Time on Malaysia’s New Journey

I am posting a Time magazine post on Malaysia, to be out in the next issue on 6th September 2010.

Malaysia’s New Journey

By Michael Schuman / Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia is that rare country with an unequivocal national narrative.
It goes something like this: Malaysia’s 28 million people, comprising
mainly Malays, Chinese and Indians, make up a moderate and modern
emerging democracy. Unlike members of other multiethnic countries,
they respect one another’s beliefs and values and share a commitment
to achieving prosperity. The official religion is Islam, but other
faiths are freely allowed and celebrated. This is one harmonious
place.

Much of that narrative is true — but not all of it. Malaysia’s
economic miracle has stalled, and while the nation is, indeed,
somewhat pluralistic, it is no melting pot. Indeed, it is a society
where people define themselves first and foremost by race. (See
pictures of Islam in Asia.)

The country’s political leadership has in some respects reinforced
those ethnic identities. For the past 40 years, policymakers have
doled out special privileges — in education and business — to one
community: the majority Malays. The program is one of modern history’s
greatest experiments in social engineering and possibly the world’s
most extensive attempt at affirmative action. But the policies have
also bred resentment among minorities, distorted the economy and
undermined the concept of a single Malaysian identity.

Now a movement is gaining strength to finally change the system — and
it’s coming from the very top. Prime Minister Najib Razak, 57, has
surprised the country by advocating a fundamental reform of the
pro-Malay program first introduced, ironically, by his father, who was
Malaysia’s Prime Minister in the 1970s. Though the specifics of the
new policies remain hazy, Najib’s intent is not. “I want Malaysia to
be globally competitive,” he told TIME in an exclusive interview. “For
that, we need to get every single Malaysian to be together.”

Najib’s proposals have simultaneously raised hopes, ire and fear. The
mere idea of changing the affirmative-action system has reopened old
wounds in Malaysian society and reactivated the long-running debate on
how best to fuse Malays, Chinese and Indians into one nation. The
direction Malaysia takes, moreover, has repercussions beyond its
shores. The issues raised by Najib’s proposals are relevant to any
upwardly mobile developing economy, especially a multicultural one:
how to increase wealth and do so equitably. (Read “Why the Honeymoon
is Over for Malaysia’s New PM.”)

In confronting these sensitive challenges, Najib is taking enormous
political risks. The primary base of electoral support for Najib’s
political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), is
the Malay community, and altering decades-old perquisites could cause
voters to defect to the opposition. But Najib believes he has little
choice. If Malaysia’s economy is to compete with China, India and
other rapidly emerging neighbors, Najib sees no other route but
reform. “The competition is much greater and some would describe it
even as cutthroat,” Najib says. “There is a realization that what has
worked in the past may not necessarily work in the future.”

The Malay Card
Najib is facing the same dilemma his predecessors have since the
earliest days of Malaysian independence: balancing the perceived needs
of the Malays, both political and economic, with those of the country
as a whole. At the heart of the problem is the reverse-pyramid shape
of the Malaysian economy. Though the Malays and other indigenous
peoples, together known as bumiputra in Malay, make up about 60% of
the population, they have traditionally been poorer than the Chinese
and Indian immigrants, who have long dominated the nation’s business
and trade. After Kuala Lumpur was struck by race riots in 1969, a
shaken leadership determined that communal peace was impossible
without economic balance. The result was the New Economic Policy
(NEP), introduced in 1971, which aimed to raise the Malays’ share of
the economic pie. Malays were given preferential access to public
contracts and university scholarships. Any company listing on the
stock market had to sell 30% of its shares to bumiputra investors.
Though some measures have been softened or eliminated over the past
two decades, many pro-Malay privileges remain. Certain government
contracts are available only to bumiputra-controlled firms, for
example. Malays even receive special discounts on home purchases. The
affirmative-action program has become so ingrained in the Malaysian
psyche that it is akin to a national ideology.

It is also controversial. Critics contend that the pro-Malay program
too often benefits the connected few over its intended targets: the
poor and struggling. All car-import permits, for example, are awarded
to bumiputra-controlled firms, a policy intended to foster
entrepreneurs in the community. But government audits have revealed
that Malay businessmen with access to the permits sometimes sell them
to minority traders who don’t — at an instant profit. (The Ministry of
Trade and Industry, recognizing the problem, says it will phase out
the permit system by 2020.) “Unfortunately, as [the NEP] was
implemented over time, some of the zealots, politicians and
bureaucrats included, tended to become more racial and emphasized more
on the people who have relationships with them,” says Razaleigh
Hamzah, an UMNO dignitary and former Finance Minister. “That’s where
it went wrong.”

Despite four decades of special aid, 3 in 4 of the poorest people in
Malaysia are still bumiputra. Adli Ahmad Ghazi, the Malay co-owner of
Malaysian Defensive Driving & Riding, a 70-employee driving school in
Kuala Lumpur, complains that the pro-Malay policies do little to help
a small businessman like himself. In 2008, Adli tried to get financing
from three agencies tasked with supporting Malay businessmen or small
enterprises, but got rejected. When he has to deal with the
bureaucracy, Adli says, he faces the same red tape as any other
businessman. It took him two years to buy a parcel of land for his
company from the local government. “The [NEP] rules don’t really apply
to people on the ground,” Adli says. “They say the NEP would help the
Malays, but it only helps a small percentage of the Malays.”

Comfort Zone
Affirmative action may not be helping the overall Malaysian economy
either. Though Malaysia has been among the best-performing economies
in the world since World War II and boasts a spectacular record of
improving human welfare — the percentage of the population living in
absolute poverty has plummeted from 50% in 1970 to less than 4% today
— the story is now stuck on the same chapter. Malaysia has fallen into
what is called the “middle-income trap.” Having elevated itself to a
comfortable level of income, Malaysia has been unable to take that
next leap into the realm of advanced economies. While growth has
slowed, Malaysians have watched other fast-paced Asian rivals zip by.
In 1970, the gross national income per capita of South Korea, at $260,
was below Malaysia’s $380, but by 2009, South Korea’s was almost three
times larger, at $19,830 vs. $7,230, according to the World Bank. (See
pictures of Malaysia.)

Malaysia’s struggles reflect those facing Southeast Asia as a whole.
The region’s economies once seemed among the world’s most promising
emerging markets, but in recent years, progress in almost all of them
has been stymied by upheaval and poor governance. Thailand remains
rudderless as its fragile democracy has degenerated into perpetual
factional strife. The promise of the Philippines remains unrealized as
its feeble government has continually failed to enact the tough
reforms needed to turn around the underperforming economy. Indonesia
is only now returning to its place as one of the world’s premier
emerging economies after a decade of political uncertainty scared off
foreign investors.

If it is able to change its economic system, Malaysia could show its
neighbors the way forward. Malaysia’s essential problem is that its
growth model — export-oriented manufacturing, often by
foreign-invested factories — has become mismatched with its needs.
Malaysia must become more innovative if its rapid development is to
continue. But that’s not happening. Private investment has fallen from
a third of GDP in the mid-1990s to only about 10% today,
labor-productivity growth has slowed, and R&D spending remains anemic.
Instead of developing new products with highly skilled technicians,
Malaysia’s manufacturing sector still too often assembles goods
designed by others, using imported technology and low-skilled foreign
workers. “There is a growing realization that Malaysia’s relative
position compared to other countries that are catching up very quickly
is not improving,” says Philip Schellekens, a senior economist at the
World Bank. “Relative to where they want to be, there is still a long
road.” (Read “Fortress Asia: Is a Powerful New Trade Bloc Forming?”)

Though it would be incorrect to blame the pro-Malay policies for the
economy’s woes — Malaysia did, once, achieve remarkable rates of
growth with the perquisites in place — they are nevertheless dampening
business sentiment, scaring off talent, curtailing investment and
stifling domestic competition. Chua Tiam Wee, president of the SMI
Association of Malaysia, a small-enterprise organization, believes
relaxing the NEP preferences would create a more level playing field
on which the most capable firms could advance, making the economy more
merit-based and upgrading Malaysian industry. The affirmative-action
policy is “a source of a lot of distortions to the economic system,”
Chua says. By limiting the opportunities available to minorities, the
NEP is likely contributing to a brain drain, in which some of the
country’s most talented people choose to work elsewhere. The
government estimates that more than half of the 350,000 Malaysians
working abroad have a college education. Stéphane Garelli, director of
the World Competitiveness Center at IMD, a business school in
Switzerland, believes that the affirmative-action regulations have
made Malaysia less attractive to foreign investors. Malaysia’s
“bargaining power to put such restrictions on foreign investors is not
as big as other nations’,” he says.

Chinese and Indian entrepreneurs in Malaysia certainly believe the
pro-Malay policies cap their business opportunities. Pardip Kumar
Kukreja, the Malaysian-Indian chairman of Grand Paradise Holdings, a
Kuala Lumpur — based firm that manages and owns hotels and operates
travel agencies, laments that he can’t get access to lucrative
contracts providing travel services to the government due to
regulations that favor Malay-owned enterprises. Removing such
restrictions, he says, can act as an incentive to invest. Kukreja
recently decided to launch an Internet-based business to sell travel
services worldwide because Najib’s administration liberalized
affirmative-action rules for the tourism sector last year. “There are
many things we’d like to do, which we hope we’ll be able to do in the
near future,” he says. “To a small and medium entrepreneur, he wants
to make his own decisions.”

New and Untested
Najib is convinced the old ways must go. The centerpiece of his
economic reform program, introduced in March, is called the New
Economic Model (NEM). The plan envisions reducing red tape to
encourage more private investment and internal competition, decreasing
the state role in the economy and improving the education system to
produce more skilled workers. “For us to move up a few notches, we
have to address the structural problems,” Najib says. “We cannot be in
denial.” Most of all, the NEM also proposes a major reform of
affirmative-action policies to phase out remaining racial quotas and
focus efforts on uplifting the poorest 40% of the population —
irrespective of race. Says Najib: “I don’t want anyone to feel that
they’ve been left out or marginalized.”

There are urgent political reasons he feels that way. UMNO, which has
ruled Malaysia in coalition since its independence from Britain in
1957, lost ground to opposition parties in a hotly contested 2008
general election, and Najib is faced with the daunting prospect of
expanding UMNO’s political base outside its core Malay constituency.
The NEM is an effort by Najib to turn stodgy UMNO into the party of
change and outmaneuver its rivals. Some powerful voices within UMNO
are egging on Najib to push his reforms. “We have to be bold and brave
to ensure [our] long-term competitiveness,” says Khairy Jamaluddin, an
UMNO member of Parliament. (Read “Will Sodomy Charges End Malaysia’s
Opposition?”)

Yet Najib has also come under pressure from conservative elements in
the Malay community to hold back. “The bumiputra are still lagging
behind,” complains Ibrahim Ali, president of Malay nationalist
organization Perkasa. “If the economy is not balanced, then everything
will lead to trouble.” As a result, Najib doesn’t have full support
from an UMNO worried about scaring off Malay voters. Najib’s reform
program “is a tough sell within the party,” admits Khairy. “There will
be people who resist the changes.”

The split in UMNO reflects the greater divide within the Malay
community over the future of affirmative action. Some Malays believe
that they still don’t possess the skills and resources to contend
against Chinese businessmen, making continued affirmative-action
policies indispensable. The program “should stay in place and
improve,” says Rizal Faris, president of the Penang Malay Chamber of
Commerce. “What [officials] want to achieve is a level playing field
where all parties are able to compete on their merits, but we need to
ensure that the Malay community has been sufficiently skilled and
pulled up.” But others believe the time has come for Malays to step up
and compete on their own, without special government aid. Akmal
Syahirah, a 21-year-old law student at the University of Malaya, says
that affirmative action should be eliminated, even though her family
has greatly benefited from it in the past. Her father acquired land to
produce palm oil through a pro-Malay development scheme, and her three
younger sisters received tuition for extra after-school studies. But
now, “I think we need to change,” she says. “We can’t just let Malays
stay in their comfort zone.”

Balancing Act
Faced with such contending forces, Najib is trying to please
everybody. Affirmative action won’t be eliminated entirely under the
NEM, but altered to weed out abusive practices, target money where it
is most needed and support the most worthy Malay businessmen, all the
while trying to open up opportunities for minorities. Najib sees no
contradiction in such a strategy. “Affirmative action remains in
place, but the way it is carried out would be different,” he says.
“When it comes to helping the poor and the vulnerable groups, it
should be irrespective of race. But there are certain affirmative
actions which are still necessary, because the bumiputra are still
very much behind and they must be helped. We want to help those
bumiputra who are potential winners.”

Even as he faces the daunting task of reforming Malaysia, Najib must
deal with the domestic and international fallout from the divisive
trial of Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition’s most prominent leader. In
2008, only months after the opposition’s electoral success, Anwar was
charged with sodomy, a serious crime in Malaysia. The trial has a déjà
vu flavor. Anwar was convicted of sodomy in 2000 (and abuse of power a
year earlier), but the ruling was overturned in 2004 and he was freed
after six years in prison. Anwar has pleaded not guilty to the latest
charge and attacked his trial as a politically motivated attempt to
discredit the opposition. The government denies that, saying the
courts have a duty to conduct a fair trial. Yet the case has tainted
Najib’s administration. In a joint essay in the Wall Street Journal,
former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and former Deputy Secretary of
Defense Paul Wolfowitz wrote that Anwar’s trial threatens “all those
in Malaysia who have struggled for a freer and more democratic
nation.”

The biggest test for Najib still awaits. All eyes are watching for the
detailed policy prescriptions of Najib’s NEM, which could be released
in October. Some Malaysia experts expect the final package to be
underwhelming. Najib “doesn’t have the strength to follow through,
whether politically or personally,” says John Malott, a former U.S.
ambassador to Malaysia. “He’s not a transformational figure.” Najib
insists his critics underestimate him. “I want to transform Malaysia,”
Najib says. “I want Malaysia to be a 21st century nation and I am
determined to do that.” Malaysia’s future — and new narrative —
depends on it.

Monday, Sep. 06, 201

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Most globalised cities

More than half of the world’s population now lives in the cities . More people will live in them in future.

Foreign Policy publishes a list of the most global cities. For the 2010 ranking, Kuala Lumpur is on the list, ranked No. 48.  It confirms that we are indeed in the middle income trap. Not a bad ranking, but not in the top either. A position sports people will term it as  ” also-run”.

The criteria used is not size  alone. Globalisation does mean global competitiveness and how attractive a city is to global businesses. The publisher suys this regading the criteria used:

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So what makes a Global City? Not size alone, that’s for sure; many of the world’s largest megalopolises, such as Karachi (60), Lagos (59), and Kolkata (63), barely make the list. Instead, the index aims to measure how much sway a city has over what happens beyond its own borders — its influence on and integration with global markets, culture, and innovation. To create this year’s rankings, we analyzed 65 cities with more than 1 million people across every region of the globe, using definitive sources to tally everything from a city’s business activity, human capital, and information exchange to its cultural experience and political engagement. Data ranged from how many Fortune Global 500 company headquarters were in a city to the size of its capital markets and the flow of goods through its airports and ports, as well as factors such as the number of embassies, think tanks, political organizations, and museums. Taken together, a city’s performance on this slate of indicators tells us how worldly — or provincial — it really is.

The seats of traditional political power aren’t necessarily the most global. Only four of the top 10 cities are national capitals. Washington comes in at No. 13. Beijing (15) edges out Berlin (16), which trounces Moscow (25). Two of the top 10 global cities are laws unto themselves, operating outside the jurisdiction of a separate national government (Hong Kong and Singapore). The sun set a half-century ago on the British Empire, and yet London continues to shine at No. 2. For now.

Just a sideline. I am fortunate that even though I am not rich, I have been to the top five cities listed, and 13 out of the top 15 ( I have not been to Chicago and Sidney).  Not through any sponsored trips, all from my own travels… Mind you.. No one would sponsor a free trip for someone who is attacking the policies of the government– to be audited twice ( my clinic) in 2 months  is considered good treatment already;  they could have given me worse trouble. To think of it, I think I have lived a fairly good life, as a small man in the street who earns a decent living through my skill.  But I do not gamble, do not smoke, drink occasionally on social functions, and every penny is saved and used for the family. Much more fortunate than a lot of people, and I do donate to charity. So I need to pay back to society to at least speak out for the small people; that is the answer i give to my wife when she sometimes asks me not to risk myself in speaking out.  Also, my late mum always told me to ” compare with the less fortunate but do not compare with those who are wealthier than you”.. That mentality has made me a very contented person..

Please also note that Bangkok is ranked higher than us using globalisation as well as GDP; Thailand is really catching up with us, and this means that Bangkok citizens actually have a higher per capita income tha KL folks..

Jakarta also ranks higher than us using GDP. I thought we are richer than the indonesians. Maybe I am really behind time. Anyone can shed some views on this?

Rank City Rank by Population Rank by GDP
1 New York 6 2
2 London 28 5
3 Tokyo 1 1
4 Paris 20 6
5 Hong Kong 31 14
6 Chicago 25 4
7 Los Angeles 12 3
8 Singapore 38 23
9 Sydney 43 24
10 Seoul 22 19
11 Brussels 54 48
12 San Francisco 46 16
13 Washington 42 10
14 Toronto 36 20
15 Beijing 13 33
16 Berlin 48 46
17 Madrid 34 22
18 Vienna 55 40
19 Boston 41 11
20 Frankfurt 64 20
20 Shanghai 7 21
22 Buenos Aires 11 12
23 Stockholm 59 52
24 Zurich 61 58
25 Moscow 19 13
26 Barcleona 37 31
27 Dubai 56 49
28 Rome 49 37
29 Amsterdam 63 60
30 Mexico City 5 8
31 Montreal 44 35
32 Geneva 65 61
33 Miami 58 54
33 Munich 35 18
35 Sao Paulo 3 9
36 Bangkok 32 42
37 Copenhagen 60 59
38 Houston 40 17
39 Taipei 53 26
40 Atlanta 39 15
41 Istanbul 21 30
42 Milan 52 39
43 Cairo 17 36
44 Dublin 62 55
45 New Delhi 2 32
46 Mumbai 4 25
47 Osaka 16 7
48 Kuala Lumpur 57 65
49 Rio de Janeiro 14 27
50 Tel Aviv 50 40
51 Manila 15 34
52 Johannesburg 45 43
53 Jakarta 24 47
54 Bogota 29 45
55 Caracas 51 62
56 Nairobi 47 64
57 Guangzhou 27 38
58 Bangalore 30 53
59 Lagos 18 63
60 Karachi 10 50
61 Ho Chi Minh City 33 56
62 Shenzhen 26 28
63 Kolkata 8 44
64 Dhaka 9 50
65 Chongqing 23 57

Revisiting the Inconvenient Truths

With Merdeka Day nearing, I am going to re-visit an old article which I wrote in July 2007, and which was published in the opinion column in Malaysiakini on Jul 19 2007.

The truths remain, and hence it is still valid even though 3 plus years have gone by.  Many of you have read this before but i think it is still worth a second reading.

The Inconvenient Truths

Jul 2007

When a patient is told that he has a malignant disease, typically there would be one of these three types of responses.

The first group will just take it in their stride after the initial shock. They will then become proactive in learning about the disease, following the doctor’s prescription for treatment, changing his lifestyle and diet, and start to fight back. Often this type of patients do very well, and many of them, if the initial stage is not too advanced, overcome the malignancy and become a healthy person again. Because of the positive lifestyle change, he may even live longer and healthier than otherwise.

The second type will go into a denial syndrome- bad things only happen to other people, bad things don’t happen to good people like them. Some begin to believe that this cannot be true and they go into a self denial state, believing that the diagnosis is wrong and nothing bad is going to happen to them.

Often they do not even inform their family members and just live day by day, hoping that their self denial will make the disease go away. By the time end stage symptoms develop and they have no choice but to seek treatment, because of pain or obstruction, the disease is beyond treatment.

The third group is the timid and pessimistic type. They become depressed with self pity, leave whatever decision to their family, and passively follow treatment and blame their fate for the illness. The outcome often depends on the type of family members he/she has.

To the second group, getting cancer is an “inconvenient truth”. They hope for the best and hope that the truth will never bother them. They just leave everything as it is and carrying on as if nothing has happened. Ultimately, of course, the cancer will be beyond cure and the patient will succumb to the cancer and die.

The third group is not willing to face the truth either but at least, they have a fighting chance depending on the people around them.

The first inconvenient truth

The same can be said of the ills in a country, and corruption is the mother of all ills. Corruption to a country is like cancer to a person – it spreads and becomes extensive if not treated.

We know there is corruption in the police force as determined by the Royal Commission of Police a few years back. We also know that the Commission also recommended the treatment – the setting up of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

The diagnosis is there, the prescription is there, but we act as if we belong to the second category of patients. We are in a self denial mode believing falsely that things will just sort itself out if everything is left as it is. We deny the inconvenient truth.

When finally we realise our folly and have to face the inconvenient truth, the ills of corruption will have spread beyond every nook and corner- it will be beyond cure.

As a person trained in treatment of diseases, it really does not make sense to me that if the diagnosis is known and the prescription given, why is there a delay in instituting the treatment? Why are we waiting? The longer we wait, the worse will be the prognosis.

Show the will, face the inconvenient truth and fight back against crime by setting up the IPCMC.

Another inconvenient truth

The second inconvenient truth is about our cake – our economic cake. In the early 60s, just after our independence, our Malaysian cake was about three times the size of the Korean cake, despite having a smaller population.

In the early 80s, the Korean cake has caught up with us and was about the same size as our cake, but per capita wise, each of us still eat more cake than the Korean because we have a smaller population.

In 2006, the Korean cake has become four times bigger than our cake. Despite their population being much bigger than us, each Korean now eats more cake than each Malaysian. What went wrong?

If we care to stop and ponder for a while, the reason is very simple. It is because our leaders and politicians are too engrossed in how to divide the cake rather than concentrating their efforts on expanding the cake.

If from the start, our emphasis had been on finding the best ways to expand the cake, like the Koreans, we would have maintained our lead over the Koreans, and each of us now would have a much bigger cake to eat.

If we have been busy expanding our cake, we could have reached first world status by now. Our per capita cake share would have reached the standard of the first world, and all of us, regardless of race, would be much richer.

We could have afforded better education for our kids, we could have afforded better housing, we could have afforded better transport system, better healthcare and the list would go on and on…..

The government would have bigger cake too, which means that there would be more money to help the poor, both rural and urban; more money to give scholarships for children of the poor, regardless of colour, more money to build more schools, colleges and universities.

Sometimes, we need to look further ahead rather than just look at the things in front of our eyes. If we have been more farsighted, all of us would have been rewarded with a bigger share of cake by now.

The inconvenient truth that has caused our cake to grow slower than the Koreans, the Hongkies, the Singaporeans is very simply this: we have been too engrossed in dividing the cake rather than expanding the cake.

We know this inconvenient truth, both the politicians and the people. Are we like the second category of patients mentioned above who are in a self denial state.

The question is: Are we bold enough to face this inconvenient truth, change our tactic and try to concentrate on expanding the cake rather than dividing the cake? This surely needs the political will of a leadership that does not just think of votes but rather the well being of the country.

The third inconvenient truth

One young hawker, who is a patient of mine, an ethnic Chinese Malaysian, chatted with me after seeing me for a stress related symptom some time back. He spoke passable English, but according to him, he can speak, like most youngsters of his age, very fluent Bahasa. He in fact had a fairly good grade in his SPM, and is just past his 21st birthday.

He did not continue studying as he is not from a rich family. He applied to join the civil service but did not receive any reply. He applied to many big corporations to work as a clerk, and was sadly turned down. He worked in a snooker center but found out that there were some bad hats there.

In the end, he decided to open a stall, together with his gir friend and a relative, selling ‘yao cha kui‘, the oil fried flour dough. Business is OK, and he is surviving, but I suspect he does not quite like the work. That explains the stress that he was under.

Some of his classmates have become VCD peddlers, the types in pasar malam selling pirated discs, and often are the ones that end up in a police lock-up whenever there is a raid on VCD peddlers, while their bosses will be safely enjoying themselves in a nightclub.

None of them was employed in any government agencies or civil service. Many others become hawkers like him and that explains why there are so many hawkers everywhere.

The point I wish to put across is a letter I read in malaysiakini some time back by a person called “Free Trade M” who apparently has just came back to Malaysia after a stint overseas. After reading this letter, I can’t help but think of this young hawker that I chatted with.

I quote part of this letter that is relevant to my patient’s plight: “ I have been back two months and I have yet to see a Chinese postman. an Indian toll booth collector. I have not heard of a director-general of a government ministry nor have I met a CEO of any of the key 20 GLC (government-linked companies) who is a Chinese.

“I have yet to see a Chinese face at the immigration booths of KLIA, at the customs counter, in the police patrol cars on the Plus highway. I use the Chinese example but it covers all non-Malays.”

This is indeed the true picture and I believe to be one of the many reasons that racial polarisation is getting more acute.

I can’t help but think that perhaps the government should open some of the vacant positions to non-Malays. It would not augur well for the country if the civil service and the government linked companies and agencies employed only people of one ethnic group.

For one thing, during Hari Raya, there would not be any people of other races to man the departments.

More importantly, this would only make the civil servants think along an ethnic line, perhaps not consciously and purposefully, but more due to a lack of understanding of other races, when planning or carrying out certain projects. When a policy is seen to be skewed in the interest of only one race, bad sentiments will inevitably build up in the others.

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On the other hand, even if there is only just a small proportion of non-Malays working together with the Malay civil servants in an office, there would be much better racial understanding, much better religious understanding and cultural exchange. Each side will better understand the sensitivities of others, and each side would strive to be more moderate in their thinking. This will encourage broader mindsets among the decision makers of the country.

This group of people can also serve as the bridge builders across the racial divide.

If we are really for a harmonious society, racial lines must be blurred. The private sector perhaps can take in more Malays and the government sectors perhaps should in turn take in more non- Malays.

Another advantage of opening the civil service door a little bit is that by having a bigger pool to choose from, more talented and capable people can be employed in the civil service. More ideas and creativity will be brought into the civil service which will help to spur the country to greater heights.

We need to have the best in the civil service if we want to excel. We need to have friends and colleagues of other races in order to have national unity –real unity! Just paying lip service and shouting slogans of unity will not make us an united nation. This is the third inconvenient truth that we need to face and tackle.

HSU DAR REN is a medical doctor with interest in politics and socio-economic issues. He believes in the preservation of nature and a green environment.

A short parable

The Old Horse has only one worry. If Mr  SoDoMi’s group wins the next election, and Mr SoDoMi becomes the Chief, then the Old Horse may find himself incarcerated in a Dungeon.

Mr SoDOMi may start digging at the archaelogic site, and who knows what he may find, since the archaelogical site are full of treasures and loots from the old time.

The worry is real. Once the digging starts, it may reveal things hidden underground for the long years that the Old Horse was chief.

Looking at the Place, the Old Horse realised that one big faction of votes have gone. SO he has to play up the sentiments of the Main faction to make sure that his people remain at the helm. Even at the expense of cutting off the Present Chief who was the son of the (late) second Chief of the Place.

So the Old Horse tried his best to fan and fan. Emotions are like fire, the more you fan, the bigger it will be;  and by fanning incessantly , he hopes that the fire will be big enough to engulf the Place and make all people of the  Main Faction vote for his own group , even if it means that he has to sacrifice the present Chief, and make the Second-in-command the next chief, even if he has to sacrifice the future of the Place.

The best solution actually is not to fan but to make the playing fields more level so that people of all Factions can play together happily and fairly, , with aids going to the poor and the handicapped and the socially disadvantaged. By making fairer rules, it may win back some of the hearts of the Minority Faction. That is actually the best way for the Old Horse to beat Mr SoDOMi. But he fails to see this. Maybe he has got cataracts, or shortsightedness so bad that even spectacles would not help.

So he attacked the other factions, and make factional remarks to try to get the people in the Main faction to see his points. Nevermind that it will chase away the people of the other minority factions, nevermind that it may hinder people from other Places wanting to put money in this Place. Nevermind that the Place may be destroyed by his fanning.

Dangerous game he played. But he is not senile.

It is all to prevent himself from facing the possibility of seeing the Dungeon.

We are in C Class

Malaysia is the no.37th Best country to live in, according to a study done by Newsweek. Many people think that this is quite a good ranking. This also proves that we are indeed a middle ranked country.

But the best comparison as to how we have fared is not the ranking per se. It is how our contemporaries are doing. In the 60s, South Korea was a very poor country, with little resources, and harsh elements, and of course it was ravaged by a very destructive war in the early 50s. Malaysia had a GDP 4 times that of S Korea. Now they are ranked No.15.

The little red dot, as our people like to call them, was part of this country till 1965. At that time, even though it was the most urbanised part of Malaysia, the standard of living was similar to ours.  Many people had predicted that it could not even survive on its own, since it has no resources at all apart from its citizens. It has not only survive, it has gone ahead of us, and despite the lack of land, and very tight living conditions, it has a ranking of 20.

The most favourite country for Malaysians to emigrate to is probably Australia. It is ranked No. 4.

Rankings aside, we should also look at the overall score. Malaysia has a score of 69, and Australia a score of 87.9 . In our time, anything above 85 is considered A, 75 to 85 is B , and 60 to 75 is C. Anything below 60 is F (a four letter word meaning FAIL). So we are just C. Nothing to boost about. S Korea is 83.28, and the little Red dot is 80.94.

The important thing to ask is why have we gone behind our contemporaries. We were in the same class as the red dot. In fact we were in better class than S Korea. We are now in C class and they have moved to B and soon would be A. That is despite we have rubber, palm oil, tin, and black gold, and natural gas. They have nothing apart from their human resources.

2 questions I want to ask is

1. will there be a day when Malaysia moves to A class? or at least a High B like these 2  mentioned. I really hope so since I will be living here and will probably die here.

2. Are we going to drop further to D or E class ? I hope not for the same reason above.

You should be able to answer me..

I will post 2 pictures of the ranking here: (click to enlarge)

An armless pianist and philosophy of life!

For the weekend, I invite my readers to view this video , about an armless youngster who use his toes and feet to do things that you and I do with our hands and fingers. (Please do not miss this video; it is really worth watching. I am glad i watched this)

Amazingly, he plays piano with his feet too. As a self learned piano player , i know how difficult it is to play piano with fingers. To play with toes is even more difficult, and this requires tremendous will power,  determination and love for music and love for life!

A plant which has whethered through storms will grow into a strong tree, whereas those inside  greenhouse would find it difficult to survive outside. Those given crutches since birth should remember this fact of life, and they should be the ones realising that by given everything without much efforts, they will not be able to survive in this increasingly competitive  world .

Let this video serve as a reminder to this fact. Enjoy the music.

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Within the four seas, all men are brothers!

My late parents were both teachers. My father was a headmaster of a school in Perak for 26 years.

My mum and family moved to Penang when I was 5 years old and she taught in a Penang school ever since until her retirement. My dad continued to head the school in Perak and he had a Austin car and he drove back home every weekend to be with us. We moved to Penang mainly because my parents thought the children — there were 3 of us , I am the youngest — would get better education and hence better job prospect later on.

I can still remember in the 60s, when i was in a primary school, there would be a few students of my mother– supposedly the weaker ones who could not understand well her lesson– coming to our house in the afternoon and my mother would give them extra lessons to make sure they understood what she had taught in school, without any charge for the students.

That was the dedication of the teachers then.. They treated the students as part of their own responsibilities, and many teachers did give extra lessons voluntarily without thinking of monetary rewards. For that, sometimes they would be rewarded with gifts like durian, chickens, etc brought to the house by the students’ parents.

Such was the respect of the teaching profession then. Teachers, though not rich, were well-respected members of the community. This respect , however, was earned because of their selfless dedication to their profession. Teaching, my parents used to tell me, is not for everyone, but only for those who treat the profession as a calling, not a career.

My dad , a university graduate from China,  was also well schooled in the Confucianist tradition. One of the things he told us children was the Confucian teaching that ” within the four seas, everyone else is a brother”.  We were told to treat everyone equal, respect other people’s culture and religions.

Teaching profession is one of the noblest professions. Students entering schools are like white sheets of papers. Whether these papers would turn out to be important documents, or textbooks, or comic books, or waste papers, or become totally black and dirty, depends a lot on the teachers. Teachers are said to be the engineers of our souls; they mould our thinkings ; they determine to a large extent what we would eventually turn out to be.

In the old days, even though there were a few teachers who smoked or gambled or were racists in their thinking, they would never exhibit these bad behaviour in front of their students. Even though they were black and dirty, they would still try to keep the white sheets as clean as possible, and tried not to rub their dirt onto their students.

With the change of time, teachers nowadays are very different from those 4 or 5 decades ago. There are still many dedicated ones regarding teaching as a calling, but many others have become very  materialistic and treat teaching as just another career. Many despite being trained in teachers colleges, had not understood the meaning of teaching, and they have no qualm to pass their own dirt to their students, thereby making the white sheets black and dirty like they themselves.

To them, teaching is just another career, and they could not care less how their students would turn out to be, as long as they got the remuneration, which are now many times better than their counterparts many decades ago.

The recent incident in which a principal passed racist comments on her students  shows the ugly side of some of these people, who have no qualm at all to hurt and insult these young minds. While a true human being should always practice the oriental  axiom ” respect your own elders and also the elders of others; love your own children and extend the same love to the children of others”, these group of racists teachers not only would not love the young children of other people, they would even go all out to hurt their feelings. They try not only to rub their own dirt onto these white sheets, but also create holes to render such sheets into rubbish. By doing so,  they have not only disgraced themselves, but the schools and the whole education system as well.

While there are many calls asking that stern action be taken against this teacher, and i think the calls are justified, we should go one step further and ask ourselves why are there such teachers in our schools.

The answer is simple. It is the system.  The whole system is wrong. The system influences the minds of these teachers. The system in turn is moulded by the policies.  The policies are wrong. The  policies that have been in place for more than half century have resulted in a milieu in which everything is defined and determined by colour of our skin. These policies have also divided the country ;  divided the people.  These policies have also resulted in mediocrity and loss of excellence in almost everything we do.

Without the majority race recognising this and takes steps to correct these policies, the country will go further down the path of polarisation.  But to change the views and thinking of the majority race, political will power must be there. So far, it is lacking. The present PM may have realised this, but even if his mind is willing, he may not have the clout to pull his ideas of a  fairer society  and his economic agenda  through.

That is the sorrow of Malaysia!

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