Malaysia Sdn Berhad: Book Review


August 11, 2017

Malaysia Sdn Berhad: Fox guarding the henhouse?

BOOK REVIEW | Minister of Finance Incorporated: Ownership and Control of Corporate Malaysia. Edmund T Gomez et al. Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), Kuala Lumpur.

by Prof. Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

http://www.malaysiakini.com

In the late 1980s, the young Terence Gomez proved himself to be the worthy successor to a Malaysian research tradition begun by James Puthucheary in Singapore’s Changi Prison almost three decades earlier. Gomez single-handedly transformed our understanding of the role of politics in the ownership and control of the Malaysian corporate sector.

Employing novel methods as needed and appropriate, the auto-didact researcher showed how official policies and institutions had enabled an earlier generation of selected Malay business professionals to take over some commanding heights of the Malaysian economy.

Change and continuity

In their new book, Gomez and his team of researchers chart developments over the last three decades since he began his pioneering work, paying particular attention to developments following the 1997-1998 crisis. That crisis exposed the vulnerability of the earlier expansion closely associated with the Umno leadership then.

The corporate restructuring and refinancing institutions and processes that followed were not simply bailouts at the public expense, as alleged by some critics then. Instead, as the book shows, most major assets are now under new management, ultimately controlled by the current prime minister cum finance minister.

The authors focus on seven government-linked investment companies (GLICs), namely Khazanah Nasional, Permodalan Nasional (PNB), both under MoF Inc, Kumpulan Wang Simpanan Pekerja (KWSP or EPF), Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (KWAP), Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera (LTAT) and Tabung Haji.

Malaysians may be comforted to learn that of the seven, only Tabung Haji is run by politicians, and the others by professionals. But after all, 1MDB too has been run by professionals (Jho Low is a Wharton graduate) while Felda Global Venture’s previous boss claimed to have a doctorate. The not-so-magnificent seven covered do not include others, such as those in the Felda group, controlled directly by the PM since 2004.

Most bumiputera entrepreneurs who emerged in the dozen years or so before the 1997 crisis also had impressive professional credentials. The apparently better performance of the more recent crop of professional managers may have less to do with their qualifications, than the ethos, checks and balances of the new institutional arrangements introduced and enforced by some GLICs.

Government control

The range of activities undertaken by government-linked companies (GLCs) overseen by the GLICs includes familiar ones from the 1980s such as utilities, finance, plantations, property and construction. Media, previously controlled by the ruling party and its trustees, are now held by GLCs, while investments in hospitals and other services have also grown. With development finance institutions now under GLCs, their original objectives and rationales have been undermined by commercial considerations.

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The Gomez team has done Malaysians a great service by describing how things have changed, tracing the bewildering variety of new arrangements. However, how to interpret this variety remains moot, and some informed readers will have their own bones to pick with what is considered most significant in their analysis.

Protracted crisis

Two economic developments help us better understand the recent growing unrest, especially among informed Malays. First, the Saudi-initiated oil price collapse in late 2014 precipitated a more general commodity price collapse. Meanwhile, lacklustre growth in Malaysia since 1998 has been exacerbated by premature deindustrialisation unconvincingly presented as inevitable in achieving developed country status.

Second, despite heavy censorship, news has been leaking out of corporate abuses involving not only 1MDB, but also FGV and other corporations associated with the legendary ‘Malaysian Official 1’. Easy money from China may have helped the regime with its immediate financing problems, but a generation familiar with mounting personal debt senses that this is at the public’s, taxpayers’ and future generations’ expense.

This ‘double whammy’ has been reflected in the much-weakened ringgit and by other indicators. Meanwhile, there have been heightened concerns about the recent foreign investor resurgence, especially with official non-disclosure of ownership data since 2008. Recent erosion of public faith in the state and ruling coalition has been accelerated by unprecedented recent abuses for personal gain and nepotism.

Don’t shoot the messenger

Even if successfully challenged on some details, this important book should open an important new debate on how Malaysia is to progress. Gomez offers some proposals, apparently at odds with the book’s sponsor. Others, especially participants in and observers of Malaysia’s corporate sector and political economy, will promote their own alternative purported solutions. The ensuing debate can only benefit the nation, as Gomez’s first decade of publications shaped the earlier debate and reforms, even if most outcomes may have disappointed him.

While this regime is undoubtedly associated with unprecedented abuses, there is little in the study to support the publisher’s faith in leaving things to the market and simplistic insistence on government withdrawal from the economy as a universal panacea to the myriad problems the nation faces. In the face of the wide-ranging and complex issues involved, this would be tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Unsurprisingly, this publication on the regime’s role in ownership and control of contemporary corporate Malaysia is silent on the current political crisis as the nation approaches the next general election. Nevertheless, IDEAs must be congratulated for sponsoring and publishing this important work.

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JOMO KS received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

 

 

Much ado over Nothing–The Zahid –Mahathir Spat. Isn’t that Village Politics?


August 9,2017

Much ado over Nothing–The Zahid -Mahathir Spat. Isn’t that Village Politics?

by Joceline Tan

http://www.thestar.com.my

IT has been a very public spat that has not spared both men of damage. Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s attempt to remind the UMNO grassroots of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s mixed ancestry backfired, and is still bubbling like a hotpot.

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Malaysia’s charismatic Deputy Prime Minister–Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi

The charismatic(?) Deputy Prime Minister had been on a roll at a string of UMNO division meetings, needling his former party boss, referring to him as a leader who is “gila talak tiga” (someone who goes through repeated divorces).

But when he claimed that Dr Mahathir’s real name was Mahathir a/l Iskandar Kutty, that was when everything sort of went boom! in his face.

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Zahid’s loyalty to his corrupt and scandal riven boss, Najib Razak, is suspect. Dr. Mahathir knows that loyalty is not UMNO’s trait. He has been successful in planting a seed of doubt in Najib’s mind that his second in command cannot be trusted. So the UMNO President should watch his back. There is a wolf in his backyard.–Din Merican

Dr Mahathir’s Indian side was one of those no-go zones for the mainstream media throughout his 22-year premiership. It was deemed politically incorrect and no one dared to broach the subject because he was a very powerful Prime Minister. Besides, the perception then was that the man himself did not wish that part of his family tree to be made public.

It is still politically incorrect in the sense that such remarks are inappropriate in polite society and the DPM has suffered for it. But Dr Mahathir’s subsequent response also cast him in a poor light. He is supposed to be a statesman but his action was that of someone who hits below the belt when under attack.

He dredged out a private discussion he had with Dr Ahmad Zahid to imply that the latter was not loyal to Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and rehashed an allegation about the younger man’s wealth.

Image result for Abdullah BadawiTun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi–He is smelling roses, given the state of our politics

 

It was not the first time he had broken confidentiality to use against an opponent – he had put Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia in a spot by exposing a private conversation they had about Najib.

Politics is a dirty game and the moral of the story is to remember that Dr Mahathir remembers everything despite his “selective amnesia”, as long-time Mahathir critic Tawfik Ismail put it.

Dr Mahathir has come full circle in his career, and many are still coming to terms with his new role as the leader of the Opposition.

The day Dr Mahathir was made chairman of Pakatan Harapan must have been what Tawfik termed as a “through the looking glass” phenomenon – finding oneself in a strange parallel world.

“I’ve always felt that this fight against Najib, the wrong people are fighting it. People like Mahathir and Muhyiddin (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin), they were part of the background to the country’s problems.

“You can’t get the guy who created the rubbish to clear rubbish. The young generation are looking to newer faces like Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Liew Chin Tong and Khairy Jamaluddin,” said Tawfik, a former Barisan Nasional MP who now sits on the board of governors of a leading international school.

Dr Mahathir has turned out to be as polemic as ever on the Opposition side. The “angry young people” cohort was Pakatan’s fixed deposit in the last two general elections. But disenchantment, even disillusionment, has crept in and this was apparent at a recent political forum to discuss whether Dr Mahathir is an agent for change or destruction.

According to lawyer activist Syahredzan Johan, the audience comprised largely millennials, middle-class folk and the converted, in the sense that they are Pakatan-leaning.

“There were already misgivings when Mahathir joined the Opposition but it deepened with his appointment as Pakatan chairman. They are divided on whether he is the best person to lead the Opposition. They are quite set on not supporting BN. The question now is whether they can be persuaded to come out for Pakatan,” said Syahredzan.

The divide was apparent among the panellists as well as those firing questions from the floor.

Amanah President Mohamad Sabu and the radical activist Hishamuddin Rais went all out to defend working with Dr Mahathir. Another panellist Dr Michael Jeyakumar was critical of Dr Mahathir while lawyer Harris Ibrahim rejected the idea. It is intriguing to watch these leading players who used to condemn Dr Mahathir now praising him. But with just a few more months to the general election, Pakatan is still struggling to defend their alliance with Dr Mahathir and that is not a good place to be.

Those who asked questions were mostly young people who had grown up on a propagandist diet of how cruel and corrupt Dr Mahathir was and it was not easy to change all of that overnight.

Some could not accept him while some directed their disappointment at the Pakatan leaders for the U-turns made on Dr Mahathir.

These millennials can see through the twists and turns of politics. There is also a sense that they feel politicians are insulting their intelligence with their newfound friendship with Dr Mahathir.

This cohort grew up in a time of relative affluence. They have had education – some more than others – and their expectations are higher than that of any other generation before them.

They also do not like to be patronised. Hishamuddin’s opinion that there was no need for Pakatan to name their Prime Minister candidate because “you haven’t even bought the cow but you want to argue where to put it” did not go down well.

One of the audience rebutted that even when shopping online, one is able to check out the item in 3D, turn it around, magnify the view. The storyline that Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail will be the Prime Minister while Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s pardon is being secured, also does not sell.

They found it ironic that Pakatan leaders had taught them to hate Dr Mahathir but now to bring down Najib, they have to embrace Dr Mahathir. One of the questions posed was whether they would also have to accept Najib one of these days.

Millennials are those who are now in their 20s and 30s. The upper half of this cohort grew up in the Mahathir era, while the lower half reached adulthood in the post-Mahathir years.

“I am 31, I had just finished my SPM when Mahathir left office. By the time we reached political maturity, we could look back at his era without the tinted lenses. By then Pak Lah (Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) was opening up our society, he was my PM even though he did not leave office as the most popular PM,” said UMNO Youth exco member Shahril Hamdan.

Democracy and openness are important to this generation and that explains why many of them were drawn to the Opposition after the sacking of Anwar.

“There is no hate or disrespect on our part, just fatigue. It’s hard to reconcile all these U-turns. Personally, I feel amused and also annoyed. I don’t understand the way he has changed his stand on what he had fought for,” said Shahril who is also the CEO of a gas and oil company.

The millennials are a complex crop but it seems like they are not as admiring of the Mahathir era as has been made out to be. They appreciate the development he brought but the thinking ones also see the faults and contradictions of that era.

“Of course, there are contradictions. There are no angels in politics. We’re not looking for the perfect politician, we are looking for a better Malaysia,” said Syahredzan.

According to a young political risk consultant, many millennials follow the careers of young politicians of their generation, watching what they do and what they say.

UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin ranks high among them and they think Parti Pribumi Youth chief Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman is smart and has potential but tends to talk too much about things he does not know much of.

PKR Vice-Ppresident Rafizi Ramli was admired until the disastrous Kajang Move happened. They also admire PKR Vice-President Nurul Izzah Anwar but found her claim about Pakatan building a cheaper MRT laughable. This cohort could see that the newly completed MRT was costly but it was completed on time and without cost overruns and that impressed the professionals among them.

Neither Pakatan nor Barisan will have an easy ride with the millennials. They are a discerning generation, and they can tell when politicians are talking sense or dishing out nonsense.

For a start, Dr Mahathir should stop talking about reforming the Judiciary. He is not the best person to talk about that and his image will sink the more he tries to blame others for what happened to the judges during his time.

Pakatan put Dr Mahathir up there to make inroads into the Malay heartland and he is said to be making some progress in that respect. They will make some new ground and lose some old ground. But will having a 92-year-old man as the “top dog” inspire continued support among the millennials who make up more than 30% of Malaysian voters?

 

A Malay is an UMNO Construct


August 3, 2017

A Malay is an UMNO Construct .Go figure

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

 

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Zahid Hamidi is a Melayu SeJati defined by UMNO.

Image result for Najib the Bugis Warrior Even  a Bugis is a True Malay  since he is UMNO President

 

“I want to be a normal member. Because I cannot do anything (for the Malays).”

– former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad

COMMENT | Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has chosen to insult the Indian community with his “attack” on Pakatan Harapan chairperson and former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Indian pedigree and subsequent actions as not being a Malay “trait”.

To be honest, I had been expecting something like this for a couple of months now – “The only thing that is different this time is because the Malay community is fractured, and UMNO has had to play the race and religion card against its own. Playing the race and religion card against your own community is a recipe for disaster, especially when the country does not have an alternative to the Islam proscribed by UMNO.”

Since the struggle for the Malay soul – read: vote – is now between UMNO and Bersatu, this whole idea of demonstrating “Malay-ness” becomes the battleground, instead of real policies which would take the Malay community in a new direction.

I never understood what a “Malay” sejati was anyway. As far as I can tell, to UMNO, any Malay who is not in the UMNO fold in not a true Malay.

I remember when then Prime Minister Mahathir chided his Malay/UMNO base (during numerous annual general meetings) on their “mudah lupa”-ness , their laziness , their ineptitude, their incompetence and their general “tidak apa” attitude , in other words, “traits” which he found detestable, the sycophants that surrounded him went to the press and claimed that the good doctor was giving them strong medicine because he really loved UMNO and wanted the best for UMNO and its members.

Once out of UMNO, he becomes an Indian

Do you think I am seditious when I talk about these Malay traits? Mahathir has more or less said the same. The former premier said Malays had failed because they were lazy and sought the easy way out by reselling their shares, licences and contracts to non-Malays.

“They cannot be patient, cannot wait a little, they want to be rich this very moment… no work is done other than to be close to people with influence and authority in order to get something,” he said. “After selling and getting the cash, they come back to ask for more.”

Perhaps Zahid should take the former Prime Minister’s advice and learn from the Chinese: “If we take out the Chinese and all that they have built and own, there will be no small or big towns in Malaysia, there will be no business and industry, there will be no funds for the subsidies, support and facilities for the Malays. Learn from the Chinese.”

Again, if you think I am racist or seditious for defining the narrative in such a way, please keep in mind that the reason why we have buffoons like these UMNO ministers blathering on about authentic Malays is because the current opposition de facto leader, Mahathir Mohamad admitted that he “failed” to change the “Malay” mindset:

“What else (can I do) … I have tried to be an example, tried to teach, scolded, cried and even prayed. (But) I have failed. I have failed to achieve the most important thing – how to change the Malays.”

Now, of course, the UMNO narrative is that because he was not an authentic Malay, what he really did was use UMNO for his personal interests. This is kind of a joke because UMNO has always had special privileges for its members, all the rest are discounted citizens.

Mind you these are the same traits that some folks believe would seep into their respective cultures, so Zahid is not the only person who is worried about the authenticity of his race and religion. Go figure.

However since this is the Deputy Prime Minister we are talking about here, he never stops to consider that maybe just maybe, there is a Malay proverb that addresses this specific trait because such traits exist in the Malay community as they do in all communities.

As this kind of basic logic is way over the head of a political operative like Zahid, what we are left with is the kind of Malay (ketuanan) trait that makes some Muslims worry for the mental health of their community.

This is the same kind of Malay “trait” that makes a group like Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM) lodge a report against Marian Mahathir for “liking” a twitter post support of the LGBT community. Of course if some prominent person liked a Twitter post in support of some banned Islamic extremist group, these same people would have no trouble supporting a “like” and demonizing detractors as Islamophobic.

While some folks may argue that these are the “traits” of the Malay community and they would also argue that we should be mindful lest the other – pendatang – communities are tainted by such traits, ultimately what we are dealing with is the racist nature of mainstream politics here in Malaysia.

I am kind of fuzzy on the logic behind this attack. Is Mahathir not an authentic Malay because of his Indian heritage, or because he left UMNO and is now working with the opposition?

If not leaving UMNO is a Malay trait, then what does it say about all those other Malays who have left UMNO? What does it say about those Malay who are not “tainted” by pendatang ancestry but who no longer are part of the UMNO establishment or who have been in UMNO?

And if working with the opposition is not a Malay trait then what does it say about the numerous UMNO /Malay political operatives who are working with PAS, a supposedly opposition party and at one time the arch-enemy of UMNO?

“This is our culture. We do not know what is hardship, we only want things to be easy,” is how Mahathir defined Malay culture. Is he wrong? Of course Zahid will say that all these utterances of Mahathir just prove that he is not an authentic Malay ignoring the fact when he was saying them in the various UMNO general assemblies, the sycophants were prostrating themselves before him and acknowledging their sins.

Ibrahim Yahya, the Deputy Prime Minister’s aide, claimed that the politics of hate that is sowed by the opposition is destroying the country, but the reality is that that the politics of hate defines this country. This is just another example of what I have always said.

Malay Political Sophistry, Not Sophistication


July 25, 2017

Malay Political Sophistry, Not Sophistication

by Dr.M. Bakri Musa,Morgan-Hill, California

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This UMNO leader has been sleepwalking as Malaysia becomes  a morally sick nation. This gua tolong lu tolong gua character fits Harry Frankfurt’s depiction of a bullshitter. How unlucky you are, my dear Malaysia.–Din Merican

The Malay community’s underdevelopment is not confined to only one or two areas, for example, the often cited and very obvious spheres of economics and education. On the contrary Malay underdevelopment is widespread, to include especially our understanding of our faith Islam. I do not mean to shock by my assertion. Rather this state of affair is obvious except to those who refuse to acknowledge it. The Islam that is being practiced by Malays today has been reduced to the mindless repetition of its rituals. As Islam is central to Malay life, I will address this particular issue in depth later (Part Seven).

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Zakir Naik, the Prophet of UMNO Malays–Good luck to them under this man’s conception of Islam

Malays are proud of our dominance in politics. That however is purely the consequence of demography, not political skills, maturity, or sophistication. Our politics resembles more of the Third World authoritarian variety rather of mature democracies. Malay political skills despite our over representation in that sphere are still primitive. As a result, we are unable to leverage our considerable political clout derived from our demographic dominance effectively to solve our problems.

Instead, the contrary is what is occurring. Our political dominance aggravates our problems. As a community we are obsessed only with achieving political power and not on how to effectively leverage it to benefit our people. Further, politics and political power detract us from other equally vital spheres. We have perverted the political process for our personal gains and in the process making corruption an integral part of our politics and governance. We have legitimized politics as the route to untold riches through our acceptance of cronyism, corruption and nepotism among its players.

The other sphere where Malays could claim dominance is the civil service. Again, this is not achieved through merit rather through legislative fiat, the imposition of strict quotas and constitutional provisions. As such we cannot be proud of our achievement; it is not legitimate. As a consequence, the civil service is far from being exemplary or a source of pride. It is the but the butt of endless jokes and embarrassments. The civil service is on par with our political institutions in being corrupt, incompetent and ineffective.

The fragility and incompetence of both the civil service and political institutions are readily exposed in their inability to handle seemingly routine and minor conflicts. Because of this ineptness and frank naiveté, trivial administrative problems are let to fester until they explode. At the local level, minor conflicts over stray dogs for example would quickly escalate, threatening our fragile social stability by pitting members of one community against another.

What should be a simple public health and safety matter (preventing dog bites and subsequent risk of rabies, a major problem in China and India, and now fast becoming one in many parts of Malaysia) is allowed to degenerate through administrative and political incompetence into a potentially acrimonious communal conflict between Malays, who generally consider dogs as dirty and haram while to Chinese they are favorite family pets.

In American cities there are ordinances requiring those walking their dogs to carry plastic bags to pick up their droppings. Failure to have those bags or pick up the dog’s waste would result in severe fines. Dogs must also be on a leash, and stray dogs will be captured. If they are not claimed within a few weeks they are “put to sleep.” Owners of certain breeds (like pit bulls) also have to carry liability insurances. These are sensible rules to serve the public good. Yet we are unable to establish them without getting entangled in silly and dangerous public arguments about race.

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If this is not a whole lot of bullshit, what is ? The Malays can prosper under an enlightened and honest leadership

At the national level, consider the annual exercise of awarding scholarships to Sijil Persekutuan Malaysia (SPM) candidates. This is not a matriculating examination; those students still have to undertake two more years of schooling before they could qualify for university entrance. Meaning, SPM is only slightly above middle school qualification. Yet invariably around June of each year there would be a national outcry over the distribution of scholarships based on this examination. We are not here dealing with graduate fellowships or post-doctoral grants!

Again, like the municipal dog ordinance (or lack of), this scholarship problem could be readily solved through simple transparent administrative rules. For example, instead of using SPM scores which are poor predictors of academic success anyway, why not wait till these students are actually accepted to top universities and only then award them the scholarships. Publish the list of acceptable universities where these scholarships would be tenable and then if there are too many students for the funds available, have a sliding scale so those who are well off get less money. Such a simple and sensible solution, yet it escapes these Malay politicians and civil servants, again reflecting their incompetence and lack of imagination in solving the nation’s problems.

 

The End of Political Ideology in Malaysia?


June 15, 2017

The End of Political Ideology in Malaysia?

by Norshahril Saat For The Straits Times

Personality politics has led to the fluidity of political party membership. Members join and quit parties simply because they follow their masters or have disagreed with them. The danger is that disagreements are not based on issues or policy outlook. As a result, we have witnessed many political U-turns in contemporary Malaysian politics.– Norshahril Saat For The Straits Times

There was a time when political parties in Malaysia were clearly differentiated by ideology.

UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) struggled for Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) through affirmative action for Malays and bumiputeras (non-Malay natives), aimed at helping these communities be on equal footing – in economics, business and education – with the Chinese and Indians.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman–Exponent of Ethical Leadership where Values and Ideology Matter

Despite being an ethno- nationalist party, UMNO was willing to share power with the Chinese and Indians, represented by the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress) respectively. This multi-ethnic cooperation formed the backbone of the BN (Barisan Nasional) coalition, which has been in power since Malaysia’s independence in 1957…

Read On:

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/the-end-of-political-ideology-in-malaysia?&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=addtoany

 

The Costs and Benefits of SOCIAL INCLUSION


June 10, 2017

The Costs and Benefits of SOCIAL INCLUSION

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | Amongst inclusion, integration, affirmative action, ethnic preference or similar policies implemented to redress perceived socio-economic differences or imbalances in social groups, probably the longest lived and arguably most successful of those pursued by the world’s nations have been those of Malaysia in the field of education.

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The beginnings of this achievement in education can be traced to active measures undertaken by the British colonial government to upgrade the economic progress of Malays in 1950 through the establishment of the Rural Industrial Development Authority (Rida).

According to an official history account, Rida had first opened its doors to some 50 students to help in the training of rural Malays in 1956.

Following independence and the May 13 racial violence, Rida morphed to become Majlis Amanah Rakyat or Mara as everyone today knows it.

Since then, this modest educational component of Rida/Mara has grown to become the largest higher education institution in the nation.

Today, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) comprises one main campus, 13 state campuses and 22 satellite campuses. With 17,000 academic and non-academic staff, UiTM offers over 500 programmes ranging from foundation to postgraduate level.

It has some 170,000 students – all bumiputeras and a small number of international students – and teaching is fully conducted in English.

There is no disputing the benefits and advantages that ethnic preference policies in higher education have had for the Malays. UiTM can be said to have spawned an entire generation of the Malay middle and upper class. It has also been the catalyst to the rapid proliferation of Malays in key targeted professional and high income groups during the New Economic Policy (NEP) and post-NEP era.

Putting UiTM under the microscope

The Economic Planning Unit does not appear to have updated a key table showing the racial proportion of professional and high income groups for some years now.

This is probably because Malays have comprised the largest number among accountants, architects, dentists, medical doctors, lawyers, veterinary surgeons, engineers and surveyors in the country for at least one decade, if not longer now.

Less easy to assess are the costs and the impact of this racially structured affirmative action education and training agency on the country’s manpower needs and talent pool. The most contentious issue relates to the closing of the university’s doors to non-Malay students.

Although the university’s Pro-Chancellor, Arshad Ayub, in 2015 called for opportunity to be given to non-bumiputeras to study there, so as to encourage healthy competition and produce more intellectuals among students, his proposal – even though he qualified it by stating that these opportunities should be opened at post-graduate levels and not at diploma and bachelor’s degree levels – has proven to be a political minefield and non-starter.

Contentious issues aside, it is also unclear today the extent to which the Malay poor – indeed, the entire bumiputera poor – are the prime beneficiaries according to the mission objectives of the institution.

Or whether the institution is catering to a privileged Malay middle and upper class which can well afford to meet its educational needs in the same way that the rest of the country’s citizenry are doing. If the latter is happening, not only are non-Malays being marginalised, but also poor Malays and poor non-Malay bumiputeras.

According to a recent report, 3,000 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) school-leavers who failed to pursue further studies despite obtaining excellent results were offered placements at UiTM in 2016.

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Vice-Chancellor Professor Emeritus Hassan Said said the opportunity was being given to to students from poor families and rural areas who could not continue their studies due to various factors, among them financial constraints. This total – even if increased greatly – will be a miniscule of the total number of 200,000 students envisaged for the year 2020.

A stand alone comprehensive and independent review of UiTM is not only necessary. It is overdue for at least three reasons.

One is the dominant role of UiTM in the country’s higher education and manpower planning system.

The second is the very large amount of public expenditure that has been spent during the past four decades on the institution. According to the latest data, the operating budget for UiTM alone in 2016 came up to RM2.23 billion of the total RM7.57 billion allocated to all 20 public universities in the country, or nearly 30 percent.

Even after the latest round of budgetary cutbacks, UiTM is slated to receive an allocation of RM1.67 billion of the RM6.12 billion allocation for all public universities in 2017.

 

Finally, a rigorous assessment is necessary because the government is continuing to position Mara and UiTM as the crucial driver of bumiputera economic and educational development for the coming decades.

Meanwhile there should be concern about the quality of higher education provided by UiTM. In the current Wikipedia article on UiTM, the table below shows that hardly any progress has been achieved by the university in its standing among universities in Malaysia, the region and world.

What is preventing UiTM from living up to its self characterised description of being “a research-intensive entrepreneurial university’ leading the way for Malaysia to become an innovation-based and knowledge-based economy are just two of many questions that need to be asked by all concerned Malaysians, not just politicians and the university’s staff and alumni.