Practical Policies, Not Party Politics

by M. Bakri Musa

[In a recent private e-mail to me, a reader chastised me for being “NATO” (No Action, Talk Only). He intimated that if I really loved Malaysia, I should come home and contest the elections. As many readers share his sentiment of me, I post my reply to him. His original letter, in the usual rojak style of Malay liberally interspersed with English, follows.]

Dear Johan:

Thank you for taking your valuable time in sharing your thoughts with me.

My retort to your “NATO” (No Action, Talk Only) accusation is simply this: Been there, done that! However, such a tart response would not do justice to a diligent reader like you who has, by your own admission, bought all my books!

As for my returning home, I served Malaysia on my own accord (no scholarship or other contractual bonds) for nearly three years way back when. It was at a time when my presence (at least initially) doubled the number of Malay surgeons in the country! Although I was proud of my achievements during my brief tenure there, I soon discovered that I would have fewer headaches if I were to stop banging my head against the bureaucratic wall. So I left.

I have returned many times since. On each trip, instead of bringing trinkets for my nieces and nephews, I brought boxes of books to donate to my village school library. On one occasion, the principal proudly displayed to me the mound of books that I had donated over the years. She proudly drew my attention to the fact it was significantly bigger than a similar gift from the World Bank!

On another occasion, I discussed with the biology teacher of a residential school about donating a video microscope. He was ecstatic as his school had been requesting that for over four years and had been denied by the ministry. No funds! — the chronic lament, or more correctly, excuse from our civil servants! Out of interest I inquired about the cost and was flabbergasted to discover that it was ten times more expensive than what I could have bought it! I suggested that the school use me as a purchasing agent to buy directly in America and thus effect considerable savings. Not possible, as the ministry’s policy is that all procurements must be through a particular company. Needless to say, this company was owned by a member of the royal family active in UMNO. That confirmed what I had long suspected: the massive Ministry of Education exists not for the children’s education but as a source of lucrative contracts for UMNO cronies.

Since Abdullah Badawi came into power, I had been warned from the highest level of the police force not to return. The warning came not as a threat but simply a message conveyed by someone from within the force concerned about my personal safety. Just to add substance to that threat, my friends in Malaysia have told me that the Special Branch had interviewed them! Fortunately thus far, it has just been an interview.
I have told them that I would not forgive myself if their friendship or association with me were to bring grief to them.

Consequently I advised them to say whatever they want of me if that would get the authorities to back off.

I have been called many names, but stupid is not one of them. Nor would I take stupid risks.

As you may have found out from my earlier books and essays, I was equally severe in my criticisms of Abdullah’s predecessor. Yet at no time was I concerned about my personal safety even during the height of the 1997 economic crisis when Mahathir faced his most daunting challenges. It is indeed ironic (and reflects the insecurity and the hoax of piety of an Imam of Islam Hadhari) that Abdullah feels threatened by my commentaries. He and his sycophants have nothing to worry from me if, to paraphrase you, I were only a village champion out for glory.

My writing is the only way I know for me to continue my effort or jihad, if you would like to put it that way. As long as Malaysians and others like you are reading what I write, I will continue doing so. If nothing else I would have done my part in increasing the Malay contributions to the published world. That would be a satisfying enough accomplishment for me, and certainly more than what many could claim.

As an aside, I do have a day (and on many occasions, night time too!) job here that is both personally and professionally very rewarding. As such I can afford to contribute my royalties to a Malaysian charity.

As for my joining UMNO or any political party and contesting the elections as you suggested, we Malays must disabuse ourselves of the silly notion that the only way to contribute is through politics. I do not blame you for suggesting that, for some of our brightest Malays feel the same way as you do. And they end up wasting their precious talent.

One of my classmates in secondary school once headed a thriving and (at the time) the biggest medical clinic in Malaysia. I was so excited at his prospects that I thought of giving up my practice here in America to join him. He had the potential of creating a Malaysian Mayo Clinic. Alas, my friend, anticipating your advice, caught the political bug. He ended up nowhere politically. He did however reach the state “Exco” level and get his Datukship. To some, those are achievements enough. As for his once promising clinic, it is now a shamble.

I now look askance at another young Malay, a brilliant entrepreneurial lawyer who successfully created the largest law firm in Malaysia, all before his 50th birthday! That is a solid accomplishment by any standard! However, he too got caught up politically. The last time I read about him, he was found guilty by UMNO on some trumped-up charges of “money politics!” At least he could be comforted that it was not some framed-up sordid sex scandal!

Nonetheless he fought hard to reclaim his good name, but to no avail. Knowing the caliber, character and reputation of its senior operators, to be ostracized by UMNO would be a singular badge of honor. When criminals become judges, virtuous deeds get criminalized. Remember, even former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir could not get voted in as a lowly UMNO delegate. That was a blemish not on him but on UMNO.

Creating the largest medical clinic or legal firm would have been a singular achievement. Imagine the reflected racial glory! Such an endeavor would take smart work, extraordinary diligence, and more than just good luck. I am therefore not surprised that many Malays opted for the easy path out, like wildly brandishing their krises or endlessly exhorting “Ketuanan Melayu!”

I am interested in policies that work, not in party politics for personal glory. Under the present circumstances, my returning to Malaysia would only risk my personal safety, and I have no desire to be a martyr. Perhaps you could pay a visit to Kamunting Camp some day to see what I mean. If you do, especially during this time of Ramadan, please bring something for those poor souls incarcerated without trial.

Please note that as many of my readers share your sentiments of me, I have taken the liberty of “Bcc’ing” my response to you as well as your e-mail among my Internet chat groups, as well as posting it on my blog.


M. Bakri Musa

Johan’s original e-mail (with my translation):

NO ACTION TALK ONLY. Syabas Encik Bakri, saya mendapati banyak tulisan awak sangat bernas and menyegarkan [Congratulations, Mr. Bakri! I found your writings spirited and refreshing]. I even bought all your books.

Tetapi lama kelamaan, saya mendapati awak menulis hanya semata-mata untuk menunjukkan yang awak ni pandai atau mungkin semata-mata mencari glamour. Kalau betul-betul awak ni sangat cintakan Malaysia mengapa awak tidak balik saja dan bertanding dalam pilihanraya. Awak ni macam hero kampong, berkokok seluruh kampong tapi tidak ada hasil. [On further reflection, I believe that you write merely to show off how clever you are, or perhaps you are seeking glory. If you really love Malaysia, why not return and contest the elections? You are like a village hero, crowing loudly put producing nothing.]

Ya, awak mesti fikir saya ni orang suruhan UMNO kan. [Yes, you may think I am an UMNO hack.] But sorry to disappoint you, I’m not even a Malaysian.

Sekurang-kurangnya Pak Lah dengan segala kekurangan dia cuma untok melakukan sesuatu untok Malaysia. [At least Pak Lah with all his deficiencies is doing something for Malaysia.] But you, berkokoklah kuat-kuat [continue with your loud crowing]. But remember to clap your wings even harder.

  1. #1 by W.O or Wilson on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 10:26 am

    To:M. Bakri Musa

    I completely agree with your sentiments. 6 months ago, I wrote a private email to LKS on this blog “Class of forgotten Malaysians” that turned into a fiery discourse on this blog.

    I was championed by some who supported my decision to get out of the system, and lambasted by others for accusations similar to yours.

    I lament the fact that sometimes, people don’t understand that standing as political candidates isn’t the only nor neccessarily the best way to change the social-political fabric of the country. There are many other ways to help and invoke change, and I applaud you on your personal touches for your community.

    Whilst I laud defenders of democracy like LKS, K.Singh and the like, you’re right when you say that ‘talent’ is wasted when promising doctors, lawyers, nurses etc become political candidates – because not everyone has the capability or the capacity to be a politician.

    That, however, does not take away one’s right to comment on politics as part of the citizenry or as part of what little democratic process we have left. In fact, it is important that the voices of reason and ‘dissent’ from the citizenry continue, so that not only political voices are heard. Johan, everyone should have a right to comment, without neccessarily needing to become a candidate.

    As for me…=)…you tell me where I’ll fit in in Malaysia if I want to ply my trade there. My specific skill set? Procurement. Specfically, best practice procurement processes and strategic procurement for governments. Could I be an asset to my country? I might be, considering the current systems (or lack thereof) in place. But should I return now? Where would I work? In government departments? I would love to…provided that the political, human and physical infrastructures are in place for me to do my job and invoke change…if there aren’t, seriously, what’s the point?

    I’m not saying we should all head overseas, and it’s doom and gloom…just that, we all have our place in the democratic process, some are called to the frontlines, others aren’t…but that doesn’t imply that we can’t support those are.

  2. #2 by greenacre on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 10:26 am

    What deficiency this Johan fellow is talking about Pak la? Damn it ,Pak la is the prime minister of this country…the public who voted him expect nothing less from a serving prime minister and he gets perks to do that too.

  3. #3 by boh-liao on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 10:28 am

    Sadly, the truth is that talented and fair Malaysians, whether Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, etc., function better outside Malaysia, without the constraints of the current political patronage system.

    Another successful young Malaysian in Singapore: Mr Chua, a Malaysian, emerged tops in the annual Creative Youth Xchange competition yesterday, winning for himself $10,000 in cash.
    Visit and read “Mums happy with his green ideas – Youths merge design and nature for a $10,000 prize”.

  4. #4 by boh-liao on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 10:40 am

    On a related note, can we imagine our PM or Nazri stand in front of 3,500 international legal minds at the International Bar Association Conference and answer their questions?

    Read about how Lee KY faced them:

  5. #5 by mickey01 on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 11:50 am

    The more we help the malays economically, they more they rely on the govt for more. Can the govt keep on helping the malays and neglect other races? Tne mentality of the malays is if they do not have no job or money, the govt will provide. Thus we have this over-reliance and waiting for govt to help out. Will this help the malays to progress and advance? Only those in umno who are involve in money poiltics will prosper. The rest, makan & tidor!

  6. #6 by bystander on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 12:11 pm

    How can you compare a genius with 2 morons like PM and Nazri? They can only be big bullies in heavy handed situations in malaysia. But when faced with an international panel, they only look like idiots when fielding questions.

  7. #7 by boh-liao on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 1:17 pm

    mickey01: “The rest, makan & tidor!”
    No. The rest, makan, tidor & procreate to realise TDM’s 70 million target!

  8. #8 by Libra2 on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 2:27 pm

    I wonder if there is a need to give to a reply to Johan. And please don’t bother to reply to that guy who called you stupid. It serves no purpose engaging in debate with those with lesser minds.
    Your thought put in cold hard words are enough to make Malaysian thinking hard to see the unseeable and think the unthinkable.
    You should be like the moon. Keep on shining even when dogs bark at you. Like the moon, ignore the lunatics.

  9. #9 by Jamesy on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 2:40 pm

    M. Bakri Musa,

    Continue to contribute, whether in kind or cash or ideas, and serve the country well and for the betterment of the people of Malaysia here, even though you are not in the country.

    Selamat Hari Raya.

  10. #10 by Jamesy on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 2:53 pm

    How I wish the Malays in the ruling party like UMNO have a brilliant mind like you but with a humble heart.

    Sadly and pathetically lacking is the word.

    They only have a goldfish mind with a heart of a chicken.

  11. #11 by lakshy on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 3:43 pm

    It’s Malay’s like M.Bakri Musa that prove that Malays can make it! They don’t need a Tongkat to lean on,and dont need concepts such as ketuanan melayu.

    In fact Malays can do it! But it’s the umno policies that make them take the easy way out! Expecting handouts and bailouts and contracts etc.

    And the poisoning of young malay minds with concepts such as “the wealth is in the hands of the indians and chinese”, and that they need “umno’s help” only weakens the malays. And this has been umno’s agenda…….to make the malays dependent and not independent.

    In fact if you look at university enrollments, you will find that malay girls outnumber the boys, even in courses such as engineering. The reason is simply because the boys have latched onto the “umno dream”.

    What is the “umno dream” you ask? To become a contractor who gets government contracts and to become a millionaire and a Datuk by the time one hits 30 years of age! Thats why there are few malay boys in uni today. They prefer the “easy” road to riches.

  12. #12 by k1980 on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 4:37 pm

    Lee Kuan Yew’s view of a good goverment:
    “What must the government do? It must establish a system where there is peace, stability and opportunities for everybody to live a full life, which means good health, good housing, good jobs, good education, good hospitals….”

    From what it has done in the past 50 years, is ours a good government?

  13. #13 by AhPek on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 5:18 pm

    My dear fellow can you please stop quoting LKY.Singapore where got ‘Singanaut’. Here in Lolehland we’ve ‘CanorNaut’.

  14. #14 by AhPek on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 5:33 pm

    Should read ‘Bolehland’ and not ‘Lolehland’.

  15. #15 by toyolbuster on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 6:33 pm

    Dear Johan,
    Thank you for your concern about our Malaysia’s affair. I subscribe to your suggestion that Malaysia need people like M. Bakri Musa to run the govt. or say the least get involved in Politics. However, there are already many people like M. Bakri Musa in the Msian political arena, many, as what M. Bakri Musa have mentioned, have walked thru the corridors of Kamunting.
    More importantly, as I would believe, we are blessed with people like M. Bakri Musa, RPK, and the likes, who have done a great deed by revealing to us the evil forces that are running our country to Hell’s gate.
    Its easy for people like me and you to criticise behind our keyboards, but I think we owe some respect to such passionate writers who have so bravely opened out the windows revealing those evil forces…instead of chastising them of being NATO. So, what have you been doing lately, Johan…..

  16. #16 by sheriff singh on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 6:52 pm

  17. #17 by undergrad2 on Monday, 15 October 2007 - 9:38 pm

    “Talking heads in pin striped suits” is the favourite ‘compliment’ reserved for people like Bakri Musa.

    The truth is Johan like Bakri Musa is entitled to his opinion. In the United States where Bakri resides and chooses to make his home, free speech is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

    People like Johan who insist on being obnoxious in his criticism of people like Bakri Musa (and there are many) are exercising their free speech right. We have a choice and that is to give him the attention he seeks or to ignore him.

    There are many professionals (doctors, lawyers and engineers etc) within the Malay intelligentsia who chooses not to answer such calls because politics is not their calling. It is a choice best left to the individual to make. Tunku, Tun Razak, Hussein were all lawyers. Many lawyers are said to make good politicians because they have the gift of the garb – though I cannot see the country’s first three Prime Ministers as having the gift of the garb. It was the good doctor who appeared to have the gift of the garb especially in his early years as a politician. He knew he had and he answered to the calling. Abdullah Badawi is an administrator and should have remained an administrator. He had neither the gift nor the garb.

  18. #18 by Justicewanted on Tuesday, 16 October 2007 - 7:43 am

    Just ignore the Mr Johan. Looks like he is a UMNO cybertrooper.

    For a non Malaysian, he certain writes excellent Bahasa Malaysia.

    Just wonder who give this Mr Johan the idea that one can only contribute to the country through politics???

    Does the challenge to contest in election sound familar??

    This sound like some UMNOputras/rajas issuing challenges to the journalist from The SUN to contest in election….

  19. #19 by Godfather on Tuesday, 16 October 2007 - 8:18 am

    This Johan guy is definitely a Zam Zam cybertrooper. Throwing a red herring by saying he is not even Malaysian but he is a supporter of Mr Sleepy Head !

    Go to sleep, Johan, and continue to dream of the glory of your big boss the Sleepy Head.

  20. #20 by megaman on Tuesday, 16 October 2007 - 9:53 am

    To allow ppl like M. Bakri to return and serve the country, we first need to give full support for people currently here in Msia that is capable and willing to change the situation. No point asking him to return if we can’t even guarantee his safety.

    When they rob the businesses,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a businessman.

    When they locked up the politicians,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a politician.

    When they came for the bloggers,
    I did not speak out;
    I was not a blogger.

    When they threaten the whistle-blowers,
    I remained silent;
    I have nothing to blow.

    When they came for me,
    there was no one left to speak out.

    Adapted from Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem “When they first came”

  21. #21 by Bigjoe on Tuesday, 16 October 2007 - 12:08 pm

    This line of telling critics to get ‘come home’ and get involved was pioneered to an art-form by Lee Kuan Yew for decades. He stacked the odds against his opposition and critics and then tell them to fight for what they believe. If they get anywhere, he ruthlessly destroyed them personally arrogantly assuming he is the arbiter of all things morals including.

    The truth is much of UMNO dirty tactics was learned from Lee Kuan Yew and the West without any of their merits. So its really pointless to criticize them back so long as they can cover it up. Singaporeans have learned to just not get involved and just do their thing. Its the logical and natural thing to do. Critics of such logic and nature are perverted, greedy, mediocre wanabe leaders that resort to the lowest common denominator for their modicum of success.

  22. #22 by Jimm on Wednesday, 17 October 2007 - 10:13 am

    It’s all about someone wanted to be No.1 and rule the world.
    From the prospectives that they are riding on a religion, a race as acclaimed representatives and mislead them for generations, they are laughing all the way.
    They knew that this race will be so ‘locked up’ by their religion beliefs and also have been pampering them all the way with idealogy of being this country rightful ownership. They created so-called ‘priviledges’ and ‘support’ to ‘help’ them to stay ahead with this country development. They put up many successful stories about their own kind achievement as to gained their support over their effort drives. In terms of the ratio, they only need 1 for every 250,000 as publicities. At times, the scale can be more rewarding to 1:500,000 because ofthe event does represented their mega achievement of brotherhood and religion glory.
    It’s not how dirty the tricks they used but how effective can it be to group up the result in the shortest time as thepolitical world have been tainted all the while.
    What we scaling this form of impact against ? They are claiming against the rest of the world challenges which their race should uphold for. They need to have enough funding and larger ownership of materialistic to stay in the race. They have even placed their own ‘related’ people to take charged of the management. Why ? Because they can control the funding and also shared the wealth.
    So, how many of their own people really benefitted ?
    Actually, not many.
    Why the rest are not complaining about their welfare ?
    Some did and they were ‘kept quiet’ by force or ‘incentives’.
    How many were ‘quieted’ by force ? Quite as they were too few to fight against the entire network of ‘wealth hunters’.

  23. #23 by alaneth on Friday, 19 October 2007 - 11:11 pm

    Malaysia is sooooo “NATO” that I don’t care to believe another word on ‘positive news’ like development etc etc that the govt says in the media.

    The IDR Region is another NATO I can say – just a pre-election gimmick and a BIG BIG white elephant and a waste of resources to all the crony contractors buying & selling govt contracts!

    Just see the Malaysian news TV3, RTM etc yourself and the local news will have 80% clips of those politicians talking, blabbering, boasting etc. Look at Singapore news or BBC, CNN, CNA etc and you will see real clips of actual, real news happening….

    Pity Malaysia is not located at the North Atlantic area…

  24. #24 by akarmalaysian on Monday, 22 October 2007 - 12:07 pm

    ” not everyone has the capability or the capacity to be a politician”…very true to that statement by Mr Wilson.and this out of nowhere khairy said the opposition only knws how to criticise the government but had no idea on how to run the country.all i knw that the government of today are made up of a bunch of corrupted and twisted leaders.too many cover ups involving billions of ringgit…discrepancies in every quarter of government departments including the police and ACA and even the judges.nothing to brag abt to the world abt what malaysia is today except for those thick skinned and corrupted leaders who keep saying they knw how to run this country.yeahhhh….running billions of ringgit into their own pockets.the bunch of those twisted and thick skinned leaders cant stand up to any constructive criticism with facts that are slapped right into their face.a fine example of whats going on is the footage video of the brokering of judges…a solid proof of names being mentioned and how things are mentioned and going on in the video….instead of the ACA making it its priority in pursuing after those culprits in the video…ACA is turning back against the source of the video.and the saddest thing is an idiot minister cud come up with the statement telling the people of malaysia he wud not hv any case if the source doesnt come up to reveal himself.what a nerd and a useless idiot he is.thats what the government of malaysia is made of today.malaysia is a beautiful country with beautiful people….but sad to say…the leaders are an ugly,greedy and knws only how to talk c*ck lot.

  25. #25 by megaman on Monday, 22 October 2007 - 12:59 pm

    nvm lahh … Anwar got part 2 of the video …

    let’s wait for the sequel …

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