Sunday, August 31, 2008

The True Test of Patriotism?

From The Star, 31 August 2008 article We can prevail, says Abdullah

“The true test of a country depends on how its people react to trying times, said Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his National Day message.”

True enough. If it’s a question of when life throws you lemons, then by all means go squeeze out a limau ais. But if it’s your government throws you lemons, well, then people tend to squeeze out something quite different at the ballot box. As we’ve seen very recently. That is about as literal as one can get about the test of a country – the leaders its people select.

“We will continue to combat the problem of rising prices and inflation in the best possible way. The Government is always concerned about the burden of the people, especially those who are poor and those who are less fortunate.”

How has raising the price of petrol seen as combating rising prices and inflation? If you’re talking about the subsequent reduction, a person walking his pet in the park doesn’t get points for cleaning up his own dog’s poo. Or just some of it, in this case. I think there might be some confusion with the words “combating” and “causing”. And unless you have a government-paid vehicle, you are less fortunate today than the day before the price of petrol went up 30 plus percent. Apologies to you if a small portion of one day spent realizing how lousy public transport can be is not seen by some as particularly significant.

“He said the Government had also focused on improving noble values such as integrity, a more open media, and strengthening institutions like the Parliament, judiciary, the Anti-Corruption Agency, the police and civil service.”

All right, let’s go through this bit by bit.

1. “A more open media”: hallo? By attempting to ban Malaysia Today?

2. “Strengthening institutions like the Parliament…”: Ironically this brought to mind Samy’s leaking roof.

3. And as far as strengthening the ACA, well, you may have loosened the leash on that particular bulldog, but only when it goes biting targets far from home. I think it was an editorial in the Sun that pointed out that it’s hard not to notice that while the ACA goes after Perak assemblymen, it has yet to go after the one who told officials to “close one eye.” Making them seem to be – again, ironically – closing more than one eye.

Happy Hari Merdeka everyone. It brings to mind what someone once said about voicing dissent being unjustly viewed as unpatriotic: “I love my country, and am not just infatuated with it.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

Three Days of Coincidences – a Case of Barisan Bollywood

Even putting aside the timing of the sodomy accusations and Saiful’s swearing on the Quran and the use of this in Umno centers in Permatang Pauh, just a glance at the past three days worth of news is enough to spot a smelly trend.

On the DNA Bill and the upcoming court case of Anwar Ibrahim:

“If at this moment it coincides with the problems related to talks about the case, it is just a coincidence and should not be politicised.” – Abdullah Badawi, The Star, Aug. 20.

On the arrest of Perak executive councillors:

“Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi brushed off commens by some PKR people who questioned the timing of the arrest coming during the Permatang Pauh by-election campaign, and said it was mere coincidence.” – The Star, Aug. 21.

On the welcoming ceremony for Lee Chong Wei, who was presented with his incentive prizes with a backdrop of BN election posters:

“Barisan Nasional candidate Arif Shah Omar denied talk that the coalition was capitalizing on Lee’s fame to fish for votes.
It’s just a coincidence that he came back during the by-election.’” – The Star, Aug. 22.

And in his column, Down2Earth, Terence Fernandez writes on the ACA arrests, which perhaps fits into the larger picture:

“They [critics] rightly or wrongly assume that the plot has been stolen from a Tamil movie, where in many an instance, the coincidences are too many which lead ordinary men and women to think that the script writer has gone overboard.” The Sun, Aug. 22.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Shaking Things Up

When things get shaken up, we really see where the chips fall.

Najib and Abdullah end up supporting two concepts: that Malaysians just aren't civilized enough to sit and discuss things freely, and that the Bar Council is somehow responsible for offending the feelings of bigots and racists. Sad, but not exactly surprising.

The real change is that progressive Malays are able and willing to stand out from a silent majority, like Karim Raslan. It's a brave stance to take, but if I could add a little something on the idea of "Malay supremacy" that keeps getting placed in the picture. People who are confident in their "supremacy" tend to be confident enough not to be threatened by free speech. A farmer with enough cows doesn't worry if his neighbour has fatter cows, ok?

Speaking of livestock, Farid A. Noor came up with an interesting piece of satire, focusing on the racial slur "Babi... balik Cina" ("Pig... go back to China). The amusing side of the whole pathetic affair is that while the forum had little to do with discouraging conversion to Islam, the protest will end up having backfired. Think about it - the next time someone of Chinese ethnicity is put in a position to decide on whether to convert to Islam, he or she will remember where "Babi... balik Cina" came from - a extremist and extremely vocal part of the Islamic community whose views and actions are supported by our dear PM and DPM.

People like Ong Ka Ting and Chua Ju Meng are going to get a few political points for being able to break away from their Umno counterparts on this issue. It remains to be seen whether this is the start of some real independence within the Barisan Nasional ranks, and whether their voices will still ring out if the Home Ministry acts against the Bar Council.

On the other side of the political fence, it also remains to be seen whether Anwar will suffer from sitting on the fence on this issue. After all, he has so many of us roused up with his "angkat Melayu, angkat India, angkat Cina" (raise the Malays, raise the ethnic Indians, raise the ethnic Chinese) theme, and his lukewarm response on this thus far leaves much to be desired. He may save some of the votes in his upcoming by-election in a predominantly Malay constituency, but perhaps at the risk of losing some confidence of voters in the larger picture. Eyes will also be on whether voices like those of Lim Kit Siang's will be sufficiently influential to ensure that the stance of the Pakatan Rakyat as a whole remains faithful to their large non-Bumi support.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Disaffirmative Reaction

Dr Mahathir recently wrote on his blog on justifying the NEP:

I came in for virulent attacks because some Malays actually did well in business. They were all labelled my cronies whether they were indeed my cronies or not. Anyone who succeeded was immediately defined as my crony. Many close friends, relatives and members of my family who failed in business would not be called cronies.

Well, that's a valid point. The point, that is, that not everyone in your family or your close circle of friends were cronies. Which, sad to say, does not rule out that some may have been. The point really is that cronyism has to be proven, and the only proof is whether the people who receive contracts actually deserve them - since the concept of meritocracy is the litmus test of fairness, one's very choice of using the NEP invites claims of cronyism which by the nature of the NEP cannot be convincingly proven as false.

As head of the Government I had to ensure the success of the NEP objective of reducing the disparities between the bumiputeras and the non-bumis. This reduction must be achieved at all levels, not excluding the rich and the very rich. It wouldn't do to have parity among the low income and middle income only, while big businesses are all in the hands of the non-Bumiputera millionaires.

Fine. But don't forget that not all of the non-Bumis are millionaires. Or that all of us - both Bumis and non-Bumis - suffer when anyone gets millions for nothing.

The number of successful Bumiputera businessmen slowly increased. Angry that the NEP had actually succeeded in throwing up capable bumiputera businessmen and reducing racial imbalances the Western press and local opponents of the NEP began to label all the successful Bumiputera businessmen as cronies of the Prime Minister. It does not matter if the PM had never known these people, but if they succeed then they must be the cronies of the PM.

It would seem that the only way to avoid being accused of cronyism is to ensure that all Bumiputeras fail in business. Better still the NEP should be made to fail completely.

Things really depend on your perspective at this point. You provide certain people with contracts and all they have to do is fulfill their obligations and responsibilities to "succeed". There's literally no competition, no even ground, and no sense of having excellence as the yardstick to success. Pass is enough, no need to get A, is basically the message. And at the cost of many who not only don't have automatic contracts, but no equal opportunity to compete for them. Here's an idea: instead of giving contracts, give skills! Which, by the way, they are already doing at our universities. Then put everyone on a fair playing ground and those who truly succeed can feel that it's earned. This is beneficial for truly industrious Bumiputeras as well - that their success will be seen for what it is: hard work.

The continuing disparities between the Bumiputeras and the non-Bumiputeras which these will cause would then produce inter-racial tension and political instability. Then the Western journalists can say that these "natives" really should not be given independence. Look at the mess they are making of their country.

I have yet to have heard a Western journalist say that we should not have been given independence, and I think that one should substantiate that with proof. Plus, it's not to say that the NEP doesn't cause inter-racial tension, it's just that it creates a different kind of tension.

But the NEP was more successful in the field of education... In my class of 1947 at the Medical College there were only seven Malay students out of a class of 77. Even in the arts faculties the percentage was very small... The results of all these efforts is very satisfying... They have also gone into management, obtaining MBAs from well known universities such as Harvard and Philadelphia. Armed with these qualifications they have been employed as management executives at all levels. Some actually head multinational companies.

In the education field the NEP has been very successful. It has helped to correct the imbalances not only in the professions but also in business. Strangely Malays have become very successful bankers.

Again, fair point. So long as the recognition of our degrees is the same relative to other institutions as yours of the class of 1947. It is nice to point out those who have taken advantage of educational opportunities and correcting imbalances in that respect - so long as it is not at the expense of creating imbalances elsewhere. Like allowing thousands to enter and graduate who don't work hard to earn their local-university degrees, and thus lowering the respect of that degree for all those who put in some effort. Which, again, detriment anyone who works hard - non-Bumis and Bumis alike.

Tun, since you mentioned the idea of management, let me summarize this by putting forward a basic economic concept: it's not just about opportunity... it's about opportunity cost.