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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Growing Up With A Nation That Isn't

Growing Up With A Nation That Isn’t
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com



Book review of Ahmad Kamil Jaafar’s Growing Up With The Nation. Marshall Cavendish, Singapore, 2013. 256 pp. RM135

The life of a diplomat, as the laity sees it, is one of glittering cocktail parties, spacious residences in leafy exclusive neighborhoods, and being pampered in MAS first-class cabins, all paid for by taxpayers.

            So it was a surprise to read this opening line in Growing Up With The Nation, the memoir of Ahmad Kamil Jaafar, Malaysia’s former top diplomat, “The life of a diplomat and foreign policy maker can be pretty much routine and humdrum during the best of times.”

            Then as if to underscore this point, midway through the book, in the chapter “China – A Transformational Journey,” he writes, “Finding myself with ample free time I tried my hand at learning Chinese … and Chinese brush painting.”

            This was the mid-1980s when China was undergoing, as per the chapter title, transformational changes under Deng Xiaoping. To be bored or have ample free time at such a period reflected more on the caliber of our diplomats generally rather than on Kamil Jaafar’s talent, ability, or diligence.

            It was commendable for Kamil to learn Mandarin. It would have been even more impressive had he done it before being posted there. There was (and is) no lack of opportunities for learning that language in Malaysia. Granted, the Malaysian Chinese accent may be way off the Beijing variety, nonetheless the basics remain the same.

            Kamil Jaafar is privileged to have been given the great opportunity and responsibility to guide the young nation. There are many others, but most are content to spend their retirement collecting lucrative GLC directorship fees and hitting golf balls. Malaysians owe Kamil a huge debt of gratitude for having taken time and effort to recollect his experiences so others could benefit.


Maximal Recollection, Minimal Reflection

Kamil’s memoir, competently written, spans a career of over three decades. He retired in 1996 as the top civil servant in the Foreign Ministry, and then continued on as Special Envoy. He covers vast expanse of water. However, as any scuba diver would tell you, the world underneath is even more rich, challenging and fascinating. Skimming the surface may get you far but at the price of missing this wonderful universe below. Stating it diplomatically, Kamil’s memoir has maximal recollection but at the expense of thoughtful reflection.

            On the rare occasions when he does pause, Kamil is astute and penetrating, revealing much. Recalling a meeting between Prime Minister Mahathir and Chairman Deng, Kamil noted the large spittoon which Deng used only three times during the entire encounter. Kamil congratulated Mahathir, deeming the meeting a success, at least by that criterion. Deng may be a transformational leader of the biggest country, but in mannerisms he was just another coolie. Diplomatically spun, Deng remained faithful to his plebian origin.

            During Abdullah Badawi’s tenure as Foreign Minister, Kamil felt like his ministry was under the Prime Minister’s Department. That reveals volumes as to Abdullah’s capability and contribution. Apparently Abdullah was satisfied if not reveled in being sidelined.

            Abdullah was a special guest at the book’s launching. He obviously had not read the book, or if he did, missed that subtle but devastating jab. Or I could be over reading that passage.

            In a post-publication interview Kamil related how tough he was with his subordinates. I wish he had been equally frank and tough on his political superiors. Did he see any parallel between Abdullah’s performances as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister? As for the other dozen or so foreign ministers Kamil served under, none merited more than just a few bland lines penned in passing. Most were skipped entirely. Perhaps that said it all.

            Of all the prime ministers, only Mahathir did not serve concurrently as foreign minister. Yet Kamil devotes more ink to him than to anyone else. His adoration for Mahathir is unbridled, and evident throughout the book. Yet when Kamil lamented on the poor English of our young diplomats and how that handicaps them professionally, he fails to make the connection. Mahathir is most responsible for this sorry state, first as Minister of Education and later as Prime Minister.

            Mahathir appointed Kamil Secretary-General of the Foreign Ministry; I reckon that has much to do with this uncritical appraisal.
           
            As for that promotion, Kamil recalled his colleagues urging him to decline it, in deference to the incumbent who had been at it for only six months. That reveals the destructive culture of the civil service, this tunggu geleran (patiently waiting your turn), like landing planes at a busy airport. That, more than anything else, is responsible for the anti-meritocratic norms of the civil service. There is no such thing as “fast tracking.”

            Kamil rationalized his acceptance thus:  “I dare not go against the Prime Minister’s decision.” I would have preferred had he asserted that he could do a better job. False modesty is hard to conceal while the genuine form is overrated. Besides, a senior civil servant should never fear of going against his political superior if that is the wise thing to do.

            Kamil had a brief and less-than-laudatory paragraph on Prime Minister Hussein Onn, recalling a meeting involving a sensitive issue related to a neighboring country. Kamil and his counterparts in the Home Ministry including its minister, Ghazali Shafie, had concocted a nefarious scheme the nature of which was not revealed. When they finished briefing Hussein, he became visibly angry and reprimanded them.

            “What you are doing is a bottomless pit. You cannot do to others what you do not want others to do to you,” Kamil quoted Hussein, who ordered an immediate halt. Kamil did not describe his or Ghazali’s reaction to this dressing down.

            Hussein was not known to be a decisive leader but on that occasion when he most needed to be, he was. That brief anecdote epitomized Hussein’s integrity and fair-mindedness. I remind readers that the odious phrase “cronyism, corruption and nepotism” entered the popular Malaysian lexicon only after Hussein left office. As an aside, he was not cited in the index, perhaps an honest slip.

            John Kenneth Galbraith, Kennedy’s political-appointee Ambassador to India, wrote in his Ambassador’s Journal that Kennedy read his (Galbraith’s) dispatches because they were a joy. I assume that most diplomatic communications are not, consumed as they are with being detached and laced with bureaucratese as well as bewildering acronyms. They are also written so as not to offend anyone.

            Kamil no longer needs to be deferential to his former superiors. He should be critical of their performances. He should go beyond lamenting the current sorry state of Malaysia and analyze the “who, what, where, when, why and how.” Which leaders were most culpable for our nation not growing up? If luminaries like Kamil shy away from this crucial responsibility, then by default it would fall on the tin kosong jaguh kampong (empty tin-can village champions). And the nation would be the poorer for that.


Proposed Diplomat’s Assignment

Kamil recalled how as a young diplomat he was clueless as there was no one to guide him. Now having reached the pinnacle of his career, he put forth few ideas to guide his young successors, except for them to improve their English. That in itself reveals volumes on the state of our foreign service.

            To fill this void, I share with our diplomats, young and old, this advice, the one my late father gave me before I left for Canada back in 1963. Observe the country and its people, he counseled me, be perceptive of and receptive to your new environment. Heed the wisdom of our culture, Alam terkembang di jadikan guru (Let the expanding universe be your teacher), echoing Wordsworth’s “Let nature be your teacher.”

            In particular my father asked me to ponder this question:  Why was it that Canada was offering those generous scholarships to young Malaysians and not Malaysia to Canadians?

            Tailoring it to our diplomats, I would advise them thus. Study one feature of your host country that is worthy of our emulation, or conversely, the one to avoid falling into. Our Third Secretary in Venezuela could learn how that country successfully used music to empower poor children and produce superb youth orchestras as well as many accomplished young conductors. Our High Commissioner to Nigeria would warn us of the fate that awaits Malaysia if it does not get a handle on corruption, while that to Pakistan, the dangers if religious extremists were to get the upper hand.

            With that assignment tagged onto their regular duties our diplomats, novice and seasoned, would never again complain of their posting “being routine and humdrum,” or having “ample free time.” Thus occupied, they would not likely get themselves into mischief or otherwise embarrass the nation.


Bakri Musa’s memoir, Cast From The Herd. Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia, is due out in 2015. www.bakrimusa.com.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Malaysian Leaders' First World Education, Third World Mentality

Malaysian Leaders’ First World Education, Third World Mentality
Review of Syed Husin Ali’s Memoirs of a Political Struggle.
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)


Syed Husin Ali:  Memoirs of a Political Struggle. Strategic Information and Research Development Center, Petaling Jaya, 2013. 273 pp.


The deserved universal condemnation and merciless ridicule of the Malaysian authorities’ bungling of the MH370 tragedy did not arise in a vacuum. From leaders’ refusing to entertain questions at their press briefings to radar operators ignoring intruding beeps on their screens, this unconcealed contempt for the public, and the accompanying lackadaisical attitude, is the norm.

            Our leaders may have had First World education, alas their mentality remains stubbornly stuck in Third World mode. Their bebalism and tidak apaism make the Jamaican “It’s not my job, mon!” a valid excuse by contrast.

            To readers of on-line news portals, I am not stating anything new here; likewise to ordinary citizens who have had to deal with governmental agencies. However, when these general inadequacies and gross incompetence in their infinite manifestations are put in print as in books, there is satisfaction, at least to their authors, that they are being documented for posterity. So when Malaysia degenerates (as surely it would) into another Nigeria with its endemic corruption, or Pakistan with religious fanaticism, scholars would have ample materials upon which to base their analyses. Until then these accounts serve as a much-needed antidote to the fluff and gloss that typify Malaysian official reports.

            We owe these authors, from ordinary citizens to seasoned journalists, and opposition activists to members of the establishment, a huge debt of gratitude when they record their experiences. Syed Hussin Ali’s reflective autobiography, Memoirs of a Political Struggle, is one such valuable addition, tracing the nation’s social and political development, beginning with the decade before independence. Despite the title, the book is an autobiography more than a memoir.

            Once pedantic readers get past the pedestrian I-was-born opening, the scholar in Syed Hussin gives us an unsentimental and detached view. As a politician, he details the many hypocritical ways of his peers. He relates an occasion when he was on a panel discussion with one Dr. Mahathir at the University of Malaya campus. Mahathir then was not yet prime minister but headed that way through his rising popularity as head of UMNO Youth.

            Mahathir chided those “impure” Malay political activists. “Those of Arab descent,” Syed Hussin quoted Mahathir, “should not have any right to talk about political issues of this country.”

            Syed Hussin’s understated nonchalant riposte was, “I do not wish to talk about ancestry for otherwise I will have to talk about the rights of those of Indian descent.”

            My purpose with this quote is not to showcase Mahathir’s hypocrisy (readers can readily find their own far more consequential examples) or highlight Syed Hussin’s not-widely recognized wit, rather to point out one significant observation. That is, you will never find such a panel discussion on today’s Malaysian campuses where contrasting positions would be presented. That is one the many destructive legacies of Mahathir.

            Syed Hussin is, quoting Anwar Ibrahim, “in a category of his own, unique in terms of moral conviction, and not in the business of saying things to please people.” A sociologist, Syed Hussin gave up his productive academic career to turun padang and get involved in electoral politics. He is less successful in this second endeavor. Nonetheless with the victory of his party’s coalition in the last general election, he was appointed as a Senator from Selangor. A well-deserved appointment!

            Syed Hussin Ali had a First World education (London School of Economics PhD), but unlike many in the country similarly blessed, he maintained those First World qualities. As an academic he was not content resting on his sterling academic qualification. His pioneering work on social stratification in traditional Malay society remains widely quoted.

            In an enlightened administration, especially one that professes to champion the plight of poor rural folks, a man of Syed Hussin’s insight and talent would be co-opted to play a major role. Alas, UMNO is far from being enlightened, and its commitment to alleviating rural poverty is more an election gimmick, and a scheme to enrich its operatives through the many “development” schemes. Thus funds meant for poor livestock growers are siphoned to buy luxury condos in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

            Three qualities struck me about Syed Hussin. One, his humility, integrity and piety; two, his early socio-political consciousness, beginning right at primary school; and three, his thoroughly Malaysian experience and outlook. His rural upbringing in Batu Pahat, Johore, has much to do with his humility; his religious parents, his piety; and, being a former King Scout, his integrity.

            When Anwar underwent surgery in Germany, Syed Hussin visited him using his own funds. One of Anwar’s operatives tried to reimburse Syed by handing him a bundle of $100 US notes, but he would have none of it. Unable to stop the man, Syed gave the money to his party’s treasurer upon his return. On another occasion, when as a scholar he was given a UNESCO research grant, he returned to his dean the unused portion. That’s integrity! Anyone else would finagle a way to present his paper at the University of Hawaii or Bali with those leftover funds.

            Syed Hussin grew up in colonial Malaya. To today’s young accustomed to incompetence, cronyism, and influence peddling, that was an entirely different era. While Syed Hussin did not hide his nationalistic and anti-colonial streaks, nonetheless that did not stop the authorities from selecting him to attend a scouting jamboree in Australia.

            The other aspect to Syed Hussin’s path is that his schooling, extracurricular activities and political activism all took place in an environment involving Malaysians of all races. That was why he was so offended by Mahathir’s remarks at that panel discussion. Syed embodies the values and aspirations of a truly modern Malaysian.

            Syed leftwing leanings began early. In a society obsessed with labels, and where political sophistication was rudimentary, it was not wise to identify or be labeled as a socialist, especially when memories of the brutal communist insurgency were still fresh. Dispensing with labels, what is clear is that Syed Hussin is committed to social justice, economic equity, and equal opportunities. What he abhors is leaders betraying their followers’ trust. This betrayal comes in many guises – greed and its associated corruption, incompetence and its bebalism or tidak apaism, or just plain stupidity and ignorance.

            I wonder what would be his fate had Syed Hussin dispensed with labels and joined UMNO like so many like-minded Malays. The Fabian socialists would surely approve of Tun Razak’s generous redistributionist policies and massive state interventions in the economy. After all there was a time when the term kaum kapitalis (capitalist hordes) was an epithet hurled by the likes of UMNO’s Syed Jaafar Albar and Syed Nasir. Today with the spoils of crony capitalism, socialism is a curse; likewise social justice.

            Had Syed Hussin joined UMNO, would he be as corrupt as the rest or would he be like the snake that would not lose its venom despite crawling among vines, as per the Malay proverb? I believe he would the latter, and the nation would have been richer for his contributions.

            I detect a tinge of regret as Syed Hussin recollects his struggles over these years. Being a former sociologist, he of course tried hard to conceal his own disappointments. There is however, no settling of old scores, not even with his old jailors. There is a touching picture of a smiling Syed greeting his old tormentor from the Special Branch. That’s class! Contrast that to the vile-filled memoirs of many recently-retired politicians.

            Make no mistake. Syed Hussin is capable of penning moving prose and be passionate in his writings. I remember reading his Two Faces. Detention Without Trial, and slamming down the book in anger at the authorities’ brutal and inhumane treatment of this great intellect and patriotic Malaysian.

            This was his poignant ending to the short opening paragraph in Two Faces:  “One minute I was a professor, the next I was a prisoner.” I suppose his fate could have been worse. Consider that for Egypt’s Morsi it would be, “One minute I was president; the next, a prisoner.”

            A generation hence when dysfunctional countries like Egypt would be our peers, we can look back and realize that there were committed and courageous Malaysians like Syed Hussin who tried hard to stem the slime. And our descendents would glow in the reflected glory of his many heroic efforts.



Sunday, December 01, 2013

Sudah lah 'Jib! You Are Just Another Pak Lah!


Sudah lah ‘Jib!  You Are Just Another Pak Lah!⃰

M. Bakri Musa


 

 

Sudah lah ‘Jib! (You are finished, Najib!) You are just another Pak Lah! Malaysia cannot afford two consecutive incompetent leaders as it enters the 21st Century. The precious and critical first decade is already lost.

            Najib’s latest “Pak Lah moment” came when his Chief of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, threatened to arrest Mariam Mokhtar for sedition over her article, “One Ideology, Two Reactions,” posted on Freemalaysiatoday.com on November 29, 2013. Mariam dared to highlight the highly favorable treatment Aishah Wahab, the woman allegedly held as a slave by her Marxist master in London, received from the Najib Administration versus the visceral contempt it heaped upon Chin Peng, leader of the defunct Malayan Communist Party.

            Mariam suggested that the Najib Administration’s generous gesture to Aishah was more on exploiting the favorable publicity surrounding that London slavery case.

            “She had better watch out,” the Chief warned, “or we will go after her!” The “her” is of course Mariam.

            Jantan kampung betul! (a real village bull!), as we say in the village when referring to such petty bullies. The Chief of Police should display his manhood where it would really count, as with confronting the Singaporeans spying on Malaysia, those intruders at Lahad Datu, or the alleged treachery with the loss of Pulau Batu Puteh. Those are the real and menacing threats to the nation’s security and stability, not the eloquent writing of a young woman!

            Clearly Najib and his officials are threatened by Mariam’s ideas. Najib is stuck in the time warp of the old feudal ways, unable to grasp the new reality of a porous digital age. He and Khalid should be complimenting Mariam for her ability to write well, and in English, as well as her courage to express her views.

            If Najib and Khalid have a better grasp of English, they would have discovered that Mariam’s earlier essay in Malaysiakini.com, “Three Slaves and the Rakyat,” on the same case had more punch. In that piece she noted that while the three London women were imprisoned for three decades, Malaysians have been “metaphorically imprisoned for the most part of 56 years,” adding that the three women were shackled by “invisible handcuffs,” just like Malaysians.

            “It is doubtful,” Mariam continues, “if many Malaysians realize the similarities between themselves and those three women.” Now that’s powerful stuff, but Najib and Khalid missed Mariam’s well-chosen metaphor and imagery!

            Congratulations Mariam! Your voice is being heard at the highest level, and widely too as judged by the outpouring of comments both articles elicited. Keep writing! I hope the police chief and Najib’s other top officials would continue widening their reading repertoire beyond the UMNO newsletters The New Straits Times and Utusan Melayu.

            Mariam is not the first writer to be intimidated by the authorities. She does not need to be reminded of the horrible experiences of Kassim Ahmad, Syed Hussein, and Raja Petra, among others.

            I have nothing to offer Mariam except my best wishes, and I wish her that, and much more, as with her continued success in writing. I can however, pass on the advice from that great Indonesian writer, the late Ananta Prameodya Toer, a man who had endured much from his government.

            Orang boleh pandai setinggi langit,” Pramoedya wrote in Rumah Kaca (The Glasshouse), “tapi selama ia tidak menulis, ia akan hilang di dalam masyarakat dan dari sejarah.” (Your intellect may soar to the sky but if you do not write, you will be lost from society and to history.”

            Rest assured that when the collective “invisible handcuff” gets unshackled, as ultimately it will, Malaysians owe a huge debt of gratitude to brave individuals like Mariam Mokhtar. As for that police chief, only his family would remember him, or if remembered by others, he would prefer not to be. Look at his many ‘illustrious’ predecessors; one jailed for punching Anwar Ibrahim, another a defendant in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, and a third rewarded by being chairman of a casino. That character apparently gambled right!

 

Najib’s Ultimate Pak Lah Moment

Back to Najib’s other Pak Lah moments, the supposedly pious and humble Pak Lah squandered millions of taxpayers’ funds to renovate Sri Perdana before he deemed it livable. This from a man who only a decade earlier did not even own a house! Najib however, bested Pak Lah on this front. Najib burned over two million ringgit a year just on electricity. When citizens complained, he haughtily defended his wasteful ways by suggesting that his official guests should not have to dine by candle light! He must have the whole United Nations delegates as his guests, and every day too!

            More likely Najib must have really turned down the thermostat and then had the fireplace roaring to simulate the English ambience of his student days so he could cuddle up to Rosmah.

            Najib should remember the advice he received from his prime minister father when he (Najib) and his brothers were clamoring for a swimming pool at the old Sri Perdana. “What will people say,” Najib quoted his old man as saying in turning down their request.

            Then there is the ultra-luxury, custom-fitted Airbus jet. Even Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Cameron do not have one. Pak Lah was severely criticized for his excessive use of that expensive toy. At least his wife (the first or second) did not get to use it in her personal capacity. Today we have Mrs. Najib (the second) jaunting off in it, oblivious of the cost to taxpayers. I do not know which is more reprehensible; Najib requesting the approval from his cabinet for his wife’s use of the jet or the cabinet approving it. This at a time when he warned the country is on the brink of bankruptcy!

            Abdullah Badawi burdened Malaysia for over five years; the nation is still paying for his many follies and general incompetence. Many claim that Najib is worse than Pak Lah; that is being petty. When you score is already a miserable F, it does not really matter whether it is also F-minus.

            Expect at this week’s (December 2, 2013) UMNO General Assembly for Najib to execute yet another Pak Lah moment – reading his “own” pompous self-congratulatory pantun (poem). Do not expect however, for the delegates to even mention let alone review this critical issue of his glaring incompetence and profligate ways.

            Thus it behooves Malaysians to ensure that this burden of Najib inept leadership comes to an end soon. Malaysians must force Najib to perform his ultimate Pak Lah moment – resign!

 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sudah lah 'Jib! You Haven't Got It!

Sudah lah ‘Jib!  You Haven’t Got it!
M. Bakri Musa


Sudah lah ‘Jib! You haven’t got what it takes to lead modern Malaysia.

            Humiliated by the recent national election and overwhelmed by mounting problems, Najib resorts to the typical tricks of third-rate Third World leaders. He travels abroad frequently to distract himself and Malaysians, and when at home he bribes his way through problems.

            Barisan’s loss in the popular votes during the last election was only the latest expression of this lack of confidence in Najib’s leadership. The man has been coasting on the memory of his illustrious father, Tun Razak. For that reason Malaysians have been too generous in giving Najib a pass for so long.

            The show cannot go on; the nation can ill afford it. There will be a splendid opportunity for the nation to be rid of his leadership without having to wait till the next national election, and that will be the upcoming parliamentary budget debate. All we need is for a handful of Barisan MPs (12 to be exact) to see through this character so he can be ejected from the Prime Minister’s seat. He does not belong there.


Peripatetic Wanderer

Back to Najib’s third-rate Third World leadership tricks, his most recent – and most expensive – was the junket that took him through San Francisco on his way to New York. That was literally around the world. Rest assured there will be many more such trips in his ultra-luxurious, custom-fitted full-sized Airbus jet, burning the rakyat’s precious ringgit.

            The only saving grace this time was his uncharacteristic prudence financially in landing his jet at Oakland instead of at the exorbitantly expensive SFO. Najib however, more than made that up by staying at the Fairmont Hotel in a suite that would have pleased the likes of King Saud.

            In the 1960s, traveling extensively abroad was also the favorite refuge for Indonesia’s Sukarno. It was left to his ministers back home to tell the rakyat to eat rats and thereby simultaneously solve two problems – widespread starvation and rat infestation.

            More recently there was the example of Tunisian leader Zine el Abidene, now languishing somewhere in the Saudi desert with only his ill-gotten wealth to sustain him. Meanwhile he faces a death sentence at home and the Interpol has a search warrant for him. As for his wildly extravagant and obscenely ostentatious wife, a former hairdresser, she too has long ago abandoned him. She is also on the Interpol list for money laundering. Take a glimpse of her during her heyday; she has the uncanny resemblance of someone familiar to Malaysians, and not just in facial features.

            Sukarnos’s fate in contrast was less severe. At least he died and was buried in his native land. Something for Najib to ponder!

            Malaysia is far from being Sukarno’s Indonesia. That however, is setting a very low bar. It tells us how far we have fallen that the two countries are now often mentioned in the same sentence. While Malaysia is also infested with rats, Malaysians are thankfully not starving. Instead what we have are even more rapacious rats continually raiding the people’s Treasury. The biggest of all is Najib.


Bribing His Way Through Problems

With his unrestrained access to the Treasury, Najib’s mode of problem solving is to bribe his way. He bribed Malaysians with his multitude of expensive 1-Malaysia giveaways. Just before the election his largesse became more targeted, as with his instant generous grants to Chinese schools and special allocations to East Malaysia. Those bore his trademark of lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu (You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours).

            Like bribees everywhere, the Chinese eagerly took the money and ran. Come election time however, they readily saw through what was going on and unhesitatingly dumped Najib. Najib the briber was reduced to lamenting loudly of the Chinese tsunami. Najib mistook the Chinese to be like UMNO Malays, readily bought with only a few million devalued ringgit. In the end Najib was left scratching himself.

            East Malaysians were sufficiently grateful for the bribe to vote for Najib, only to be rewarded post-election with a court order banning them from using the word “Allah!” I hope that their Barisan representatives in parliament will now stage their own mini tsunami and flush away Najib.

            Now post-election, Malays too are complaining. Again Najib resorted to his favorite trick of bribing, a few billion here and there under the bombastic package of Memperkasakan Ekonomi Bumiputra (MEB – Strengthening Bumiputra Economy). Malays this time have shrewdly anted-up their price, learning from the Chinese. Thus Malays this time are less than enthusiastic with the only few billion thrown their way, even though that is real money.

            I thought that the whole purpose of the New Economic Policy and all its iterations for the last four decades had been to enhance the economic status of Malays. Obviously had the NEP been successful, we would have little need for this MEB.

            Unfortunately for Najib, even the dumbest ass learns eventually. Malays have smartened up and realized that this MEB will just be another massive and lucrative bribery scheme for UMNO cronies. Their beneficiaries may be Malays, the pseudo as well as wannabe, but they do not represent our values.

            Indications are, MEB notwithstanding, this time Malays are no longer mudah lupa. Like the Chinese, Malays (at least the lucky ones) are becoming shrewder and will readily take the money and then run. Rest assured that come the next election, there will also be a Malay tsunami.

            Or perhaps sooner! The recent UMNO election produced more malcontent losers who will be skipped by the gravy train. They will be grouchy enough to take their frustrations out on Najib.

            Commentators of various persuasions have already pronounced Mahathir a loser in this UMNO election. One sure way to make a grouchy loser more so, and thus likely to strike back, would be for the winners to gloat. Abdullah Badawi too gloated after his spectacular 2004 national victory.

            Back to Najib the briber, he is finally learning a painful lesson. That is, bribees, be they national or party voters, continue to escalate their price tag, especially if they know their targets are soft and lucrative. Najib is one such target.

            What is despicable with Najib is that he is using our money to bribe us, after he takes his usual generous cut of course! When you bribe a cop, you are using your own hard-earned cash, not anyone else’s.

            It is not just Malaysians that Najib is bribing. He thinks the rest of the world too is easily bribable. Soon after becoming Prime Minister, Najib was all over the global media giving high-profile interviews. Alas those “interviews” were nothing more than “informecials,” paid crass commercials masquerading as legitimate news items.

            Far from being embarrassed, Najib still revels in the “glory.” That was his mode of operation. Malaysians were of course embarrassed, as were such media giants as CNN and BBC once they realized they were being duped. The “journalist” involved was duly fired, after earning his millions from Najib. Back in Malaysia, the consultants who thought of the idiotic scheme were rewarded with even more lucrative public relations contracts. For them, it was truly “endless possibilities” as well as endless profits with their desperate-for-praise client, Najib.

            On his recent trip to America, Najib was back in his old form. He addressed the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco and Harvard Club of New York, among others. Bribing is illegal in America, except where it is nicely wrapped as “lobbying.”

            All this bribe money has to come from somewhere. Even the Saudi Treasury is finite. Watch this upcoming budget; Najib will once again squeeze the rakyat, this time with his Goods and Services Tax together with his scheme for “rationalizing” subsidies. He will again bribe his way by offering in return, a puny reduction in the income tax rates.

            GST is the most regressive, meaning it imposes a disproportionately heavy burden on those least able to afford it. What Najib gives away in sens (pennies) as with his income tax reduction, he will haul back hundred-fold more through GST.

            I hope that our parliamentarians especially in Barisan will finally see through this man’s façade and terminate his tenure once and for all, for the good of Malaysia. Muslims have just celebrated the Eid Qurbani (Celebration of Sacrifice). It is time to qurban Najib for the good of Malaysia. Then the nation can celebrate!


            Nothing happens unless Allah wills it, that is, guide Najib to see the light, if not him, then those parliamentarians.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Parliament Must Replace Najib With Tengku Razaleigh

Parliament Must Replace Najib With Tengku Razaleigh
M. Bakri Musa


Malaysia cannot afford Najib Razak’s continued inept leadership. As UMNO has failed to terminate his leadership, and the next election is too far away, it is now up to Parliament to do the necessary. Najib, who is also Finance Minister, will table his budget on October 25, an opportune time for Parliament to pass a no-confidence vote on the budget – and hence his leadership – thus forcing the son of Tun Razak (TR-1) to resign. MPs have a far greater duty beyond loyalty to their leader, and that is loyalty to their country.

            With the Will and Guidance of Allah, SWT, Najib can spare himself this unprecedented disgrace and simultaneously relieve his fellow parliamentarians of this distasteful chore by ceding the Prime Ministership to Tengku Razeleigh (TR-2). By gracefully withdrawing now, Najib could return later to lead his party for the 14th national election, and would be a better leader for this voluntary hiatus.

            Should Najib contemplate being stubborn, he should remind himself of similar parliamentary practices resulting in the ejection of his contemporaries. In August, British MPs denied Prime Minister Cameron his motion to intervene in Syria. This defying the leader is also not alien to UMNO. TR-1 did it to Tunku Abdul Rahman, albeit in a soft, subtle way. The wise and sensitive Tunku readily saw the signals.

            A parliamentary no-confidence vote would not affect Najib’s UMNO presidency. The constitution does not mandate the leader of a ruling party should also be prime minister. That is only tradition, tenable only as long as he has Parliament’s confidence.

            As UMNO has the largest parliamentary representation, it is appropriate that one of its members should be the Prime Minister. There is no better choice than TR-2. He is a glittering gem to the sparkle of pebbles that is the current UMNO leadership. He also has the exquisite synthesis of talent and experience.

            Rest assured that TR-2 would not be preoccupied with reelections and the consequent pandering to various constituencies, Najib’s destructive obsession. He would focus exclusively on running the country. With no children, TR-2 would have no grandiose pretensions of starting a political dynasty, yet another preoccupation of current leaders.

            Malaysians can be assured that TR-2, like TR-1, would pick only the competent and untainted to be his ministers and advisors. They would reflect the man; his team would be the antithesis of Najib’s. TR-2 has no need for courtiers or cheerleaders.

            Unlike Najib, TR-2’s executive and leadership abilities have been tested inside and outside of government. Malaysians can be assured that there would be no freelancers or lone rangers in TR-2’s team spouting out offensive racial taunts. Najib on the other hand could not restrain the extremist ulamas on his payroll who think that the marriage of a Muslim to a non-Muslim is invalid.

            Najib is not up to par even when compared to his lackluster predecessor, Abdullah Badawi. With Abdullah, Malaysians within and beyond his party clearly expressed their disapproval; some politely, others less so. The man recognized this and wisely withdrew.

            Dissatisfaction with Najib is palpable even or especially within his party. However, he is a stubborn mule, and with as much insight. He must be told in no uncertain terms by Parliament that his leadership is wanting. As a dumb mule responds only to a big stick, anything less would not do it.

            Relieved from running the country, Najib could focus on ridding UMNO of its fortune seekers. They mock the party’s aspiration of Agama, Bangsa, Negara (Faith, Race, and Country). There is nothing Islamic or Malay about corruption, cheating and the plundering of our nation’s wealth. There is no reflected glory for Malays to see UMNO leaders grow glutton on hogging the public trough. Malaysia would be far better without these scoundrels.

Leadership Crisis Akin to Post-May 1969

Parliament has the right – indeed obligation – to terminate Najib’s tenure. Malaysia today has a critical leadership crisis comparable to the post-1969 period. That too was triggered by an electoral setback suffered by the ruling coalition. We are fortunate so far to be spared the associated tragedies and destruction, despite the incendiary taunting by many.

            We cannot allow this dangerous situation to fester lest a mere spark would trigger an explosion. Already our current racial poison will take generations to detoxify, assuming it stops right now. Najib however, shows no inclination or competence to do so. Inter-racial as well as intra-racial – specifically intra-Malay – relationships are deteriorating rapidly.

            As with a fish, this rot begins at the head. The solution must therefore begin with getting rid of Najib.
            As with post-1969, citizens today yearn for a more representative or “unity” government to de-escalate the dangerously heightened social and racial polarizations. The unprecedented failure of the ruling coalition to gain the majority popular votes adds to this demand. Granted, in our “first past the post” system, the number of seats won would not necessarily correlate with the popular votes, nonetheless the stunning size of the discrepancy triggered the angst.

            Such a wide discrepancy could still be accepted if the institutions and personnel conducting the elections were truly non-partisan and have unchallenged integrity. The Malaysian Election Commission is far from either.

            That 1969 tragedy led to the resignation of Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. His successor, TR-1, set up a unity government through enlarging the old Alliance coalition to the current expanded Barisan Nasional. Such strategy would not be the best route today. The objective of a representative and reconciliative government would best be served by having the new Prime Minister invite a few talented opposition members into his administration. Consider that US President Obama, who secured a far stronger mandate than Najib, has an opposition Republican Chuck Hagel as his Defense Secretary.

            TR-2 is TR-1’s protégé. No one else, least of all Najib, could claim that. The late TR-1 was a sharp spotter of talent. He put TR-2 to set up and lead Pernas when he (TR-2) was only 32 years old, and four years later, Petronas. At Petronas, TR-2 took on the powerful global oil companies and pioneered unique and highly profitable production-sharing contracts with the oil majors that later became the model for other state oil companies. Malaysia continues to reap the bounty from that brilliant and courageous initiative.

            Unique among UMNO leaders, TR-2 has cordial relationships with the opposition; he has the credibility to execute a “unity government”. TR-2 could spot talented MPs from the opposition to be in his cabinet in the manner of TR-1.

            Those ministers from the opposition would serve as individuals and not as representatives of their parties. They would continue to serve until such time they could no longer support the government’s policy pertaining to their respective portfolios. The opposition is blessed with many bright members. It would be a great shame not to tap their talent.

            Such an initiative would break the current incestuous coupling of party positions with governmental appointments, and go a long way towards “cleansing” UMNO of its “fortune seekers.”

            Decoupling would also relieve ministers of their party’s chores. The duties of a minister are onerous enough. American cabinet secretaries for example, are freed of these extraneous burdens. Consider this UMNO election season. For months now, those UMNO ministers and government appointees have effectively abandoned their official duties; they are busy campaigning.

            UMNO is the single greatest contributor to public corruption because of the close nexus between party and government. Decoupling would sever this sinister link.
            Those party positions now held by ministers would become vacant, allowing greater upward mobility for the members. At another level, those senior party leaders would provide a much-needed system of checks and balances on their party’s governmental appointees. Currently there are no such checks and balances.

            TR-1’s unity government was instrumental in quickly restoring normalcy post-1969. Today we need Parliament to strip TR-1’s son, Najib, of his leadership to pave way for TR-2 to lead a new, invigorated unity government. We may contemplate the irony, but the action is an absolute necessity.


            Najib Razak could spare his fellow parliamentarians this distasteful chore by resigning and paving the way for TR-2. Such an action would portray Najib as someone thinking of the country ahead of himself, the very definition of a patriot. It would also be a great tribute to the memory of his father, Tun Razak.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Making Corruption History - Cakap Kosong Je, 'Jib!

Making Corruption History – Cakap Kosong Je ‘Jib!
M. Bakri Musa


In San Francisco recently, Prime Minister Najib confidently declared “to make corruption part of Malaysia’s past, not its future.” The man’s delusion never ceases to amaze me. The reality is of course far different; corruption defines the Najib Administration.

            Nonetheless if Najib is serious, then he should heed Tengku Razaleigh’s call for Najib to declare his assets. Otherwise it would be, to put it bluntly in the vernacular, “Cakap kosong je ‘Jib!” (Empty talk only!)
           
            Tengku Razaleigh’s suggestion, if implemented, would do far more good than all of Najib’s lofty declarations of “changing organizational as well as business cultures” or creating “a new governance and integrity minister” and “elevating the anti-corruption agency.” Malaysians have heard all those ad nauseum, not only from Najib but also his predecessors.

            If after doing what Tengku Razaleigh had suggested Najib still aspires higher, he could begin by getting rid of those tainted individuals in his administration. Then if he is really committed to clean and effective governance, he should select only those with unquestioned integrity and solid accomplishments to be his new ministers and advisors.

            As Najib is slow to grasp concepts, let me elaborate on those three simple suggestions.

            Consider asset declaration. Najib does not need yet another highly-paid consultant advising him how to do it. There are plenty of effective models out there, including one recommended by the OECD. The simplest is the one used by American officials including the president, cabinet secretaries, and Supreme Court judges. It covers their spouses and all dependent children.

            Here is President Obama’s, available publicly at:  docstoc.com/docs/156786412/Obama-Financial-Disclosure. The simple eight-page report lists his assets and income, transactions during the year, gifts received (he had none), liabilities (his home mortgage), and contracts he is a party to (his old faculty appointment).

            Simple yet effective! As the declaration is filed annually, citizens could tract any sudden ballooning of assets, income, or extra-generous gifts that could prompt further enquiry, as well as monitor contracts and activities that could pose as potential conflict of interest.

            Obama and his senior officials go further; they release their full income tax returns annually.

            If Najib were to do likewise, rumors of his wife buying million-ringgit rings and getting extravagant gifts would not have arisen, indeed they were baseless.

            If Najib’s ministers were also to declare their assets, then we would not have the silly specter of a cabinet minister feigning ignorance of her husband’s quarter-billion ringgit government-funded business, as Shahrizat tried to do recently. The pathetic part was that she truly believed that the public would buy her swiftly-concocted story.

            Beyond publicly declaring his assets, if Najib aspires for a clean administration, then he should remove those tainted individuals in his administration. Since Najib is blind to reality, I will help him identify such proven shady characters.

            The most glaring is Isa Samad, former Negri Sembilan Chief Minister. Dispensing with his lackluster tenure as the chief executive of that state, the man was found guilty of “money politics,” UMNO’s euphemism for plain ugly corruption. Meaning, he is corrupt even by UMNO’s lax standards, assuming the party has any!

            In any system with even a semblance of integrity, slimy characters like Isa Samad would have been jailed. In China, they would be executed. Yet Najib appointed Isa to helm the billion- ringgit Felda Global Holdings, a GLC. One wonders why Najib is so enamored with this character. The more intriguing question is why the powerful hold Isa has on Najib?

            Then there is Ali Rustam, also a former Chief Minister (Malacca). Like Isa, Ali too was found guilty of money politics. At least voters in his state were wise enough to boot him out. Now Ali is eyeing for the UMNO Vice-Presidency, as is Isa. Watch it, Najib will also do an Isa on Ali, that is, appoint him to a senior lucrative position, making a mockery of Najib’s aim of making corruption history.

            Then after getting rid of the Isa Samads and Ali Rustams Najib still harbors even higher aspirations, like wanting a crisp and efficient administration, then he could entice capable Malaysians to join his team.

            I suggest co-opting Keadilan’s Rafizi Ramli. This bright young man has done more than anyone else to heighten public consciousness of corruption at high places. Rafizi shamed the anti-corruption agency. Appointing Rafizi would also go a long way towards a “unity” government. Only the likes of Shahrizat would not welcome his appointment.

            At the very least Rafizi’s appointment would significantly lower the average age of Najib’s cabinet as well as drastically elevate its collective IQ!

            At the other end of the experience spectrum is Tengku Razaleigh. He is from Najib’s own party too. If Najib is deeply serious about and truly committed to memperkasakan ekonomi Melayu (enhancing Malay economy) as he asserted recently, well, the Tengku has been there and done that, and remarkably well too! Look at Petronas and Pernas. Malaysia’s finances were robust during his tenure as Finance Minister.

            Yes, at one time he helmed the once powerful Bank Bumiputra, now long gone. If Tengku’s detractors want to taint him with that scandal, remember this. Tengku Razaleigh is one of the few if not only public figures to have successfully sued for libel the venerable Financial Times when it tried to implicate him.

            Co-opting Tengku Razaleigh would give the Najib Administration some adult supervision. Better yet, Najib should seize the opportunity and take a sabbatical, just like what Lee Kuan Yew once did. Take a temporary leave from UMNO and Malaysia; learn about the real world beyond government. Najib would learn that there is a vast other universe out there not dependent on public paychecks or political patronages.

            At another speech during his recent San Francisco trip, Najib chided his critics especially those residing abroad who “criticize the country but they do not have any idea on how to contribute to the country.”

            Najib is not only slow in grasping concepts but he is also not a careful reader. We do not criticize Malaysia, only his inept leadership. Nonetheless since Najib has asked for specific ideas, here is one.

            Take an extended sabbatical. Let someone like Tengku Razaleigh take over. Three or four years hence, in time for the next election, resume your prime ministership. Meanwhile learn as much as possible about the much bigger and considerably more wonderful world beyond UMNO. You will be a more effective leader for that, and Malaysia would be a much better country, both while you were gone and after you return.



Sunday, September 22, 2013

Najib's Leadership Deficiencies Undermine Malaysia's Future


Najib’s Leadership Deficiencies Undermine Malaysia’s Future

M. Bakri Musa

 

Najib’s glaring leadership deficiencies have now been glaringly exposed. Malaysia deserves better. His performance has not been up to par even when compared to his lackluster predecessor. If under Abdullah Badawi Malaysia had the modernity of Manhattan but the mentality of Mogadishu, under Najib, Malaysia risks degenerating, period.

            Najib is not terribly bright or introspective. Like a little child, he always hunger for approval. He is also severely “charimastically-challenged.” A leader could survive or even thrive despite having one or two of these flaws, but to be cursed with all three is fatal.

            All his adult years Najib has depended entirely on government paychecks. No surprise then that his worldview is narrowly circumscribed. His solution to every problem is to distribute government checks, well exemplified by his many “1-Malaysia” handouts. His recent Majlis Ekonomi Bumiputra was no exception; likewise its hefty price tag.

            Not being introspective, Najib does not and never will recognize his shortcomings. Consequently unlike his immediate predecessor, Najib will never resign voluntarily; he would rather destroy his party and country first. If UMNO does not recognize this, it too will go down with him; likewise the country.

            A good leader, to paraphrase a hadith, is one who protects his followers from his hands and tongue. Najib does neither. Functionally, he slipped his hands into the pockets of Malaysians when he raised the price of petrol. He wants to do it again with his Goods and Services Tax (GST). Meanwhile his smooth tongue bribes us with his ever-generous “1Malaysia” gifts, using the rakyat’s money of course.

            While being smart is an obvious asset in a leader, not being one would not necessarily be a handicap. Reagan, one of the most successful American presidents, was far from being brainy. He however, knew his limitations and duly compensated for that; his cabinet was full of intellectual heavyweights and individuals of proven achievements.

            Incidentally my comparing him to Reagan, no matter how unfavorably, only feeds Najib’s delusion.

            Najib thinks he is super smart; he frequently parrots the latest buzz words. It is not just an increase but a quantum leap! It is not just any strategy but a blue ocean one! Meanwhile the ship of state is headed straight to the bottom. He does not appreciate his fundamental problem. You cannot scour the ocean on a leaky sampan with a crew familiar only with the rakit (bamboo raft), and hope to survive.

            The embarrassing caliber of Najib’s cabinet and advisors reflects his blissful ignorance of his deficiencies. He had over four years to scout for fresh talent, only to end up with the same mediocre core ministers he inherited from his equally dull predecessor. I cringe whenever I hear any pronouncement from them. They are all “half-past six.”

            Even on the rare occasion when Naijb picked a bright star like Idris Jala, the former chief executive of Shell, the sparkle is gone. It is hard to soar like an eagle when surrounded by turkeys. Idris is reduced to and consumed with making elegant Powerpoint presentations to any willing audience.

            Tasked with “transforming” the government (note the bombastic buzz word!), Idris Jala either severely underestimated the enormity of the task or generously overestimated his talent in executing it. He forgot the evident reality that the government of Malaysia is not Shell with respect to size, scope of activities, availability of talent, or any other matrix. The bureaucratic inertia of the civil service pales the physical one of a loaded supertanker.

            If Idris had appreciated the enormity of the challenge, or had a wee bit of humility, he would have focused on only one or two areas, and learned from the experience. Once successful, he would have minimal difficulty selling his ideas and initiatives.

            If Najib had been introspective, he would have assigned Idris a specific portfolio and then let him do his own “transforming.” Idris would then be able to show instead of just merely tell us his managerial capabilities.

            Like a skillful carpenter, a good leader knows when and where to deploy his finest tools. Implicit in that observation is that a good leader must first recognize which tools are sharp and which ones are dull, to be discarded. It is precisely this critical insight that Najib is severely lacking.

            Najib’s second weakness, his hunger for approval, is equally crippling. He tried to ingratiate himself to extremist Malay nationalists by brandishing his kris dipped in tomato sauce, but to no avail. During the last election he had his son utter a few words of Mandarin and gave generous on-the-spot grants to Chinese schools. Likewise, he visited Rome for an audience with the Pope. At home he garlanded himself in that outlandish floral arrangement around his neck while visiting Batu Caves. Voters readily saw through those silly overtures.

            Like a spoilt brat who had grown accustomed to being indulged upon, Najib could not accept the harsh rebuke that was the last election. He reacted like the over-pampered kampong kid by sulking; hence his shameful silence during the many recent crises.

            Lacking self-awareness, Najib has pretensions of great charisma. If contrast is the essence of art, then his on-stage performance with the South Korean Gangnam Group, Psy, during the last election campaign was truly, well, artistic. If that were his only gig, that would be harmless enough. It was however, mildly funny, even if it was at his expense.

            A charismatic leader could at least attract talent to his cause despite lacking competence or not being generously-endowed intellectually. Najib does not attract the best. He confuses endless slogans for substantive efforts, frenetic activities as decisive actions, and sulking withdrawal as deep contemplation.

            Take his endless sloganeering. First there was glokal Malay (contraction for global and lokal, Malay bastardization for local). Lacking traction, he shifted to “One Malaysia.” Streams of slogans later, it is now “Endless Possibilities!” What’s next? Najib is the leader caricatured by Shahnon Ahmad’s lead character in his novella, Unggappan.

            We must change the nation’s sorry trajectory by dispensing with the current leadership. The excuse that there is no one else capable may be solace to Najib but an insult to all Malaysians. Allah would not be so unkind and unjust as to deprive us of our share of leadership talent. To get our rightful due however, we must first stop indulging our present incompetent leaders, beginning with Najib. Only then could we diligently search for better ones.

            Malaysia deserves better than to be saddled with Najib Razak.