Dr Collin Abraham’s speech at his book launch

 It’s a must-read.

                              SPEECH BY DR.COLLIN ABRAHAM

                         

                                 AT THE LAUNCH OF HIS BOOK

                            

                                                                                           

“THE FINEST HOUR” MALAYSIAN- MCP PEACE ACCORD IN PERSPECTIVE.                  

IMPLICATIONS OF THE “FINEST HOUR”: CAN PEACE BE SUSTAINED?

The substance of and central thesis in this book when projected against the extremely  politicized and polarized climate in the country, would suggest that even the uneasy peace  we enjoy at present cannot be sustained for long. Unless ways and means are found to address current issues with a clearly defined ideology and action oriented goals, and until there is greater focus on shared ethical values, we stand in danger of losing the peace we now enjoy. In the words of the Prime Minister recently “we have reached a dangerous point in the history of the Nation.”

This book provides ample testimony, in an almost “classic” case to demonstrate that  the evolution of ethnic and race relations was determined by the infusion of political, economic and social factors into the colonial social system, resulting in patterns of inter and intra social relationships of dominance and subordination  within and between groups. These relationships became entrenched and were fundamental to the understanding of the struggle for political independence and for peace What is recorded and analyzed here, is the historic specific role of the Malay ruling class, as well as the progressive anti-colonial forces of the Malay left, the nationalist Islamic parties and the MCP in shaping and determining the pattern of ethnic and race relations that emerged. The culmination of these efforts must surely be the PUTERA-AMCJA People’s Constitutional Proposals for
Malaya (1947). These proposals of what were possibly the seeds of a multiracial society were rejected by the colonial government who therefore could be held responsible for deliberately denying the emergence of the first Bangsa
Malaysia nation state.

 The Epilogue of the book takes the debate further and this Paper will therefore focus on specific political, economic and social factors that need to be addressed and possibly be overcome if the peace currently enjoyed in the country is to be sustained. Indeed, as will be argued in the presentation that follows, the whole spectrum of both external and internal scenarios will be taken into account so that the situation facing the country can be radically reviewed, addressed and explained as a whole rather than in parts.

1 POLITICAL IDEOLOGY

A nation state should have a political ideology- a value system that permeates the entire society so that government policies and programs could be formulated, and infused towards specific goals and objectives. The Malaysian government, since political independence, has described its ideology as pragmatic which put simply means being practical. On this basis each and every policy conceived and implemented, need only satisfy the condition more or less of commonsense and necessarily implemented on an ad hoc basis.

 This pragmatic approach in the context of a development state model is so obviously flawed that one need not go into details. In confronting ‘self centered brands of oppressive globalization” and the policies of western governments “designed to maintain world dominance and hegemony through the control of international market forces pragmatism becomes irrelevant.  Indeed, it is now becoming increasingly recognized that these market forces themselves have the potential of undermining the very integrity and existence of nation states particularly in the 3rd World.

Pragmatism as an ideology has also resulted in the lack of direction on the international scenario. The former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir realized this and managed to break out from this approach by forging a vital role for
Malaysia to ensure national unity, through economic growth by identifying the country as a “spokesman” for the 3rd World and in building links with South-South and South American countries. Above all, his “Look East” policy was a major break-through in severing colonial type mentalities that constrained political and economic relationships and created the much needed new mindset for creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Unfortunately the present Government appears to have abdicated this role and seems to have substituted nothing in its place. As a result the network of beneficial mutual trading relationships have become constrained despite the introduction of more liberal investment rules. By way of contrast, as a consequence of Dr Mahathir’s earlier leadership role, the Malaysian Government has recently entered into negotiations with Cuba to establish a Free Trade Agreement. Indeed even the decision of the well known Arabic news network to set up its Southeast Asian office in Kuala Lumpur may be said to be due to the earlier groundwork of Dr Mahathir’s leadership.

But the most untenable feature of pragmatism is to be seen in the context of managing a multiracial society. This is especially significant because at every turn in the formulation and implementation of socio-economic policies and programmes there is a racial dimension involving inter and intra relationships, that needs to be carefully examined and assessed in terms of goals and objectives before implementation. In the pragmatic approach each racial group is dealt with as an entity in itself. This is clearly a recipe for disaster because it does not take into account the data base and the stratification system of each group in the society involving problematic causal socio-economic variables. Moreover the ad hoc case by case approach does not lend itself to social research that could lead to theory building for more effective future policy formulation and implementation. It is unacceptable that the Cabinet policy decisions which have international and national implications should be decided on the basis of a pragmatic ad hoc approach. Therefore there is an increasing trend particularly among the rakyat and the working classes to see the functioning of parliamentary democracy as being irrelevant to their needs and aspirations so that the revolution of rising expectations is often met by a revolution of rising frustrations. Political decisions and economic policies can only be meaningful and relevant if they are mutually re-enforced towards national unity and integration.

It is submitted that such pent-up frustrations may be some of the reasons for the ‘angry’ responses among delegates to the recent UMNO General Assembly where there were veiled threats to violence, ’extremist’ statements with the foreboding of running ‘amok’.

I believe if a reliable survey was undertaken many of those concerned will be seen to be already facing economic hardships, at least in terms of what they had been enjoying before. But there was also the realization as expressed by the UMNO veteran, Tan Sri Mohamad Rahmat, that “There is no need for us to champion racial interests and be extremely racist because they will not bring profits” (Malaysiakini/23/11/06). Indeed this view is further endorsed (NST editorial 19/11/06) “With globalization looming the competition of fellow citizens ought to be the last of Bumiputra worries”

2 The Socio- Economic Dimension.

Because of the ideology of pragmatism the thrust of the entire economic development model has also been skewed towards policies that can generate high growth rates per se as the sole criteria for success even if they are of short term duration, without necessarily ensuring that they can meaningfully reinforce overall policies towards national unity and national integration.

This trend and pattern has been succinctly described by the Prime Minister in his recent UMNO speech that “wealth was generated not by innovation and creativity but by foreign investment, government contracts and privatization”.The seriousness of this lack of direction in what is perhaps the most important area of economic development that could be geared towards providing opportunities for racial and ethnic integration within a multicultural and globalized environment. Instead, the thrust of development has ignored domestic fundamentals such as developing agriculture, and in the downstream and upstream manufacturing, for instance, in rubber and palm oil. In fact the recent hype of agriculture under the 9th Malaysia Plan has been dubbed “showcase agriculture” because it fails to address basic structural factors such as land reform that has resulted in the green revolution in padi producing areas as being ‘green at the top’(green for landlords). There is simply no question that agricultural policies since independence have failed to reduce rural poverty to any marked extent. Even in the much touted multibillion dollar land development schemes such as FELDA, it has also been shown that the scheme has yet to produce the self reliant agricultural community for which is was designed.

The late Tun Abdul Razak in formulating the Development State Model through the Red Book was clear that the rural development would fail unless the people at grassroots level felt they had a stake in the programs and were determined that they should succeed. Accordingly a wide range of social institutions such as JKKK (Village Committees), agricultural cooperatives, Farmers’ Associations among others were setup to build the social infrastructure as a back up to economic development. Regrettably, because of the easy access to state funds for rural development these institutions became infiltrated by the traditional leaders, politicians and even the bureaucracy, so that the farmers gradually realized that they had to contend and compete with the elite power-structure and so eventually withdrew from participation.

The Government needs to realize that the vast majority of Malays especially in the rural areas and among the urban working class desperately need help. This is because both historically under colonial rule and even since independence they were deprived of an education in the English medium which constrained their access to new ideas. But what is even worse they were deprived of knowledge-based skills training in basic areas such as flexible vocational skills which combined with the lack of usage of the English language means that to all intents and purposes they are functionally illiterate in a modern industrial setting. The Government for its part adopts the typically bureaucratic approach by building vocational centres throughout the country. While some of the more recent ‘vocational colleges” appear to show positive results these have been offset by the serious set-back where many vocational training centres literally ‘closed down” because of bureaucratic factors. Such failures however cannot match that of the even more disastrous case of Industrial Training Institute at Prai, a gift from Germany handed over in excellent working condition, which the Minister for Human Resources (Star On-line 23rd/11) now reports had been neglected for 3 years so that “One part of the building has collapsed and the other machinery and equipment had broken down or malfunctioning” (Despite this and not surprisingly the staff still continued to remain and draw their monthly salaries at the Institute!)

This failure to attract foreign investment because of the shortage of adequately trained skilled personnel speaks volumes in itself. It is already clear that the rate of foreign investment has been falling over the past few years and although there has been some mention that this could be due to some aspects of the NEP, the fact remains that
Malaysia has failed and continues to fail to develop high grade information technology skills. (Incidentally my humble suggestion that such skills be provided On-line was met with a total -no response .from the Ministry of Higher Education and the Wawasan Open Univerity.

The Government also needs to take heed that as the economic noose tightens under globalization, the Malays and the poor among the other communities will be the biggest losers because they are the least equipped to fend for themselves. Where the majority Malays are unable to cope to survive, and they being the majority in the population, then national disintegration is on the cards. Indeed already the question is being raised that even with a New Economic Policy ostensibly intended to help the Malays improve their socio-economic position the vast majority of those suffering social ills (drug abuse/HIV Aids/ Incest estimated at some 80% of all known cases) are among Malays. This is a clear contradiction in terms and suggests that the benefits intended for the less fortunate and poor Malays are being siphoned off to the established upper class segments of the community.

By the same token there is also evidence that the elite groups within the ruling Barisan National Government enjoy other avenues for enrichment through investments in, or through, shares allocation by the big business concerns or Multinationals.

Finally it needs to be pointed out that ours is a dependent economy. Moreover it is a ‘corridor type’ or “pipe-line” economy that involves only a certain segment of the economy associated mainly with FDI and multinational corporations. What this means is that while this segment itself generates a vast network of related economic activities that are obviously beneficial to the nation, the trickle down effect itself to the local economy is minimal. For instance, although 90% of all companies in
Malaysia are Small Scale Enterprises (SMI’s), only 10% of the GDP is produced by them. Also it needs to be mentioned that of the former, 75% are either owned or controlled by Chinese. Here again we see one of these complexities where the foreign sector and the local Chinese economic enterprises can have a “squeeze” or ‘pincer type’ impact and serve as structural economic constraints to the growth and development of the indigenous economy.

At the same time insufficient attention has been given to the key concern that the pattern and implementation of the New Economic Policy that has contributed to serious wealth and income disparities within the Bumiputra community itself which in turn can have negative consequences for national integration and national unity

3 THE SOCIAL DIMENSION.

It is well known that for successful development to take place there should be a strong sense of identity and belonging among the people so that they feel they have a stake in the success and prosperity of the nation. Only in this way can meaningful policies which  reinforce the development model through socio-cultural factors and lead to integration and national unity.But unfortunately this sense of belonging is seriously jeopardized in Malaysia. The question may be asked if any country in the world has citizens identified and categorized as ‘Nons’. Therefore we have Non-Malay Bumiputras, Non-Malays, and Non-Muslims. Among the Indian Muslims there are further divisions based on blood desendency such as Darah Keturanan Kling, Punjabi or Bengali.

The very notion of being categorized under a “Non” grouping itself is conceptually repugnant to most. It does not create any sense of belonging and indeed can have a negative psychological impact on its citizens who perceive themselves as being defined and marginalized as non-entities. Defining a persons status as ‘insiders’and ‘outsiders’ can easily give rise to notions of first and second class citizens.

This question has been taken up in some detail in the book and it is not intended to repeat this here. But it is imperative that this question be taken up and resolved to the satisfaction of all groups involved before any meaningful steps towards integration and national unity can be achieved.

4  RECOMMENDATION.

It is strongly recommended that all those assembled at this launch should make a clear and unequivocal resolution that the above concerns be taken up immediately by the Government so that an independent Commission could be appointed to look into these and other concerns, and to find adequate solutions to the satisfaction of all ethnic and racial groups involved. It cannot be overemphasized that as mentioned by YB the MP for Johore Bahru the real issue on the question has to do with the efficiency of the entire political and economic system. The only known way within a democracy to overcome this is to integrate all groups within mainstream social life so that unity can be achieved. This is especially and particularly so in a multiracial and multicultural society such as
Malaysia.

To repeat the position taken earlier in this Paper the Government is strongly urged to study The People’s Constitutional Proposals for Malaya (1947) drawn up by a consortium of Malay and Chinese organizations and to take it from there in the true spirit of truth and reconciliation.

Dr Collin Abraham,

 BA (UM S’pore),

MSc, (Madison)
Wisconsin (Sociology of Development),

 D.Phil (Oxon); (Sociology of Race Relations with particular reference to
Malaysia)

Post-graduate Diploma in Social Service Administration, (TATA Institute)
Bombay

Post-graduate Diploma in Social Policy)
Institute of
Social Sciences,
The Hague

Fulbright Visiting Professor,
Cornell, USA.

H/P 017 8789885.

   

                     

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