24 April 2010

NEM means?


ew Economic Model (NEM) announced by the Prime Minister recently sounds like a good plan for a developing nation like Malaysia. It is full of encouraging headlines that highlights positive visions and missions for the Malaysian economy. Objectives such as Quality Workforce, Energising Private and Public Sectors, Competitive Domestic Environment, Market Friendly, Knowledge Base Infrastructure, Sources and Sustainability of Growth, Quality of Life, Breaking the Middle Income Trap and Non-Compromisation of Future Generations; are all noble in intention and perhaps the only viable way to move the country forward from a "developing" to a "developed" country in 2020. All these does not necessarily mean that we should forget what the initial intentions were when all ethnic groups in Malaya agreed on the Constitution that was formulated in 1957 which is significantly in tact until today. There are a few concepts within the NEM which may need clarification from the government, especially when the government had announced the abandonment of the 30% Bumi equity quota to only replace it with corporate establishment such as Ekuiti Nasional Berhad (Ekuinas).

Under the previous regime, a blanket 30% rule across the board forces all heads of establishment, be it CEO's of public listed companies, or the entreprenuers or even the politicians; to ensure that such quotas are adhered to in the spirit of economic equitability and racial harmony. However, with Ekuinas being incorporated to somewhat assume the role of what the quota used to serve, we are pulling the burden away from the rest of the nation onto a single organisation. Whoever the CEO of Ekuinas is, I am pretty sure he feels like the Greek god Atlas carrying the heavy globe on his shoulders everywhere he goes. The quota should be viewed as a necessary tool to address what our forefathers were struggling to come to terms with, which they did, eventually, just before the independence. A tool that every sides of the nation had come to agree, back then (not sure about now though).

A glance of reading of what I have here would probably spark discontent amongst some parties particularly the non-Bumis; but I can assure you that my points are not from the perspective of racial preference, rather, it is from the perspective of addressing economic disparity and most importantly racial harmony, ironically. I urge everyone not to jump to conclusion but instead, understand what had transpired the arrangements in our Constitution regarding the Bumi privileges. Prima facie, it may be irrational but when history is being studied, you may just comprehend why things are the way they are and why our forefathers decided what they had decided. A perfect way to start this evaluation is by quoting opinions from those who were in Malaya back then at the point when the Constitution was drafted and by a person who is neither Bumi nor Malaysian non-Bumi. I chose - Anthony Burgess in his The Malayan Trilogy, who wrote:

"The Malays call themselves 'the sons of the soil' and consider that they are the only rightful inhabitants of the Malay peninsula. Political rule is totally in their hands, but they show little talent for industry and commerce. These activities, as well as the running of offices and railways, have traditionally and gladly been assumed by immigrants from China and India. The wealth of Malaya was always in the hands of the Chinese, Tamil, Bengalis and Sikhs. But Malaya has to be accepted as a Multiracial territory.... "

Anthony has described what seems to be the core issue in any multiracial establishment like Malaysia. Even back then when it was Malaya or Tanah Melayu, such issue has been at the back of everyone's head while they greet each other "Selamat Pagi" or "Vannakam" or "Chi Min Chi Yow". This is truly a very difficult matter to be addressed. It should and ought to involve generations of education, understanding of history and equitability which is, not necessarily just. Tun Mahathir in his The Malay Dilemma demonstrated that a careful consideration is required to understand the root cause of the current socio-economic statuses of the different ethic groups in this beloved country.

The Bumis (Malays and the indigenous ethic groups), being the majority of the population (i.e. 60% to 70%), argue that whatever rights they have, whether justified or not, are inherent given the weight in the majority representation that exists until today. This is not congruent with what South Africa used to be, i.e. Apartheid, where the minority ruled. So, in the context of harmonising with the foreign governments back then in the early 1900's, the next concept was introduced, i.e. the first to establish an effective government. The first thing that comes to mind is the Sultanate of Malacca, or if studied deeper, the Srivijayas, the Langkasukas and the Majapahits of this region. In South Africa, the Caucasians may have perceived to be the first in establishing an administrative governance over the land, hence becoming the ruler. Later, the world realised that the concept of majority still holds true when Mandela succeeded. Come to think of it, I have the feeling that it was the Blacks who established the first effective government in that region - ever heard of the King of Zulu? a kingdom which may have sprawled all the way to the south of Africa.

The Chinese, having travelled the world since the beginning of time has a completely different concept. They ride on "Survival of the Fittest". The huge land of China, which is largely covered by deserts that bear the difficulties of extreme climate, warrants them to travel the globe. The ancient Chinese, even back-dated to the era of Egyptian Pharoahs, Babylonian Mesopotamia or Solomonic Ethiopia, had travelled across to the Americas to become what we call the Eskimos, the Red Indians or the Andes Indians. They are travellers. It is no surprise that they exist everywhere, let alone having a strong presence in Malaysia. Using the term "Pendatang" (wanderer) to describe the Chinese may not be that wise given that the Bumis were vagrants themselves rovering from the Yunan region. In fact, calling the Negritos of Pahang as the original inhabitants of Malaya is also inaccurate - there is a possibility that the Africans travelled the Earth earlier than the Chinese and ended up being the Negritos, West Indies or even the Aboriginals of Australasia.

The Indians of Malaysia contributed significantly to the economy since the early years of the Malaccan Entreport era, the British rule and remained to be a force not to be ignored in this country. Whilst relatively small in size compared to their counterparts, they have been instrumental in the development of various sectors such as plantation, railway, post, press, medical and of course, law. Any group of population that contributes to the development of a country would certainly have cards of significant strength when aiming for the pool of bets at the middle of the table. Every component of the society believes in the idea of sharing what the land has to offer not just for their own sake but their descendants' as well. The generation that was born in this country would, by right, feel a sense of belonging to their place of birth, hence, worthy of calling themselves 'the sons of the soil' as well?

All these give rise to many questions for which there are many ways to answer. These 'answers' are logical in their own way even when they contradict each other. How do you proceed from here? It is indeed tricky. Do you go by majority? or do you claim on the basis of being the first to establish an effective government? You can argue that you are born a citizen which by right shouldn't be regarded as 2nd class. Or, you can also argue that you have established presence in the country long enough to assume what you perceive to be your rights. If all fails, then you might just pack up and go to say, Australia, to start a new life - a perfect cause of brain drain in the country.

Recently I had lunch with a colleague of mine and the conversation we had was quite a worrying one. It was on the subject of NEM. The conversation evolved into 1Malaysia discussion and back tracked into history when Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Razak agreed to allow citizenship to the non-Bumis who were already calling The Malay Peninsula their home - a compromise they had with their counterparts Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Tun Sambanthan , who represented the so called significant ethnic groups, as a return to them ageeing to abandon the Malayan Union. Under the Malayan Union, non-Bumis were allowed to hold dual nationalities, which meant there was a possibility that the Chinese and Indians would be loyal to their home country, rather than Malaya. Agreement to abandon the Malayan Union means that non-Bumis only call Malaya their home and cut ties with the Peoples' Republic of China or India. What it also means is that there are special privileges to the Bumis as a civil liberty to ensure that the significant economic gap is addressed - as what Mr Burgess mentioned, "The wealth of Malaya was always in the hands of the Chinese, Tamil, Bengalis and Sikhs.. but Malaya has to be accepted as a multiracial territory".

"The wealth of Malaya was always in the hands of the Chinese, Tamil, Bengalis and Sikhs... but Malaya has to be accepted as a multiracial territory...."

What does that really mean? The first part of the quotation is not in harmony with the second part. There can never be an "acceptance" of a multiracial territory when there exist a significant disparity in the economic well being of the different ethnic groups. What Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Tun Sambanthan formulated back then is exactly in the spirit of what Burgess call "acceptance" - one side of the fence having the assurance of a mechanism in place to address the economic disparity; and the other side of the fence being acknowledged citizenship. The former is an acceptance of the need for equitability and the latter is the acceptance as countrymen of Malaysia that they so love to be part of. This formula is relevant back then and remains relevant today. One should study the history behind what we have today and not have a myopic conclusion.

Economic disparity still exists despite numerous attempts to rectify, such as scholarships, 30% equity quotas and a series of other initiatives including special organisations like MARA, PNB, Tabung Haji, FELDA and Khazanah. I may have read somewhere that the most the Bumis ever reached in their equity holdings is 18% - a pathetic result for a 60% - 70% majority of the population. The truth is, bulk of the Bumis are still in the "low income trap", not "middle income trap" as told by our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak. "Middle income trap" consists of those struggling to live a hectic city life which spreads out across all races. "Low income trap", unfortunately are the Bumis. Have you been to Gua Musang lately? Have you been to Kuala Berang lately? Have you been to the Felda settlements? Take a trip around Malaysia starting from Padang Besar via the old road through all the towns all the way to Karak then de tour to the East Coast before exploring Johor. Who are the poorest of the poor? And what % of the population do you think they represent? And finally, when in the kampungs, have a look at who owns the groceries shops, the petrol stations, the hardware shops, the bakeries or even the contractors who build the mosques? High chance, they are the descendants of those who got citizenship in return for abandoning the Malayan Union.

Anyway, that lunch conversation I had with my mate ended up with a temporary conclusion for the time being; that is: It is a "Stale Mate" scenario. Every group is stuck in an arrangement that appears best to co-exist in despite the irrationality when each group is assessed in isolation. When stepping in the shoes of non-Bumis, it makes perfect sense to argue why there shouldn't be any Bumi privileges. When stepping into the Bumis' shoes, you will probably find the conclusion to be the opposite. However, the mighty power of synergy, when viewed from a total perspective, having regard to what each party is lacking (i.e. Citizenship vs Economic Disparity), it makes perfect sense to remain in a "Stale Mate" position for attempts to convert the game into a "check" position will only end with an ugly "Check Mate" like what happened in 1969.

* kopihangtuah

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06 April 2010

Kit Siang should say "Malaysia for Mongoloids"


im Kit Siang and Muhyiddin Yassin got elected by the 'Rakyat' (Citizens of Malaysia) to debate over an anthropology matter? What madness is this? You mean to say that the Rakyat voted for you to have an intellectual discussion over whether oneself should renounce his or her biological make? This is truly MADINSANITY.

You are wasting precious time Parliamentarians! It has been a year since the new Najib Razak administration was given the trust to lead the country and the Rakyat wants to see some substantial results. The first year would normally be the 'communication' year whereby government introduces policies and conceptual mission and vision statements on how the country should or will progress - hence the NKRA, NEM, 1Malaysia, etc.

So let's concentrate on more pressing matters such as education, poverty, economic recovery or H1N1 for that matter. Why question whether someone is less of a 'Malay' when you very well know he is a Malay genetically? On the other hand, why bother entertaining such irrelevant question? I can imagine if it was Tun Mahathir, he would have said "... it is not in the best interest of the Rakyat for me to debate over this matter, let alone answer your question...."

We are tarnishing the image of Malaysia or Malaysians in the eyes of the world - just like how we laughed at Clinton for his sexual saga. It's like a circus full of 'Toms' and 'Jerrys' arguing over whose life should be more miserable - what a Mickey Mouse! Lim Kit Siang, a political veteran now suddenly got confused over the concept of ethnicity vs nationality? What a political manoeuvre that creates havoc rather than benefiting the country.

The question of whether oneself is a Malaysian first, then his/her race second (Malay/Chinese/Indian/Iban/Kadazan/etc) is an invalid one. How can you put a chronological order or prioritisation to those two concepts which have no relation to each other other than a mere stereotyping exercise?

For example, China was named after its people, Chinese? or was it the other way round; Chinese are called as such because they are from China? We know that China has numerous ethnic groups along its borders with India, Nepal, Mongolia, Russia, etc; and I am sure these groups still asscoiate themselves with whatever race they belong to - just like the Punjabis in India or the Kurdish in Pakistan and Iran.

You are born to inherit the biological traits of your parents. So if your parents are Chinese, then you are Chinese. Same goes to the Malays, Indians and other ethnic groups in Malaysia. Nothing rocket science about it unless you are like me who is one sixteenth Chinese and one sixteenth Indian that got injected into a Malay based blood (Acheh and Penang) - a truly 1Malaysia!!

If you are born in Malaysia, you are a Malaysian. A simple concept even a 3rd grader would know. Just like Americans have Caucasians, Blacks, Chinese, Espanic and the Red Indians. The beauty of Malaysia is the diversity. Let it be that way. What is more important is that the country should be developed to benefit all ethnic groups.

It is not wrong to be proud of who you are. I am a Malay and I am proud of it. The Chinese should be proud of being one and so do the Indians and the rest of the ethnic groups we have in Malaysia. For argument sake, even that is inadequate for self-actualisation. The Malays sometime go deeper to say that they are Kelantanese, or Johorean, or Javanese, or Bugis, or Minang, or Rawa, and the list goes on and on.

The Indians do the same when they start identifying who are Gujerattis, Tamil, Punjabis, Benggalis, Malayalis, Pan'e Kot'e (Sri Lankan) and here the list goes on and on as well. The Chinese of course associate themselves with their origins such as Fujian (Hokkien), Hainanese, Guangdong/Kwang-Tung (Cantonese) and Guangxi (Hakka).

So, mixing ethnicity with nationality is like mixing oil with water. In this era we are living in, the oil cannot assimilate into water just as yet. No doubt the time may come but it's far fetch at the moment. Whilst we do have inter-etchnic marriages, that level of assimilation has not yet reached a scale worthy of classifying a "Malaysian" race. Until that time, we will have to make do with what we have in the best interest of all.

If it's any solace, we can probably call ourselves the Mongoloids as the Malays, Chinese, Indians and the rest of the people from the Oriental-Indus-Polynesian subcontinents are actually Mongoloid based Homo Sapiens with a slight mixture of Negroid and Caucasian. So really, if Lim Kit Siang wants to be smart about it, he should say "Malaysia for Mongoloids".

* kopihangtuah

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03 April 2010

The Anwar Dilemma


At the age of 63, with a bleak historical record of a political career and a 6-year jail term served, what should Anwar do to have a meaningful remaining life as a Malaysian?

ato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim (Anwar), a Cherok Tok Kun man born in 1947 with early education in MCKK and later University Malaya, was once a Prime-Minister-to-be when he was the Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister from 1993 to 1998. This ex-protégé of Tun Mahathir now struggles to achieve his targeted height of a political career when disappointed by attacks that covers a spectrum of issues.

One can imagine a miserable life having to deal with court cases while leading a wobbly coalition of opposition parties with not much time left in his life. Lets face it. Anwar is in his early 60's. When does he expect to reach his targeted height? 65? 70? And if it does happen, if it happens, the probability will be as bad as getting a Royal Flush in a poker game. Will he have the stamina to do it? Seriously, do you think another Mandela will emerge?

Why bet on a Royal Flush when you can gain steadily on Pairs and Double Pairs? Putting aside political preferences, Anwar's current political involvement is quite redundant. His fights have detrimental impact to the political stability. Such instability, as any economics graduate would conclude, damages the economy. Whilst his leadership inpires many followers, an uncertain chance of success is not a fair match to sacrificing a country's well being.

Let's be real. Are we expecting a mega drama such as the fall of the Indian Congress Party in India? Whilst it is not impossible, it is highly improbable, especially after the fiasco that amused everyone in his plan to topple the current government on 16 September 2008. A gimmick that revealed the 5 cards to the opponents on the poker table. Alas nothing materialised. So he lost the chips he earlier threw on the table.

A Malaysian with an indifferent political preference would prefer a healthy balance of a shadow government in the parliament without any distortions relating to personal aspirations or vendetta. One can argue that he fights for the truth and not any vendetta but it's sad to say that deep down inside, everybody acknowledges that when a truth is not supportable beyond reasonable doubt, it is as good as not proven. And in those circumstances, the truth becomes irrelevant because perception overrules.

Ceteris paribus, removing Anwar from the current political scene presents a healthy platform for the Malaysian politics to grow with focus, positive results and in a dignified manner. Malaysians do not need a Bill Clinton-type scandal. A 1Malaysia concept can only materialise when everyone is focused on what matters to the public and the nation's well being. MP's of both sides can and should continue to have healthy debates in the parliament with the sole purpose of serving the community.

At the age of 63, with a bleak historical record of a political career and a 6-year jail term served, what should Anwar do to have a meaningful remaining life as a Malaysian? Well, assessing the practicality of his case, I actually do see the light at the end of the tunnel. His best bet is probably to clear his name and re-establish his family's dignity. Somehow I feel that those legal litigations would disappear if he himself disappear from the political scene.

Next, he should serve his remaining term as the MP of Permatang Pauh and start thinking about the society. Like many ex-politicians, he should pursue non-political but socialist initiatives. His aims ought to make a difference to people's lives rather than causing political instability. There are good examples to benchmark with and there are numerous areas he can venture into such as 1Malaysia, Education, Poverty, Image of Islam, Economics and many more which are not necessarily by political means.

Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye for example, has done tremendously in making lives better. Despite having a strong history as a worthy opponent to the government in the 70's and 80's, he now serves the people via NGO's addressing various issues such as Occupational Safety & Health (OSH). He even helps the government in areas such as the Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation, KL City Hall Advisory, Special Royal Commission to enhance the operations and management of the Royal Malaysian Police and many more. His care for society is best explained in the publication, Nasionalis Humanis.

There are many other ex-politicians whom Anwar can learn from. At the age of 63, it's best if efforts are channelled to philanthropy. With his international contacts, particularly with the super powers, it's best if he aims to tackle issues such as the Palestinian-Israel debacle, repairing the perception of the world on Islam or even serve the United Nations. Like I said, "Pairs and Double Pairs" should make his remaining life a useful one with a dignified ending.

* kopihangtuah

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