Too bad, we have a “flip-flop” Prime Minister in AAB

 Khoo Kay Peng, political analyst.

I must congratulate my friend Gavin Khoo for his well written article published by Malaysiakini today. His observations and criticism leveled at AAB was spot-on and certainly worth your reading…

Ailing nation with a ‘flip-flop’ PM
Khoo Kay Peng
Jan 12, 07 3:23pm
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In the year 2004, the nation was in a buoyant mood. The new administration’s election manifesto was well received by the people. It had promised to bring the nation forward through a series of concerted programmes including a mindset shift i.e. from a third world to a first world mentality, to inculcate a new culture of excellence, combat corruption and implement tough reforms to enhance the public service delivery system.In return, the Abdullah administration recorded a historic win in Parliament, sweeping 91 percent of the 219 seats. The new administration was given a huge mandate to implement the reforms it had promised.

Over the last three years, public sentiment has shifted from jubilant to despair. On whether the sentiment is uniform throughout the country is arguable but this sense of hopelessness and helplessness is being felt in the urban areas. What went wrong?

This article intends to study the causes of the shift in public perception, to highlight some of the challenges faced by the country and to propose a way forward.

Old baggage 

One of the biggest dilemmas faced by the new regime is the baggage of the old. While promising reforms, the new regime soon found that resistance to change within the system is great. Corruption which runs through the veins of the administration and ruling political parties has made the reform process frustratingly slow. At times, the reaction from the system is detrimental even to the new leader.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi found out the hard way. He called for a royal commission on the police force but was not able to implement the foremost important recommendation of the royal commission to establish an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC). It was an open secret that the ruling politicians need the support of special branch officers during general elections to gather information on voter sentiment and grouses.

His failure to swiftly establish the IPCMC was the beginning of the credibility decline of his administration. His anti-corruption campaign was seen as more of a PR stunt than a steely action to eradicate corruption at all levels of the government. The fact that Rafidah Aziz, Zakaria Mat Deros and Jasin MP Mohd Said Yusof are still around showed that Abdullah is not willing to antagonise the warlords in his party.

To his credit, Abdullah tried to correct some of the excesses of the last administration. Some of the public projects and government-linked companies he inherited were not in the best of shape or even relevant at present.

The building of the crooked scenic bridge would have been an international relations disaster for both Malaysia and Singapore. The national car company Proton is facing sagging sales and sloppy management. The faulty national car policy has not only limited the choices to consumers but promoted private car ownership to the extent of neglecting the public transport system. In the end, it’s penny wise pound foolish. The oil subsidy of RM15 billion paid annually could have been used for better developments.

When commenting on the higher toll rates, Dr Mahathir Mohamad admitted that toll concession agreements were not very well negotiated between the government and operators. This is not an isolated case but previous privatisation agreements involving independent power producers and Tenaga Nasional were similarly one-sided. Hence, Abdullah is partly a victim of the old baggage.

Reviving the NEP  

When his predecessor sensed that Abdullah was trying to define his own path, a war was waged against him. To survive, Abdullah had to shift his direction and focus from the reforms he promised to pure power consolidation within his party. The shift has worsened his public perception especially among the non-Malay Malaysians. In order to solidify his Malay support base, Abdullah reignited the revival of the New Economic Policy which emphasises narrowly on the percentage share of bumiputera corporate equity.

This brings us directly to the second cause of his erosion of popularity – inconsistent paradigm shifts. He started promisingly by promoting a first world mentality. To many in the developed world, a first world mentality is synonymous with a merit-based system. By reintroducing the old NEP into the national socio-economic development blueprints – the Ninth Malaysia Plan and the Industrial Master Plan 3 – Abdullah made a quantum leap backward to the days of communal centric affirmative action.

To his detriment, his deputy Najib Abdul Razak even trumpeted that the 400 years of marginalisation the Malay community suffered in the face of colonialism cannot be repaid in merely 30 years. Overnight, the NEP became a Never Ending Policy. Abdullah is painted as a flip-flop prime minister.

Some forward thinking Malay politicians and businessmen have distanced themselves from the NEP. Kota Bahru MP Zaid Ibrahim and prominent banker Nazir Razak have both questioned the relevance of the NEP. I argue that the original objectives of the 1970 NEP are not adequate in today’s context.

Eradication of poverty regardless of race and the eradication of identification of an economic function to a race may still be required but additional thoughts have to be given to issues concerning competitiveness, capacity building and forces of globalisation. In short, the NEP has to be restructured or even ditched in order to introduce a more comprehensive and forward looking strategy to manage our socio-economic development.

No national vision 

The second dilemma leads us to a third one, the lack of a national vision or direction. Due to the divergence in public policy and political paradigm, a lot of Malaysians are at a lost as to where the nation is heading. While Abdullah said that the era of privatisation, big projects and generous government contracts are over, he recently announced a spate of big projects and generous handouts to lower class contractors. The icing on the cake is the RM47 billion Iskandar Development Region which could yet turn out to be the biggest white elephant in the history of the country.

On the push to become a first world nation by the year 2020, many analysts would have preferred the government to focus its resources on processes, programmes and institutions which can help enhance the capacity and knowledge of our human capital. At present, the education system is in a mess. Meanwhile the bloated bureaucracy has sucked out our competitiveness and efficiency. Our economy is becoming the region’s laggards. Many joked that our economy is similar to our football team. Both receive a lot of attention and resources but do not have much success to show.

Brain drain is happening at an alarming rate. In the month of November 2006 alone, more than 6,550 applicants have applied or enquired to leave the country. Our brain gain programme paled in comparison whereby a ministry statistics showed that less than 970 applicants have applied to come back since 2001. Half were successful in their application but many have since left the country again.

For whatever it is worth, Vision 2020 provided a good rough guide to where we should head in the future. Abdullah should have stayed away from being too inwardly focused just because he felt that his political position and grip on the leadership is being threatened. By not giving enough emphasis to the last mile of Vision 2020, we have lost our general essence and a sense of commitment to push forward. As Thomas Friedman said in his book, The World is Flat, if a community is made to think that it is entitled to the wealth of the nation it will not work hard to improve, to change and to compete.

By politicising the NEP for political gains, we are bound to lose more than we thought we could have gained. It is not even a zero sum game. The society generally will become poorer and more polarised if we choose to focus on wealth distribution instead of wealth creation. All the newly emerging developing countries with high economic growth and a lion’s share of foreign investments are focused on wealth creation and growing the economic pie.

By the year 2050, China’s economy is expected to register US$44.45 trillion and India’s US$27.8 trillion, effectively the largest and third largest economies in the world. Indonesia’s FDI in 2005 has grown by 177 percent by embracing a more open and inclusive political model. After decades of racial violence and marginalisation, the Indonesian constitution was amended to recognise Chinese Indonesians as equals.

Looking backward 

One of the most serious challenges faced by the country is our government’s propensity to look backward than to look forward. Rather than focusing on how Malaysians can unite to face the globalisation onslaught, the ruling elites are preaching about our divisive and communal past and about how to preserve the 1957 status quo. A nation that spends its time looking backward will not have the time to think about the future.

We need to lose our sense of denial that things are going ahead as planned and by the year 2020 we will instantly become a developed nation. There is no magic in the slogan, Malaysia Boleh! Unless Malaysians of all races wake up and come to their senses soon that we need to work as a nation and society, the downward spiral will continue.

In the year 1990, we were the fourth most attractive destination for FDI and we are now ranked 62nd. The economy used to grow above eight percent per annum and can still grow up to eight percent but we are growing at a mere five percent presently. We must realise that our failure is not due to another fellow citizen but of our own wrong doing.

Politics is an important catalyst to enable us to move forward. Good policies and effective policy implementation can contribute positively to our overall well-being and bring necessary progress to society. Unfortunately, good policies are made by responsible and high quality politicians. To our dismay, leadership quality has not been proven to be genetically inheritable.

We have a few classic cases in Malaysia. A leader can be farsighted, open and honest but down his lineage his grandson can be the most vicious communalist. Our political system is feudalistic apart from being both dynastic and ritualistic. Public and political positions can be inherited and this has become an acceptable norm in our society. It works like a pension system, a son can reap the reward of his father’s contribution and services rendered in politics. Due to this, many of the sons act like princes in political parties which are supposed to be accountable to the people. Like feudal lords, it is a taboo to criticise our political leaders.

Moving forward, we must decide our destiny. The outcome of keeping the existing communal political model is clear and the consequences are catastrophic. We need the openness and magnanimity of forward looking Malay leaders to bring back the minorities and embrace them as equals in our multiracial society with the Malay community forming its core.

Our future can be best protected only when Malaysians can unite on the desire to create a better nation and better home for all of us.

Towering Malaysians are not skin deep but personalities who can contribute the most to the nation and society.


KHOO KAY PENG is is a political analyst. He advocates a non-racial Malaysian society.

3 Responses to “Too bad, we have a “flip-flop” Prime Minister in AAB”

  1. William Says:

    It’s really worth reading,and to the BN politicians and supporters and to all Malaysians too…………do this articles make sense?Thumb up to you ,MR KHOO

  2. William Says:

    Mr Ronnie why was the time delayed by 14 hours after i sent my comment?I wrote and sent at 2.10am 13-01-07.TQ

  3. Vignesh Says:

    It’s very disappointing to read an article such as this..!! here I am in a foreign land trying to change the mindset of those who cross my path that Malaysia is far from being a “Third World” nation…the development..the culture..it’s enriched soil…reading this article is like a slap in the face…

    this is an awesome article Mr Khoo..well done

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