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Ouch November 29, 2006

Posted by elizabethwong in Economy, Malaysia, Readings.

Never piss off a columnist, especially one who knows his stuff…

Malaysia bites back and industriously trades the insults
by Michael Backman, The Age, November 29, 2006

MY LAST column on wasteful government spending in Malaysia (Business, 15/11) generated a furore. I received more than 600 emails from readers, mostly Malaysians (both expatriate and in Malaysia) and nearly all supportive.

The column was the most emailed item on The Age’s website for six days straight and it was replicated in dozens of blogs worldwide.

My personal website received more than 50,000 hits. A Malaysian Government minister criticised the column publicly. And the Malaysian Opposition Leader issued a news release in its support.

The minister, Rafidah Aziz, Malaysia’s Minister for Trade and Industry, declared somewhat imperiously that she didn’t care what I said because I am a foreigner and I probably don’t know much about Malaysia anyway.

Rafidah knows her trade brief like few others. Her knowledge of the complex rules of the international trading system, with its many trade barriers, is remarkable. In meetings with other trade ministers, she rarely needs assistance from minders. Hard working and tenacious, I once thought she might make a reasonable prime minister.

But her technical abilities are marred by her mishandling of other issues, most recently her ministry’s allocation of much coveted car import permits. Most went to a handful of well-connected businessmen, including her own relatives.

The issue exploded in Malaysia late last year and she was lucky to keep her job.

And then there are the corruption allegations. In 1995, in a report to the attorney-general, the public prosecutor said there was a prima facie basis for Rafidah’s arrest and prosecution on five counts of corruption.

An opposition activist later acquired official documents that appeared to confirm this. He was jailed for two years under the Official Secrets Act simply for possessing them. Rafidah, on the other hand, was not even charged.

Rafidah added to her remarks about my column that no Malaysian should say such things. It’s little wonder that she doesn’t welcome scrutiny from her own people. But then the idea that Malaysians cannot comment publicly about how their country is run but a non-Malaysian can, is disgraceful.

Perhaps Rafidah needs to be reminded who pays her salary.

And as if to underscore my points about waste, on the day that my column was published, an assistant minister told the Malaysian Parliament that Malaysia’s first astronaut to be sent into space next year aboard a Russian space mission will be tasked to play batu seremban, a traditional Malay children’s game played with pebbles, will do some batik painting and will make teh tarik, a type of Malaysian milky tea, all to see how these things can be done without gravity.

The day before, the Government announced that a new RM400 million ($A142 million) palace will be built for Malaysia’s king, a position that is almost entirely ceremonial.

And the week before a groundbreaking ceremony was held for a second bridge between Penang and the Malaysian peninsular costing RM3 billion, a bridge that many consider unnecessary.

Where would the money be better spent?

Education is the obvious answer. But not on school buildings, for it matters less in what children are educated than how. And how children are educated in Malaysia is a national disaster.

Learning is largely by rote. In an email to me last week, one Malaysian recalled her schooling as being in a system “all about spoon-feeding, memory work and regurgitation. Students are not encouraged to think for themselves and they become adults who swallow everything they’re told.”

Even the existing system fails many. It has just emerged that in Sabah state, only 46 per cent of the students who had sat the UPSR — the exam that students sit before going to secondary school — had passed. One small school actually had a 100 per cent failure rate.

But does the Malaysian Government want creative, critical thinkers? Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said to the ruling party’s recent general assembly Malaysia needed to make students creative. But that means they must be questioning and thus critical; what hope is there of that when one of Abdullah’s own ministers tells Malaysians that they cannot say the things that I can and hundreds of them write to me to complain because they don’t feel that they can complain to their own Government?

Malaysia needs to do something. Its oil will run out soon and it has lost much of its appeal to foreign investors — recent UN figures show that from 2004 to 2005, foreign investment in Malaysia fell by 14 per cent, when the world economy was enjoying one of its longest periods of growth. One might wonder what the Trade and Industry Minister has actually been doing.

But, while politicians from the ruling party preach about Malay nationalism, there are at least some who quietly go about the business of trying to secure the country’s future. Not all of them are Chinese.

Two weeks ago, Malaysia’s MMC Corporation, together with a local partner, won a $US30 billion infrastructure deal in Saudi Arabia. That’s a huge undertaking for any company, let alone a Malaysian one, and just as well too — someone has to pay the bills. (End)



1. Always boleh - December 15, 2006

Don’t care what u say. U r traitors if u condomn us. Besides u have no importance or right to comment or be heard regarding Govt policies and decisions. Only if u are one of us in the inner circle and Bumi, perhaps we will listen.

That’s how the politicians feel about criticism levelled at them. Can’t remember since when M’sian authorities have taken criticisms constructively. It’s always arrogance and stupid justifications for whatever they did so long it sustains whatever that is in their agenda.

Ever wondered why Bumi have enjoyed a generation (50 years soon) of preferential treatment for almost everything and still not unable to fulfil their target?

It’s their attitude. Big contracts obtained are sold off and often after numerous rounds, end up with the Chinese. Still the hardworking Chinese can make some decent bucks. After that, Bumis get upset and jealous that the Chinese have a major share in the economy. Why? Cos many of the rich Bumis squander their money on everything from Gucci to mansions etc etc. But end of day still not enough.

For the small Bumis in the street they get peanuts and all the incitement against the non-Bumis for taking up their opportunities. In any case many of the Bumis are misguided. From young they have been brainwashed that they are the chosen race to benefit from all govt policies. So what happens? Many have become lazy and always on the lookout for short cuts to success. Of course in life, shortcuts successes are only a few.

Perhaps someone should do a survey on how all private sector non-Bumi employers feel about Bumi employees. More often than not, the reply will be – they are lazy, lack initiative, high MCs, vanish when salary paid & come back when broke etc. Since when have the leaders exhorted them to learn from the non-Bumis to suceed? Non-Bumis are not afraid of tough competition but also more willing to share the wealth as a rich neighbour will enlarge the market as well.

Of course Malaysia will Boleh and we will continue to spend till the cows come home and believe that we achieve it. Certainly, the upper echelons will all be super rich and will be policymakers for the poor masses that they still have a long way to go. The circle goes on to ensure continued cash flow. Meanwhile corruption will prevail alongside.

For a country so blessed to be top or well endowed in so many things i.e. rubber, palm oil, tin, electronic chips, petroleum, gas etc etc and no natural calamaties, it begs one question. Why are we still broke? Countries with nothing like Taiwan and Singapore has joined the elite club while we remain poor but still want to clamour for recognition that we have the biggest, longest, tallest etc etc.

After another 50 years, the Bumis will again feel that they have not achieved their economic cake and probably still hold true.

2. ngadutrafik 2007 - May 3, 2007

Personally, I never use more than a single link in the comment I post because doing so can trigger spam catchers if the user has that plugin activated, whereas a single link will not.

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