Longing for a kinder, compassionate, more humane and freer Malaysia.

September 7, 2018

Tough Love: Longing for a kinder, compassionate, more humane and freer Malaysia.

by Zainah Anwar


THIS time last year, I wrote about my longing for a better Malaysia, and how my utter belief that this was possible would always triumph over my many moments of despair. There was just too much good in this country for us to ever give up hope.

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And this year, as we celebrate our 61st year of Merdeka, I am simply thrilled. Thrilled that what most people thought was impossible, became possible. Malaysia bucked the global trend and voted into power a reformist government, throwing out a kleptocratic government and a ruling party that had held uninterrupted power since independence in 1957.

The election of a reform-minded government that believes in an inclusive Malaysia and eschews the use of race and religion for political gain does not of course mean we are home free. It is important that we who voted for change remain vigilant that the Pakatan Harapan government delivers on its promises of transformation. And to do this transparently and in consultation with stakeholders.

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Malaysia’s autocrat turned reformer: at 93 can he deliver?

Politicians and voters now realise the power of the ballot box. It cannot be business as usual, replacing one set of economic and political elites with another set whose priorities will be to divide the spoils of victory.

As we welcome the first Merdeka and Malaysia Day under this new Malaysia, I have many wishes for the kind of country I want to live in.

First, I wish to see our ministers summon the political will and courage, and build their knowledge and strategies on how to deliver their reform agenda. And not least, how to stand their ground and defend what is just and what is right, in the face of opposition. We in civil society are tired of seeing too many ministers over the decades retreating in the face of criticism from ideologues, instead of defending a principled position.

Many NGOs, activists, academics, professionals who have long been working on issues such as human rights, women’s rights, education reform, poverty eradication, and economic justice, stand ready to support this government with the kinds of data, analysis, policy instruments, arguments and strategies needed to deliver on the reform agenda and build public support for this urgent necessity for change.

We want to see this government succeed in making this country a just home for all. We pray this government does not squander that goodwill.

Second, I wish to live in a kinder, compassionate, more humane Malaysia. It pains me to see the frenzy of hate, attacks, violence, demonisation of the LGBTIQ community in the country. Why this obsession with another citizen’s sexual orientation and gender identity? The debate is not about same-sex marriage or even about the halal or haram of their sexuality. It is about the right of LGBTIQ people to freedom of movement, their right to work, to health and to live a life free from violence. Why should that be contentious? They are citizens of this country and entitled to the same fundamental rights that other citizens enjoy.

It is obvious that the issue has been whipped up as a political tactic to generate hate and fear, spearheaded by those opposed to the reform agenda of the new government. So they stir up controversies in order to rebuild lost ground. And politicians fearful of losing popular support cave in, so quickly, so easily, so thoughtlessly.

How could a small, oppressed, and discriminated community who actually live in fear on a daily basis, and who long to live in peace and dignity ever pose a threat to Malaysian society? How could an all-knowing compassionate God ever condone cruelty against his own creations just because they are different? So let’s be confident in our faith and believe that if God really wanted all of us to be the same, he would have done so.

Third, I wish to see an end to corruption that has been long fuelled by the intricate web of business and politics in this country. Professor Terrence Gomez’s just released research findings on Government in Business reveal a mind-boggling labyrinth of thousands of GLCs at federal and state levels, most of them unlisted and thus, unscrutinised. There are of course GLCs that are professionally run. But many also serve as tools of patronage and as vehicles to provide politicians with monthly directors’ fees to support their political ambition – at best.

At worst, official investigations and media revelations of outright corruption, criminal breach of trust, and asset stripping display a spectacle of unbelievable greed and betrayal of trust.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed himself has called such GLCs “monsters” that have deviated from their original noble intention of helping the poor.

The Head of the Council of Eminent Persons, Tun Daim Zainuddin, has promised that this time the government wants to get it right in delivering its bumiputra empowerment policy.

We all wait with bated breath, for this country cannot endure, economically, politically and socially, yet more decades of affirmative action on the basis of race rather than need, and all the consequent distortions and abuses that had benefited the economic and political elites.

Fourth, I wish to live in a country where the political leaders and the citizens embrace our diversity as a source of strength, and not a threat. And to walk the talk. It is imperative that the new government sets the tone that it will not tolerate further manufacturing of a siege and crisis mentality among the Malays and supremacist speeches in the name of race and religion to incite hatred and fear of “others”.

This country was on the verge of implosion, and it was the wisdom of the rakyat that saved us, when with courage we voted into power a reformist party.

I was in Bangkok last week to give a talk on identity politics in South-East Asia together with speakers from Indonesia and Myanmar. They were depressed about the political developments in their countries, and my optimism on Malaysia was tempered by the reality that they too had earlier voted in reformist leaders who have now succumbed to the politics of race and religion in order to remain in power.

But I would like to believe that Malaysia is different as we have strong antecedent resources that will put us in good stead in moving forward on a reform agenda. Most importantly is the entrenched belief that this country cannot survive nor prosper without the three major races accepting each other and learning to give and take in sharing equitably the wealth of the nation. It can never be a winner take all game in Malaysia.

Second, we have a significant minority population. This means there is a limit to how far the majority group can use race and religion to serve the interest of the ruling elite, before paying a high political cost for its relentless transgressions, or complicity in its inaction and silence.

Third, while things are far from perfect, our long record of economic growth, poverty reduction, and strong state apparatus put us in good stead that a more open and robust democracy will not be destabilising, and can lead to a more inclusive Malaysia.

Moreover, a large educated Malaysian middle-class and a strong business community eschew any hint of violence or chaos or extremism, and there is a growing critical mass of voters, not least from among the young, who expect their freedoms and rights to be upheld.

And more than anything, the rakyat feel very precious about what we have achieved. As much as we are willing to give Pakatan Harapan the support it needs and the time, too, to deliver on its reform agenda, we have learnt from the mistakes made in the past. We are no longer willing to acquiesce in silence in the wrongdoings and abuses in powerful places, in return for stability and prosperity.

This is the new Malaysia where it will be tough love for all.

When Ambitious Young Pols get it Wrong on Reformasi 1998, 2007 and beyond–Know History First

September 1, 2018

When Ambitious Young Pols get it Wrong on Reformasi 1998, 2007 and beyond–Know History First

Opinion  |  Phar Kim Beng

Read this: https://www.malaysiakini.com/opinions/76167

Today (2018) Anwar Ibrahim may have changed since I wrote since I wrote the above piece in 2007. He is a Prime Minister in Waiting. He  can  no longer be an idealistic public intellectual as I knew him. Political realism will influence him. After all, like his hero, Jose Rizal, he is nationalist who gave lot of himself for Malaysia. I will not judge him by his book, The Asian Renaissance. From here on. His policies and actions will matter. But I can only hope his Galbraithian vision of a Humane Society can be pursued with renewed passion. Good luck, Sdr Anwar.–Din Merican

Also Read This : https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2018/03/21/anwar-ibrahim-the-rainmaker-of-ideas/

COMMENT | As things are, no one knows the demographic profile of the 800,000 PKR members. But it would not be farfetched to believe that many started following the party’s President-Elect Anwar Ibrahim’s ideals and ideas from 1978 or 1988.

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Anwar Ibrahim: From Jose Rizal (Philippines), Khomeini (Iran), Habibie (Indonesia), Erdogan (Turkey) to Anwar (2018)–Is VS Naipaul right?

If the former date is valid, followers such as Azmin Ali, Khalid Jaafar, Kamaruddin Jaafar or Muhammad Nur Manuty could not have missed the important revelation of the book ‘Among The Believers’ by VS Naipaul.

Naipaul was a famous British writer born in Trinidad and Tobago. Although of Indian ancestry and parentage, he was a top writer in 1980s, spurred not least by his vintage prose that was both elegant and lucid.

But Naipaul didn’t do Anwar any favour. Despite granting Naipaul an interview in 1979, the prickly British writer had Anwar classified as an “Islamic” fundamentalist, ostensibly one who would do all the biddings of then Iran leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

This was a serious, if not a pernicious, mischaracterisation of Anwar and many Muslim activists interviewed by Naipaul in his famous book, which oddly enough, was later rewarded with the Nobel Prize in English Literature.

Knowingly or unknowingly, most likely the former, Naipaul started this wave of prejudice against Anwar and Muslim thinkers and intellectuals who wanted to use “Islam” as a template to redeem their countries and civilisations.

Their inability to separate what was secular and spiritual, according to Naipaul, would be the first sign of their impending failure in the years and decades to come.

Yet, Naipaul (photo) was using a condescending outlook to tar almost every Muslim activist – even if they were trained in top universities like Leiden University in Netherlands or McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Whatever the credentials of the activists, if they don’t keep the state and religion apart, they were deemed as atavistic thinkers. That was Naipaul’s yardstick.

Anwar was particularly vulnerable to the caricature of Naipaul precisely because he, apart from being deputy prime minister, was the president of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in 1990, a decision approved by his boss, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, himself.

Mahathir, to be sure, knew that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was not sufficiently savvy and well-read to handle the “Islamic file”. Tens of thousands of Muslims had been trained in the West, some in the Middle East too.

When they came home to Malaysia, they were either brimming with practical scientific knowledge or austere religious rigours. Some of them could combine the two into a unique blend to be a “New Malay,” while others retreated into their silos, such as Abdul Awang Hadi, to start the process of “kafir mengkafir” in 1981.

The thrust of Hadi was to make Muslims reject the West totally so that they were not tainted by anything amounting to modernisation, industrialisation, or an inner psychological reawakening.

Indeed, to this day, Hadi, now the President of PAS, refused to acknowledge the importance of science; not even forensic accounting that has exposed the money trail of 1MDB, to say the least.

Thus between 1981 and 1997, Mahathir was heavily guiding Anwar on how to handle the West and East – with Islam as the prime. The net outcome of that process was the crystalisation of the idea of “Islam Madani” by Anwar in 1995. “Madani” meant the importance of empowering the emergence of civil society, something that Anwar himself truly believed in, since the state could not have been made into a Hobbesian Leviathan.

In the view of Anwar, then and now, especially the latter, the state must be a Lilliputian tied down by various checks and balances, without which the flagrant abuse of the executive arm of the government alone would wrack havoc on the lives of millions in Malaysia. His own fate as a student leader and then opposition leader was a case in point.

Regardless of the Malaysian/Islamic concepts coined by Anwar, or friendly entities like the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), with its headquarters in Virginia, which believed in the “Islamisation of Knowledge,” the central thrust of Anwar, indeed, Mahathir and Mohamad Sabu, was all about self-strengthening.

Rich gamut

Between 1968 and 2018, they knew the power of Malaysia came from the self-discipline of each and every Malaysian to demand something larger than themselves.

In this sense, their ideals and ideas were not that far off from DAP leaders Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng, indeed, even the scholarship of Professor KS Jomo (photo) and Professor Terence Gomez in Universiti Malaya between 1981 and 1997.

During this period alone, Jomo and Gomez produced a rich gamut of impressive work on the corrosive power of unmanaged capital, indeed, untraceable monies. DAP supported their theoretical and empirical works, even seeking the advice of the duo.

Of course, what the duo in the academia did not foresee was the gangrenous transformation of government-linked investment companies (GLICs) into future scandals like 1MDB or what former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin called “mini 1MDBs”.

Without a shadow of a doubt, PKR leader Rafizi Ramli is smart. But it goes without saying, too, that with or without Invoke, his polling firm, May 9 would have culminated into a victory against the kleptocracy of UMNO and BN anyway.

The insidious and incestuous relationships with unknown business entities in Dubai, Hong Kong, Cayman Islands and elsewhere just made the story all the more sordid, and spectacularly “foolish”, as P Gunasegaram correctly wrote in his latest book.

But to win the deputy presidency in PKR, Rafizi has overlooked the intellectual genealogy of the reforms of Anwar, indeed, the anti-colonial reforms of Mahathir and others too.

If anything, it would seem that Rafizi has forced the political clock to start from 1998 – overlooking any structures of oppression that has had a long pedigree and history.

The scholarship of ‘The Myth of the Lazy Malay’ by the late Professor Syed Hussein Alatas (photo), for example, earned a powerful mention in the work of Edward Said in his book ‘Orientalism’, published in 1979, which were two of Anwar’s favourite books.

Although Edward Said, a top Palestinian intellectual (who was once at the prestigious Columbia University) is no longer alive, he had warned of the danger of “othering” a subject without any historical context.

Thus, it was wrong for the West, for example, to assume that the Arab world and Islamic civilisation had always been backward, when in fact, they were one of the most powerful civilisations from the 11th to 16th century.

When “all the lights in European capitals were switched off,” wrote Janet Abu Lughod in her famous book on European “hegemony,” which was another top favourite of Anwar, the “lights in the capitals of the East were glittering luminously”.

Lughod was referring to the thriving cities from Marrakesh in Morocco to Davao in Mindanao at one stage, when Islamic empires and states were at the pinnacle of their powers, including the Ottoman Empire in modern Turkey.

Written works

Anwar, due to his love for written works, also enlisted the likes of Dr Ahmet Davutoglu to be a professor at International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). Davutoglu went on to become the chief advisor to the prime minister of Turkey, then become Turkey’s foreign minister, and finally the prime minister of Turkey from 2014 to 2016.

Not to be outdone, Mahathir also consumed the works of Kenichi Ohmae, a top strategist at McKinsey, who inspired him to create the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), which in turn gave us Putrajaya, Cyberjaya and Kuala Lumpur that are now interconnected to one another.

Mohamad Sabu, too, did not let up. He read the works of Ali Shariati to understand the tone and texture of the Iranian Revolution without being flushed away by the hurried pace of the events in the Middle East and Persia.


By locating his electoral campaign in PKR within the context of 1998, Rafizi has inadvertently lobbed off a huge chunk of reformist Malaysian history.

Win, lose or draw, since it is not Rafizi alone who is competing, but a huge team of candidates, all should know that their redemption lies not in privileging 1998 alone but 1968 and earlier.

By taking everyone back to 1998, Rafizi appears to be saying there was no Anwar worth reflecting from or other leaders and scholars. But this cannot be. Prior to 1998, or 1968, Tan Chee Koon was known as the Mr Opposition.

Thinkers like the late Rustam Sani, with a PhD in Sociology from Yale University, was one of the visionaries who came up with the concept of Vision 2020 (?), which was endorsed and accepted by Mahathir, even though Rustam, son of Ahmad Boestaman, came predominantly from Islamic left, while Mahathir was from the Islamic right.

Left or right, Anwar has always believed that the solution lies in the “middle,” especially given the context and background of Malaysia as a multicultural country.

No doubt, 1998 was a period of angry revulsion. But it was also a footnote among many historical epochs that make Malaysia complete – just as May 9, 2018, was a defining event that led to the return of Mahathir to lead the country back to some degree of sobriety after close to nine years of drunken indulgence in materialistic excesses and irrational exuberance.

Allowing Anwar back into the fold, and permitting him to be a prime minister-in-waiting is a gesture of goodwill that should be reciprocated step by step, by all sides, not by digging up a singular point of the past alone.

Yesterday, Part 1: Reformasi in 1998: Perhaps Rafizi got it wrong?

PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning Head Teaching Fellow on China and Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.

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

Malaysia’s Bumiputera Policy: Getting It Right this time. Equity or Equality?

August 22, 2018

New Economic Policy should be about meritocracy and competency with equity.. We are only equal in law. In reality, we are endowed with different skills sets and we must celebrate diversity as our strength. No more manja approach in economic policy making for Malaysia.. 60 years of UMNO rule have weakened the Malays. I believe adversity builds strength of character and resilience.–Din Merican

Malaysia’s Bumiputera Policy: Getting It Right this time. Equity or Equality?

“Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.” ― Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

by S Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | The spat between the MCA and DAP about the upcoming bumiputera congress comes at an interesting time. As reported in the press, Daim Zainuddin has claimed that the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) has recommended changes to the bumiputera policy to “get it right this time”.

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The Malays–Dr. Mahathir’s Unresolved Dilemma: Ketuanan Melayu

Of course, if Harapan chooses to make the recommendations from the CEP public, it would save us a whole lot of time but strangely, accountability and transparency do not seem to be the goal of these reform ideas.

Who knows? Maybe this bumiputera congress is all about the “positive mindset change” and change of policy that the council hopes its recommendations will deliver. But really, the idea of the MCA and DAP – two Chinese power structures – attempting to outdo each other when it comes to these issues, is ridiculous.

Each is operating under a specific set of imperatives when it comes to dealing with Malay power structures. Ketuanan Melayu is still the bogeyman, and neither party comes out clean in this squabble. If UMNO attempted to have this congress had it retained power, DAP – not Amanah or PKR – would have been firing salvos at MCA and MIC.

These two dingbats can argue over which non-Malay power structure spooks the Malays more. However, last year, Wan Saiful Wan Jan (who is now a Bersatu political operative) had already argued that affirmative action policies were morally wrong.

What I really like about Wan Saiful’s (photo below) piece, beyond his candour, is that he stakes no middle ground. He argues against affirmative action as something morally wrong and does not attempt to soften the stance by pandering to the politically correct narrative of a “needs-based” approach.

But this fight is really a sideshow. Actually, so is the idea of reforming this policy. It is pointless attempting to define this policy as anything other than a system of discriminatory practices that is the foundation of maintaining political and religious power in mainstream Malay politics. We are not merely talking about a system of rules which could be reformed but rather a mindset that has not only crippled the majority but also the non-Malay minorities.

Can there ever be a “positive mindset change” when it comes to policies which favour a specific ethnic group? What exactly does this positive mindset entail? Or rather how would reforming these policies while sustaining its elements of discrimination and bigotry – secular and religious – increase competitiveness in the economy.

But why stop there? Race and religion are not mutually exclusive in this country and it follows that any reform carried out on bumiputera policies should also include limiting the influences of the state-sponsored religion on the economy.

Has there been any serious research done on how the religion of the state hampers the economy not only in terms of its effect on Malay businesses (which includes the various GLCs and their affiliates) and non-Malay business practices?

How exactly does a government get such a policy right, this time? As reported in the article, and as I had acknowledged elsewhere, even Najib attempted to reform these policies for the same reasons but he was met with resistance by none other than Mahathir and the right-wing elements of his base.

Could there be a change of mindset in the current incarnation of the old maverick? Who knows? If anything, the apocalyptic scenario the Harapan brain trust has painted for this country could be the impetus for radical reforms. Even more reason for the CEP report to be made public.

The meaning of being Malaysian First

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Upholding the 5 Principles of Rukun Negara makes us Malaysians

When right-wing and far-right Malay elements talk about bumiputera privileges, they are not talking about a system of discriminatory practices, they are talking about those privileges in terms of morality, but more importantly, in a definitional sense of what it means to be Malay. Complete hogwash of course, but this is the reason why the idea of reforming the system instead of ditching it completely has always dominated the debate.

For the Malays, losing their rights and privileges is the existential threat that non-Malays and their power structures pose to the community. There is always that caveat that such reform policies would not be at the expense of the non-Malays. Which is ludicrous because the non-Malay communities have thrived despite these policies.

In this day and age – when the brunt of failed policies is felt by the Malay community for obvious reasons – this idea that bumiputera policies would somehow hamper the growth of the non-Malays in an economic sense is misguided.

This is why these far-right types are always going on about how the Chinese community is an economic threat. Since studies – which have demonstrated that the bumiputera equity has suppressed the intended target of these policies – have been ignored, and mainstream Malay structures have shown real intention to seek the truth, we have no idea if the Malay community needs all the help its champions claim it needs.

Just ask Lim Teck Ghee. He quit the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) because the research group distanced itself from its own findings because it went against government orthodoxy.

From The Sun:

” The centre’s report had concluded that the National Economic Policy target of 30 percent bumiputera equity ownership had already been exceeded, and said the official methodology inherited from the 1970s to measure corporate equity distribution was ‘narrowly based’ and ‘unrealistic’.

“According to the ninth Malaysia Plan, bumiputera equity ownership in 2004, as measured by the Economic Planning Unit, stood at 18.9 percent. The Asli report also said it was clear that “selective patronage” had resulted in “serious intra-ethnic Malay cleavages”, and the continued promotion of the New Economic Policy would only increase antagonisms among bumiputeras that some are more favoured than others.”

Here are some sound bytes from the relevant personalities in the article about the findings:

  1. “Utusan Malaysia also quoted former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as saying the centre’s findings were ‘illogical’ because bumiputera economic control was far below that of other races.”
  2. “UMNO Vice-President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has described the report as ‘rubbish’ and challenging the government’s authority, following Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s statement that the report was ‘baseless’, ‘inaccurate’ and ‘irresponsible’.”
  3. “Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said Mirzan had failed to explain how the centre’s methodology was flawed, and how the Economic Planning Unit’s methodology was valid. On criticisms of the report, he said: ‘It is a triumph of brawn over brain and a major setback towards creating a ‘first class mentality”.”

I suppose the only consolation is that corruption and the bumiputera policy are mutually exclusive, in the sense that you could curb corruption within an economic, political and socially discriminatory system.You could do that in such a system, right?

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

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

Malaysian Civil Service Reform requires Political Will

August 20, 2018

Malaysian Civil Service Reform requires Political Will

Change must come from the political leadership. There must be an insistence on greater diversity at the intake level. There must be an insistence on promotion and posting based on fairness, meritocracy and competency… Soon, you will find top civil servants praising Dr Mahathir Mohamad sky high, just like they did with other Prime Ministers.–T K Chua

by T K Chua@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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I refer to the letter, “Is there hope for the civil service?” by Dr Amar-Singh HSS.

As a former government servant, I too can relate to what he was saying although I have tried to avoid writing about it directly.

The environment in the civil service is more than stifling. It is also where favouritism, parochialism and bigotry are allowed to thrive. Discrimination in terms of recruitment, promotion and posting is routine and done with impunity. Tokenism has evolved into a fine art. If you are assertive and smart, be prepared to be sidelined and marginalised.

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A Bloated, Mediocre, Unproductive Malay dominated civil service

The civil service values mediocrity – this is absurd but true. The top echelon of the civil service is not populated by the smartest, but they know how to play politics to the hilt. To survive and keep the goodies to themselves, all they need to do is to quickly align themselves with the new regime. Soon, you will find top civil servants praising Dr Mahathir Mohamad sky high, just like they did with other Prime Ministers.

As a body, the civil service has its own inertia. It is not known for efficiency and progressiveness. On the contrary, the service is often associated with wastage, lack of initiative and poor service orientation.

The civil service is essentially an input-driven organisation, i.e. it will not move an inch without additional manpower and resources. Redeployment, revamp and reorganisation are hardly part of its consideration. That is why the civil service is ever expanding, often not in tandem with the size of the economy.

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Reports like the above which was written by two top civil servants of the Mahathir 1.0 Era, Tun Ahmad Sarji and Tan Sri Mahmud bin Taib are useless when there is no political will to undertake serious reforms.

Left on its own, I don’t think the civil service will ever change. It will remain insular, discriminatory and even racist.

Change must come from the political leadership. There must be an insistence on greater diversity at the intake level. There must be an insistence on promotion and posting based on fairness, meritocracy and competency.

We must temper the rights and privileges of communities with the need for competition, efficiency and performance. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be talking so much about greater dynamism and competitiveness for this country.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

Sabu’s smelling roses compared to those crooked UMNO Ministers

August 5, 2018

Sabu’s smelling roses compared to those crooked UMNO Ministers at Defence Ministry

by Phar Kim Beng@www.malaysiakini.com

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Dapper looking Mat Sabu

COMMENT | It is odd that former premier Najib Razak has reportedly called Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu a “joker,” who talks about “fish curry” while on board a warship.

Having lost the 14th general election (GE14) badly on May 9 and is now caught in a legal imbroglio over 1MDB and potentially many “mini 1MDBs,” the last thing Najib wants to be doing is to cast the first proverbial stone in a glass house.

Imagine the shards of glass that will come crashing down. In fact, the cracks are already there to see.

The Defence Ministry has been helmed twice by Najib. No one has had that privilege. Not “King Ghaz,” the late Ghazali Shafie, who is known as a foreign policy maestro.

Not even Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Seventh Prime Minister, who is known to take the bulls by the horns; as he did when he ripped UMNO and PAS apart in GE-14.

A double stint of Najib, therefore, should have allowed the Defence Ministry to stay clear from any unfortunate controversial issues. Yet, neither tenure did, despite a combined service of some 14 years clocked by Najib.

In fact, when one is in the military barracks, there are jokes galore about the ineptness of Najib but potentially Hishammuddin Hussein too, his cousin, who too donned the mantle of Defence Minister.

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The Joker of Lahad Datu–Hishamuddin Hussein

Wasn’t the latter who tweeted that the terrorists in Lahad Datu were clad in “slippers” and “sarongs,” and not to be deemed a threat?

Yet precisely a day later the terrorists went on a rampage, resulting in the first armed invasion of Malaysia since the end of Konfrontasi in 1965. Najib and Hisham, for the lack of better word, appeared to have muck things up when they were at the top of the food chain.

If the joke is on Mat Sabu, so far still a well-regarded Defence Minister, Najib has to be mindful of his legacy both as a Defence and Prime Minister. They reek of indolence (the lack of oversight) and insolence insofar as basic supervision is needed.

Indeed, what the ministry faces now is a litany of issues that remain unresolved. Be it the French submarine Scorpene scandal, or the plea of Shaariibuu Setev that the murder case of his daughter, Altantuya, be reinstated (for a thorough reinvestigation), the echoes from the past seem unrelenting.

Cancer of corruption

If one cares to listen, the cancer of corruption has seeped deepest into the marrows of the ministry. A tile at a military hospital, for example, can allegedly come at a quote of RM13,000, according to reliable sources. Drugs and pharmaceuticals that are supplied to the hospital are allegedly 300 percent more expensive than the regular tender.

If the invoices of these items are compared side by side with other genuine tenders, it would expose the scams and more shenanigans that have manifested in cooking the books.

The best services at such hospitals go the military supremos and top guns, and not the rank and file, who bore the scars of their service.

Indeed, contracts and tenders that are non-competitive have given to the same company over and over. For example, when a tender requires eight items to be scrutinized or supplied, those companies with close political connections to the previous regime continue to win the bids time and again, even though they offer nine of 10 exhibits, thus inflating the cost and breaching the terms of the tender.

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The legacy of Najib appears to be anything but spotless. Thus Mat Sabu is right that Najib has tried to “hit him below the belt” by choosing to raise the issue outside of the Parliament.

If Najib wants to critique the Defence Ministry, an institution that can be redeemed by Amanah, he better find a stronger excuse than hurling abuse at Sabu.

PHAR KIM BENG is a Harvard/Cambridge Commonwealth Fellow, a former Monbusho scholar at the University of Tokyo and visiting scholar at Waseda University.

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


Perpetual policy and its limited future as reforms stall

April 18, 2018

Perpetual policy and its limited future as reforms stall

Reforming Bumiputera policy is a colossal project both rival coalitions are reluctant to tackle. Yet the tentative consensus misconstrues an embedded but failing preferential regime.

Reforming Bumiputera policy is a colossal project both rival coalitions are reluctant to tackle. Yet the tentative consensus misconstrues an embedded but failing preferential regime.

Malaysia’s 14th general elections (GE14) will see an intense and dynamic battle for the Malay electorate, but also continuity of the extensive, embedded, and often misconstrued, pro-Malay ethnic preferential regime.

Tapping into widespread economic discontent and anxiety, particularly in the Malay population, incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) and opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalitions both offer populist-flavoured menus, with varying signature dishes. BN will try to differentiate itself by drawing attention and emotion to the pro-Malay, and more broadly pro-Bumiputera, policies that it founded and continually implements.

The political rhetoric around Bumiputera policies will escalate in the coming weeks – and recycle simplistic and convenient stances. With polling day set for 9 May, the BN under the hegemony of UMNO and dependent on Malay vote bases, increasingly kindles notions of Malay unity and Malay interests, and stokes anxieties of purported erosion of ethnic primacy and privilege. Expect caretaker prime minister Najib Razak to sell the Bumiputera Economic Transformation Programme (BETR) as a big deal, and seek a mandate to stay the course.

But the policy may not make that much of a difference; PH broadly agrees with keeping this ethnic preferential system. The newly reconstituted coalition, with a Malay-based party led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, decidedly affirms the goal of Bumiputera empowerment. It minimally specifies how its approach differs from BN’s. Assuredly, as happened prior to the 2013 elections, Pakatan will decry the patronage and cronyism recurrent in various Bumiputera-favouring programmes, while taking care to avoid alienating the multitudes that benefit from the policy, as we can discern from its alternative budget.

Thus, Malaysia’s Bumiputera preferential regime muddles along. Both coalitions have mellowed their stance compared to a few years ago, when there was more forthright talk of replacing Bumiputera preferential programmes, also termed race-based affirmative action, with “need-based” and “merit-based” affirmative action. Now the discourses imply all the above vaguely coexist, while occasionally accepting that perpetual ethnic preference is undesirable.

Clarity and precision are urgently needed, presenting coherent policy alternatives and workable solutions anchored to the objective of promoting Bumiputera participation in higher education, high-level occupations, enterprise and ownership. Policy objectives and instruments must be acknowledged, their breadth and depth grasped.

A systematic and viable roadmap for phasing out the existing Bumiputera preferential regime must lay the groundwork by broadly cultivating capability, competitiveness, and confidence. The different policy spheres also present different conditions. Higher education holds out a broad scope for “need-based” assistance for the poor and disadvantaged, through admissions policies, scholarships and financial assistance. For Bumiputera empowerment in employment and enterprise, “merit” considerations are paramount. The principal objective in these spheres is the cultivation of capable and competitive professionals, managers and enterprises – who are poised to graduate out of preferential assistance.

So-called needs-based and merit-based selections serve to complement and reinforce the Bumiputera preferential regime. Pronouncements to replace or systematically reform race-based affirmative action with such alternatives are premature and misplaced, lacking in systematic analysis. Emphatically, Bumiputera empowerment must be effective and broad-based before systemic reforms can take shape credibly and feasibly.

The regime has registered substantial achievements in promoting Bumiputera upward mobility, but shortcomings remain in terms of the ultimate goals of capability and competitiveness. By 2013, 28.4% of the Bumiputera labour force had acquired tertiary educational qualifications, compared to 26.6% of Chinese and 25.8% of Indians. However, graduate unemployment is a more acute problem among Bumiputeras.

The Bumiputera share of managers steadily rose to 45% in 2013, from 24% in 1970 to 35% in 1985. The public sector and government-linked companies considerably contribute to these figures, and among private enterprises, micro and small-scale establishments. In 2015, among Bumiputera SMEs, 88% were classified as micro, 11% small, and only 1% medium, while the corresponding figures in non-Bumiputera SMEs were 70%, 26%, and 4%. Bumiputera-controlled companies account for only 25% of the 800,000 registered companies in Malaysia.

The Bumiputera population at large must be adequately equipped before Malaysia can truly reform and roll back the system. As things stand, there is scant analysis of policy outcomes and mostly tacit acknowledgement of policy inefficacies, and no formulation of exit strategies for facilitating the graduation of Bumiputeras out of overt ethnic preferential treatment.


To be fair, the BETR, introduced in 2011, does modify policy objectives and methods. It is distinguishable from preceding policies, through the ways it reaches out to disadvantaged students and strives to cultivate capability and competitiveness in private enterprise. But these interventions are selective, not systemic. They leave swathes of the ethnic preferential regime untouched.

Indeed, the policy spheres with extensive outreach and potential to empower Bumiputeras – in pre-university programmes, university admissions, government contracting, microfinance and public sector employment – scarcely appear in long-term development plans. There is no commitment to apply lessons from the BETR’s focused interventions, let alone any intention to execute systemic reforms.

Image result for Wawasan 2020

And yet Malaysia arrives at an historical juncture, with GE14 determining who governs into 2020, the nation’s hallowed destination. Articulated by Dr Mahathir in 1991, Vision 2020 loftily aspired for Malaysia to be a “fully developed nation” economically, socially, politically, and culturally. More specific aims include the “creation of an economically resilient and fully competitive Bumiputera community so as to be on par with the non-Bumiputera community.”

Vision 2020, charismatic albeit flawed especially in neglecting education, enterprise development and democratisation, secured a place in the hearts and minds of Malaysians. So firm is the hold on the public imagination that even as the Vision’s progenitor Mahathir now assails Najib, the latter cannot forsake the brainchild of his new nemesis. Rather, Najib postures his administration as building on Vision 2020, merely implying there is some incompleteness in Mahathir’s treatise.

Beyond 2020, a new 30-year mission is being crafted under the TN50 (National Transformation) banner. This project adopts a more “bottom up” approach of compiling popular aspirations and engaging in public consultations. The templates and priorities already laid out are wide-ranging, sanguine and opportune – but conspicuously steer clear of the question of ethnic preferential policies.

Image result for TN50

NEP (Tun Razak) –Wawasan 2020 (Tun Dr. Mahathir) and Transformasi Nasional 50 (Najib Razak)–where are we heading with billions misspent on Bumiputera Empowerment!–“Howk Aun-Lee

It has to be acknowledged that reforming Bumiputera policies is a colossal project, and the bi-partisan reluctance to deal with it partly stems from a desire to look beyond ethnic identity and to pursue non-ethnically delineated policies. But the political consensus, while striving to transcend ethnic policies in rhetoric, misconstrues and ignores the embedded ethnic preferential regime.

Resistance to change is often blamed on the political establishment, but this is too simplistic. On the ground, societal forces are also deeply apprehensive and resistant to change. Bumiputera households are not simply being played by politicians; they materially benefit from the policies. Why and how would any people rationally, willingly surrender privilege? There are no easy answers. But Malaysia’s political dispositions and policy discourses preclude candid, honest and rigorous engagement on these crucial issues.

Election campaigns will deservedly dwell on livelihood concerns such as cost of living, social assistance, housing and jobs, and developmental concerns like infrastructure, transportation, education and health provisions, and matters of governance and morality, including social justice, inequality and corruption.

Of course, politicians will stick to simple and straightforward promises, not complex and nuanced propositions. Consistently, candid and critical discourses appear neither during elections, when new visions and mandates might be projected, nor between elections, when necessary but inconvenient reforms might be pursued. For example, in making pre-university matriculation programmes more rigorous to better prepare university entrants, or in imposing greater demands and incentives for government contractors to raise work quality and scale up operations.


However, any grand quest to take Malaysia to the next stage must address the current state and future prospects of the Bumiputera preferential regime. Instead of suppressing such questions, or entertaining misguided notions that full-fledged transformation is already in progress, a true mark of Malaysia’s progress on this issue will be its capacity to appraise how effective it has been in promoting Bumiputera empowerment, while rekindling the intent – and audacity – expressed in the past for pursuing capability, competitiveness and self-reliance.

(published in collaboration with RISE: T.wai)