Towards A Developed Malaysia – Part 4

By Bakri Musa

[Presented at the Third Annual Alif Ba Ta Forum, “1Malaysia Towards Vision 2020,” Rochester Institute of Technology, NY, December 5, 2009, organized by Kelab UMNO NY-NJ. The presentation can be viewed at (search under “Bakri Musa RIT”) or through this link]

Part Four of Six: A Bigger Fish Story

Returning to my original tale, I now have a bigger fish story to tell; the story that is, not the fish. Consider two villages. The leader of one was suddenly struck by the fishing bug; now he also wanted his people to be great fishermen and win coveted derby prizes. He wanted to put his village on the map for its fishing prowess. So he embarked on a crash program teaching his people how to fish, importing great fishermen as teachers, and subsidizing the fishing tools. He also made fishing compulsory in schools and forced every villager to learn how to fish.

He was successful; the village’s catch increased substantially, and his villagers were winning many fishing tournaments. His leadership was widely lauded, making the other villages envious. They yearned that if only they could have such an efficient, far-sighted, single-minded, and yes, even ruthless leader, then they too would be good fishermen and their village would be equally famous.

The leader of the second village on the other hand was not at all interested in winning praises for his leadership; of course he appreciated them but he did not specifically seek them out or made that his priority. He was for developing his people, whatever their talent. If some were caught by the fishing bug, he would support them. He would not however, force everyone to take fishing classes. If others were scared of the water or could not stand the fishy smell but were interested in woodworking or something else, he would also support them and let them be. He reasoned that if they were to become good craftsmen, they could always trade their carvings for fish.

So he encouraged his followers to purse their individual dreams. He did not profess to know what those dreams were or where they would lead, but he trusted his people and encouraged them. And yes indeed, a few of his people who were not interested in fishing pursued their dreams to be scientists. He helped them by building laboratories and importing science teachers.

As luck would have it, one of those villagers who became a scientist discovered an efficient method of fish farming. Now instead of going out in the ocean and risking his life in the storm, all he had to do was scoop up the fish from his pond. He was so successful that not only could he feed his entire village, he had some for export. Sure he did not win any fishing derbies, and those fishermen would mock him for his “fishing” skills. However, where it counts – putting fish on the table – our scientist readily beat those star fishermen.

If you were a villager, which leader would you prefer? The first who would force you to accept his dream, or the second who let your pursue your own?

We will reach a developed state not by chanting and coining cute slogans but through developing our people and equipping them with modern skills, and then granting them the freedom to pursue their dreams. If fishing or rice farming is their passion, let it be, only make sure that they do not do it in the same inefficient ways of their ancestors. Instead help them become as efficient as the Japanese fishermen or American rice farmers. Japanese fishermen have refrigerated ships equipped with canning facilities, while American rice farmers sow their rice seeds from low-flying planes.

We could readily achieve this if in developing our people we would allocate the bulk of the resources towards enhancing the skills of the large middle group while simultaneously emphasizing the top 90th percentile by giving them twice the allocation on a per capita basis.

Once our people are developed, our nation would follow. Once we achieve that, then we could coin whatever fancy slogans we want.

Q & A Sessions:

Q1: What do you think of 1Malaysia, and what is your vision of a united Malaysia? I visualize it as a mighty river with many contributing streams, like the Nile. Can you comment on that?

MBM: I have never heard it put quite that way, but that is an interesting, and if I may add, original metaphor. I like it! The mighty Nile has its Blue and White Niles. I suppose Malaysia has its brown, black, yellow and a few other colors contributing to our Nile.

That metaphor presupposes that we would all mix it up and become undifferentiated, for at the Nile delta you could not separate the waters from the Blue Nile from that of the Red. Unfortunately, or fortunately I would argue, we humans are always proud of our culture, heritage, and even color. The more developed we are, the more conscious we are of our roots. Being conscious and proud of our heritage is very different from being obsessed or being defined by it. The former is positive and constructive; the latter, negative and destructive. Barack Obama personifies the former; Adolf Hitler, the second.

We all have this need to belong; we do not want to be part of a large homogenous mass. Incidentally, that is also part of Allah’s grand design; He could have made us all clones of each other. Life would not be much fun then, nor would it be beautiful.

Let me suggest a culinary metaphor instead. America prides itself with its melting pot model. There is however, no mistaking what is in the pot; it is essentially an English stew – an Anglo Saxon culture and ethos. Today that stew is enriched with the addition of Italian pasta, jalapeno peppers, and French wine, but in flavor, texture, color, and yes, even smell, it is still basically the old English stew. Even a hint of challenging that would throw things in a tizzy. Witness the frenzy of hysteria gripping the White extreme right to Obama’s presidency.

I once suggested the salad as the more appropriate metaphor for Malaysia. Yes, there are onions, black olives and other ingredients, but there is no mistaking that it is not a salad without the greens. Salads are not a regular Malaysian fare, so my metaphor fell flat. More appropriate would be the more familiar and universal favorite, rojak. The main if not defining vegetable there is taugeh (bean sprout). It alone however, does not make rojak; we need cucumbers, tofus, onions, black olives, and all the other ingredients. Without them it would not be rojak. They enhance the overall flavor. Nonetheless when you pick up a handful of rojak, you could still separate out the various ingredients, but once in your mouth, you taste only the complete rojak, not the individual vegetables.

That is my vision of a united Malaysia, the rojak. The Malays, Chinese, Ibans and others should be proud of their heritage; it is not Malaysia without them. As to what I think of 1Malaysia, I do not know as no one, least of all Prime Minister Najib, has clearly articulated what it means. Besides, I am more interested in the content, not the label. I am also not much for slogans; you should all read Shahnon Ahmad’s short story, Unggappan (slogans) about the leader consumed and intoxicated with his endless sloganeering.

Q2: Can we achieve Vision 2020? It is only a decade away.

MBM: Absolutely, nothing is impossible! However, I think your question is really this: Can we do it with the current leadership? I have not seen any evidence of bold leadership to answer in the affirmative. On major issues like the controversies on the teaching of science and mathematics and on Biro Tata Negara, Najib has remained curiously silent.

If Malaysia were to register near double-digit growth in the next ten years, that would put us in the developed category by 2020, at least by economic indices. That is not impossible, as China had demonstrated. However as mentioned earlier, high per capita income alone does not equal developed status. Brunei would quickly disabuse one of that delusion.

As for the other criteria – like respect for the rule of law and an honest police force, or at least the perception thereof – those too could be readily achievable. If Najib were to recruit from Scotland Yard or the FBI for his next police chief and head of the anti corruption agency, the impact would be immediate and dramatic.

Similarly, in making the next senior judicial appointment, if he would canvass practicing lawyers, legal scholars, heads of leading NGOs, and then heed their recommendations, that too could have a significant impact.

I pose this back to you: Is Prime Minister Najib capable of making those bold moves? Your response is the answer to the question on whether we could achieve Vision 2020.

Q 3: We all had high hopes for change following the political tsunami of the March 2008 elections. With the ongoing mess in Perak, Penang, and Selangor however, we are disheartened. It seems that these politicians, regardless of party affiliations, are the same animal. What hope is there for the nation?

MBM: If by change you mean things that you could see, yes, I share your pessimism. It seems that the same cast of lousy actors is back on stage except that this time they are wearing different costumes. They are not even good actors because they still display their old characters.

Let me suggest that you view the situation differently. The Barisan coalition, specifically UMNO, lost four states. Those are no ordinary states. Selangor, Perak, and Penang are the most developed, their economies constitute (I guess) nearly half of the nation’s. If Federal Territory with the capital Putrajaya had its own Assembly, Barisan would be thrashed there too. That is significant, symbolically. Likewise Kedah; it is rural, conservative, and very Malay. For UMNO to lose that state means that the party could not automatically count on Malay support. This is a seismic shift.

To me the most significant but not readily apparent change is with the voters. For the first time they realized that they could actually change their government simply by putting a mark on the ballot paper. There is no need to risk your limb and life by partaking in armed insurrections or demonstrating on the streets. Once citizens get that sense of empowerment, you cannot take it back. That is why in subsequent by-elections even though they would not shift the political calculus, voter turnout had seen record highs.

Other changes follow from that. Now leaders too, recognize that they could be thrown out of office. That definitely has a salutary effect. In the election of 1999, Najib Razak was nearly kicked out in Pekan. As a result he became a better politician because of that near-death political experience.

Do not give up; the March 2008 election was a political tsunami. Unlike the Asian tsunami which radically changed the physical landscape, the political tsunami of 2008 radically changed the mindset of our people. Those who ignore that would definitely be made to relearn its painful lesson come the next election.

Next: Part Five of Six: Q&A (Cont’d)

  1. #2 by chengho on Monday, 1 March 2010 - 9:12 am

    Doc Bakri,
    malaysian have basic problem , we dont go to the same school like your time , our food and culture is diff , language is diff, multi religion and so many things diff that why the slogan 1Malaysia need to be adopted . our Fed Constitution very clear on that.

  2. #3 by Bunch of Suckers on Monday, 1 March 2010 - 10:36 am

    Malaysia can never march toward a developed nation under the current leaderships for past 50 years, I grant you!

    “1Malaysia and People Performance first” are all lip services in order to sit on the chair. Unless there is likely change of government, nation is fully enveloped with serious corruptions, unsolved political and crime issues, abuse powers, interferences in judiciary bodies and other governmental bodies, demerit in offering places in highest educational institutions, half-past-six educational systems, and etc etc….

    Drop of it without changing of entirely new government…. BN/UMNO is hopeless government! Brilliant investors never come closer this fragile and unstable governing nation, Bodohland…..

  3. #4 by k1980 on Monday, 1 March 2010 - 11:05 am

    Consider yet another village. The leader of one was suddenly struck by the submarine bug. Using the village’s fund, he purchased a submarine costing billions, couping a vast commission for himself. Sadly, that submarine could not dive.

    Earlier on, his predecessor was struck by the space tourist bug. He purchased a seat costing millions in a foreign rocket for the village idiot. Sadly, that village idiot returned from the space tour none the wiser.

  4. #5 by Bigjoe on Monday, 1 March 2010 - 12:11 pm

    The bottom line is that the command-control government ultimately fail no matter how talented the leaders are and how many times they get things right. Its simple a matter that there is too many possibilities of the futures. Its why it must come down to choice and freedom of the masses ultimately as dumb as they may be most of them. You can control even the majority of the best ideas and you need only a few really really good ones to change everything..

  5. #6 by Yee Siew Wah on Monday, 1 March 2010 - 12:27 pm

    Bolehland can never be a developed nation if we have religious, racialistic, stone age mentality, lazy etc… idiots running around harassing the the general population esp the moderate hard working malays.
    All these idiotic, racialistic and “nothing to do” … are just fighting for their selfish ends, money, money, money $$$$$$$$$ and more money….etc… They just want to eat, sleep and “koyang kaki” all day long. They think the WHOLE WORLD owes them a living. And here they make a mockery not only to their own race but also to the whole world what a bunch of no good, lazy and egoistic … with no brains. Even the Indonesians, Thais, Cambodians etc..behave better then them in all aspects.At least they work hard for their money.
    These so called … claim they are champions of their race and beat their chests, shouting slogans about their race being “victimised”. What they do all along all this while????????? NOTHING. Repeat, NOTHING. A BIG FAT ZERO!!!!!!!

  6. #7 by DCLXVI on Monday, 1 March 2010 - 12:36 pm

    chengho :malaysian have basic problem , we dont go to the same school like your time , our food and culture is diff , language is diff, multi religion and so many things diff that why the slogan 1Malaysia need to be adopted . our Fed Constitution very clear on that.

    Malaysia’s basic problem is that there are unscrupulous, holier-than-thou, racialistic politicians who wants to keep us divided according to ethnicity & faith in one hand, while on the other hand, promoting pseudo-unity campaign & slogans in an attempt to provide some sort of feel-good factor to garner support & votes.
    The Federal Constitution had never specified any sort of sloganeering including ‘1 Malaysia’, as the constitution was itself conceived & drafted out for the well-being of the nation & its people. But unfortunately, we still have these unscrupulous, holier-than-thou, racialistic politicians who twist & turn the constitution to meet their own insidious agendas…

  7. #8 by Thor on Monday, 1 March 2010 - 1:06 pm

    Towards a developed Malaysia and a very corrupted one!
    Looks like there’s a possibility of high exodus of Pakatan members to BN now.
    Najib’s plan is working but it’ll also spell “doom” for BN.
    Atta… Boy! and keep on going!

  8. #9 by dagen on Monday, 1 March 2010 - 1:14 pm

    Come to KL city centre. Near the old Central Market (now pasar seni) and around bangkok bank. There are lots of burmese shops in the area. These people are bold and enterprising. They dare to take on the liability of renting the whole ground floor for their businesses. And I believe, their operations are actually more than thriving. They are certainly better abled in terms of doing business when compared to bangladeshis, filipinos and indonesians. And I suspect, umnoputras even with homeground advantage but without NEP rights, are no match for these burmese. And dont forget. Most of them, i.e. the burmese, could speak decent english.

    We also know by now that vietnamese are one tough and mighty hardworking lot. In fact they are on their way to overtaking us economically. Give them 20 yrs and for heaven’s sake never ever think that 20yrs is a long time. Many malaysian corporations are there in vietnam assisting them to improve and advance. And lets look a little further. I have said this before, umnoputras are also no match for africans.

    Instead of moving ahead, umnoputras want the rest of us to regress. A substantial number of us non-malays already have connection (family, social or business connections) outside the country. So who have suffered the most in that process? The common malays, obviously. The ahmads and alis and fatimahs and kathijahs sitting next to you in the bus on the way to work.

    Jib announced once upon a time: “Change or be changed.” To “change”? No. Never. That is what umnoputras are saying. To “be changed”? Well umnoputras are doing all they can at the moment to resist this. To my mind, it is futile and silly to resist the inevitable. They are turning a natural cycle into a painful and horrible transition for themselves with dire after effects and consequences for the country. And they have the audacity to claim that they have the interest of king, country, religion and people (well just the malays) in mind.

  9. #10 by Jeffrey on Monday, 1 March 2010 - 1:55 pm

    /// But unfortunately, we still have these unscrupulous, holier-than-thou, racialist politicians who twist & turn the constitution to meet their own insidious agendas…/// – #6 by DCLXVI.

    Well its not only “racialist politicians who twist & turn the Constitution to meet their own insidious agendas” but the Constitution itself has long ago been already twisted and turned to allow racialist politicians to meet their own insidious agendas…Just like an adorable baby, at conception, even with good genes, is there guarantee that it would not grow up delinquent if no proper guidance by its caretakers of its moral and intellectual development….???

    There were not less than 42 major amendments over 48 years – until the original character of the Federal Constitution is lost!

    Notable constitutional amendments:

    · In 1971 during NOC rule (after 1969 may 13) Malay privileges under Article 153 reviewable every 15 years was amended with effects of the article remaining perpetual;

    · In 1981 the Constitution Amendment Act 1981 gave the executive power to declare emergency at will and create perpetual emergency rule without convening parliament;

    · in 1983 the Mahathir Government pushed 22 other amendments to the Federal Constitution, including three very significant changes to the position of the Malay Rulers – removing the need for the Agong/Ruler to give his Royal Assent to legislation (both parliamentary & state laws) (if it was not otherwise given within 15 days) before it could be gazetted as law;

    · In 1988 amendments of article 121A, civil courts have been interpreted as being excluded from making any dispute involving Syariah. Even though Federal Court panel in 1988 Che Omar bin Che Soh case declared the Constitution secular, today we have seen a spate of controversial conversion cases leading to the present caning of women….

    · Also in 1988 Dr Mahathir pushed through constitutional amendments divesting the courts of the “judicial power of the Federation” and giving them only such judicial powers as Parliament might grant them.” When 20 judges led by Lord President appealed by letter to the King regarding Dr Mahathir’s criticisms of the judiciary Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and five other judges were sacked!

    Tengku Razaleigh looks nostalgically at the days of Tunku Abdul Rahman.

    How could one go back when the Constitution – which underpins all major political affairs and developments and adjudicate all disputes – of Tunku’s era was so different from that post Dr Mahathir’s era????

  10. #11 by frankyapp on Monday, 1 March 2010 - 1:58 pm

    Political frogs would never changed. I think it’s PR’s ringgit wise and Umno’s ringgit foolish. Umno is only winning some political superficial strength when it accepted all these bad apples from PR. It also affirmed how desperated Umno is. It’s counter productive and Umno would be the least to laugh at the end of the day. It also affirmed many Umno’s own members have left to join PR and many more are leaving silently. Umno is using its wealth,power and Utusans etc to cheating the public that a high exodus of PR members to Umno/Bn. It’s all a political game/ propaganda .

  11. #12 by k1980 on Monday, 1 March 2010 - 3:12 pm

    Overheard at a kindergarten for gifted kids:

    Teacher, teacher, how can our angkasawan go to space when our country has no spacecraft?

    Err, err… well you see, we pay money to ask another counry to carry our angkasawan to space.

    So teacher, did our angkasawan get to drive the spacecraft?

    Err, no, our great angkasawan was not allowed to drive the spacecraft for fear it might collide with the ISS.

    Teacher, did our great angkasawan get to spacewalk outside the ISS?

    Err, no, he can’t do any spacewalk because he wasn’t skilled enough to do so.

    Then teacher, what the heck did he do in space?

    Err, err…well, err.. he ate roti canai and drank teh tarik under zero-gravity conditions.

    I see. Did he win any prizes for those amazing feats?

    Err, err…no. But he was he was awarded a datukship.

    Then why was he called an angkasawan? He ought to be called a pelancung angkasa.

    If you ask me, then whom shall I ask? Enough questioning for one day. Shut up and do your work.

  12. #13 by johnnypok on Monday, 1 March 2010 - 8:57 pm

    Malaysia can never become a developed nation.
    Malaysia will become bankrupt sooner than expected.
    Malaysia will break up into pieces, Sabah and Sarawak will become independent again.

  13. #14 by dagen on Tuesday, 2 March 2010 - 11:26 am

    Inspired by k1980’s kindy classroom story at #12.

    “Err sir” the new student interrupted. All heads turned towards him. The abruptness took even the teacher by surprise. And looking rather disturbed by the troubling thoughts bubbling within his young mind, which only a teacher with decades of experience could detect, the new student who joined the class only a few days earlier framed his question with deliberation.

    “How sir.” “Yes, beng hock.” “How sir would all the russian spacemen call our angkasawan?” “A perfect question.” The teacher thought to himself, with a smile. “Innocently put but clearly perfect. What genius.” “Could it sir.” “Could it be Datuk?” “err Dr?” “May be Datuk Dr” “or perhaps Datuk Dr Angkasawan?” “or or …”

    Little beng hock left his sentence halfway. And he had to. Laughter followed. No doubt the laughter in the class has every thing to do with the complexity of addressing people in malaysia. A peculiarity which would be a linguistic challenge to even the most abled of the russian spacemen. But the teacher was not amused. He was engulfed by other thoughts. Thoughts about the unfinished sentence bothered him. The laughter in the background was an invaluable distraction. For he could by merely wearing a smile and the familiar look of a teacher drift his mind away momentarily. “How would beng hock have finihsed his sentence?” was the question he very much wanted to know the answer.

    “Ah ha” the teacher suddenly let out. And the laughter presently stop. “Pendatang.”

You must be logged in to post a comment.