Razak’s NEP both a success and a failure, says ex-aide Abdullah Ahmad

Published: 15 January 2015 6:59 AM
The Malaysian Insider

A close confidante of Malaysia’s second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, has rated the country’s controversial affirmative action-based economic policy created by his boss as both a “great success and great failure”, 45 years after it was first implemented.

Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad, who was Razak’s political secretary, said the New Economic Policy (NEP) had done well to lift the Malays out of poverty and increase the number of Malay professionals in all sectors.

But it has failed in its other objective of eradicating poverty regardless of race, Abdullah, better known as Dollah Kok Lanas, told The Malaysian Insider in an interview as part of a series to commemorate the 39th death anniversary of Razak who died on January 14, 1976.

Abdullah also noted what economists have been telling Putrajaya in recent times, that wealth inequality is no longer between races, but within each race, and in the case of the Malays, concentrated within an elite class.

“Some might argue that the enlarged national economy is indeed being shared across the three main races of the Malaysian society, but (this is) among the 1% or less. I have sympathy with this view.

“Economic policies must be implemented fairly for all, regardless of race or political affiliation, he said.

Abdullah, now 78, was a journalist when Razak took note of him and at age 26, he was appointed Razak’s political secretary. It was the first time such a position had been created in Malaysia.

Abdullah later became the Member of Parliament for Kok Lanas, a seat in Kelantan, and deputy minister. Seen as powerful and ambitious, he was said to be the envy of many for having Razak’s ear. After Razak died, Abdullah was detained under the Internal Security Act for allegedly being a communist.

In this interview, Abdullah shares his memories of working with his late boss, and puts Razak’s pro-Bumiputera economic policies in perspective amid today’s challenges.

TMI: What kind of person was Tun Razak to you as a leader, a friend and a colleague?

Abdullah: I worked for Razak for 14 consecutive years, uninterrupted from 1962 to 1976.

My designation changed once, from political secretary to deputy minister.

The job description remained the same, the addition being my ministerial duties.

My main role was to be Razak’s eyes and ears, and to say the things he could not; to shield him from foes and to ensure his policies and political directives were carried out.

My opponents loved to say I was his enthusiastic enforcer and the executioner of his words.

I worked with him and not so much for him. I was a colleague; maybe a junior colleague, but I was also a politician and perceived as one. Razak told me to always remember that I was an important member of his administration, but that I was not a member of the civil service.

Razak was a good leader and excellent administrator. He was not a talker but a doer. In modern parlance, he walked the talk. He shared and delegated power.

Results were important to him. The speedier, the better; persuasion, not coercion.

As a colleague, he was dependable, loyal and generous, though rewards came slowly for his close advisers and aide. We would be the last to be thanked and shake his hand.

TMI: Please share some of the memorable things he said, or personal experiences you had with him.

Abdullah: We were once in a helicopter on the way to inspect some rural projects in Sabak Bernam, Selangor, in the ’60s when we encountered some difficulties during the flight and almost crashed.

However, the Malaysian pilots, the first batch that had taken over from the foreign ones, skillfully brought the helicopter under control to land us safely.

Razak (then deputy prime minister) remained unperturbed throughout, in the tradition of the stiff upper lip, and calmly congratulated the pilots on a job well done.

There was another close shave in Bentong, Pahang, also in the ’60s, when a timber lorry missed our car by inches.

We were not being escorted by a procession of outriders which, even for the deputy prime minister, was unheard of in those days.

Razak’s response to the incident was again typical – he merely asked me to trace the timber company concerned and to enquire with them how such a near-miss could have happened.

TMI: What can you recall of him from the time he replaced Tunku Abdul Rahman as prime minister following the May 13, 1969 riots? Did you agree with the pressure against Tunku?

Abdullah: The Tunku was openly told by some young Umno turks, the likes of Dr Mahathir (Mohamad), Musa Hitam and some others that he should leave office and give the job to Razak.

Senior leaders were more circumspect about saying this, so what happened was no surprise to insiders.

The Tunku and his supporters had fought back but gave up when they realised he would lose out in an open fight with the emerging younger group. I was not opposed to what you call “the pressure” because I was part of the group.

TMI: Razak set up the Barisan Nasional to replace the Alliance. Do you think this formula of one-race parties sharing power in an alliance is still relevant today, or should Malaysia move towards more inclusive, multiracial political parties?

Abdullah: Yes, it is still relevant though I wish it wasn’t because there is still no genuine multiracial party in Malaysia. The DAP is largely still Chinese-based and led; PKR is mainly Malay-based and led, and PAS says it is based on Islam.

It will be a long time before a genuinely multiracial party exists. On the contrary, the demographic trend is moving in the opposite (direction) to a multiracial society. Race-based parties will become stronger.

TMI: How do you evaluate Razak’s economic and social integration policies, particularly through the National Economic Policy (1970-1990), in the light of the last few decades – has the policy succeeded? What went wrong? What needs to change?

Abdullah: The NEP was a great success and great failure. It succeeded in enlarging the Malay middle class and the number of professional and incipient professionals in its ranks.

However, many of the NEP’s objectives remain unattained, especially the eradication of poverty regardless of race.

Its great failure is that it was not scrupulously implemented. Occupation is still identified with race in Malaysia – the Malays with the government service, including a burgeoning religious bureaucracy, and the non-Malays with the private sector.

Some might argue that the enlarged national economy is indeed being shared across the three main races of the Malaysian society, but (this is) among the 1% or less. I have sympathy with this view.

Economic policies must be implemented fairly for all, regardless of race or political affiliation.

TMI: What is Razak’s legacy to Malaysia today?

Abdullah: Razak restored stability and then harmony to the country after 1969. He then reinstated parliamentary democracy when he could have ruled by fiat as head of the National Operations Council.

This is in contrast to the trend of concentration of power by those who now hold office in order to make themselves less, not more accountable to the people. Or the current trend to make populist decisions for short-term personal gain rather than correct, objective ones in the long-term public interest.

Razak was much maligned but he was a public-spirited and strategic leader.

He also initiated Malaysia’s diplomatic relationship with China, the first Asean nation to do so in 1974. – January 15, 2015.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 15 January 2015 - 2:33 pm

    “..economy is indeed being shared across the three main races of the Malaysian society, … among the 1% or less” – THE SAME AS IN INDIA. Co-incident? No….

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