The Edge.

The above commentary was originally published here. The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Dr. Fareed: Why I Talk to Bono


September 23, 2018

Dr. Fareed: Why I Talk to Bono

Image result for Bono and Fareed Zakaria

When confronting a challenging problem, it’s sometimes useful to listen to someone who looks at it from an entirely different angle. That’s why I found it fascinating to talk about the rise of populism and nativism with Bono last weekend at a summit in Kiev. The Irish singer-activist-philanthropist sees the same forces that we all do, particularly in Europe, but he zeroes in on something intangible yet essential. The only way to counter the dark, pessimistic vision being peddled by nationalists and extremists, Bono says, is to have an uplifting, positive vision. Homing in on the trouble in his part of the world, he told me, “Europe needs to go from being seen as a bore, a bureaucracy, a technical project, to being what it is: a grand, inspiring idea.”

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To that end, Bono’s band, U2, has been choosing a moment during its concerts to unfurl — wait for it — the flag of the European Union. “Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling,” Bono wrote in a recent op-ed in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. He is trying to give that feeling meaning. To him, Europe is about the ability of countries that were once warring to live in peace, for people of many different lands and languages to come together. “That idea of Europe deserves songs written about it, and big bright blue flags to be waved about,” he wrote.

Image result for Bono and Fareed Zakaria

Bono admits that Europe is a “hard sell” today. The continent is ablaze with populism. These forces have taken control in Hungary, Poland and Italy and are steadily gaining ground elsewhere, including Germany and Sweden. It seems that everywhere the fuel is the same: hostility toward strangers, foreigners, anyone who is different. In April, NPR’s Joanna Kakissis reported on a Hungarian sociologist, Endre Sik, who had polled Hungarians about allowing asylum seekers into the country. He found strong resistance to accepting particular groups such as Romanians, Chinese and Arabs, and then he decided to ask about the “Pirezians.” The Pirezians are a fictional ethnic group of Sik’s own creation, yet Hungarians roundly refused to take them in. Sik told NPR, “The Hungarian form of xenophobia is, let’s say, the classic form: ‘They are different, we don’t know them, therefore we hate them.’ That’s the beast in us.”

Bono’s message resonated because I had been reading Francis Fukuyama’s new book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment.” Fukuyama argues that identity stems from humans’ deep-seated psychological need to be recognized as possessing dignity. In recent decades, in the understandable search for recognition, persecuted minority groups (blacks, Hispanics, gays) have celebrated their identity — and so have working-class whites, who now feel ignored and forgotten. The answer, Fukuyama says, is not to reject identity politics but to construct broad identities that can embrace others and unify different groups.

The founders of the E.U., he argues, spent too much time building the technical aspects of the project — laws, rules, tariffs. They neglected to nurture an actual European identity, something people could believe in not for rational reasons but for emotional and idealistic ones. In the American case, he argues, the anti-populist forces have to create a broad identity centered on core American ideas and values rather than narrow ethnic, racial or religious ones. Thus, we need a much greater focus on assimilation, on the celebration of American identity, on the things that make us all love being American. We need to connect with people in their guts, not just in their heads.

The European challenge might seem much greater than the American one, but in fact, distrust of foreigners doesn’t necessarily mean a rejection of Europe. Even in Poland and Hungary, where ethnonationalist sentiments run high, support for the E.U. is quite high. According to the latest European Commission surveys, 71 percent of Poles say they feel attached to the E.U., more so than Germans or Spaniards, while 61 percent of Hungarians feel attached, outstripping the French, Swedes and Belgians. The problem is, it isn’t a deep, emotional bond — they are three to four times more likely to feel very attached to their own nation than to the E.U.

Image result for Fareed Zakaria talks to BONO

What people in Europe and the United States ought to be proud of, what they should celebrate, are the remarkable achievements of diversity. “I love our differences,” wrote Bono, “our dialects, our traditions, our peculiarities. . . . And I believe they still leave room for what [Winston] Churchill called an ‘enlarged patriotism’: plural allegiances, layered identities, to be Irish and European, German and European, not either/or. The word patriotism has been stolen from us by nationalists and extremists who demand uniformity. But real patriots seek unity above homogeneity. Reaffirming that is, to me, the real European project.”

And, I would add, the American project as well.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

 

A Plague on both your houses, ex-UMNO man tells Dr M and Anwar


September 22, 2018

A Plague on both your houses, ex-UMNO man tells Dr M and Anwar

A former UMNO MP has urged moderate parliamentarians from the party not to take sides between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim, but to remain as an independent and progressive bloc.

Image result for malay students in madrasa

“Penerapan nilai-nilai Islam” or Malay Decadence?

Speaking to FMT, Tawfik Ismail said Mahathir and Anwar started Malaysia on the path to ultra-conservative Islamisation in the 1980s, with the then-Prime Minister establishing the powerful JAKIM and Anwar pushing his idea of “Penerapan nilai-nilai Islam” in the government.

Given the seemingly directionless and weakened state of their former party UMNO after the May 9 polls, he added, both Mahathir’s PPBM and Anwar’s PKR were now waiting with bated breath.

Image result for tawfik ismail

“A plague on both your houses I say,” said the former Sungai Benut MP, taking a line from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”.

“I’m cynical of UMNO, PPBM and PKR because they’re all fragments of UMNO Baru, which was unrecognisable from the original UMNO.

“People say UMNO is dying, (but) that’s not accurate because UMNO already died in 1987 when it was declared illegal along with its noble ideals.”

Image result for anwar and mahathir

They forgot that they started the rot but I  don’t–Din Merican

Tawfik said because UMNO Baru was now “dead”, he believed many of its leaders wouldn’t hesitate to ditch the party and join either PPBM or PKR to secure their personal interests.

“At the end of the day, if this happens, will we really see a different Malaysia?At least where ultraconservative Islamisation is concerned, I have to say no because neither PPBM nor PKR seems to really want to kill what Mahathir and Anwar created.”

He said the “ex-UMNO Baru” bunch in PKR and PPBM seemed reluctant to appear “unIslamic”, whether in addressing the issue of child marriages, deinstitutionalising religion or pushing for change where religious matters were concerned.

“The religious agenda continues to be driven by the very same people who made it more important than it should have been. It’s both lawmakers and civil servants.”

He said moderates like Mustapa Mohamed and Anifah Aman, who left UMNO earlier this week, would find real change impossible if they had to join either Mahathir or Anwar.

“There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty in Malay politics at this rate but rather than take sides, like warring camps in UMNO did in 1987, why don’t the moderates in Umno form a non-aligned, progressive and moderate bloc on their own?

“If you take sides, it will just be a return to the ways of UMNO Baru. The likes of Mustapa, Anifah and Khairy Jamaluddin don’t have to side with others. If they remain moderate, they can draw moderates not just from UMNO Baru, but from those outside of UMNO Baru, including non-Malays.”

He said there were bound to be moderates in PKR and PPBM, just as there were radicals in the two Pakatan Harapan parties and UMNO Baru.

He added that forming a moderate bloc, aligned to neither PPBM nor PKR, would keep the two parties from going down the path of race and religion while helping them stay true to the spirit and ideology of the original UMNO.

Shifting Alliances in the Corridors of Power


September 21, 2018

Opinion

Shifting Alliances in the Corridors of Power

 

The Pathetic Inheritors of the Corrupt UMNO Najib Legacy

COMMENT | Former minister Nazri Abdul Aziz is now brazenly saying out in the open that UMNO’s best-case scenario for future prospects is to support and team up with Anwar Ibrahim.

More than any party here by far, UMNO is a collection of fat cats.They reached their heights of obesity and opulence by sitting in the free-ride comforts of a government they never imagined losing control of.

Quite simply, almost all UMNO leaders have absolutely none of the integrity, experience, gumption, skill, drive, motivation, diligence, intelligence, passion, know-how, fibre, endurance (you get the idea) or interest really, required for being an effective or successful politician outside of the federal government.

All the UMNO fat cats really want is a shortcut that will take them from the cold rain, in which they now shiver and starve, back into the warm government mansion they grew up in, to purr and preen in comfort amidst their never-ending gravy train.

The path Nazri seems to be advocating offers exactly that, and all they apparently have to do is to create enough friction between Bersatu and PKR, and make sure that Anwar becomes the prime minister.

As detailed in Part 1 of this article, Anwar could conceivably then dump Bersatu in favour of UMNO – especially if he starts to feel that Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed may renege on his promise to hand over power.

Mahathir could of course react by calling for early elections. Perhaps it was in anticipation of such a scenario that Anwar started courting good relationships with the Malay rulers very early on, as a refusal by the palace to dissolve Parliament could complicate matters.

Mahathir taking pre-emptive measures?

Image result for master yoda mahathir mohamad

Needless to say, Mahathir is far too intelligent to let such an outflanking manoeuvre happen without a response, and calling for early elections is likely a last resort rather than the first line of defence.

I think this is the context of UMNO’s recent resignations – the post-Port Dickson timing of which could be no coincidence at all.

Not every UMNO person buys Nazri’s plan. Indeed, while most of the party members do favour the fat-cat shortcut back to power, there appears to be considerable differences of opinion as to which shortcut in particular is best.

The three main schools of thought seem to be: through PKR, through PAS, or through Bersatu.

Nazri is probably correct in pointing out that going through PAS makes pretty much no numerical or ideological sense whatsoever.

Image result for Musthapha Mohamad and Anifah Aman

Perhaps the likes of Mustapa Mohamed and Anifah Aman(pic, above) are leaning towards the Bersatu route.

This is an interesting response. If there is a sufficiently large migration from UMNO to Bersatu, this could basically make Bersatu the new UMNO in terms of their position in the coalition – a big, Malay party that everyone agrees will nominate the PM.

Splitting UMNO could also neutralise any effort by Anwar to use UMNO as a threat against Bersatu.

If large numbers of UMNO MPs join Bersatu, then the UMNO support may no longer be the same bargaining chip it currently is.

Then again, for all an outsider like me knows, Mustapa and Anifah could be the ones looking to join PKR.

Either way, those who have left clearly do not have faith in UMNO as a bloc, and appear to be seeking their futures elsewhere.

Two out of three

In summary, in this bizarre love triangle between Bersatu, PKR, and UMNO, almost any two-out-of-three combination essentially produces a workable win.

There are a number of other factors, and/or radical possibilities.

DAP will obviously play a big role, while PAS, PBB, Amanah, and Warisan will play slightly smaller ones. Then there is the Azmin Ali factor.

Only while writing this article did the scenario occur to me: Especially if Azmin loses the PKR Deputy President’s race, what’s to stop him from defecting over to Bersatu?

This solves a number of different problems for both Bersatu and Azmin.

If the PKR elections go on in its current trajectory, the bad blood between team Azmin and team Anwar may be irreconcilable, and Azmin’s position within PKR may no longer be tenable.

Azmin moving to Bersatu would give the party a more viable succession plan with regards to subsequent PMs (a Goh Chok Tong to Mukhriz Mahathir’s Lee Hsien Loong perhaps?), and the numbers that could follow Azmin would also, again, help with Bersatu’s low-in-parliamentary-seats problem.

An exodus from PKR to Bersatu would be even bigger if Bersatu goes multiracial – further reducing the role or need for a party like PKR.

These battle lines are perhaps already visible in the copious amount of columns, blog posts, and viral Whatsapp messages that are either very strongly pro- or anti-Anwar, suggesting a consolidated and coordinated effort.

The race factor

Needless to say, all of this is speculation – and a somewhat sensationalist one at that.

For all I know, we could see a smooth transition to Anwar becoming the next PM, a stable rota system put in place to determine future prime ministers, and Harapan continuing just the way it is, happy as a clam.

Or, it could all be unrecognisable inside a year. It’s hard to say.

All these seismic shifts are potentially possible in large part because ideology has almost never played a big role in modern Malaysian politics.

The only vital and somewhat ideological question is how much of a factor race should be in Malaysian politics. This may come into play, say if Umno MPs need to decide which new party they want to support.

Perhaps some see maintaining Malay supremacy as the priority, a goal which can only be achieved by supporting Bersatu or PAS, while others may prefer the PKR route.

Other than that, Malaysian politics can likely be said to be dominated more by personality politics than anything else. It often comes down to which feudal lord one likes better.

Transforming incentive structures

Of course, just because this is the way it is, doesn’t mean that this is the way it always needs to be. Changing the incentive structures and the architecture of our political system could largely eliminate the need for many of the conflicts above.

One radical way to drastically cut back on inter-party conflict (such as Bersatu and PKR fighting over long-term stewardship of the PM’s post), is simply for all Harapan parties to merge.

Many would cite mind-boggling logistical difficulties (true, no doubt), and extreme resistance to the idea by conservatives.

If we think about it though, what function does having multiple parties in the coalition actually serve?

The old BN model was simple, for the peninsular at least. We have one party for one race. If you are Malay and have a problem, go see UMNO; Chinese, look for MCA; Indian, MIC.

It was devilishly simple in its concept, but simply devilish in the divided Malaysia it eventually created.

What about the realities of today? Do we want to follow the old formula? Malays see Bersatu, Chinese see DAP, and Indians can see the new Malaysia Advancement Party?

A merged party will still have leaders and elected representatives from every community that voters will likely find approachable.

True, little Napoleons will perhaps find themselves with less power, but wouldn’t that be a good thing?

It’s a bold idea that is unlikely to see the light of day, but regardless, I do hope we keep looking to radical solutions to blaze paths forward and leave behind the endless internal politicking that takes up far too much time and energy of Malaysian politicians.

After all, all the intrigue and speculation is somewhat entertaining, but don’t we have a new Malaysia to govern?

YESTERDAY: Future PMs: Many possibilities within Bersatu, PKR and Umno triangle


NATHANIEL TAN is eager to serve.

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

New regimes, old policies and a bumiputera reboot


September 20, 2018

New regimes, old policies and a bumiputera reboot

by Dr. Hwok-Aun Lee

http://www.newmandala.org/new-regimes-old-policies-bumiputera-reboot/

Image result for Hwok Aun-Lee

Dr. Hwok-Aun Lee is Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore, with the Malaysian Studies and Regional Economic Studies programmes, Hwok- Aun has researched and published widely on affirmative action in Malaysia and South Africa. He was previously head of Development Studies, Faculty of Economics at University of Malaya.

Malaysia’s incipient Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, inheriting the country’s financial debacles and its extensive and complex ethnic policies, negotiates a three-cornered tussle.

Image result for pakatan harapan government

As a first order of business, it must clear a fiscal morass and deliver on election promises of integrity, transparency, and prudence. The government also strives to accommodate the interests of constituencies it won by a landslide, which brings various non-Malay concerns to the fore.

At the same time, PH seeks to allay anxieties of substantial segments of the Malay electorate that remain wary of the new dispensation, and perceived loss of privileges and sureties. This is a difficult balancing act, demanding delicate transitions and bold new mindsets.

Thus far, we see firm action on fiscal discipline, and familiar electoral overtures and concessions. But old mindsets endure. Their prevalence, exhibited in the open tender and ethnic reservation policies in public procurement, and in ethnic allocations in higher education, will hinder PH’s capacity to make headway in promoting Bumiputera capability and competitiveness, which are prerequisites for systematically rolling back ethnic preference.

New government, old policies?

Ten years apart, Lim Guan Eng (the Democratic Action Party chief) gave starkly similar policy assurances to Malay contractors – from vastly different positions. The first episode occurred in April 2008 when Lim was catapulted to high office following the 12th General Elections (GE12). As Penang Chief Minister, he assured Malay contractors that his administration’s open tender policy would not sideline them. While announcing the policy a few weeks prior, he justified it as a means to arrest the New Economic Policy’s (NEP) cronyism, corruption, and inefficiency. His words stoked anxiety and ire among some Malay groups. UMNO, hegemon of the Barisan Nasional (BN) federal government, capitalised on these sentiments to foment fiery public protests against Lim. Over 10 years, open tenders were implemented in Penang for larger contracts, while the smallest category was reserved for Malay contractors, in line with BN-prescribed federal policy.

The second episode passed in June 2018. Freshly appointed Malaysian Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng affirmed an open tender policy for federal public procurement – backed by the PH’s groundbreaking occupation of Putrajaya. And yet, swift on the heels of this pronouncement, he again declared that the government would not sideline Malay contractors. He even appended a befuddling note that “open tender” means open to all Malay contractors (with more competitive selection). Malay contractors hadn’t protested in the streets, although they had met with the Council of Eminent Persons just two weeks after GE14. Perhaps they were given enough assurances to preempt public dissent, but Lim also strenuously avoided upsetting the status quo.

Hence, we see no indication that public procurement procedures may be enhanced and invigorated. Open tenders for medium and large contracts – where non-Bumiputera companies more actively participate – satisfy some electoral constituencies; continual reservation of small contracts for Bumiputera firms satisfies others.

This is unfortunate, because Malaysia cannot fulfill the ultimate goal of rolling back ethnic preferential policies – professed by both the PH and BN coalitions for the past decade – unless the country clarifies, enhances, and broadens the ways it develops Malay capability and competitiveness.

Public procurement has distributed enormous largesse over many decades, but has fallen far short of its goal of grooming Malay enterprise. To be sure, the policy has in the past been vitiated by UMNO patronage and ‘Ali-Baba’ arrangements where a politically connected UMNO fixer secures the deal and subcontracts the work – typically to a Chinese company. These fronting practices have been tackled in recent years, and the new administration shows added resolve to cleanse and depoliticise the system. But it remains unclear about how it will leverage government contracting for broader developmental objectives.

The current state of the sector, with a handful of dynamic large-scale Malay contractors and overwhelming concentration of protected, static small-scale contractors, may well be perpetuated. Three-quarters of Bumiputera contractors are classified as G1, the smallest of seven tiers needing paid-up capital of only RM5,000-10,000 (A$1690-3380), and almost all remain there. In 2011, less than 0.2% of them graduated to G2 or G3. G1 contractors must be 100% Bumiputera owned and qualify for contracts worth RM200,000 (A$67,581) or less, which are allocated via balloting, not tendering. Given these conditions, who would want to move up? The flip side of “not sidelining Bumiputera contractors” is not doing much at all to facilitate expansion, innovation, and competitiveness.

A similar scenario has played out in the higher education sphere. Matriculation colleges offer a faster track to enter university, and since their rapid expansion from the late 1990s, have been the predominant pre-university option for Bumiputera students. Matriculation programmes were originally fully reserved for Bumiputeras, but since 2003 they have applied a 10% non-Bumiputera quota.

The quota balance, and occasional special allocations, epitomise Malaysia’s political bargain, where size of the ethnic slice preoccupies policy considerations, much more than the efficacy and equitability of the intervention. Pre-GE14, BN promised 700 places in matriculation colleges to Indian students. Post-GE14, PH announced an extra allocation of 1,000 spaces to Chinese students from B40 households (the bottom 40%, based on household income). The addition of socioeconomic criteria marks a progressive step, but simultaneously raises questions over its selective application to one ethnic group. Facilitating more entry of disadvantaged students into higher education should be high on the agenda of a government declaring priority in expanding need-based policies.

Understandably, the programme must remain accessible to Bumiputera students. PH is studiously aware that it has not won over the majority of the Malay electorate; analysis of GE14 results show the community’s vote roughly split 35-40% for BN, 25-30% for PH , 30-33% for PAS. PAS has also heightened the volume and fervour of its Malay “privileges” advocacy, alongside its Islamist raison d’etre. Education Minister Maszlee Malik reiterated that the additional 1,000 matriculation spaces for B40 Chinese would not reduce the spaces for Bumiputeras. So matriculation colleges will remain predominantly reserved for Bumiputeras, perhaps with continual allotments to particular groups.

However, allocating more quotas for other groups lowers the academic bar for more beneficiaries. It continues to set back Bumiputera capability development, due to the deficiencies of the matriculation programme. Studies have shown that matriculation graduates fare poorer than STPM (Malaysia’s A-levels equivalent) graduates upon entry to university. Education disparities are deeply rooted. Advantage and disadvantage overlap with various factors, including ethnicity and geography, and can start from the pre-school stage, setting students on diverging academic trajectories. While matriculation colleges cannot be expected to close the achievement gaps they can arguably play a more meaningful and effective role in narrowing them. To Malaysia’s ultimate detriment, the content and rigour of the matriculation programme are never brought to the table.

Interestingly, Maszlee has mooted the notion of a single pre-university system, which entails merging the STPM, matriculation, and a host of other university entry channels. It’s a worthwhile consideration, but it does not seem possible until the average ethnic achievement gaps are narrowed, which in turn looks improbable unless the matriculation colleges are revamped.

Basic reset

Racial quotas and reservations remain because their removal risks alienating the beneficiaries. Surveys consistently show a substantial majority of Malays favour the continuation of preferential policies.

Despite bi-partisan rhetoric since 2010, of shifting away from race-based affirmative action to need-based affirmative action, the vast bulk of Bumiputera preferential programmes have remained untouched, from matriculation and contracting quotas mentioned above, to microfinance, technical training, business loans, scholarships and asset ownership schemes. The vast programmes deliver benefits, and embed expectations of continued special treatment.

Mindful of these realities and sentiments, both PH and BN governments underscored their support for the Bumiputera agenda before and after GE14. PH typically highlights the worst abuses of the system, involving UMNO patronage and utilisation of state-disbursed opportunity for private gratification. Cleansing UMNO-linked rapacity from the system addresses one problem – undoubtedly, a big problem – but omits the much wider interventions that reach out to ordinary Bumiputeras. This mindset neglects to pay critical attention to the manifold, massive programmes that serve Bumiputera masses. The sedentary and muddled state of Bumiputera policy warrants a basic reset.

The Future of Bumiputeras and the Nation Congress of September 1,  2018, organised by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, necessarily affirmed the Bumiputera agenda while sharply critiquing abuses and shortfalls of the UMNO-administered system, and exhorting Malay business to change mindset. However, the event offered few specific propositions, and omitted distinctions between higher education, enterprise development, employment, and wealth ownership policies.

How should the PH government proceed? First, by anchoring Bumiputera policies on the fundamental objective of broadly developing capability and competitiveness, and the prime missions of equipping and empowering the community to graduate out of receiving special assistance, toward rolling back the existing system of ethnic preference. Second, by recognising that Bumiputera policies operate differently in the specific sectors where they are embedded – higher education, high-level occupations, enterprise development, wealth and property ownership – which demands sector-specific reforms.

Third, by systematically integrating ways to reinforce needs-based and merit-based selection into the policy regime. Two main applications arise: the policy regime should expand the scope for needs-based selection, where appropriate, to target the disadvantaged and to impose sunset clauses and limits on those who have benefited. In some but not all policy sectors, need-based schemes can feasibly replace race-based schemes. The regime should also expand the scope for merit-based selection to select Bumiputera beneficiaries with capability and potential to showcase success and achieve competitiveness – as pathway to rolling back preferences.

The government contracting and matriculation college cases are illustrative, but of course the principles can be applied more broadly.

One of the barriers to reform seems to be the fear of introducing changes that may reduce access enjoyed by erstwhile beneficiaries. On this note, there may well be a window of opportunity to reconfigure public procurement, with contractors also expressing discontent at being marginalised by UMNO-linked “cronies”. Additionally, there is a broad acceptance of the need for the system to foster competitiveness.

In this light, some possible reforms – for small to medium scale projects – include:

  • Incentives for partnerships and consortia to bid for larger contracts (e.g. set aside some G4 contracts for G2 and G3 to jointly pursue)
  • Points for moving up a tier (e.g. award points for a G1 contractor who moves up to G2, applicable for the first 2-3 years after that move)
  • Sunset clauses that limit the number of contracts or time periods one can receive preferential treatment (e.g. 3 contracts, or 6 years)
  • Measures to address the funding constraints that Bumiputera contractors repeatedly identify as their main hurdle to growth.

None of these measures will disrupt contract availability in the near term, but in combination, apply pressures and incentives to upscale and graduate out of preferential treatment. The emphasis must be on learning and acquiring capability. An additional point on “needs-based” policies should be emphasised. In public procurement, and enterprise development programmes in general, the proper application of the principle runs counter to the popular notion of helping the poor. When it comes to delivering on government contracts or building competitive firms, one cannot give priority to the poor, which may adversely allocate opportunities to less capable firms, or perversely incentivise firms to remain low-earning and static. Rather than qualify poorer firms to receive special treatment, the “need” principle can apply conversely – that is, to disqualify firms that have received special treatment after reaching certain limits or sunset clauses.

In the matriculation system, and for promoting Bumiputera participation in higher education more generally, whether through pre-university programmes, university admissions, or scholarships and financial aid, there is broader scope to reach out to the disadvantaged. It is justifiable for youths from disadvantaged backgrounds to be granted preference based on those circumstances – which are not of their choosing. This intervention, occurring at the pre-adult stage of life, also potentially facilitates inter-generational upward mobility, providing further basis for preferential treatment based on “need” or “class”.

Opponents of racism in Malaysia need to understand that proponents of racial politics do believe in race—and only by understanding the appeal of racial thinking can racism be defeated.

Along these lines, Malaysia can explore ways to phase in more preferential entry for disadvantaged students into matriculation colleges, and concomitantly roll back the 90% Bumiputera quota. However, the ultimate goal of building Bumiputera capacity and competitiveness still applies. Hence, academic rigour and quality of training, as well as talent, are vital. Matriculation programmes, in particular, should look into revamping the syllabus, and Bumiputera academic achievement broadly must be overseen such that the system produces graduates who are capable and confident.

Will current levels of caution and placation on Bumiputera policies persist into the future, or will the PH government seize the opportunity to reform the pro-Bumiputera policy regime? Will it remain fearful of being accused of sidelining Malays, or will it venture forth to make Malays more capable and competitive?

Early in the post-election season, we do expect PH to pluck the low-hanging fruit of cleaning up their predecessor’s mess. But the government should not tarry too long before devising long-term strategies beyond electoral overtures and concessions. Time will tell whether PH embraces or squanders the opportunities presented by Malaysia’s monumental GE-14.

References:

 

“Lim’s remarks spark protest”, The Star, 15 March 2008 (https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2008/03/15/lims-remarks-spark-protest/)

“Guan Eng prepared to face any action against him on NEP statement”, The Sun, 1 April 2008 (http://www.thesundaily.my/node/167260)

‘It was Umno, not Harapan, who oppressed Malays’ Malaysiakini, 18 July 2018 https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/434840

“Open tender system will not sideline Bumiputera contractors: Guan Eng”, The Sun, 4 June 2018 (http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2018/06/04/open-tender-system-will-not-sideline-bumiputera-contractors-guan-eng)

“Govt guarantees help for bumiputera contractors”, Bernama, 24 May 2018 (http://www.bernama.com/en/news.php?id=1466579)

“Prepare to compete, Daim tells Malay contractors”, The Malaysian Insight, 24 May 2018 (https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/50013)

“Bumiputera contractors told to prove their worth”, New Straits Times, 8 July 2018 (https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2018/07/388774/bumiputera-contractors-told-prove-their-worth)

“Open tender system for government projects – Baru”, Bernama, 7 July 2018 (http://www.bernama.com/en/general/news.php?id=1478212)

“Bumiputera Empowerment Agenda helped contractors be more competitive: PKMM”, New Straits Times, 26 September 2017 (https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/09/284220/bumiputera-empowerment-agenda-helped-contractors-be-more-competitive-pkmm)

Lee, Hwok-Aun (2017) “Malaysia’s Bumiputera preferential regime and transformation agenda: Modified programmes, unchanged system” Trends in Southeast Asia 2017 No. 22. Singapore: ISEAS (https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/TRS22_17.pdf)

Lee, Hwok-Aun (2017) “Surveys reveal fault lines – and common ground – in Malaysia’s ethnic relations and policies” ISEAS Perspective 2017 No. 63. Singapore: ISEAS (https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ISEAS_Perspective_2017_63.pdf)

Anwar family’s credibility gap is troubling


September 19, 2018

Anwar family’s credibility gap is troubling

by Terence Netto
A perception of nepotism would still be justified even if the reformasi movement, triggered by Anwar’s travails 20 years ago, had not had as its rallying cry the demand to end the corruption, cronyism and nepotism then plaguing the nation from UMNO-BN’s misrule.

 

COMMENT | The danger of choosing relatives of an iconic leader to deputise for him when he faces legal trammels imposed by the powers that be is that the surrogates are soon apt to think they are where they are by merit rather than presumption.

This is the situation of Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the PKR leader who has just added petulance to a lengthening list of her demerits, both as party leader and as Deputy Prime Minister.

“Is there a problem? I thought we were voted by the rakyat (people),” was Wan Azizah’s disingenuous reply when questioned by reporters on the possibility of the public perceiving the presence in Parliament of her, daughter Nurul Izzah and – should he win in Port Dickson – husband Anwar Ibrahim as rank nepotism.

A perception of nepotism would still be justified even if the reformasi movement, triggered by Anwar’s travails 20 years ago, had not had as its rallying cry the demand to end the corruption, cronyism and nepotism then plaguing the nation from UMNO-BN’s misrule.

Because the movement had made it its clarion call to combat these three scourges of the polity, it is incumbent upon the Pied Piper of the movement (Anwar) and the one who deputised as leader while Anwar was in prison to see to it that such faults as the reformasi movement decried then are not replicated now, when the reform-seekers have become the government.

That’s not all the perceptual burden that has to be avoided.As recently as last year, in an interview with Al Jazeera, Wan Azizah had described her part as that of a “seat warmer”. Clearly, she meant that her withdrawal from the political arena would follow upon the release of Anwar from jail and his return to the legislative fray.

A royal pardon for Anwar in May removed one hindrance to his return; his election unopposed to the PKR top post last month has taken care of the other. But Azizah is not budging from her occupation of the Pandan parliamentary seat she won in GE-14.

Image result for nurul izzah anwar 2018

Neither is Nurul Izzah (photo, above) from Anwar’s traditional stronghold of Permatang Pauh, to which she fled from Lembah Pantai, her seat for two parliamentary terms from 2008.

Things have to be paved and peril-free for the First Family, small matter if that aids the public perception that the family is being granted exceptions to the norm.

The decision of the newly-elected PKR MP for Port Dickson, Danyal Balagopal Abdullah, to quit his seat to allow Anwar to contest en route to becoming the eighth prime minister of Malaysia is being lauded as noble sacrifice. Perhaps we now know why Anwar recently publicly noted that there maybe more Indian Malaysians in PKR than in MIC: The ethnic group are easy sacrificial meat.

He may think that the ability to gyrate to the rhythms and mime the songs of Tamil movies should suffice as a demonstration of solidarity with the concerns of this demographic.Suffice that members of the First Family have become PKR royalty, exempt from the ordinary criteria of selection and scrutiny.

The fact that the party has become dysfunctional as a democratic entity, its factional strife so obvious that it makes liars of those attempting to deny the reality, is not allowed to redound to the discredit of the First Family.

Mendacity is the default option of those for whom the acquisition of power overrides other chastening considerations.In years past Anwar used to be fond on the hustings of quoting Mahatma Gandhi’s “What is morally right cannot be politically wrong, and what is politically correct must not be morally wrong,” to project his concern that the devices of politics be congruent with the imperatives of morality.

In recent months, the gulf between the two – his morality and his politics – has opened up wide enough for many to think that what has happened to Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan is occurring to Anwar.


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.

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