Believing Your Own Spin!

M. Bakri Musa

To hear Prime Minister Abdullah tell it, his government is ahead that of Japan, Germany and United Kingdom in terms of efficiency. He based this apparently on his reading of the 2007 World Competitiveness Yearbook compiled by the Swiss Business School, IMD.

The man can hardly stay awake long enough to flip through the thick volume much less read or comprehend it. When he made that assertion to the assembly of civil servants last Monday, January 28, 2008, he was merely uttering what his “bright boys” on the infamous Fourth Floor fed him.

That is scary. Those boys are now beginning to believe their own self-created legend and swallowing their own spin. If they truly believe that the Malaysian government is ahead that of Germany, they must be hallucinating, a deranged state of mind brought on through their prolonged isolation from the real world.

Hallucinatory state by itself is not dangerous as long as you are fully aware of it. The danger comes when you believe it to be the reality. Indeed the criterion for psychosis (or in layman’s term, madness) is your inability to differentiate reality from delusion. When individuals begin acting on their hallucination, then all hell breaks loose. They would then pose an immediate danger not only to themselves but also to society, and they would have to be committed to “protective medical custody,” an euphemism for the nut house.

Abdullah An Example of the Absurdity of the Claim

The absurdity of Abdullah’s claim is readily exposed by the manner in which he made his assertion. He chose his regular assembly of civil servants as the forum. This is his favorite mode of communication, a mass sermon. According to press reports about 9,000 civil servants were “privileged” to hear that special sermon from their leader. That represents the top one percent; presumably only the Secretary-Generals, Director-Generals, and important department heads.

Assume that those top civil servants each make an average RM$15,000 per month (a conservative estimate), and with the normal working day of seven hours and 22 working days in a month, their time would be worth (or more accurately, cost the public) about RM100 per hour, at the minimum.

Abdullah took about an hour to deliver his speech. Of course those civil servants would have to arrive early and then linger behind to socialize with their colleagues, including taking the obligatory group pictures. They would have spent at a minimum of two hours that morning just to listen to the Prime Minister’s homilies.

By my calculation, that morning cost the government (the public really) in excess of RM1.8 million (RM100 per hour times 2 hours times 9,000 civil servants). In addition there would be the cost of using that massive auditorium and the video transmitting facilities so the speech could be beamed to the various state capitals.

The biggest cost however, is hidden. The whole government machinery was paralyzed that entire morning. No important decisions could be made that morning as senior officers were out of their offices during the hour before, during and after the assembly. Where do you begin to quantify in monetary terms such a huge loss in productivity?

Unfortunately these giant assemblies are a favorite with Abdullah. He loves the captured, doting and uncritical audience. That gathering reminded me of my weekly school assemblies, with the pupils dutifully lining up in straight lines under the strict eye of our prefects before we would march obediently into the school hall. Then after we were all seated, the teachers would stroll in, with the junior ones leading and the senior ones plodding behind, desperately trying to put some gravitas to their steps.

Likewise with this assembly of civil servants; first to enter the auditorium would presumably be the “Superscale” G officers, (the lowest on the rung), followed by the F, E, and so on to A, meaning the KSUs and DGs. Then when they were all settled down, would Abdullah make his imperious entry.

Everybody would of course rise and the applause would be long, loud, and sustained. The little fellow would slowly make his way up the stage, nodding, grinning and shaking a few hands along the way, albeit not so regally. Up on the stage he would continue his wide grin, lapping every moment of this effusive display of manufactured affection.

In scale and grandeur, such shows would dwarf what the North Koreans regularly put on for their “Beloved Leader.” The mindset however, both among leaders and followers, is the same in both Pyongyang and Putrajaya.

In this day and age, a more effective way of communicating, and considerably much cheaper at that, would have been for Abdullah to videotape his speech and webcast it. Then civil servants or members of the public could hear it on their own free time. Of course those civil servants would not like it. Part of the reason they relish those assemblies is that they get to ponteng (escape) from their offices.

That is how CEOs of large multinational corporations communicate to their far-flung employees as it is very effective.
Abdullah and his senior advisors are still stuck on the school assembly mode of communication. That is also reflective of the “school boy” mentality of his advisors. It is also “efficiency,” according to the wisdom of Abdullah Badawi and his advisers. Unfortunately this is the kind of operational details that are frequently missed by foreign surveyors.

Widespread Disregard of Evident Reality

The IMD Yearbook report on Malaysia looks too good to be true. No matter how meticulous their research, those academics would have a tough time convincing Malaysians, especially those who have had any dealings with their government.

Yes, the Yearbook does say that based on certain specific criteria and prescribed framework, the Malaysian government is ahead that of Britain, Germany, and Japan. The big question is the relevance of those criteria and frameworks to everyday reality.

When something is too good to be true, chances are it is not true. Regardless how impressive the credentials of those who made the assertions, if their reports or findings have, in Lord Bauer’s memorable phrase, “widespread disregard of evident reality,” we must not believe them. This applies not only to economics but also to everything else in life.

Abdullah and his advisors are banking that the average Malaysian would not have access to the Yearbook. They are right. At nearly RM 3,000 for the cheapest print edition, few if any library would acquire the volume. Consequently few Malaysians would have the opportunity to read the full report and scrutinize the criteria and framework. That is an important caveat.

I can credibly make the claim of being the best surgeon if I choose my framework carefully, as for example, being the best surgeon this side of Coyote Creek. I may be factually correct but the issue is the relevance of that claim.

Malaysia has been favorably cited lately by two well known international bodies. One was the earlier World Bank Report on our Higher Education, and now this IMD Yearbook on competitiveness. It is instructive that Malaysia had engaged both institutions to do significant consulting work: the World Bank on our Higher Education, and IMD on development in Sabah.

May I suggest to all, especially foreign pundits and scholars, that the current circus that is the Royal Commission on the Lingam Tape gives a more realistic picture of the government machinery than the expensive IMD Yearbook. As for the World Bank Report, the government would have gotten the same ideas and recommendations by buying and reading my earlier book, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia. It would have been considerably cheaper too!

I fear that Abdullah, his advisors, ministers, and senior civil servants would treat the findings of this IMD’s World Competitiveness Yearbook as an endorsement to their maintaining the present course. That would guarantee dooming the country to perpetual mediocrity.

  1. #1 by cheng on soo on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 3:45 pm

    Msia govt is more efficient than those of Japan, Germany, U.Kingdom?? That must be one of the biggest jokes of 2008!

  2. #2 by KanNinNeh on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 4:04 pm

    If you compared the Road Accident Rate, surely Malaysia will be higher !

  3. #3 by cheng on soo on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 4:08 pm

    More efficient? in what sense, may be in that Msia had the “most efficient election”, from dissolve of parliament to polling date (Msia can do it in shortest period of time)

  4. #4 by oknyua on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 4:10 pm

    M Bakri Musa,

    Isn’t that better than paying some Malaysian but foriegn-based consultants and let them do the spin?
    At least he hadn’t spent money on this.

    Anyway right now it’s difficult to believe a single word or promise from our “Beloved Leader.”

  5. #5 by Anti_NEP on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 4:16 pm

    This is the problem of ‘katak di bawah tempurong’ mentality of HP6 BN morons. More efficient than Japan, Germany, UK in terms of sleeping PM. Tak malu ke Bodohwi?

  6. #6 by Bigjoe on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 4:21 pm

    I am not sure the most alarming thing is that believing in their own spin is the big danger. There is something worst. Believeing that the spin that they believe in is all that matters.

    So lets say that Malaysia is not that efficient, it ranks 23 or even lower. Does that matter more than what an efficient govt does. Singapore is highly efficient but its NOT very productive historically. Return on many investments in Singapore was very low mitigated only by high savings, low taxes and low inflation. This has changed as Singapore liberalized especially with the signing of the US FTA.

    Chances are Malaysian productivity is much lower than Singapore. So, you can have an efficient but bloated government where a whole bunch of people don’t do anything that matters but get paid anyway.

    So the problem could be much bigger than just efficiency. But then again, if they believe what they want to believe, who is going to ask about anything else?

  7. #7 by tidaknama on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 4:39 pm

    The question is how to wake him from his hallucination? It’s like the Matrix movie, some would prefer to remain in the matrix rather than to face harsh reality.

  8. #8 by k1980 on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 4:52 pm

    The old frigging prick is daydreaming as usual. He is displaying the signs of Alzheimer’s Disease which means that he would soon be running around putrajaya in his “emperor’s new clothes”, i.e. birthday suite

  9. #9 by boh-liao on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 5:11 pm

    It does not matter whether something is true or not.

    As long as our local mass media publicised it widely, it became something that looked like truth and sounded like truth to most Malaysians.

    Malaysia super – yah!
    Only BN can jamin stability, peace, and progress – yah!
    Opposition parties quarrelled over seat allocations – yah!

    The hands that rocked the mass media controlled the minds of Malaysians!

  10. #10 by Loh on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 5:32 pm

    There are a few areas where government services can claim to be very efficient; the issuance of passport, renewal of road tax and driving licences. I would praise the government for their services at the counters.

    But coming to the more important areas of government services such as the approval of government contracts, it is efficient too when the government had a way to approve contracts in billion ringgit just after one sitting of the concerned committee. All other countries inlcuding Germany would taken months to evaluate whether the projects were the best among possible other uses of public funds. It would also take months to evalute contract bids and choose the best contractors. We cannot deny that the government has the most efficient way of spending public funds, or in giving away money. They actually knew in advance who are to gain government contracts.

    Give the government its due of the credit.

    AAB is inspired no doubt in giving prepared speech to a group of people who are only waiting for the right moment to show appreciation. He feels that he is really in charge. Give him a chance to gain some self confidence. His former boss has really destroyed his self confidence. After months of elegant silence he managed only to say that there was no agreement to stay for a term. He should have denied it the moment that comment was made months ago. He should have challenged TDM to seek the position of UMNO presidency had AAB any confidence in himself.

    The sleepy man can sleep all the time if he is not collecting his pay from public funds.

  11. #11 by grace on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 5:39 pm

    Dr. Bakri,
    Your description of Pak Lah is excellent. He is one who wants to ‘bergaya’ only and makes a lots of slogans.
    Asking him to read the report is asking for the moon. He may not understand the contents too in view of his low intelligence.
    Yes, Malaysia is more efficient than Germany and Japan????
    My toes are laughing.
    I need not elaborate. It is well known that we are third class in almost every gield. Just compare singapore will do la!!!

  12. #12 by Tickler on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 6:10 pm

    AAB would make an extremely poor driver. High risk.

  13. #13 by madmix on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 6:46 pm

    Of course Malaysia is more efficient. Pass thru Kuching airport and you will clear immigration in less than 5 minutes. You have 10 officers manning ten counters to clear one flight every half hour or so or each officer clearing 20 passengers per hour. Go to Heathrow and you have to wait half an hour at least to clear immigration. But one officer probably clears 200 visitors per hour and works non-stop. So Malaysia with its huge number of civil servants versus population wins hands down as it take 10 civil servants to do the work of one.

  14. #14 by Loyal Malaysian on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 7:08 pm

    You are right – it will only be the PM and his cronies who will believe this spin. Any malaysian who has dealings with our so wonderful government machinery will know the spin is not true.

  15. #15 by catharsis on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 7:09 pm

    “………..his government is ahead that of Japan, Germany and United Kingdom in terms of efficiency.”

    Please define EFFICIENCY MR Prime Minister. And did you know Statistics can lie. Qualify your facts first lest you make a mockery of all Malaysians in the world arena-

    Congratulations you have made another BOO BOO

  16. #16 by despin on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 7:13 pm

    Besides hallucination, the biggest problem of the fourth floor boys is that they are not experienced enough to know that they are not experienced. It is indeed scary to see these inexperienced boys running the country with old man Pak Lah on a puppet string.

  17. #17 by catharsis on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 7:30 pm

    despin, I am a little bit suspicious that the Fourth Floor Boys only read History in Havard or Oxford – if not let them display the great stuff they have learned from these esteem institutions

  18. #18 by gofortruth on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 8:32 pm

    I found this post about the IMD ranking:-

  19. #19 by waterfrontcoolie on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 10:45 pm

    Of course the talk was made with GE in mind, after all there are 0.8 million government servants, combine this figures with spouses and children, you may get some thing like 3 to 4 millions voters,
    this is what he is after!! Our efficiency is in siphoning cash out without completing the projects. In this sense we beat everyone hand down! Malaysia World champion!!! Just look at Thailand, it was considered as not our competitor some 15 years ago. Now she is ways ahead of us in so many sectors; agriculture, motor vehicles, parts manufacturing and of course tourism. Their Customs, Police force and enforcing agencies were known and still are corrupted, but with a more ‘democratic practice’ from the people, at least those corrupted leaders are taken to courts. And the amount involved seem so much smaller than our billion ringgit fiacos! Unless the ‘major’ majority are awaken from their slumber, we would soon compete with the bottom group of the Asean members. As the situation stands, the ‘major’ majority needs the more enlightened members of their ‘tribe’ to awaken them with the truth of the changing world! Always remember ‘ Nothing is constant except CHANGE!! If they can’t accept change then the only conclusion is the demise of the tribe!!

  20. #20 by cemerlang on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 11:02 pm

    ha ! ha ! ha ! Like as if people do not know what is really going on. I can imagine him giving orders like ” I only want this. I don’t want that “. And so the boys in the fourth floor whoever they are urgently give him only what he wants and not what he does not want. You call this positive thinking ? It is sad when one refuses to face the real solid facts. It is worse lying to own self and believing in that lie.

    How good is the government delivery system when those 9000 servants have to stop work just to listen to some speech ? If they can afford to do so, this means their services can be terminated because these are the excess personnel that have the opportunity to leave their work for that few hours while other servants throughout the country were working. You want to bring back the issue of Voluntary Separation Scheme ?

    Government servants are no fools. They keep quiet because they are not allowed to question. If Malaysia’s government is more efficient than Germany, Japan and U.K., this means that Malaysia is making a lot more money. Therefore P.M. should consider increasing all the salaries of all the public servants and not just the selected few.

    The government service is efficient because of a small group of hard workers. There are other workers who work because boss is around. Other than that, Prime Minister, how would you know if other government servants are working the way you wish they do ?

    My beloved Prime Minister, your officers are not performing to standard. You should award them with brooms. In fact you should award them with certificate of low performance. But I suppose you do not want to listen to this sort of report. If you do not want to listen to this of report, then let me assure you that Malaysia cannot go very far. What’s the point of signing a blank cheque of recognition ? Are you proud giving awards to those who do not actually deserve them and are you proud to know that you are denying the recognition due to those who are committed to their work ? Don’t you feel anything at all for being unfair ?

    If I have the money, I will buy a car made in Germany. Next made in U.K. Then in Japan. If I don’t have that kind of money, I go for made in Malaysia.

  21. #21 by iyamwhoiyam on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 11:07 pm

    well, we sure are damn effective at wasting public funds…that we will even top all countries in the world

  22. #22 by ktteokt on Monday, 4 February 2008 - 11:23 pm

    If he takes the trouble to do some spot check on government departments, he will realize the sorry state of the public service. But does he have the time? He had time to plot against demonstrators pressing for a clean election, he had time to plot against those demonstrating against price increase, he had time to plot against those demonstrating on petrol increase, he had time to re-marry, he had time for everything else except inspect these government departments. That is what the slogan “BERSIH, CEKAP DAN AMANAH” meant!!!!!

  23. #23 by kaybeegee on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 12:58 am

    Abdullah’s government servants play golf during office hours. Abdullah’s government servants can take free gifts.
    Abdullah’s government servants are not servants, they are masters.
    Abdullah’s government servants are mostly Muslims at the top
    Abdullah’s government servants are converts to Islam if they want to be at the top .
    He should check the higher ranking officers. They play golf, equipment and games mostly sponsored.

  24. #24 by basis on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 6:54 am

    I;m in Germany now, i can said not one thing our current government is a efficient as german government , Let take a public transport, even at small town (hannover) is at the best efficient , Bus, rail, tram all on time and the next train with 5 min.
    I can travel 200 -300 KM in 2 hour or less in the ICE train. The whole public transport timetable is publish online ,tht allow ppl here to plan their travel (
    tht is what i called efficient.


  25. #25 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 8:55 am

    /// I can credibly make the claim of being the best surgeon if I choose my framework carefully, as for example, being the best surgeon this side of Coyote Creek. I may be factually correct but the issue is the relevance of that claim. ///

    Bakri – I think the framework and context you pointed out is the nub of this self-congratulatary fiasco.

    If you compare Malaysia with only countries with populations of 20 million and above, straight away you get rid of many efficient and competitive countries like Singapore, HK, Luxembourg, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Norway and Ireland.

    While they are trying so hard to delude and deceive themselves, why don’t they go the whole hog and exclude countries with populations of more than 30 million? This way, Malaysia can conceivable be the best in anything.

    I am the tallest man in Block M of Mount Kiara for the period from 1 Jan 2008 to 5 Feb 2008. Am I not great or what???

  26. #26 by EggNoodles on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 9:05 am

    If the Malaysian civil servants are so efficient, how come I am still waiting for the reply for my e-mail sent to the ‘Pengarah’of a government department in November 2007?

    Almost all our civl servants are provided with a computer at their offices and an official e-mail address. Many are also given an extra laptop computer. To my surprise, almost all my e-mails sent to them are like the Titanic.

  27. #27 by akarmalaysian on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 9:21 am

    whr does this sleeping beauty get this compilation from?he gotta be kidding if he thinks he knws what efficiency is all abt.he should knw damn right that one thing is for sure…at this moment his government is damn efficient in corruption practices.

  28. #28 by helpless on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 11:04 am

    Is there any webpage for a polling on the comment like one in the Malaysia Bar?

    It will be interesting to know if those truth & comments from this webpage is cascade down to people.

    How far the people from rural area do expose those this comment. My guess is they rather had believe the hypocrite.

  29. #29 by cheng on soo on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 12:20 pm

    TheWrathOfGrapes Says: Today at 08: 55.46 (3 hours ago)
    Just to correct, Australia had more than 20 million ppl. should not be in your list.
    This PM is just syiok sendiri! more efficient than may be Zimbabwe or Myanmar!

  30. #30 by Plaintruth on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 12:48 pm

    AAB speech is delivering to those who wanted to believe Malaysia is the best country in the world. That the UMNOPUTRA’s policy had resulted in such an efficient government.

    This is the same physiology as in the television commercial/advertisements. Did you notice that when they are trying to sell you something they are using a larger propotion of actors/actresses that are mixed blood. What I meant was that the actors are half Indian half Chinese half Malay. So that if you are a Malay you see the actor as Malay; if you are Chinese you would like to think that the actor is a Chinese.

    AAB is trying to continuing fooling his followers and let them in the deep sleep stage.

    Anyone who had ventured out to oversea will see that in most countries their efficiency is top notch. The UMNOPUTRA know that but they are in denial. They are in the nationalism spirit that shouting “Malaysia Boleh” and no action to improve the situation is all that is needed.

    Voting out the Barisan is the most efficient way to turn Malaysia around.

  31. #31 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 1:55 pm

    /// cheng on soo Says:
    Just to correct, Australia had more than 20 million ppl. should not be in your list. ///

    Dang, cheng on soo – you are right – Australia just beat the cut-off of 20 million by a whisker.

    Better suggestion for the PM – since Malaysia’s population is 24.8 million, we should exclude countries with less than 24 million people and also those with more than 25 million people. This way, Malaysia will be the bestest of the best and in a class of its own.

  32. #32 by iggy on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 2:48 pm

    Our PM lied!!
    We dropped from 22nd place to 23rd!!

    Here’s the link!!

  33. #33 by k1980 on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 3:07 pm

    Why did he lie?
    A. Incurable habitual trait
    B. Thought the rakyat are fools
    C. Uneducated bum who is fooled by own son-in-law
    D. Suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease
    E. All of the above

  34. #34 by rajanjohn on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 5:03 pm

    Can bodohwi spell EFFICIENCY correctly in the 1st place?
    maybe he meant happy sensasi..short form la..kesian…become “hepisansi”!
    Happy Sleeping and Gud nite Mr.PM..sweet dreams..!

  35. #35 by bukanbumi on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 9:15 pm

    OOPs !! UMNO BOLIH or MALAYSIA BOLIH? More efficient in collecting duit from the rakyat !!

  36. #36 by alaneth on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 - 10:54 pm

    Be the change you wish to see in the world.
    -Mahatma Gandhi

    Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice I can help the greatest of all causes — goodwill among men and peace on earth.
    -Albert Einstein

    To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.

    Positive Thinking – Imagine the headlines…
    “DAP Wins Big in 2008 GE, a blow to BN in Penang, Perak, Selangor, Melaka & making significant inroads in Johor.”

    Just Change It…. Vote DAP!

  37. #37 by scorpian6666 on Wednesday, 6 February 2008 - 2:14 am

    Though we all hate it but don’t we all have to admit that UMNO did make it to the Guiness book of records for their longest “staying power !!!”
    HO HO HO.. if efficiency is what tHE Pm meant…STAMINa…
    Sorry if I do seem like a betrayer today…

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