Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone

By Tunku Abdul Aziz

Today, I begin a new life as a columnist for Sin Chew, an experience that I know I will enjoy enormously.

Two days ago, I had lunch with a parliamentarian and two senior bureaucrats from Germany on their first official visit to Kuala Lumpur. They came, they saw and were impressed with our capital city and the development they had seen so far as they travelled around KL and its environs. They had obviously been well-briefed by their own government agencies about the social and political climate in our country and apparently were extremely well informed on Malaysian affairs. The Germans, as we all know, are meticulous in everything they do, and so I was not at all surprised when one of them who headed his organization’s foreign department asked this penetrating question.

“Why is there all this flurry of activity to bring about a regime change when the government has brought so much prosperity to the country?” I must admit that for a while I was stumped for words. Why indeed! When at last I recovered my composure, I explained between mouthfuls of tasty offerings that what was apparent was not always real. In our wide-ranging conversation I reflected aloud our national concerns in the following terms.

Underneath all the glint, gleam and glitter of aluminium, stainless steel and plate glass lies a sad tale of greed and corruption, involving the political and bureaucratic elites who govern and administer this land. There will be official denials galore. Some years ago, Transparency International estimated, somewhat conservatively many thought, that Malaysian public infrastructure projects cost 30% more than they should. As far as political corruption is concerned, a major component of the ruling coalition has admitted that problem exists among its membership and the party is wrestling with it as best it can.

In any case, if corruption in national life had been robustly confronted instead of wasting scarce resources and time on cosmetic touch-ups, if fine rhetoric was backed by resolute deeds, and if there was more of that all important ingredient called “political will”, Malaysia would have emerged economically, socially and politically stronger as a society. Instead, close to three decades of the Mahathir and Abdullah stewardship of this nation, our ratings, judged by every social, economic and political indicator, in one survey after another, have continued to take a tumble with regular monotony, with little or no prospect of improvement any time soon.

The real issue here is not just how well we have done, but, more to the point, how much better we would have succeeded in all aspects of national development and social integration if we had adopted policies that were fair for all. For example, much of the sense of marginalisation felt by certain ethnic groups as well as the rural poor could have been avoided had more thought been given to the needs of our citizens irrespective of race or creed. Instead, for much post-Merdeka period, we spent our time and energy on implementing policies that have tended to divide rather than unite us.

In earlier times, we were happy enough to put up with restrictions on personal liberties and human rights violations, up to a point. We believed when we were told that a developing country that had just broken away from colonial subjugation and, since 1948 for close to two decades, living in fear under the menacing, dark sky of militant communism, could not expect to enjoy the luxury of life taken for granted in a full blown democracy. Sacrifices were demanded and given, on the whole, without a murmur.

However, as the country developed from a plantation economy to a much more complex industrial society, and as Malaysians became better educated, they began to claim their rights under the Constitution and to question the manner in which their country was being governed on their behalf by elected representatives more interested in feathering their own little nest than performing their work in the public interest. They had seen with their own eyes how the institutions of government once admired and respected had been systematically compromised by a government that threw ethical behaviour out of the window.

Coupled with policies that ignored the need for inclusiveness in a multi racial society such as ours, public confidence in the BN coalition, already fragile to begin with, following one scandal after another, evaporated into thin air. The steady slide down the slippery slope had begun. The people, having decided enough was enough, voted with their feet in the 12th General Elections to deny the ruling Barisan Nasional not only the 2/3rds parliamentary majority, something BN had always assumed as their birthright, but also succeeded in ousting the BN governments in five states. Change had indeed arrived and with it the realisation that ordinary Malaysians had come of political age by rejecting, in a totally unexpected demonstration of their power and judgement, the racial politics of fear, and in one dramatic gesture buried once and for all the ghost of 13th May 1969 that Barisan Nasional had refused to put to rest. It had become their stock in trade. People obviously could think for themselves, and could no longer be taken for granted and ignored.

As we sipped coffee towards the end of the meal, I made my final observation that material progress measured in economic terms alone was no substitute for an incorruptible regime that put great store by sound ethical governance principles and practices. My German friends left, I hope, with a better understanding why the well-fed people of this strange country wanted more than bread to sustain them in their relentless quest for a new Malaysia that is grounded on democratic principles, justice and equality for all. Therein lies the soul of a country.

  1. #1 by juno on Sunday, 22 February 2009 - 1:21 pm

    Thank you Tuanku for your clear brief with the visitors. Truth ties to prosperity and development for the people . We need more leaders as your esteemed self. UMNO can never change its underlying disease of corrupt power . The future generations have to be given this due for the betterment of this Nation. We will succeed for sure with souls like you Tuanku ,YB LKS,YB KS ,DSAI and many many more. UMNO is on fire now , lost in bewilderment.

  2. #2 by sani on Sunday, 22 February 2009 - 1:25 pm


    Despite of the BN, our head is still above the water……but not for long.

    So before they drown us all, we should get rid of them + start to build a “a new Malaysia that is grounded on democratic principles, justice and equality for all.”

  3. #3 by ALLAN THAM on Sunday, 22 February 2009 - 1:41 pm

    Yes, what the German saw was what he saw but he was nit living in our country.

    We all Malaysian so to say can be proud that we have living in a big and beautiful place, if not all at least majority of us.

    But this beautiful place was look good from all angle but it has very bad foundation. The foundation has been tainted with corruption, it also bury with the time bomb of races division which can explode any time to bring the palace to come down.

    The architect has built this palace of our has not build a good foundation for the young generation to come. They play along with all races card and sentiment to keep the palace.

    They have painted all the beautiful colour but not building the foundation. So the architect who has built this palace are still dreaming.

    This is a case of what you see if not what you get.

    Life is not only living in a good house, beautiful house when look from outside. We must also consider how long the house can stand the passage of time.

    This may be what the German has not see.

  4. #4 by Onlooker Politics on Sunday, 22 February 2009 - 1:44 pm

    A very well-written article. The Malaysian people have expressed their common aspiration in many occasions through “their relentless quest for a new Malaysia that is grounded on democratic principles, justice and equality for all. Therein lies the soul of a country.”

    In Malaysia, most people believe that the noble goals of “democratic principles, justice and equality for all” can only be achieved through the equal and fair opportunities being given to all political parties which take part in the process of parliamentary democracy by way of universal voting in the General Election. Therefore the executive tools such as the A-G’s Chamber, the Police Force, the MACC Force, and the Judiciary System shall not be abusively manipulated by the incumbent ruling party in order to achieve the ill-willed objective of upholding a monopoly of ruling power by the incumbent through unlawful ways and means. If these basic civil liberties are not being protected, then even the highest economic growth rate that can be reported by the incumbent ruling party will still fail the majority Malaysians in their quest for a New Malaysia!

  5. #5 by Ramesh Laxman on Sunday, 22 February 2009 - 1:54 pm

    You should have used the old malay proverb, the haves have become ” Saperti Belanda minta tanah” and have excluded the have nots.

  6. #6 by k1980 on Sunday, 22 February 2009 - 2:14 pm

    The German should ask himself why the July 20, 1944 plot was hatched by German army officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler and to use the Operation Valkyrie national emergency plan to take control of Germany when Hitler had brought so much prosperity to the country?

  7. #7 by waterfrontcoolie on Sunday, 22 February 2009 - 10:31 pm

    Dear Tunku, you siad it right, man without a conscience is comparable to any 4-legged creature. If we were to go to North Korea, we could be equally impressed, hence all the structures mean nothing if those at the bootom have not seen much change in their lives. Many freigners have a tendency to forget that given our national resources, much more could have been achieved to make the life of the bottom 15% of our population much more meaningful.
    They forgot that in the early 70s, we were above countries like South Korea, Taiwan or even Singapore! Hence their observation on the physical aspects is much superficial. Of course, has the same senario happen in their country, their opinion would certainly change.
    I remembered on a trip to then West germany, I jokingly remarked that the German traffic-police would ‘settle’ with the driver over a traffic offence, the tourist guide replied with no nonsense in her tone that this could never happen in Germany! I was taken aback as I had said it jokingly!!.
    Things had certainly changed even in UMNO, slogans are used more for propaganda and brain-frightening impact rather than to sell something to build the nation. Slogans are made to divide and then to plunder the nation clean.
    In fact, I felt very hurt when jokers like Rahims talked about pendatangs. My father is Chinese and back in 1947, he was given the Selangor State citizenship and was elected the branch treasurer in the Umno branch. Of course, at the end of his life, he still continued to run his mini coffee shop until he passed away. He had never asked for any personal favours though in those days of Communist ‘up-rising’, my mother had the fear that someone from the otherside would assasinate him all her life!
    So I must say that UMNO has changed but changed for the worse!
    If the country has been run even with half the rate of the corruption that had been going on, this country should have a per capital income of some us$12 to $15k to day.
    So Tunku, we all hope that with your background and perserverence, we can find the will to change for the better!

  8. #8 by taiking on Sunday, 22 February 2009 - 11:22 pm

    Its a test question by our german visitor. He is obviously an intelligent man and is well appraised of our political scenario. He clearly is able to make his own observations and conclusions on the question he posed. And he would. In fact I think he has. But he is too polite to put them across just like that. Not before finding out first the political inclination of his host.

    But really in contrast Tunku is being too polite. Its not about malaysia being able to achieve more. Its about malaysia in regression. About wanton organised corruption and decline in public safety. Its about national wealth being plundered by those same few in power.

    Actually we were not bad to start with. Its just that we became bad later on. And now, we are bad to a new level. A new higher level. Zimbabwe is within our view now. Money politics is being forcibly nationalised and unconstitutional power grabbing has taken hold of our local scene.

  9. #9 by ekans on Sunday, 22 February 2009 - 11:50 pm

    I think the Germans of today should be well acquainted with the dark era of their nation’s modern history, that is Adolf Hitler & the Nazi party. They should know that Hitler and his fascist Nazi party actually came to power via elections in 1933. The reason why the Nazis won because Hitler promised the Germans that their country, ‘the Fatherland’, will rise from the shame of defeat in World War One, and from the then global economic depression after the Wall Street stock market crash of 1929, and he sold them the idea of a greater and more prosperous Germany, hook, line & sinker. Not long after being in power, Hitler engineered ways to ensure that the Nazis will remain in power, and one of them is the fire outbreak at the Reichstag parliament building, which he conveniently blamed on the opposition party members for starting. Thus, a crackdown began, resulting in the Nazis being made the only legal political party in Germany with its leader, ‘der Fuhrer’, Adolf Hitler himself as the nation’s dictator.

    Of course, the political situation in our sunny Malaysia has not sunken to the level that has happened in 1930’s Germany, but what has happened in Perak and what is being attempted in Selangor is worrying.

  10. #10 by HARAPAN MALAYSIA on Monday, 23 February 2009 - 12:20 am




  11. #11 by boh-liao on Monday, 23 February 2009 - 1:15 am

    Malaysia has perfected the art of packaging, so much so the outside glitters.

    However, its inside is sucked dry by the political ‘masters’ and their cronies.

    Another group of political opportunists and cronies is already waiting impatiently for the arrival of March 2009 to start a new round of plundering.

  12. #12 by anna brella on Monday, 23 February 2009 - 4:53 am

    Good article this.

    On that probing by that German visitor, perhaps it was prompted by the fact that current circumstances have caused many to turn a little wiser or even a little more cynical given current circumstances.

    Or could he/she have been basing the question on the warning premise that external facades/appearances can so often be deceptive and so should not be taken for granted at face value without first checking and asking some valid questions of those who ought to know better the true state of affairs?

    Especially now that we have had another nasty reminder for the need for regular reality health checks thrust upon us again from having been shocked into learning that the world’s economic lifeblood and its enabling integrated global financial system (which had supposedly “brought so much prosperity” to countries/individuals from smart alecs in their hallowed financial institutions located in Wall and other City streets) and which we had all been led to believe was….er….well understood and well-regulated and so competently managed by the world’s myriad network of central banks, governments and financial regulators is now for all intents and purposes, well and truly and thoroughly f***ed-up.

    But I hear that Malaysia is supposedly well insulated from all this world economic excrement that has plunged so many people elsewhere into facing real financial ruin from losing their jobs/businesses/homes/livelihoods, and which unholy mess has resulted from the double whammy cancers of corruption/fraud and reckless incompetence originating from unchecked human avarice, hubris and ignorance. That’s why I suppose Malaysia is lucky to be still expecting to register a positive number for economic growth in 2009.

    So, sorry, I digress surely when I talk of corruption, incompetence and the economic mess here. Guess that’s why the Malaysian Government and its Finance Minister still seem to have the luxury of free time to play political games unlike their now stressed and frazzled counterparts elsewhere, who are now having to burn the midnight oil and focus hard on important matters like how to save their nation’s economy from that potential wormhole, keep unemployment in check to protect people’ livelihoods and their businesses, homes, savings, pensions and to keep their countries on an even keel in terms of public finances for the next eighteen to twenty four months as the economic storm worsens and more debris from the now confirmed/looming world recession/depression start hitting everyone harder.

    “Imagine Power To The People” John Lennon.

  13. #13 by Bigjoe on Monday, 23 February 2009 - 9:30 am

    Very long explanation Tunku. I would have replied to his German guest simply – Hitler and the Nazis – they rebuilt Germany in record pace and incredibly prosperous – until it all came crumbling down, The same thing that drove Nazi Germany – megalomania, is what drove and is driving Malaysia and the same pitfall awaits…

  14. #14 by Onlooker Politics on Monday, 23 February 2009 - 12:26 pm

    In a nation which seemed to have good prosperity during the economic boom periods, why did we still find that there were many unhappy people who were outrageously infuriated by the incumbent ruling power and who would not hesitate to invoke an uprising aiming to topple the incumbent ruling power? Increase in national income or national wealth does not necessarily imply a meaningful happiness for all who live in the nation if the additional income or new wealth which has been successfully created with the use of national bureaucratic machinery can only be amassed by certain elite group of the politically well-connected Umnoputras!

    In a Malaysia which has been put under the reign of BN federal government (inclusive of BN’s predecessor) for about 51 years, the existence of social justice seems to be questionable! For instance, the BN Government keeps harbour its argument on the rationale that only the landowners shall be given the financial aids in terms of free breeder cow livestocks or free breeder goat livestocks because only the landowners will be capable to provide feeds from their own lands to the livestock animals and hence will ensure a higher possibility of success in project implementation phase. This absurd argument has been made prevalent in Malaysia and has been adopted as the basis to implement the Pro-Landowners Agricultural Policy of Malaysia for the past 30 years. The end-result of such a biased and unfair government policy has eventually widened the income gap between the haves and the have-nots, with common phenomenon being observed everywhere throughout the whole nation indicating that the have-nots are forced to either live densely in urban squatter areas or live in abject poverty in the worker’s quarter of plantation estates.

    The flaw in BN’s socio-economic theory will undoutedly help to provide rooms and nourishment for the flourishing boom of the ideology of democratic socialism in the next one or two decades in Malaysia.

  15. #15 by i_love_malaysia on Monday, 23 February 2009 - 3:00 pm

    Other oil producing countries are giving money to their citizens to spend, as for us, we are taxed heavily so that BN-UMNO can spend our money on themselves!!!
    Najis is going to buy few latest private jets soon!!! One for himself, one for his wife and one each for his children!!! The reason to spend the money is that this will help to spur the economy further!!!
    Dont keep the money, but to spend them as it is good for economies!!! Please dont ask why we are not given the money to spend as we were told that we only know how to make money and keep money but dont know how to spend money!!! They are helping us to spend our money!!!

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