Towards A Developed Malaysia (Last of Six Parts)

By M. 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 Six of Six: Q&A Con’td

Q 10: Can you give us examples of successful countries we can emulate? In one of your books you suggest South Korea, but it is so far ahead to make it a valid model for us.

MBM: Did you know that in the 1950s the Philippines was sending foreign aid workers to South Korea? How the world has changed! Today it is the Philippines that is an economic basket case. That is precisely my point; countries can change quickly, for better or worse. To re-emphasize, if you do not strive to reach Montreal, you would quickly slide back to Tijuana. Standing still is not an option.

In my book Malaysia in the Era of Globalization I gave three examples: Ireland, South Korea, and Argentina. Argentina is a negative example, of how quickly a nation could slide backward. I agree with you that South Korea is not the best model for us, but for different reasons. That nation, unlike ours, is culturally, linguistically and ethnically homogenous.

The better example would be Ireland. The Ireland of 1950s, like Malaysia today, was wrecked with its own Catholic-Protestant division, with the minority Protestant English dominating commerce and the professions while the Catholics were busy reciting their rosaries and making babies. The English schools and universities were also superior, but the Catholic Irish who attended those institutions risked being excommunicated!

Substitute Irish for Malays, English for non-Malays, and you have similar dynamics in Malaysia today.

Today Ireland is a different nation; its economy robust, the Celtic Tiger. Imagine, Ryan Air, a discount Irish airline, at one time attempted a takeover of the venerable and regal British Airways! I need not go over here how Ireland achieved her remarkable transformation as I have covered that in my Globalization book, but suffice to say that they did it by first freeing the Irish from the tight grip of the clergy class.

A noteworthy observation is that Sean Lemass, the leader responsible for the Irish transformation, did not become prime minister until 1959. It took the Irish at least two generations before they could escape the yoke of the church and began their trajectory of development to lead Ireland away from being the chronic “sick man of Europe’ to where it is today, a vibrant member of the EU.

So if Malaysia were to be blessed with her own Sean Lemaas today, it would not be until at least 2050 before we could hope to achieve ‘developed’ status. To make it even gloomier, Najib Razak has not demonstrated himself thus far to be anything close to Lemass in terms of his leadership ability and vision.

That is the bad news. The good news is that we do have a Malaysian Lemass in waiting in the person of Anwar Ibrahim. For one, he is the only leader with the courage and credentials to take on the Islamic establishment, as he did with the “Allah” issue. For another he is the only one who is not insular and has worldview more in tune in this current era of globalization. Lastly, like Lemass, Anwar is able to corral many bright young Malaysians to his cause.

The big question is whether our Malaysian Lemass would be given that opportunity.

Q 11: What do you think of the institution of Malay sultans?

MBM: Let me throw that question back. What do you think of the Malay Rajas? No response? Well, let me rephrase that. How many think that the sultans are a positive influence? [Few hands went up] Negative? [Many more hands shot up.] Wow! I am amazed! I did not expect that.

On reflection however, I am not totally surprised. I read the thousands of comments posted on the web regarding our sultans, especially after the Perak political fiasco and the battle between the Johor and Negri Sembilan princes. I was stunned at the contempt and venom spewed.

I grew up in the royal town of Sri Menanti, but I try not to let that influence my thinking. Whether our sultans remain relevant and respected, or be reduced to the status of the Sultan of Sulu, depends not on what is inscribed in our constitution rather on how they perform their duties and how they behave personally. In these days of the Internet and cell phones, their shenanigans abroad or in private would easily be exposed. Contrary to their enticing tourism ads, what happens in Vegas no longer stays just there. The many recent negative accounts of members of the royal family do not advance their cause.

When I lived in Johor Baru in the 1970s, it was interesting to observe the behaviors of these Malay princes and princesses. In Singapore they behaved like ordinary mortals, observing the traffic laws and being civil in public. Once they crossed the causeway to return home, they suddenly transformed themselves and regressed to their infantile forms. My conclusion is that we are partly to blame for we tolerate their childish tantrums.

Royal peccadilloes, while titillating and headline-grabbing, do not interest me. My concern is that these sultans squat at the apex of the special privileges heap. Their every whim and demand is acceded too readily. They get monopolistic business licenses and granted prime state land literally on demand; their every gluttony and avarice satisfied, at state expense of course. How can we ask ordinary Malays to give up our special privilege crutch when our sultans are getting the biggest crutch of all, and a golden one at that?

My other concern also relates to their being role models. In my book The Malay Dilemma Revisited, I describe the Sultan Syndrome, of ministers and department heads behaving as figureheads like our sultans instead of being the chief executive. They are consumed with the trappings of their offices while delegating the heavy lifting to their underlings. I truly believe that the deterioration of our public institutions is attributed in large part to this Sultan Syndrome.

Beyond that I have nothing against the institution of sultans.

Q 12: Don’t you think that the institution of sultans serves to anchor our diverse citizens? Political leaders come and go, but our sultans by being apolitical and above the fray, provide stability, commonality, as well as continuity.

MBM: Many would argue with your assertion that our sultans are above the political fray, especially after what happened in Perak and Trengganu. Even if we were to accede to your argument, do we really need nine sultans plus the Agong? Actually we have 13 if we include the four sultan wannabes – the governors of the non-sultan states who also have regal tastes and aspirations.

I would be satisfied with just the Agong; he is expensive enough to maintain, what with the new billion-ringgit palace. If we were to have all those other sultans, their consorts, raja mudas, raja bendaharas, and the whole slew of princes and princesses on the civil list, then I would impose strict rules. If they receive any royal allowance, then the moment they enter business, be gainful employed, or in any way earn an income, then their state allowance would be reduced in the amount of that income. That would encourage them towards voluntary services. I would put all those allowances saved in a trust fund towards scholarships for deserving kampong kids.

We have a few members of the royal family who have had the benefit of superior education, having gone to such august institutions as Oxford and Harvard. I challenge them to come up with a better idea than what I have presented here so they would remain relevant and be respected when they ascend to the throne.

* * * * *

As there are no more questions, let me close by again expressing my sincere appreciation for your staying right to the very end! I am sure there are many other places you would rather spend a Saturday evening than a lecture hall. I have thoroughly enjoyed the sessions; most of all I have enjoyed your company.

You have asked many penetrating questions, and I do not pretend to know the answers. However, finding the solution begins with asking thoughtful questions, and you have certainly done that. You have asked many of the probing questions that needed to be asked. It is through such open discussions and the tapping of many minds that we would hope to find the best workable solutions.

During your stay here do take time to enjoy Upstate New York and the surrounding New England states. The region is attractive and wonderful at any time of the year. I wish you well in your studies and in the pursuit of your individual dreams.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Tuesday, 16 March 2010 - 4:55 pm

    How to become developed country with smart-ass PM that take cheap shots in august Parliament?

  2. #2 by k1980 on Tuesday, 16 March 2010 - 4:57 pm

    1Malaysia Towards Vision 2020?

    So far I can only see “1BogusMalaysia, Rakyat disaifulkan, Lee What sekarang” !

    (With apologies to Mr Lee What)

  3. #3 by k1980 on Tuesday, 16 March 2010 - 5:00 pm

    If the usa had followed malaysia and installed a sultan in each of its 50 states, today it would be as poor as Haiti

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 16 March 2010 - 5:43 pm

    ///Today Ireland is a different nation; its economy robust, the Celtic Tiger./// – Dr Bakri

    Huh? What remarkable transformation to a vibrant member of the EU due to Sean Lemass?

    Your presentation made in December 5, 2009 but by then it was probably widely known that Ireland’s financial institutions, government, many businesses and citizens, indeed Ireland itself were or were becoming bankrupt!

    Malaysia (with royalty) is still solvent.

  5. #5 by frankyapp on Tuesday, 16 March 2010 - 5:49 pm

    Now people understand why China got rid of their kings and emperors,similarly the Philipines and Indonesia did the same. I wonder Mps are allow to ask the PM,the federal budget allocation to keeping nine sultans ,one Agong and three governnors happy every year. And would be interesting to know too in term of GDP growth,how many percent of it would be allocated to maintain the royalties and governors.

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 16 March 2010 - 5:58 pm

    Or is this (Ireland an example for Malaysia to follow) a satirical piece of Malaysia going the same Ireland’s route to bankruptcy with our large stimulus packages/ massive public deficit and debt burden/ household debt from credit card/mortgages relative to disposable income, property bubble and construction growth???

  7. #7 by johnnypok on Tuesday, 16 March 2010 - 6:19 pm

    1. We lack hard-working and smart people
    2. Our education system is bad
    3. Corruption is getting worst
    4. Kangaroo court
    5. PDRM, MACC, etc, double-standard
    6. HP6 ministers
    7. Unemployable graduates
    8. Too many ‘handicapped” citizens
    9. …and many more factors to be tackled, before we can dream of 2020

  8. #8 by c730427 on Tuesday, 16 March 2010 - 7:42 pm

    1. Any statistics on how much tax payers money goes into funding the sultans?

    My wildest guess is RM 1 billion per Sultan per year.

    2. What did the sultans do?

    Well, hmmm… say nice things and people forget them, but lately there is one sultan form the south said something relevant. I salute him.

    3. Are our sultans afraid of UMNO?

    100% yes.

    4. Why?

    You tell me….

  9. #9 by pwcheng on Tuesday, 16 March 2010 - 7:53 pm

    Malaysia is a land of plenty, but unfortunately it is also a hotbed for the corrupted and greedy.
    Vision 2020 is perfect vision but in Malaysia many are blind because of apathy, looking for handouts on the pretext of infirmity and who still need crutches after 50 plus years as according to Ibrahim Ali.

  10. #10 by Bunch of Suckers on Tuesday, 16 March 2010 - 9:06 pm

    Stop debating about achieving a developed nation! Unless there is a complete change of new government to replac/take over this extremely corrupted BN/UMNO, Bolehland can never be a developed! How can we achieve it with this bunch of suckers sucking around for their own good and, eventually, be billionaires! Tired of hearing all these craps – “this” and “that”! Everything is fruitless under the current government!!! HOPELESS… hopeless…BN/UMNO!!

  11. #11 by yhsiew on Tuesday, 16 March 2010 - 9:46 pm

    ///Today Ireland is a different nation; its economy robust, the Celtic Tiger.///

    It was reported on the BBC website few days ago that people now agreed Ireland, the Celtic Tiger, thrived on bubble economy and hence that had led to its economic implosion. Surely, economy-wise, Ireland is not a good model for Malaysia – stay away from hot-money!

    How about home grown model – Slow and steady wins the day in Kedah

  12. #12 by limkamput on Tuesday, 16 March 2010 - 11:01 pm

    You are just too proud to mention that Singapore is a good model and example to follow, Bakri. LKY would have given Malaysia and Malays success beyond their dreams.

  13. #13 by monsterball on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 - 2:16 am

    Change the government…amend the look forward towards unity and a Malaysian Malaysia…and all these “sheet” talks…can go to tong sampah.
    Najib trying so hard to explain “1Malaysia” in parliament…in so many words…which boils down to him saying..lets stay put or go backwards..with a government to support divide to good old Britain.
    Yes..change the government…and all can stop reading “sheets” and rubbish.
    13th GE…is the deciding factor.
    Only fools will want to be divided.

  14. #14 by undergrad2 on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 - 5:25 am

    “LKY would have given Malaysia and Malays success beyond their dreams.” limkaput

    If you worship him that much and is willing to kiss the ground he walks on, I suggest you renounce your Malaysian citizenship and apply for a Singaporean one.

    Do you think Singapore would give you the scholarship you were given by the UMNO government based on your poor grades at SPM level to go anywhere to study? Taxpayer sponsored education is only given to their best and brightest. Being a Malay has nothing to do with the selection process.

  15. #15 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 - 7:21 am

    No mean achievement if indeed poor SPM grades could provide foundation to stake claim of undrstanding purchasing power parity better than a premier global financial services firm offering wealth management, investment banking, asset management and business banking services like UBS and who though (in my personal view) being Chinese does not mind being attributed to be of another race.

  16. #16 by k1980 on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 - 9:10 am

    Ong TK groaning on the Ides of March—-“Et tu, Kah Ting?”

  17. #17 by limkamput on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 - 12:13 pm

    A pimp does not have any credibility to suggest anything. I shall say anything I like and stay anywhere I want, so long I am not earning minimum wage selling the bodies of others. Undergrads is the bloody f pimp in Kampung Atap. I better get out from here fast.

  18. #18 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 - 2:30 pm

    /// Your presentation made in December 5, 2009 but by then it was probably widely known that Ireland’s financial institutions, government, many businesses and citizens, indeed Ireland itself were or were becoming bankrupt! ///

    Jeff, I think to be fair, Ireland was on the way to become a Tiger (no, not Eldrick Tont Woods), until the financial tsunami hit. Its manufacturing was okay. Their biggest mistake, like Iceland (only less severe), was trying to become a financial centre overnight.

  19. #19 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 - 3:54 pm

    I take the point that “Ireland was on the way to become a Tiger” if not already one, which was the reason Bakri referred to it. However I think one cannot just follow a tiger model – just because it has become a tiger – without considering how it has become one.

    In #12 LimKamPut mentioned rightly about Singapore, which is also a tiger but a tiger which has not turned ‘pussy’ (also no reference to the non-economic type) through prudent, fiscal and monetary policies and checks against profligate spending (whether private/public) and corruption. Why does Bakri not use S’pore as model? Ok he can distinguish/say S’pore economy is open (not like Malaysia, mixed, with plenty of natural resources) but so was/is Ireland different from Malaysia inthese respects. (Maybe closer are Brazil/India??)

    My thinking is whats the point of following a model that has become tiger by living way beyond its means by profligate government/individual borrowing, political failure and social decay of cronyism, corruption and lack of transparency/accountability – that cannot withstand and become a pussy the moment there is a cyclical shock or a financial tsunami (as happened) or currency attack in 1997? May as well follow steady Germany. No one calls it tiger and dragon but its slow and steady. So it is the method of how one manages the economy to become tiger than becoming tiger per se that is important as a model against the vagaries of the market place.

    I mean you look at it this way. Our loan to deposit ratio is less than 80% and Ireland’s probably many times more (say hypothetically 300%) and became a tiger but when financial tsunami hit its shore, it couldn’t weather and banks went bust and became a pussy. How could Ireland serve a model to us when its over leveraging and engaged in profligate spending that led to predicament today unless one says that its becoming a tiger in first instance and its subsequent collapse when faced with global financial tsunami were not due to these imprudent practices and mismanagement?

  20. #20 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 - 4:06 pm

    I agree its manufacturing (up the value added ladder) was okay. No NEP??? But becoming a financial centre fast – S’pore also a financial centre but perhaps not so fast then. Consolidate and go forward, consolidate then go forward, that kind of patience and prudence seems to be the hall mark of successful businessmen.

  21. #21 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 - 4:51 pm

    I think we all know why MBM does not use Singapore as a model. Any reference to the little red dot that dares to out-do the well-endowed (again, no reference to non-economic terms) Malay-sia is a slap in MY’s face and a taboo.

    Singapore’s financial centre was some 4/5 decades in the making. Iceland and Ireland tried to do it in less than a decade, and through massive borrowings.

  22. #22 by chengho on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 - 6:53 pm

    M Bakri,
    Malaysia is a unique nation , u cannot compare with any country .we live in peace and harmony . Diversity is Malaysia strength .

  23. #23 by tanjong8 on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 - 10:24 pm

    Chengho was an eunuch of the 15th century.

    There may be a few in malaysia these days.

    To live in peace and harmony, UmnoUtusans must be got rid of.

  24. #24 by tanjong8 on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 - 10:29 pm

    The way undergrad 2 talked would make him forever undergrad. No chance to graduate !

  25. #25 by DCLXVI on Thursday, 18 March 2010 - 1:54 am

    chengho: “Malaysia is a unique nation , u cannot compare with any country.”

    It’s so unique beyond compare that a person can be charged & tried here for sodomy with no proof of penetration just because of politics…

    chengho: “we live in peace and harmony.”

    The rakyat wants to do so, but Umno still wants to keep ruling divisively along ethnic & religious lines…

    chengho: “Diversity is Malaysia strength.”

    Equality, fairness & justice should be its foundation…

  26. #26 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Thursday, 18 March 2010 - 8:12 am

    /// Diversity is Malaysia strength . ///

    Eunuch – exactly right. But UMNO and the Malaysian government, instead of leveraging on this strength, is hell-bent on destroying it. Instead of exploiting 3 main languages and use them to compete and collaborate in Greater China and India, UMNO is trying to use a very inadequate and ineffective language. Instead of using its citizens of different races to build rapport with countries with affinities to those races, UMNO does the opposite.

    To UMNO, diversity is not strength. Diversity is a pain in the posterior that needs to be diluted with massive import of illegal immigrants who share the same race and religion. And forcing those who are diverse to emigrate.

  27. #27 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 18 March 2010 - 2:08 pm

    “Diversity is strength” is an empty political rhetoric especially in 3rd world countries (3rd world in terms of mindset) where religious cultural and ethnic diversity is capitalized by the ruling party to divide nationals into nice neat little socio-economic and ethnic, religious, ideological voting blocs designed to gain, and after gaining, to maintain perpetually political power by pitting one group against the other.

    Competition and collaboration with Greater China and India (diaspora) instead of inciting hopes of greater economic benefits for all have instead generated insecurities – case in point (besides here) is Fiji where slightly less than half minority Indians are subject to political marginalisation.

    Indonesia, Thailand & Philippines (only in present context for as late as May 1998 Jakarta had its riots against Chinese, not to mention 1965-66) evince no fervent Sinophobia and active official agenda to marginalize only because (1) minority esp Chinese very small in relation to the whole and (2) Chinese assimilated (in names, language if not culture) – Indonesia, Phillippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

    Racists can be two broad types – the first (in more developed countries and In spite of institutionalized laws against racism) views the separateness of minorities from standpoint of being superior against the inferior minority.

    The other category views the minority as superior (at least economically) and hence need to be marginalized or disadvantaged especially when they look at other countries with diaspora – for examples in 1998, ethnic Chinese made up (what?) just 1% of the population of the Philippines and 3% of the population in Indonesia, but controlled 60% of the Philippines private economy and 70% of the Indonesian private economy?

    The resurgence of China & India as economic power houses (perceived saving the world from last year Financial Tsunami) with whom minorities can collaborate economically and prosper whilst resisting cultural assimilation of majority will aggravate than assuage insecurities hence greater demands for majority privileges.

    Of course hope is alays there for the Oppressed but realistically the equation is unlikely to change even if Opposition wins and governs (if permitted)except maybe just ameliorate (as opposed to solve) the situation of marginalisation/discrimination of minorites here.

You must be logged in to post a comment.