Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #7

by Bakri Musa

Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #7: Touching on the economy, while to date Malays have made some progress nonetheless the new generation considers that insignificant. They demand a bigger share of the cake, at least 30 percent. How can we achieve this target?

[The original appeared in on February 27, 2013

MBM: To begin with, which mortal has declared that Malays are entitled to 30 percent? In which verse is it so written? Why 30 and not 60 or 20? Queried thus, it is obvious that the figure 30 percent is only the figment of someone’s imagination, or more correctly, fantasy. Whether we control 20 or 60 percent of the economy would depend entirely on our efforts and initiatives, not based on some written parchment.

I agree that our achievement thus far, and not just in economics, is far from satisfactory. It is in fact pathetic when you consider that UMNO, meaning Malays, have been ruling the country for over half a century. Whom can we blame – leaders or citizens?

Economic development depends of us, individually and as a society, having and running successful enterprises. A successful enterprise requires three essential capitals. Most are familiar with only financial capital – money. More important, and we do not emphasize enough, are human and social capitals. We provide literally billions in financial capital, but because we ignore the other two, our enterprises often fail or do not succeed well.

When I began my private practice in America, I did not have any money but because of the value of my human capital was high (being a surgical specialist), I had no difficulty borrowing from the bank. That reflects the primacy of human over financial capital. When your human capital is high, financial capital is not an issue.

The bank was not shy in lending me money even though I was a recent immigrant to America and had no friends or family to guarantee the loan. That reflects the high quality of America’s social capital. The bank had faith in the system that I had received my medical credentials legitimately and not through corrupt or nefarious means. Consequently it had confidence in my competence and thus potential success as a private practitioner.

Had America’s social capital been low and I could obtain my license through corrupt means or through a degree mill (there was a time in America in the not-too-distant past when that was possible), there would be no assurance that I would be competent. My patients too would sooner or later discover that I was a fraud or a physician in name only.

If American society has low social capital, the banks would not readily grant loans especially to a recent immigrant (pendatang as it were), non-white person (not an American Bumiputra, to put in Malaysian perspective), or someone who shares the religion as Osama bin Ladin. I might not repay the loan on the basis that interest payment is sinful!

Compare America’s social capital to Malaysia’s, especially Malays’. Could a competent Malay engineer who is a member of PAS get a loan from Bank Islam or land a contract with the UMNO government?

Jamaluddin Jarjis, former Malaysian Ambassador to United States, related how he had difficulty securing a loan from local banks to start his engineering consultancy firm in the 1970s even though he had a PhD in engineering from McGill, an elite university. Now that he is an UMNO strong man, they line up not only to lend but also give him money! That reflects the low quality of our social capital.

A few years ago a student at a leading American university had her scholarship withdrawn because her father was active in PAS. Again, that reflects our low social capital! A society with high social capital values the individual’s talent and ability; a society with low social capital values who and not what he knows.

The problem of financial capital is readily solvable; not so with human and social capitals. If we do not elevate the value of Malay human and social capitals, there is no hope for us regardless how generous the quotas or lucrative the contracts we reserve for ourselves. We could kiss goodbye the 30 percent goal, or even the 20 percent!

To enhance our social capital, we must separate as far as possible the incestuous relationship between politics and economics. Granted, we cannot fully divorce the two as they are inextricably linked, but politics in Malaysia generally and Malay society specifically interferes with or more correctly poisons the other sectors especially economic.

Our academics are less scholars and intellectuals, more UMNO activists. Peruse their resume and intellectual output. No wonder they are caricatured as Professor Kangkong (pseudo scholars). The tragic consequence is not just the plummeting of the quality of our universities but a whole generation of young Malaysians are wasted.

If we do not have qualified local or Malay experts, don’t hesitate in getting foreigners. Even America has many foreign professors. In all my school years in the 1950s I had only one Malay teacher (other than those teaching me Malay). Likewise at university, as I studied abroad. Yet I did not feel in anyway deprived academically or felt less Malay. Nor was my education inadequate or that I have fallen under the sway of foreigners.

I care only the competent and diligent to teach our students. There is no pride if they were taught by incompetent or less diligent Malay professors. Where is the pride of being operated by a Malay surgeon if you have to suffer the consequences of his inadequate skills? What pride is there if a Malay engineer were to design our bridges but there is more water flowing over than underneath them?

A society with high social capital values the expertise and talent of the individual, not his race, tribe or political views.

Consider the many government-sponsored enterprises like FELDA aimed at helping Malays. I would expect such entities to be led by competent individuals with at least an MBA and vast corporate or private sector experience, not discredited politicians and retired civil servants. Isa Samad, FELDA’s head, has zero private sector experience; he could not even run a roadside coffee stall. What is his legacy after leading Negri Sembilan for decades?

To enhance our social capital we must value the competent and industrious regardless of their political sympathies (UMNO or PAS), religious preferences (hijab wearers or fond of gowns and jeans), or the singers they admire (Ito or Siti). We must also not be tolerant of those who are corrupt, incompetent or have repeatedly abused our trust in them no matter how much they praise us, or bribe us with our own (taxpayers’) money.

In short, a society with high social capital practices meritocracy. I purposely avoided using that term as it is so often confused with or limited to mean only paper qualifications and test scores. Its true scope is much broader.

On another front, a society with high social capital saves diligently and is not wasteful. The act of savings goes beyond simply putting money in the bank and being prudent. It reflects an ability to think and plan for the future. Those who do so are more likely to thrive. A society with high savings rate has ample “capital formation” to finance economic development, as exemplified by the Japanese and South Koreans.

When Datuk Onn and Za’aba talked about “correcting” Malays, they meant that even though they were not aware of the concept of social capital. There is nothing wrong with Malay society; we need only enhance our social and human capitals.

If one has high human capital but lives in a society with low social capital, one could always migrate to where the social capital is high. Every year thousands of Chinese, Indians and Europeans leave their native land to do exactly that.

The quality of human capital is dependent on health and education. The first is obvious; if you sickly, you are not likely to be productive. The second is related to enhancing citizens’ skills, ingenuity and diligence. Consider Proton; while manufacturing cars it could also train mechanics. Once the value of their human capital is enhanced, then only provide them with the necessary financial capital so they could open their own workshops. Do so and within a few years we would see Ahmad Auto Repairs and Mahmud Motorworks mushrooming in Malaysian towns. Who gets the franchise to operate Petronas stations at present? Politicians who have no idea the difference between struts and carburetors!

Likewise with contracts for canteens in schools and public buildings; those should be given to graduates of MARA catering programs. Once they have completed their training (thus have enhanced human capital), only then provide them with the financial capital and contracts. Once they are successful as canteen operators they would expand into their own restaurants and catering services.

Every year the government gives out for free valuable state land. Who gets them? UMNO operatives who are loath to get their fingernails dirty. Why not give those land to agricultural graduates of UPM?

Enhance our human and social capitals; the two are far more crucial than financial capital. If we ignore developing our human and social capitals we might as well kiss goodbye our 30 percent goal. Any other pursuits are but fantasy.

Cont’d.: Suaris Interview. The Future of Malays # 8: You have written much on improving our education. Is the present system capable of preparing Malays for the future? If not what should be done to improve, replace and overcome those deficiencies?

  1. #1 by Dap man on Monday, 11 March 2013 - 3:38 pm

    I am one guy who will never seek treatment from a Malay doctor nor would I get a Malay to build my house or repair my car.
    I am not racist but I trust the Chinese more with their skills. They might be more expensive but at least they will get the job done.
    Surely there are some fine Malay doctors but then the feed back from patients shows more bad than good ones.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Monday, 11 March 2013 - 4:04 pm

    Let me repeat. If Mahathir is right that the Malays will lose their ‘special right’ if UMNO/BN don’t win Selangor back this GE, then the Sulu Sultanate claim and grievances are just as legitimate and perhaps even more so.

    The Malays don’t lack capital or political power, what they lack is human capital and it will ALWAYS be short if they don’t compete for it. If UMNO/BN don’t have to compete with PR for Selangor, by being cleaner, more accountable, delivering more, then why would their cronies? Why would or even should the Malays FOREVER hold on to their mythical ‘special right’? They are no different than the Kirams allowing what happened to them without doing much for a few hundred years.

    In other words, if you listen to Mahathir, you might as well give back Sabah to the Kirams..

  3. #3 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Monday, 11 March 2013 - 4:05 pm

    Whoooooaaaa. Hold it. Economy is not a piece of property. So economy is not capable of ownership. Robert Kuok is the richest man in malaysia. Ask him about his ownership of the economy? Try that. He would be amused. Bemused, even. He may know his worth in ringgit terms but he just cannot tell you because he is worth XXbillion therefore he owns (wot?) Z% of the economy. That is impossible. Ownership in property terms means having title, control and possession over the property. No one could point a finger at the economy and claim that bit is my. It has my name on it (title). I therefore have absolute control and possession over that tiny bit of the economy and I can (huh?) exclude others from it (??!!). Economy is purely about contribution in the form of undetaking economic activity. The more economic undertaking one is engaged in the more is one’s contribution to the economy.

    Umno is living in a complete fallacy. Umno believes that the economy could be owned and controlled. They did manage to implement a great deal of control (e.g. banking, petrol stations, AP, highway projects and many many more where only malays of the umnoputra variety are entitled). But they found ownership impossible. Of course it is impossible.

    Just get on with your work. Equip the youths with the correct knowledge so that they can contribute the economy. Then the economy can grow. Forget of proportion of contribution by race. Just concentrate of building up the whole economic pie for everyone to enjoy. That would be more practical.

    Then again, I know nothing about cintanegara’s Prinsip2 Ekonomi Pokok Rambutan. I heard, cintanegara could see money growing on his tree merely by siting under the tree.

  4. #4 by rjbeee on Monday, 11 March 2013 - 4:20 pm

    Now we know what to do with those with the same religion with Osama……..

  5. #5 by rjbeee on Monday, 11 March 2013 - 4:22 pm

    Why are we giving space to this type of rubbish to be written..Malays this malays that…semua mahu……Talk One Malaysia for all ……

  6. #6 by waterfrontcoolie on Monday, 11 March 2013 - 9:50 pm

    This very rational writing will only be applicable upon the demise of BN; otherwise, it is a waste of time. The REAL agenda of UMNO,or in fact that of TDM was and is to ensure the continuous rule of the Celup Malays in Malaysia as they have had taken advantage of the Constitution for their objectives. The very nature of the local Malays of being obedient to the Power that be is being twisted to fulfill their agenda. this is coupled with those incompetent Malays who could only survive if the gravy train is well oiled. Sadly they forgot that the train is oiled with national assets which really belong to them. Would the local Malays benefit from Project IC? With such competition, they could be drowned. just look at them claiming Anwar had caused the issue in Sabah! Of course they are paid by cronies who have squeezed the national coffer to finance all thiose demonstrations. So my good Doctor, maybe with your sincerity, we can all pray they will listen to you!

  7. #7 by cseng on Monday, 11 March 2013 - 9:56 pm

    Future of malay? Define malay.

    We have these malay-malay, who born as malay and died as malay. Also the constitutional malay, who born non malay but died as malay. Then, malay is an open race.

    Now, we seems to have 1 umno malay, who are elites, cronies that enjoy riches thru connection. 2 Non umno malay, thay crave for assistance such as brim, etc, narrowly exposed thru utusan, rtm &tv3.

    50yrs ago, it is easier to blame it on the non malay. 50yrs later, are they going to redefine malay, subdivided and lay the blame onto themshelves? Following these kind of race based society model, future remain future.

  8. #8 by chengho on Monday, 11 March 2013 - 10:57 pm

    Vote for MCA ; ABCD

  9. #9 by Noble House on Tuesday, 12 March 2013 - 2:07 am

    The so-called “special right” is a devious plots meant to hoodwink the Malay into believing that it is all sunshine and no rain. In reality, it is to enrich the top 20 percent of Umnoputras that hold the wealths to this nation. As they say: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. This about summed up the situation of the Malay today.

    #5 by rjbeee – I should think you are much mistaken with the Professor’s good intentions here. Please bear in mind we have some 40% of our population still underprivileged even today through no faults of theirs. The Malay can live without UMNO but UMNO cannot survive without the Malay!

  10. #10 by PoliticoKat on Tuesday, 12 March 2013 - 3:17 pm

    The above article is good illustration of why the Malays are weak. Now I would like say a thing or two of why the Chinese and non-malays are so strong.

    What is this secret power our malay readers may ask? Why, oddly it is the same thing that has weaken the Malays.. the NEP.

    So how does the NEP make one strong?

    First as a child in primary school, it teaches an important fact of life. LIFE ISN’T FAIR! DEAL WITH IT.

    In school we learn that we have horrible things called exams but we also learn that the student with the best exam results is given a prize!

    All nice and good, until one day you realize that the students winning the prize are always Malays. Why is this you ask? This certainly becomes a question when you realize your exams scores are better on average than the supposed best student. You then learn that Malays students have an extra subject (Agama), ie they have an extra 100 markah.

    Some cry out how unjust this is and complain to their parents. Only to be told this is how it is. Some give up but a few actually work harder to beat the system simply because it isn’t fair.

    The book prize was nice, but anger is a better long term motivator.

    The next lesson the NEP teaches is “WORK HARD OR DIE HUNGRY IN THE STREET.”

    It is a great motivation. Much like how a man will run faster if he was being chased by a bear. This builds a work ethic that simply cannot be compared.

    The NEP basically declares to the Non-malays, there will be no government handout, no aid, no scholarships, few if any places in the university and don’t even bother looking for a job in the public sector. This is the take home message you learn by the time you reach secondary school. You are on your own. Sink or Swim there is no life guard.

    What happens? You start thinking about options and they are bleak indeed.

    But thankfully, the NEP has been operating since the 1970s. Mom and Dad has already been through it. Mom has a plan she began before you were born. It is called “Family planing” and “Saving for university since the day you were born.”

    This is why you don’t have a third or forth sibling and the reason why your family never went anywhere for the holidays.

    The only universities opened to you are in strange far away places. It is intimidating but off you go, ready or not. Once there you study hard. You study hard because this is your family’s money. You study hard because you know how much of a sacrifice sending you to Uni has been. You study hard, because your family has only so much money and retaking semesters is not an option. The pinch is felt in the food that you can afford to buy. Nothing sharpens your mind when you live at the edge of your finances in a strange place… far far away from any help.

    Time passes and you make friends with people from these far off places. You learn it wasn’t so scary after all. People are people where ever you go. You may even get an internship in some big foreign company. Bit by bit, the wider world becomes a familiar place.

    Then you come back to Malaysia. NEP tells you “No job here. Go away.”

    And strangely, you aren’t intimidated at all. NEP has thought you to roll with unfairness of life, force upon you self-reliance and a good work ethic. Your worldly travels has thought you confidence. The world is just one big job market.

    To sum up, the NEP has kept the pioneer spirit in the Chinese, when such spirit would have normally have evaporated by the third generation upon naturalization.

  11. #11 by rjbeee on Tuesday, 12 March 2013 - 4:12 pm

    I fully agreed with noble house of the professors good intention..We have spoken to long on this malayisse issue… time to get fid of the mamak and gang and focus on
    1 Malaysia not 1Malay

  12. #12 by Loh on Tuesday, 12 March 2013 - 8:56 pm

    ///To sum up, the NEP has kept the pioneer spirit in the Chinese, when such spirit would have normally have evaporated by the third generation upon naturalization.///–PoliticoKat

    NEP prepares non-Malays to migrate, and leave the old lonely in their own land.

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