Perkasa, Kampung Baru, and the Failure of Malay Leadership

By M. Bakri Musa

Squatting within view of KL’s gleaming skyscrapers like a blob of dung at the tip of a high-heeled boot is a collection of quaint kampung houses. To patronizing foreigners, those wooden houses on stilts in Kampung Baru are a welcomed relief to the concrete jungle of a modern metropolis. To its inhabitants, taken in by the curious and feigned interests of gawking tourists, Kampung Baru is their tropical urban Shangri-La.

To Malaysians however, it is nothing but your typical Third World slum. Kampung Baru assaults your sensibilities and senses, especially olfactory. Not that the rest of KL is pristine and sweet smelling!

Alas to Malays, Kampung Baru is an embarrassing and glaring reminder that beneath the bravado of Ketuanan Melayu we remain marginalized, despite over half a century of independence and a continuous succession of Malay sultans and prime ministers. Not to mention Article 153 protecting our “special” position!

If Kampung Baru is the physical reminder of the impotence of Malay leaders in tackling the challenges facing our community, then Perkasa and the coalition it leads, People’s Awakening Movement – Gerakan Kebangkitan Rakyat (Gertak) – reflect the intellectual bankruptcy of our leaders.

Sultan Syndrome and Abracadabra Leaders

In an earlier book I described a malady peculiar to our leaders, the sultan syndrome, where leaders behave like sultans, content with being mere figureheads and indulging the perks of their positions. Engaged executives they are not.

Like sultans, these leaders are consumed with issuing endless edicts (titahs). They have no idea what those would entail, much less how to execute them or the challenges involved. Hence we hear with nauseating frequency their exhorting us to, “Be efficient!” or “Be competitive!” When asked how, they would be silenced. The best they could muster would be to mumble something like, “Be like the Japanese!”

I am being generous in describing them as leaders. Like sultans, they are there not to lead us but for us to sembah (pay homage to) them. Like religious figurines in Hindu homes, they are there for us to pay tribute. And pay it we must, for any hint of disrespect would be met with harshly. Those sultans and sultan wannabes are like Hindu gods; there is no escaping their spell. Anger them at your peril! Public hand kissing, endless gifts of trinkets, and effusive displays of loyalty are all part of this homage paying.

Their demands keep getting more voracious and insatiable. What we need is not Article 153 (to protect the sultans) but its reverse, to protect us from our rapacious sultans and sultan wannabes.

This sultan syndrome is associated with what I would call “abracadabra leaders.” These are ‘leaders’ who, when issuing their titah and arahan (directive) delude themselves into thinking that that alone is sufficient, like waving a magic wand. Little do they know that the real world does not work that way, even if they were to incant, “Abracadabra!” It takes hard work and creative thinking to translate your vision into reality, and that is what these abracadabra leaders lack.

In his latest pronouncement, complete with the frothing of the mouth, flaring of the nostrils, and the obligatory brandishing of the keris (this time thankfully spared of the ketchup), Gertak leader Ibrahim Ali demanded that NEP be maintained and Malays accorded a specified portion of the economic pie. There was as usual no mention on how that could be achieved. Ibrahim forgot his “Abracadabra!”

I am not surprised that Ibrahim is gaining traction with Malays; we have always been partial to soaring rhetoric. The Indonesians would listen for hours to Sukarno’s pidato. Meanwhile their country spiraled into chaos and mass starvation. What surprises me is when the likes of Mahathir fall for Ibrahim. To think that Malays are pinning our hopes on this Al-Katak! (Jumping Frog, in reference to his party hopping habit.)

Fellow commentator Azly Rahman reminds us that gertak means “childish verbal threat.” Ibrahim Ali is certainly childish and all verbal, but he is no threat. Only those who could easily be gertak would perceive him as a threat. Unfortunately Najib Razak is one of those.

In his usual humorous but biting take, Azly suggests that the coalition change its acronym to Gelak – Gerakan Anti-Lawan Antara Kaum (Movement Against Inter-Communal Conflict), a more noble goal. Gelak also means “laughter,” appropriate as Ibrahim (and his movement) is already a laughing stock.

Developing Kampung Baru

Lamentably, Ibrahim Ali’s laughable big but empty talk is the norm among Malay leaders.

Consider the lack of development in Kampung Baru, a problem that has challenged leaders since Datuk Onn in the 1940s. The only innovative thinking had been the British gazetting the area in 1900. Whatever we may think of the merit of the idea today, without it Kampung Baru would have long been gone.

This latest folly of 60-40 partnership with non-Malays has been wisely torpedoed by the residents. It is not difficult to sympathize with them. They have heard too many half-baked ideas before, of leaders spouting without thinking, and their not making any attempt at understanding the problem. Often, as demonstrated by this latest idiocy, these leaders would blame the residents when those ideas fail.

For example, knowing Malay inheritance laws and traditions, these properties have multiple owners and have been hopelessly fragmented, made worse with Malays having no written wills, not even those with substantial estates, as attested by many high-profile inheritance disputes. We do not know the magnitude of this problem as there is no survey of land ownership in Kampung Baru.

A major obstacle to developing Malay properties is this multiple and unclear ownership, and the attendant difficulties in decision making. Unless resolved, this will remain an insurmountable obstacle to development.

Tun Razak was aware of this when he started FELDA. Thus FELDA land cannot be subdivided but must be inherited by only one son. This apparent contradicting of Islamic and traditional inheritance practices did not prompt outcries from the Islamists and traditionalists. They saw it as a sensible solution to a major problem.

This ownership conundrum in Kampung Baru and other Malay Reservation land could be solved by creating a family corporation, where the ownership of the title may be divided but the land itself cannot; it remains under this new entity.

In his forthcoming book, The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back The Middle East, Timur Kuran suggests that Arab (and Muslim) underdevelopment is attributed in part to this inheritance practice. While the Quranic injunction is just, it results in the fragmentation of estates. The European medieval practice where the entire inheritance went to the eldest son may be unjust but it had the advantage of keeping intact the family’s estate.

It is this fragmentation of estate that prevented Muslim enterprises from growing from one generation to the next, a problem shared by Malays. However, we have yet to acknowledge let alone solve it. Consider the current inheritance litigation over Naza Corporation; there are many others.

As for restrictive land ownership, statutes like the Malay Reservation Act are not unique to Malaysia. America has its Indian Reservations and Hawaiian Native land trusts. That did not prevent development on those reservations as attested by the gleaming casinos and hotels. In Hawaii, native-trust land can be leased long-term; its low price compared to freehold properties a competitive advantage. An all-Malay ownership need not be an obstacle to development; cheap land could be a formidable advantage.

As for the tangled ownership, the entire Kampung Baru could be made into a corporation with its present owners as shareholders. That corporation could then negotiate with developers, foreign and local, to get the best deal for a BLT (Built, Lease, and Transfer) or similar arrangement for the whole area. Those owners would get a unit or more in the development based on their contributions through their land. The rest would be rented out, as with any development. Properly structured and managed, a gentrified Kampung Baru could be an economic jewel as well as the model for developing other Malay Reservation land.

The government’s proposed Kampung Baru Development Corporation, already approved by the cabinet, is precisely the wrong approach. It is a top-down initiative, with the corporation controlled by ministry bureaucrats instead of the landowners. It calls for a GLC to develop the property, presumably without competitive bidding (as is the usual practice with these GLCs). That is just another scheme to enrich the politically powerful.

These and other dilemmas of Malays could be solved only through careful studies and analyses. The faculties needed for that are humility (to facilitate your knowing what you don’t know), political skills (to craft the necessary compromise among the competing demands), and intellectual integrity (to enhance your learning curve).

Unfortunately those are the very skills lacking among our leaders today. Consequently, count on Perkasa and Kampung Baru being with us for a very long time.

  1. #1 by newchief on Monday, 7 June 2010 - 9:12 am

    if the residents of kampung baru are so reluctant for outside investors ( who happens to be MALAYSIANS !! ) to help to boost and maintain their livelihood, SO BE IT…LET THEM ROT for another 50 years !!!

    its really funny that these residents are willing to lease their properties also. mind you investors if you are non-malay….the moment your golden goose starts to lay eggs, these residents shall say its their special malay rights to claim ownership of what-ever you have invested !!! are you willingly to take the chance ???

    even with inked documents, the way the malaysian law is handled, you will still lose to them!!!

    thereon, leave this area as it is no matter how attractive the offer is !!!! LET KAMPUNG BARU as it is !!!

  2. #2 by HJ Angus on Monday, 7 June 2010 - 9:12 am

    Kampong Baru condition is a good example of why some Malays have failed under the BN government.
    They want their cake and eat it too.
    In Malaysia Malay-reserve land is valued perhaps 50% of other land and you can only transfer among the same race.
    Maybe it is good that the land is not easily sold for many are not used to having excess cash in the pockets.
    So if any development is possible, the land owners should be encouraged to take up joint ownership in the new commercial(?) properties like 20/80 ratio so that at least they can get income for say another 90 years?

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Monday, 7 June 2010 - 9:38 am

    To me the study of Malay leadership is interesting. The fact of the matter is there has never been any Malay leadership. Every PM has never been truly Malay. The closest is Razak and Najib with Malay-distant cousin Bugis heritage. The supposed greatest leader Mahathir is certaintly more Indian than Malay in value and character.

    Why do Malay leaders tend to repeat Sultan-like behaviour when the model failed for the longest time again and again? Why are they incapable of making the leap in liberal elegant principle of rising to the occasion rather than succumb so easily to the natural politics of the lowest common denominator?

    If you look at the advantage of power of a Malay PM and – its basically unchecked. It is surprising Mahathir abused his powers the extend he did? The surprise is he has not brought down the entire country into ruin. Remember, basically an Indian politician in position of absolute power would be unthinkable in India (look at Samy Vellu and what he has done with still limited power). I have always been surprised at the praise given to Mahathir for not failing miserably.

    One of the greatest flaw of the design of our constitution was the protection of our institution. The founders assumed that multi-racial make-up of the country would assure that the institutional integrity would be preserved. On hindsight, relying on a citizentry of immigrants and rural ignorance could not possibly protect institutions in this country. The founding elites basically was too arrogant to believe they could preserve institutions here despite failing politically from the start. Ultimately we will look back at the judicial crises of 1988 as the moment that broke the camels back on this country. The judges in this country should have been left to promote and determined the courts from the start rather than gave the choice to the executive.

    The saviour of Malay leadership in the long run is in PR of course. Whether they can succeed or not is test of the Malay people themselves. Fail and the Malay people will be relegated to stereotypes in history. Succeed, and it gives hope not only to Malays but all indigenous people everywhere and make them historical in the world.

  4. #4 by HJ Angus on Monday, 7 June 2010 - 9:56 am

    It is also interesting how foreigners can become “Malays” and hence become more entitled to the rights that should be restricted to the natives of the country.
    For example, a Malay marries a Briton and he converts to Islam – the children are half-Western but are brought up as Malays and enjoy the rights immediately.
    Suppose the child later marries a German who also converts to Islam – the children are still classified as Malays though the genes are now only 25% Malay – is that not an absurdity?
    Meanwhile the original Malaysians are still being treated as second and third class citizens.
    Note: I use Briton and German as an example only, you can substitute with any other nationality. Perhaps if you trace back the roots of many of the ultras, you will find more than a sprinkling of foreign inputs.

  5. #5 by sheriff singh on Monday, 7 June 2010 - 11:10 am

    Kampong Baru? When I visited the place some years back, there were more foreigners than locals there in some of the streets. I thought I was in Indonesia.

  6. #6 by BoycottLocalPapers on Monday, 7 June 2010 - 11:44 am

    The problem with the Malay leadership in Malaysia is that the Malay leaders (including Anwar; except enlightened Malays like Zaid Ibrahim of course) would use the Chinese & Indian as boogeymen to score cheap political mileage or to be seen as “jaguh kampung” among kampung folks.

    They learned this evil trick from their beloved Arab brothers who love to use the Jews as boogeymen so that their people would forget about domestic problems like injustice, dictatorship, corruptions, poverty, freedom, etc.

    Do you really think the Arab dictators want to have peace with Israel? If you do, you are greatly mistaken & misinformed.

    Why would the Arab dictators want to have peace with Israel?

    Without the Jews and Israel as a punching bag, the Arab people would focus more on their countless domestic problems.

    So as long as the Arab dictators could use the Jews as the boogeymen & chanel the unhappiness and hatred of their citizens towards the Jews & Israel, they will not want to have peace with Israel.

    In order to be seen as “jaguh antarabangsa,” Malay leaders (including Anwar; except enlightened Malays of course), would use Israel & the Jews as the boogeymen to rally support for their political parties so that the people will forget about domestic problems such as approval of gambling license, corruptions, PKFZ, etc.

    Anwar did that too by calling all Malaysians, including Najib, to rally & march towards US embassy so that Malaysians would forget about his Sodomy trial. So Anwar is no different. Don’t forget that he was from UMNO and he still has UMNO’s mentality just like the frogs MPs that left PKR.

    So Karpal Singh was right when he denounced Anwar’s September 16 takeover plan as immoral. Karpal is a brave righteous man that I greatly admire. Karpal does not give a squat whether you are from the same camp or not. If you’re unrighteous and lack principles, you should be condemned & step down as leader.

    Why do you think the local media would bombard us non-stop with Arab-Israel conflicts if not to divert people’s attention away from gambling license given to Vincent Tan?

    Second class & third class citizens of Malaysia, should not believe in the sweet talks of PAS leaders either as they care more about the Palestinian kids than you.

    The dirt poor Kelantan government can afford to spend millions to sponsor Palestinian kids but can’t spend a single sen to educate your kids.

    To be seen as “brothers” in the eyes of their beloved Arab dictators, they even neglected their fellow poor bumiputera Kelantanese that need the money spent on Palestinians who are more likely to commit acts of terrorism than helping Malaysia’s economy.

    To be seen as brothers in the eyes of the Arab world, Malaysian leaders would condemn the United States whenever an Arab gets killed by a Jew, forgetting the very important fact that our economy greatly depend on the United States.

    If Malaysia is striked by Tsunami, do you think those Turks & Arab brothers would send their flotillas to rescue us Malaysians?

    Who do you think would be the first to come to rescue us Malaysians?

    Have you forgotten about the Tsunami in Indonesia? How many floatillas from Turkey or Arab countries did you see after the Tsunami in 2004?

    With the free information available on the Internet, I hope the second class & third class citizens of Malaysia are a lot wiser now.

    We are discriminated because we are the boogeymen & punching bags just like Singapore & the Jews being the boogeymen & punching bags of the longest serving dictator in Malaysia.

    The only solution for second class & third class citizens of Malaysia is to migrate to a better country where your talent are welcomed.

    Your ancestors migrated to Malaysia for the green pastures here. Now, it is the time for us to follow their example. We should migrate to countries where we are welcomed & treated fairly e.g. United States of America, Canada, UK, Australia, & for the less educated people like me, Singapore should be your destination. And perhaps even back to China or India in the near future.

    In the future, your great grand children will suffer hardship, discriminated & persecuted if the mentality of those in the corridors of power do not change. Those in the corridors of power use Arab dictators as their role model. How many Arab countries do you know that treat non-Arab & non-Muslims fairly? None! In fact, Arabs in Israel have more rights than Arabs in Arab countries.

    Forget about Malaysia. It is a hopeless country that is going to be like Pakistan where more than 90 people of Ahmadi sect were massacred & nobody would care about you, because the world will think that the Palestinian lives are more important than you.

  7. #7 by Jeffrey on Monday, 7 June 2010 - 12:08 pm

    Interesting comments on failure of Malay Leadership above. A few general observations here.

    First BigJoe’s comment in #3, “Why do Malay leaders tend to repeat Sultan-like behaviour when the model failed for the longest time again and again?” – Maybe political leaders want votes, they cater for feudal mindset/cultural values of their constituency. One notes Hang Tuah/Jebat story – based on feudal values of absolute obedience to leader, no matter how tyrannical or rotten in exchange for protection – is still extolled as folklore with “moral” (read feudal) values to teach.

    Next BigJoe’s coments – “One of the greatest flaw of the design of our constitution was the protection of our institution. The founders assumed that multi-racial make-up of the country would assure that the institutional integrity would be preserved”.

    I assume his word “institutions” meant that of the feudal structures of sultanates and racial hierarchy based on Special privileges. Just to clarify the expression “founders” is not just a reference to then UMNO but as it takes 2 hands to clap its also a reference to the British Constitutional drafters. The British connived in these institutions being for better or worse incorporated in our Federal Constitution that set the stage for everything that followed thereafter. By the British I point at not all British but the British Colonial Office. In the face of objections from viceroy/resident Lord Mountbatten & possibly Lord Reid himself the British Colonial Office took cognizance of the importance of these structures to protect Malay supremacy against economically more dynamic migrant races given citizenship.

  8. #8 by Jeffrey on Monday, 7 June 2010 - 12:49 pm

    Continuing: reference is next made here to comment #6 by BoycottLocalPapers, especially the part about “jaguh antarabangsa,” and how Malay leaders (including Anwar) would use Israel & the Jews as the bogeymen to rally political mileage so that the people will forget about domestic problems such as approval of gambling license, corruptions, PKFZ – and, in Anwar’s case his Sodomy trial, there is, I think, a “method” in Anwar’s so called madness to play the Jewish card but also I think he treads on dangerous grounds here.

    I think it’s all about his sodomy trial. Firstly he thinks he won’t get a fair trial and that they’ll put him into the slammer! His counter move is (a) make sure he does not go in, in the first place; (b) if he does, PR will win the next election to bail him out!

    He then asks which group – between Malay constituency or the champions of world wide democracy the Americans – on whom he could best rely to get him out of the slammer in relation to (a) or (b).

    He looks at the Americans and get despondent because firstly they could not get democratic icon Aung San Syu Ki out of grasp of Myanmar’s military Junta; secondly Najib could seize initiative by attending Washington’s Nuclear Summit and get Obama/Americans to warm up to him as ally in support for some key American policy goals of containing Iran’s ambitions and smuggling of weaponry parts to Iran. So Anwar figures his best bet are Malay/Muslim supporters who are most likely to come out reformasi style street protest should court convicts him in (a) or vote for PR coalition to win the next election in case of (b). Hence his brouhaha about APCO’s alleged Jewish involvement, 1 Malaysia derived from 1 Israel, Isrealis infiltration in IT team at Bukit Aman and now Isrealis cruelty against Freedom Flotilla where he seized initiative to march to US to protest against his once patron when Al Gore/Albright came down during APEC Business Summit to support his reformasi!

    Anwar’s greatest gamble – and risk- is that if he, for whatever reasons, could not by his play of the racial/religious card succeed to get overwhelming Malay/Muslim support against his conviction – or for PR to win the next election – he will forfeit irretrievably American and possibly her Western allies’ support against his conviction should it happens as he expects.

    The question is whether he can afford to underestimate extent of Jewish lobby and influence on US administration’s policies. B’nai B’rith, the world’s oldest Jewish service Centre had already last month written to the powerful US Congress Committee on Foreign Relations (amongst whose members are also Americans of Jewish descents) criticizing Anwar for his alleged anti- semitic remarks and posturing and pressuring that Committee to sever ties with and support for Anwar. Anwar blames APCO (because of its connections with Jewish consultants) but that same argument based on connection will be used against Anwar himself in respect of his past ties with organizations having prominent Jewish connections including Paul Wolfwitz just like his crying wolf “September 16 takeover plan” by Kataks was used against PR in Perak State Assembly takeover with Anwar being bereft of the right to moral indignation by his own conduct and position!

    The sad thing is that DAP known for principled stand has now to put up with these antics of shifting principles in the name of united front by PR’s component parties.

  9. #9 by k1980 on Monday, 7 June 2010 - 1:42 pm

    Why aren’t Gazan babies named after Khaily or Jibby or Mamaktir or Perkasa? Very ungrateful chaps, those Gazans….

  10. #10 by waterfrontcoolie on Monday, 7 June 2010 - 11:59 pm

    Yea, Hj Angus got it right: they want to eat the cake and still keep it! what a paradox? just like the Chinese saying: Press it firm the bird may die relax the hand, the bird may fly off! when would they learn that every decision is a decision of choice? And the NEP has worsen the decision making process! Having sold their shares for a brand new BMW, they ask again where is my 30%? At least the Whites in USA are not complaining having spent all their future earnings and mortaged them to Japan, China, Singapore,Taiwan, Russia, India and the less spendthrift nations. Here, having eaten the cake, they ask how come you still the cake? Unless and until change comes, we will still be arguing the same issue 100 years from now!

  11. #11 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 8 June 2010 - 12:40 am

    Ya lah, let Elyas Omar (d big fat liar who once called himself DR Elyas), Raja Nong Chik, n other Malays (including Indons) 2 develop Kampung Baru, good luck

  12. #12 by Bigjoe on Tuesday, 8 June 2010 - 10:55 am

    Frankly, I have never come across one of these fragmented owner project ever work out well. Property development is just a very detailed business and those that can’t manage the details just never get the money. There is just too many ways to scam those who don’t get involved themselves in the work. Its just simply better for those owners to just sell out and move on.

  13. #13 by sotong on Tuesday, 8 June 2010 - 12:57 pm

    Need new Malays to fight for ” whatever “.

  14. #14 by c730427 on Tuesday, 8 June 2010 - 6:59 pm

    time has come for malays to breakaway from the traditional thinking of ‘tunggu durian jatuh’.

    please wake up to be more competitive, pragmatic about your dreams and you have nothing to proof to others that you are capable.

    whatever good you had achieved if for the good of yourself.

  15. #15 by writecom on Thursday, 10 June 2010 - 12:14 am

    Let them prove what they can do with this land. They also shouldn’t get the GLC to invest if they are truly malay. Let’s also see how the haram fat frog can develop on their behalf and let them curse and swear at that fat idiot.

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