The Continuing Failure of Malaysian Leadership and Institutions

July 30th, 2017

The Continuing Failure of Malaysian Leadership and Institutions

  1. M. Bakri Musa


If Malaysian civil servants and politicians could not agree on solutions to basic problems, imagine the conflicts that would be triggered by disagreements over substantive matters.

The conflict that was the consequence of the 1997 economic crisis pitted then Prime Minister Mahathir and his Deputy, Anwar Ibrahim. It ripped apart the nation, or to be more specific, Malays. That fissure is still deep and irreversible; Malays have yet to come to terms with it. Today we have the 1MDB mess. Only the players have changed; the underlying dynamics–unenlightened and unsophisticated Malay leaders–remain the same.

This lack of political wisdom and sophistication among Malay leaders (those in UMNO and PAS, to be specific–remember, UMNO is Malay, and Malay, UMNO–as well as the overwhelmingly Malay civil service) gets worse as we go down or laterally, as with our hereditary and religious leaders. The banality of the latter is exemplified by their current obsession with naming out-of-wedlock babies. You would think they would deliberate instead on how to prevent unwanted births and the care for those innocent babies with the dignity and love that they deserve.

As for Malay sultans, consider the roles of Perak’s and Selangor’s during the political crises following the electoral tsunami of the 2008 general elections.

In Perak, the then Sultan proved unable to escape his feudal mentality. He treated the “People’s Representatives” in the state assembly as his handmaidens, to do his bidding. No surprise then that the political crisis there degenerated in short order. Instead of being part of the solution, the sultan became enmeshed in the problem.

That Perak crisis demonstrated another key point. It is often assumed that if only we have qualified and experienced people in charge, then no matter how battered or inadequate our institutions are, those individuals would rise to the challenge. In Perak, we had a sultan who by any measure was the most qualified and experienced, having served as the nation’s top judge and later, King. Yet his critical decision following the 2008 election, which demanded the most judicious of judgment, proved unwise and primitive. That is putting it in the mildest and most polite terms.

The protagonists there were Barisan Nasional’s Zamry Kadir, a Temple University PhD, and Pakatan’s Nizar Jamaluddin, an engineer fluent in multiple languages. With the defeat of the incumbent Barisan, Pakatan’s Nizar took over as Chief Minister. It was short lived. Through shady machinations, Barisan persuaded a few Pakatan representatives to switch, triggering a political tussle culminating in a constitutional crisis. All that could have been avoided by calling for a formal assembly vote of no confidence.

Instead, the Sultan decided which party had the Assembly’s confidence. From there it was but a short steep slide to seeing the Pakatan speaker of the Assembly being manhandled and dragged out, with chairs thrown all round. The sultan’s representative was reduced to cooling his heels in an adjoining room, unable to address the Assembly because of the mayhem.

Equally pathetic and despicable were the behaviors of the permanent establishment; they too were ensnared in the mess through their partisan performances. Those civil servants should have acted as a conciliatory buffer.

The judiciary too, failed. The ensuing lawsuit did not merit an expedited hearing and thus meandered through the judicial process. By contrast, the lawsuit triggered by the 2000 American presidential elections over the Florida ballots ended at the Supreme Court for a definitive decision in a matter of days, not months.

The credentials of the key players in the Perak mess were all impressive. In performance however, they were no different from street thugs. Their diplomas looked impressive only when hung on walls.

The latest failure of leadership, demonstrated to national and international shame, was that of Zeti Aziz, former Governor of Bank Negara. A few years earlier Global Finance named her as one of the top central bankers. Rather premature as it turned out. During the pivotal 1MDB crisis, she remained silent. She later used the excuse that she did not have the power beyond imposing fines! She bragged that she imposed the highest fine to date. That may well be. However, in view of the size of the loot, which was in the billions, a few millions in fine is but peanuts. She would have done a far greater public service had she spoken out and exposed the corruption.

Contrast her performance to her legendary predecessor Ismail Ali, the Bank’s first native Governor. A Queen’s scholar and Cambridge graduate, it would be unthinkable for any minister to even consider undertaking any financial shenanigans during his time. Zeti’s qualification is no less impressive, an Ivy League PhD. As can be seen, superior education does not always equal courage or integrity.

A mark of a mature democracy, or any system, is the smooth and predictable transfer of power. Perak was a spectacular failure, an unnerving preview for Malaysia.

The transition in Selangor was no better, with the ugly spectacle of the destruction of official documents and the vandalizing of office equipment by the outgoing UMNO Chief Minister, one local-trained former government dentist, and his staff. That revolting display was made even more obscene when compared to the smooth transition in Penang, also the consequence of the 2008 elections. The transfer of power there was from the Chinese-based Gerakan, a Barisan affiliate, to the also predominantly Chinese Democratic Action Party. It was a model of civility, with the two leaders shaking hands. What a contrast to Selangor with the shift from UMNO to the also predominantly Malay Keadilan! No class, again reflecting the sorry caliber of the Malay political leaders.

This has not always been the case. I remember the 1950s and 60s when opposition leaders, Malays and non-Malays, would attend social functions hosted by then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. There were pictures of PAS leaders in their modern suits and ties at ronggeng (dance) parties at the Residency, and no one would raise a howl. Those PAS leaders did not feel that the revelry on the social occasion contaminated their piety.

Today I yearn to see such displays of decorum and civility among our leaders. I have seen DAP leader Lim Kit Siang at Mahathir’s Hari Raya “Open House,” but I have yet to see Nik Aziz give a sermon in a masjid full of UMNO members, or Abdullah Badawi, a self-proclaimed alim, in a mosque in Kelantan.

As for the civil service, in the 1950s and 60s it still had the aroma of prestige, a leftover from colonial rule. That however was more fantasy than reality. The inadequacies of the civil service then so well documented by Milton Esman are still evident today, only far worse. The civil service is now insular, inbred and most of all, highly corrupt and woefully incompetent. Far from being an essential instrument for the development of Malaysia, it is but an encrusted barnacle impeding the nation’s progress.

Revisiting the earlier Perak debacle, the then Crown Prince Raja Nazrin recently lamented on the quality of advice the sultan (his father) received from senior officials. Dispensing with whether this was but a crude and shameless attempt at shifting blame, two things are worth noting. One, it took the prince this long to acknowledge those inadequacies, and two, his father (the sultan) obviously restricted his sources of counsel! And this sultan was the nation’s former chief judge. 

Next:  Malay Underdevelopment Beyond Politics and the Civil Service

Adapted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released in January 2016.

Malay Political Sophistry, Not Sophistication

July 24th, 2017


Malay Political Sophistry, Not Sophistication

M. Bakri Musa 

The Malay community’s underdevelopment is not confined to only one or two areas, for example, the often cited and very obvious spheres of economics and education. On the contrary Malay underdevelopment is widespread, to include especially our understanding of our faith Islam. I do not mean to shock by my assertion. Rather this state of affair is obvious except to those who refuse to acknowledge it. The Islam that is being practiced by Malays today has been reduced to the mindless repetition of its rituals. As Islam is central to Malay life, I will address this particular issue in depth later (Part Seven).

Malays are proud of our dominance in politics. That however is purely the consequence of demography, not political skills, maturity, or sophistication. Our politics resembles more of the Third World authoritarian variety rather of mature democracies. Malay political skills despite our over representation in that sphere are still primitive. As a result, we are unable to leverage our considerable political clout derived from our demographic dominance effectively to solve our problems.

Instead, the contrary is what is occurring. Our political dominance aggravates our problems. As a community we are obsessed only with achieving political power and not on how to effectively leverage it to benefit our people. Further, politics and political power detract us from other equally vital spheres. We have perverted the political process for our personal gains and in the process making corruption an integral part of our politics and governance. We have legitimized politics as the route to untold riches through our acceptance of cronyism, corruption and nepotism among its players.

The other sphere where Malays could claim dominance is the civil service. Again, this is not achieved through merit rather through legislative fiat, the imposition of strict quotas and constitutional provisions. As such we cannot be proud of our achievement; it is not legitimate. As a consequence, the civil service is far from being exemplary or a source of pride. It is the but the butt of endless jokes and embarrassments. The civil service is on par with our political institutions in being corrupt, incompetent and ineffective.

The fragility and incompetence of both the civil service and political institutions are readily exposed in their inability to handle seemingly routine and minor conflicts. Because of this ineptness and frank naiveté, trivial administrative problems are let to fester until they explode. At the local level, minor conflicts over stray dogs for example would quickly escalate, threatening our fragile social stability by pitting members of one community against another.

What should be a simple public health and safety matter (preventing dog bites and subsequent risk of rabies, a major problem in China and India, and now fast becoming one in many parts of Malaysia) is allowed to degenerate through administrative and political incompetence into a potentially acrimonious communal conflict between Malays, who generally consider dogs as dirty and haram while to Chinese they are favorite family pets.

In American cities there are ordinances requiring those walking their dogs to carry plastic bags to pick up their droppings. Failure to have those bags or pick up the dog’s waste would result in severe fines. Dogs must also be on a leash, and stray dogs will be captured. If they are not claimed within a few weeks they are “put to sleep.” Owners of certain breeds (like pit bulls) also have to carry liability insurances. These are sensible rules to serve the public good. Yet we are unable to establish them without getting entangled in silly and dangerous public arguments about race.

At the national level, consider the annual exercise of awarding scholarships to Sijil Persekutuan Malaysia (SPM) candidates. This is not a matriculating examination; those students still have to undertake two more years of schooling before they could qualify for university entrance. Meaning, SPM is only slightly above middle school qualification. Yet invariably around June of each year there would be a national outcry over the distribution of scholarships based on this examination. We are not here dealing with graduate fellowships or post-doctoral grants!

Again, like the municipal dog ordinance (or lack of), this scholarship problem could be readily solved through simple transparent administrative rules. For example, instead of using SPM scores which are poor predictors of academic success anyway, why not wait till these students are actually accepted to top universities and only then award them the scholarships. Publish the list of acceptable universities where these scholarships would be tenable and then if there are too many students for the funds available, have a sliding scale so those who are well off get less money. Such a simple and sensible solution, yet it escapes these Malay politicians and civil servants, again reflecting their incompetence and lack of imagination in solving the nation’s problems 

Next:  Failure of Institutions And Personnel

Adapted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released in January 2016.

The Many Bedeviling Malay Hantus

July 17th, 2017

The Many Bedeviling Malay Hantus

M. Bakri Musa


The central and controlling figure in many Malay myths is the hantu (ghost, devil, or evil spirit). Hantu is powerful and mysterious, beyond the realm of rational explanation. What, whom, or when the hantu wants, it gets. When Malay parents want to frighten or thus control their young they invoke the fear of hantu, as with hantu senja (twilight) to scare us from playing outside after dark, or hantu laut (sea), from venturing out to sea. The mere mention of hantu would be enough to bring the most recalcitrant son back into the fold.

Malay political leaders too have learned that silly little trick from our parents. Unable and unwilling to comprehend and thus come up with solutions to our community’s problems, they resorted to invoking these various hantus to instill fear and thus effect control on their followers, just as surely as our parents did when we were toddlers.

First there was the old standby, the hantu of colonialism. All our problems then were related to the machinations of those heartless, terrible foreign devils. Those colonials were also white, the very color of our devils! Colonialism is now long gone, and with it the fear of its hantu. Our problems should then also be gone. Hardly! Those hantus are resilient creatures, readily morphing into new forms. Enter the hantu of neo-colonialism.

As in all hantu stories, the rational mind could readily see through the holes in the plot, but we suspend our rational thinking. Consider the hantu of colonialism. Yes, it was evil, but if you were to ask the Chinese in Hong Kong about their “suffering” through a century of British colonial hantu, they would thank their lucky stars. At least they were spared the convulsions of the Cultural Revolution and other mass hysteria that regularly gripped their kin on the mainland. Even if you were to pose the same question today, those Hong Kong Chinese would much prefer their old hantu of colonialism to the variant now haunting them from Beijing.

After over half a century of independence, the hantu of colonialism (and its variant, of neocolonialism) has lost its spell among Malays. We are no longer gripped with fear whenever it is invoked. Our leaders now have to invent new ones, again illustrating their and our ignorance.

Enter hantu pendatang (of immigrants). Never mind that those pendatangs have been with us for generations, it is only now that their hantu is being mobilized. This hantu pendatang holds its greatest grip on those ultra-Malays within UMNO as well as outside, as with PERKASA (the acronym for a Malay ultra-right wing group). Just in case hantu pendatang does not scare us enough, we have also invoked hantu globalisasi (globalization). It too is bent on doing Malays in, if we can believe our leaders.

There is much that we do not know why Malays remain marginalized in our own country despite it now being under our own leadership. To me this ignorance is a problem, not a mystery. We need to study and analyze it, and venture beyond mere pontificating and posturing. We must also be diligent in assessing the magnitude of our problem as well as be ruthless in evaluating the effectiveness of our interventions.

We must also appreciate that these problems are not unique unto us. Others too have experienced and are experiencing them. Some are more successful in overcoming theirs, others less so. We must thus have the humility and willingness to learn from others; from the former on what to do and the latter, on what not to.

The necessary ingredients for this exercise are first of all humility. We must have the humility to acknowledge our ignorance. That is not only a prerequisite to but would also ease our learning. Beyond that we have then curiosity and the urge to explore new and all avenues, fearless of where those might lead us. We must also be smart so we could craft novel and effective solutions while not repeating the same mistakes. Most of all, we must have a free mind so we could approach our problems with an open mind. Mindless chanting of verses from holy texts would not do it, nor would endless hollering of slogans attributed to our ancient mythic heroes.

Next:  Political Sophistry, Not Sophistication

Adapted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released in January 2016.

July 10th, 2017

Time for Single-Payer Health Insurance – Support SB 562, The Healthy California Act

M. Bakri Musa, M.D.

Insurance companies are the problem; they are not the solution to our current healthcare crisis. The current system is not sustainable, prohibitively expensive, and leave many vulnerable. It is for these reasons that physicians at St. Louise Regional Hospital last month (June 15, 2017) endorsed SB 562, The Healthy California Act, that would provide universal healthcare coverage to all Californians through a single-payer system.

We depart from our colleagues elsewhere in the state who have chosen to remain silent on this important legislative initiative. Physicians have an obligation to the public in general and our patients in particular to assert our views on such matters. Remaining silent is not a responsible option.

This legislation is now on hold by the Speaker of the State Assembly. Physicians should grab this opportunity to emulate our fellow professionals in the California Nurses Association in being engaged–and early–so we could have a voice in fleshing out the details of SB 562. Remaining silent would reduce us to be marginal players at best, and be ignored at worst. This legislation will impact us directly.

Physicians currently navigate a byzantine trail just to get “Treatment Authorization Requests” (TAR) for our patients. We go through a gauntlet of voice mails telling us to “Press 1 for …, Press 2 ….” Our calls are important, we are being repeatedly assured, but not important enough to warrant insurance companies to hire a human being to answer them.

Patients are assaulted with daunting, mindless and repetitious patient information slips at every encounter. Couldn’t these insurance companies issue “smart cards” like what those Taiwanese have? If with my not-so-smart credit card I could shop at any store in any country with ease, surely our health insurance card could do better than issue just identification cards.

Peruse your medical bills. Even the most sophisticated struggles to decipher the “Explanation of Benefits,” what with terms like “not covered services,” deductibles, and co-pays liberally sprinkled to justify their reneging to pay in full.

Health insurers have tinkered with the system with PPOs (Preferred Provider Organizations) and their bewildering list of in-network providers and fee schedules, through capitations and managed care (HMOs), all in the guise of “quality care” and “cost containment.”

An alphabet soup of initials later, the ugly reality is that providers are crushed with administrative load that impedes quality and compassionate care, quite apart from imposing delays and needless costs. Meanwhile the obscene compensations to healthcare insurance executives escalate unabated.

Time to get rid of insurance companies and have a single-payer system. The Canadians and Taiwanese are very satisfied with theirs. Their healthcare indices too are far superior to ours, and costs much lower.

For many Americans, financial catastrophe is only an illness or accident away. SB 562 would spare them that fear.

As with the introduction of Medicare two generations earlier, the same old bogeyman of socialized medicine is being resurrected against SB 562. Many, including doctors are again being trapped by labels. Is Medicare or Social Security socialistic?

Worth noting that while Medicare is a governmental program, it is run by private contractors. Civil servants dictating to doctors is a myth. What is not are doctors being dictated to by insurers.

The legislative analyst estimated that SB 562 would cost an eye popping $400 billion annually. What is not appreciated is that we already spend about $370 billion today, while still leaving 2.7 million Californians uninsured. About a third of those insured are vulnerable because of high deductibles and co-pays. Further, taxpayers contribute over half of that $400 billion through Medicare, MediCal, and county hospitals.

A small but not insignificant portion is borne exclusively by providers and hospitals through uncompensated care. We don’t mandate restaurants to feed the hungry, nor hoteliers to house the homeless. We accept that as our societal obligation.

If all my bills were paid (under SB 562 they would be!), I could lower my fees by a third and would still take home the same amount. With the reduced administrative load of a single payer, I could cut further my fees. With the negotiating clout of nearly 40 million Californians, we would slash the price of drugs and supplies, as currently enjoyed by the Veterans Administration and Canadians.

An independent study shows that with SB 562 today’s healthcare would have cost about 340 billion, not the current 370. With that we would cover all Californians and upgrade those currently underinsured.

With SB 562 we would trade insurance premiums for taxes. The latter could be increased only with a supra-majority vote; with premiums, the whims of insurance executives.

Providing health insurance for all Californians is the right thing to do. That is why St. Louise doctors endorse SB 562. That it would also streamline our practices, pay all our bills, and reduce our administrative load are but welcomed bonuses.

The writer, a general surgeon in private practice in Gilroy, is former President of St. Louise Regional Hospital Medical Staff, Gilroy, Ca. A slightly version of this article wappeared as the in as an Op-Ed piece in the Gilroy Dispatch June 30, 2017.


Malaysian Responses To DOJ Lawsuits Reflect Ignorance and Corrupted Concept of Justice

June 26th, 2017

Malaysian Reactions to DOJ Lawsuits Reflect Ignorance and Corrupted Concept of Justice

  1. M. Bakri Musa

America is a Rorschach Test to most foreigners. What they view as America reveals more of themselves than of America; likewise, how they react to events in America.

One visitor to Washington, DC, would see only the homeless under the bridges, potholes on the streets, and “adult” stores at very corner; others, The Smithsonian, Georgetown University, and the National Institutes of Health. The contrasting observations reflect volumes on the observers.

Consider the Malaysian responses to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuits relating to alleged illicit siphoning of funds from 1MDB. I am not referring to the kopi-o babbling in the echo chamber of UMNO-paid “cyber-troopers” that pollutes the social media. They are pet parrots; babbling whatever is coached to them. With a different master offering more leftovers they could be made to change their tune.

What interests me instead are the responses of ministers and commentators. Their utterances expose their appalling ignorance of the American justice system. They also reveal much of themselves, as per Rorschach’s insight.

One minister, eager to be seen as his master’s favorite lapdog, asserted that DOJ is being influenced by the Malaysian opposition. On cue, the other hounds and bitches piled on. A hitherto severe critic of the establishment pontificated that a former champion college debater together with Mahathir and Daim Zainuddin were involved.

Heady stuff for a young man! Though flattered, Syed Saddiq went ahead and filed a police report against that blogger! Mahathir described best those who believed such canards: “Bodoh luar biasa!” (Extraordinarily stupid!)

Those characters must also believe that the American judicial system is like Malaysia’s, where prosecutors could be influenced or paid off a la one Shafee Abdullah. Sarawak Report alleged that he was paid RM9.5 million from Najib’s slush fund before being appointed special prosecutor in Anwar Ibrahim’s case. Shafee has not denied that.

Another minister declared DOJ’s charges ‘mere’ allegations. Sorry, no marks for stating the obvious. A former journalist-turn-blogger echoed that, and proceeded, for emphasis, to reprint in bold the DOJ’s caution.

Of course DOJ’s accusations, like all court complaints, are “alleged” until adjudicated by the court. DOJ must have credible evidence to not waste taxpayers’ money on frivolous lawsuits. The jury would not buy it. DOJ does not allege any Joe on the street of corruption.

Those who believe otherwise must think that DOJ and American courts are like Malaysia’s where prosecutors could be bought to bring on cases with the flimsiest of evidences and still find judges to convict, as with Anwar’s case.

That is not a far stretch. A few years ago, a defense lawyer known for his amazing ‘skills’ in getting his clients acquitted was caught on videotape assuring his listener that he had the judge in his pocket. The lawyer’s utterance, “Correct! Correct! Correct!” would forever be embedded in the annals of shame in the Malaysian judiciary.

Then there was the character who insinuated that the ‘inactivity’ of DOJ since its first filing a year earlier reveals its sinister political motive. Had he followed the court’s calendar he would have noted the flurry of activities. Among them, the successful challenge by the new trustee of some of the seized properties to be represented.

This character went on to opine that since her initial filing in July 2016, US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch had been “fired,” implying that the lawsuit was without merit. Such willful ignorance reveals a deliberate attempt to mislead. Lynch was a political appointee, and with President Trump’s election all such appointees were replaced. Further, the second filing was by her successor.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid, a local PhD, implied that all the furor over 1MDB were fake news, the concoctions of hostile foreign media! It is instructive that this character did his dissertation on the local media. To him, the likes of The Wall Street Journal are like Utusan Melayu. His response reveals as much about him as the institution that awarded him his doctorate.

A junior minister accused the Americans of trying to topple Najib, in cahoots with the opposition. Not too long ago he and others were lapping at pictures of Najib golfing with President Obama. That minister however, did not see fit to lead a demonstration at the embassy in defense of Malaysia. Some jantan!

It is unfortunate that this non-too bright character’s remarks resonated with simple villagers.

A senior minister, a little brighter being that he was a London-trained lawyer, dismissed the whole DOJ affair. Malaysia had other far more important issues to attend to, he sniffed. If the staggering sums of the loot did not impress him, what about the charges of corruption levelled at the highest government official, cryptically referred to as “Malaysian Official 1.” That should be his and all Malaysians’ top priority.

Yet another minister advised everyone not to panic. The lady doth protest too much, methinks. Nobody was panicking except her crowd.

Attorney-General Apandi was miffed that DOJ did not consult him. DOJ’s lawsuits were prompted to protect American financial institutions from the corrupting influences of dirty foreign funds. It does not need Malaysia’s ‘help,’ more so considering that Apandi had declared no wrongdoing.

Apandi was also upset at the criminal insinuations against the prime minister. His comment unwittingly revealed what he thinks of his job, less as chief prosecutor, more as Najib’s private attorney. No wonder his “investigations” exonerated Najib! Apandi also unwittingly confirmed that MO1 is in fact Najib and that the activities he was alleged to have been engaged in were criminal in nature.

If the responses were revealing, the non-response or silence was even more so. The lawsuits allege that billions were illicitly siphoned from the company, and it is mentioned umpteen times in the complaints. Yet 1MDB did not seek to be represented as a party of interest. This reflects its management’s inability to separate the company’s interests from those of its officers’. Najib is 1MDB’s chairman. The management confuses Najib with the company. Management is not looking after the company’s interest in not seeking representation, which was how the mess started in the first place.

Malaysian officials’ responses to DOJ’s lawsuits did not reflect well on them or Malaysia. I can hardly wait for their reactions or “spin” when this DOJ investigation goes on to its next inevitable phase, the filing of criminal charges and or when one of the defendants becomes a prosecution witness.

Meanwhile, fake news or not and collusion or not, MO1, his spouse, or stepson will not be stepping foot in America any time soon, if ever. That is revealing.

The Legacy of Tun Razak’s Oldest Son

June 18th, 2017

The Legacy of Tun Razak’s Oldest Son

M.Bakri Musa


The dismissive attitude of Malaysian officials to the latest US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) civil forfeiture lawsuit targeting expensive assets allegedly acquired with funds illicitly siphoned from 1MDB is misplaced. Their stance is an embarrassing display of gross ignorance.

Yes, civil lawsuits in America are as common as mushrooms after a rainfall. This DOJ action however, is the largest (in dollar value) such forfeitures to date. This second set of lawsuits targeted assets allegedly given to Hollywood celebrities, as well as to the spouse of “Malaysian Official 1” (MO1). The two categories are separate though the latter believe that she is in the same class as the former.

Najib apologists and enablers never fail to point out with unconcealed smugness that the defendants to the lawsuits are not individuals, specifically Najib or his associates and relatives, rather those assets.

That is right, but such sophistry reveals a fundamental ignorance of the American judicial system. Those targeted assets do not exist in vacuo; someone or somebody owns them. They in effect are the defendants.

By targeting those assets and not their owners, DOJ is spared the task of identifying their rightful owners. That can be an arduous and expensive task, what with multiple shell companies involved in dizzying number of foreign jurisdictions. Instead, all DOJ has to do is wait for the owners to come out of the woodwork to identify themselves and lay claim to those assets by challenging the lawsuit. They have to, otherwise they would lose those assets, or at least their share.

One of those owners is Jho Low. He claimed to have bought those assets with his family’s wealth. That at least was believable as he came from a wealthy clan in Penang. Sure enough, his family’s assorted trusts too have contested the lawsuit from faraway New Zealand!

Then there is one Reza Aziz, identified as the “stepson of MO1.” Where did this son of a nondescript Malaysian army officer get his wealth? From his mother, the daughter of my parent’s contemporary as a village school teacher in Kuala Pilah? Visit her dilapidated ancestral home back in my kampong, and her current flamboyant lifestyle today would make you puke. As for Reza’s stepfather Najib Razak, that man had spent his entire adult life in government, with its measly pay.

Reza Aziz concocted the idea that the money (some hundred million!) was a “gift” from a benevolent Saudi Sheik. Even the wealthiest corpulent Sheik would not be so extravagant with his favorite toy-boy, yet this Reza Aziz character wants those seasoned DOJ prosecutors to believe his story! Even his American accountants did not believe him.

One other owner has also come forward. Hollywood celebrity Leonardo DiCaprio has not only surrendered the gifts he had received “from the parties named in the civil complaint” but went further and cooperated with DOJ investigators. That cannot be good news for Jho Low or Reza Aziz.

Any bets whether any of the other “owners,” specifically the alleged recipient of that pink diamond, MO1’s spouse, would return their gifts? It is worth pondering whose actions better reflect the forgiving spirit of Ramadan, hers or DiCaprio’s?

Najib supporters trivialize the DOJ’s lawsuit, citing its lack of “action” after its first filing last year as proof of its political intent. To them, these series of forfeiture lawsuits are yet another albeit more sophisticated American attempt at regime change. Such commentaries reveal a pathetic lack of the basic understanding of the US justice system.

This asset forfeiture is a civil lawsuit. Unlike criminal ones where the axiom “justice delayed, justice denied” is adhered to, civil suits can and do drag on for years. They go to trial only when all parties are ready, and all extraneous issues as with ownership claims settled. The fact that these forfeiture lawsuits drag on should not be misinterpreted in any way.

There is also the possibility that criminal charges would be filed against specific individuals during the discovery or the trial.

There is only one certainty. Once a lawsuit is filed, those assets are effectively tied up. They cannot be sold, mortgaged, or altered in any way without the court’s consent. DOJ has in effect total control of those assets, meaning, their de facto owner.

These forfeiture lawsuits will not be settled out of court. Those prosecutors have a point to prove, and with unlimited resources to pursue it. That reality has prompted owners like DiCaprio to cooperate with DOJ.

This will not be like a Malaysian trial where prosecutors could be illicitly paid off or where defense lawyers openly brag about having judges in their (lawyer’s) back pockets. The defendants have hired some of the best legal minds including those who had once worked in DOJ and had successfully prosecuted many high profile kleptocrats. It will be far from a walk in the park for the DOJ lawyers.

DOJ does have something in its favor. In a civil suit, unlike a criminal trial, the burden of proof is lower, only the “preponderance of evidence” and not “beyond reasonable doubt.” The burden of proof also shifts from the plaintiff to the defendant. Meaning, the owners have to prove that the funds they used to purchase those assets were untainted. It would be very difficult to convince an American jury that a Middle Eastern sheik would willingly part away with hundreds of millions of dollars to a Malay boy no matter how pretty he looks, for nothing in return.

Regardless of the outcome, this trial would expose to the world all the sordid ugly details of the 1MDB shenanigans. Once those are out, not many would be proud to call themselves Malaysians. They would be downright ashamed for having elected a leader with such unbounded avarice, and then letting him get away with it for so long.

As for MO1, his spouse and stepson, they are beyond shame. With the millions if not billions they have already expropriated, they can handle the setback. Malaysians however, would be saddled for generations with 1MDB’s humongous debt. Quite a legacy for the son of the late Tun Razak! As for the Tun, what a legacy to have bequeathed Malaysia with his ethically-blighted son.

The Malay Myth Versus The Malay Problem

June 14th, 2017

The Malay Myth Versus The Malay Problem



The Malay dilemma or “problem” has occupied the thoughts of many of our luminaries, from Munshi Abdullah through Pendita Za’aba in the past to today’s Ungku Aziz and Mahathir Mohamad.

There are others less well known but no less passionate in their thinking. Those eminent personalities aside, there is also no shortage of commentators on what ails our community. Spend a few minutes at any warong kopi and one would be inundated with strong views and opinions. Patronize the many Starbucks in the uncomfortably chilled shopping centers of Kuala Lumpur and you would hear many equally opinionated and pontificating views.

For the young for whom the warong kopi is not their cup of tea (or coffee) and Starbucks is beyond their pocket’s reach, the social media, specifically blogs, Twitter, and Facebook are where they congregate. While lapses in logic, etiquette, and grammar are tolerated and easily smoothed over in face-to-face conversations, they are not so in written communications either in the print world or cyberspace. Those lapses can be very distracting at the minimum. That unfortunately is the price of those ubiquitous and instantaneous social media.

In the normal circumstance when one needs a more substantive treatment of a subject, the best recourse would be to peruse the academic literature. If one were to do that in Malaysia, be prepared to be dismayed. With few exceptions (and I have liberally used their materials) most of what are written locally, especially in recent years, lack intellectual depth and scholarly rigor. Worse, they often spout the political line, and one is left wondering whether they are genuine scholars or political hacks cloaked in academic garb.

This has not always been the case. There was a time not too long ago when our universities produced their share of bona fide scholarship and heavyweight scholars. Earlier I referred to Ungku Aziz, a shining example of a free mind. Then there was the late Ishak Shaari. Although he graduated (with honors) from the London School of Economics, his doctorate was, significantly enough, from our local University of Malaya at a time when it was under the leadership of Ungku Aziz. This again reflected the caliber of that institution and its leadership at the time.

Of interest, I first came across Ishak Shaari’s article not in a scholarly journal but in one of those throw-away Malay magazines (Mastika). He was one of the first and few economists, foreign or local, to sound the alarm on the shoddy foundation upon which the Malaysian economy was based. This was at the time when the world, including the World Bank and the IMF, could spare no superlatives in praising our economic managers and their policies. Only a few years later in 1997, Ishak was proven right, very right.

It also says something about those Malay periodicals then that they carried articles on substantive topics written by local heavyweights. Today’s magazines are heavy into jinns, celebrities, and sex scandals.

The Malaysian academia has also changed substantially in many other ways too, and for the worse. At the risk of sounding anti-native or being accused of adoring everything foreign, today most of what is useful and insightful about Malaysia is written by foreign scholars. There is nothing wrong with that. The intellectual world, like others, is now global; one cannot afford to be insular.

Because of their limited English language skills, the intellectual horizon of today’s local scholars is necessarily limited. If that is not crippling enough, there are the perennial budget constraints, and with that, limited library facilities, research funding, and opportunities to attend international conferences. For a scholar, those are major handicaps.

To be fair but nonetheless a serious concern, this sorry decline of our universities is part and parcel of the overall decline in all our institutions. Blaming our scholars alone would unnecessarily target them when it is the whole system that has become rotten.

Ultimately the solution lies in the political arena. It is here that my disappointment is the greatest. One cannot help but be dismayed at the level of sophistication and comprehension displayed by Malay political players. The two main Malay political parties–UMNO and PAS–are led respectively by Najib, consumed with his survival, and Hadi, his conspicuous piety could not hide his burning ambition for a ministerial appointment while obsessed with ensuring that he and his followers end up in heaven. Meanwhile the Malay masses suffer hell on earth while Malay leaders succeed only in creating myths that betray their ignorance.

The American linguist Noam Chomsky once observed, “Our ignorance can be divided into problems and mysteries. When we face a problem, we may not know its solution, but we have insight, increasing knowledge, and an inkling of what we are looking for. When we face a mystery, however, we can only stare in wonder and bewilderment, not knowing what an explanation would even look like.”

In their ignorance, Malay leaders have succeeded in creating many myths. They and us in turn have believed in those myths.

Next:  The Bedeviling Malay Hantus

Adapted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released in January 2016.

The Malay Dilemma in Perspective – The Self-Blamers

June 5th, 2017

The Malay Dilemma In Perspective – The Self-Blamers

M.Bakri Musa 

If at one end we have those Malays who blame “others” for all our travails, at the polar opposite we have the “self-blamers.” Every society has its share of them, and our Malay self-blamers do not lack for ammunition. We are being burdened by the inadequacies of our culture, they remind us ad nauseam; we are too “nice” and not aggressive enough so others like the pendatangs (immigrants) and neo-colonizers take advantage of us.

If only we were a bit kurang jar (untutored as to result in uncouth behavior), more kiasu (pushy or crudely competitive), or be like those pendatangs and colonials, our leaders lament. Now that we are in charge, it is our turn now to take advantage of the “others,” these leaders assert.

They exhort us to have our own revolusi mental (“Mental Revolution”), be a Melayu Baru (New Malay), and to assert if not demand our rights as “natives.” When those slogans lose their flavor with time, as inevitably they would when there are no accompanying effective actions, our leaders concoct new ones. Today Malays are urged to assert with unbounded aggressiveness our Ketuanan Melayu (Malay hegemony) status. Again this, as with all previous exhortations we were assured to no end, would be our salvation.

Malaysia has not yet finished with Vision 2020, the ambitious socio-economic development program initiated by Mahathir over 30 years ago and trumpeted without end by many (including current leaders) that would catapult us into the developed world status, and we are into “Transformasi 50” that would promise to, well, transform the nation. We have yet to access and learn from the successes or failures of Vision 2020. Never mind that when 2050 comes around, all those champions of Transformasi 50 would be long dead or reduced to senility and thus could not be held accountable.

To these “self-blamers,” our culture is not our only burden. We have also strayed far from our faith, they piously chastise us. Hence, more religion, especially for our young! With that comes a hugely expanded religious establishment, with more ulamas to lead the flock along the “straight path,” and even more religious police to snare those tempted to stray or have done so. For added measure, we also concocted a new and presumably improved version of our faith, Islam Hadhari. As for educating our young, well, we have to indoctrinate them even more so they too would appreciate our new pristine “Islamic” ways.

My favorite is the self-blamers’ pseudo-scientific theory of faulting our basic nature, our genes. To them, our fate is sealed the moment we were conceived. There is nothing that we could do to alter that reality; accept it, they advise us. It is the price for our indulging in too much inbreeding, apparently. “We must marry outside our race!” our supposedly scientifically enlightened leaders urge us.

Such a belief in our biologic fatalism is not only cruel and destructive, but it is also wrong, very wrong, as modern science tells us. It would however, make a great practical joke at a multiracial bachelors’ party.

If our ancestors’ psyche was destroyed by the religious determinism of the past (“Our fate is written in the book” – Al Qadar), today our minds, especially those of the young, are being crippled by the biologic determinism propagated by these “modern” pseudo-scientific leaders whose understanding of genetics is gleaned only from reading articles in Readers’ Digest or The Dummies Guide to Human Genetics.

There is yet another variation of this strand of “self-blame,” and that is our leaders’ constant complaining of our supposed lack of unity. If only we are “united,” these leaders soothingly assure us, then there would be no mountains too high for us to scale and no rivers too wide to cross. Those obstacles would magically disappear. With unity, we could take on all comers, including those immigrants, neo-colonialists, and whoever else who would dare cross our path.

Our leaders often remind us that it was our unity that let us prevail over the Malayan Union, and it was our unity that made possible our independence from colonial rule. True, only if you gloss over the facts and reality. As mentioned earlier, our sultans were more than eager to sign that Union treaty. In fact, they had already signed the Agreement, giving away the nation’s sovereignty to the British, all for a lousy pension. As for our subsequent quest for independence, those same sultans were none too eager either. Not surprising considering the fate of sultans in neighboring Indonesia and the Maharajas in India with their countries’ independence.

I am all for unity; to be against it would be like being against motherhood and sambal balacan (shrimp paste). And you cannot be Malay if you are against sambal balacan!

What scares me is not unity per se rather these leaders’ concept of it. Scrutinize it and unity to them means us being reduced to a flock of sheep, meekly and blindly following our shepherd – them. These leaders confuse unity with unanimity; it is the latter that they demand, not the former, and unanimity to their views. Thus, they have no tolerance for divergent and dissenting views. That is the scary part. These leaders’ version of unity would best be illustrated by the Germans under Hitler.

Scrutinize Malay leaders’ utterances when they invoke “unity” of their followers. It is not so much unity towards facing our common challenges as how to increase Malay productivity, improve national schools, curb corruption in our midst, or retard the influences of extremist Islamists, rather unity against those “other” non-Malay Malaysians. A totally unproductive and potentially destructive preoccupation. Worse, it is a strain of Hitler’s unity.

I have nothing against the concept of the united flock being led by a benevolent shepherd as per the biblical metaphor, leading us from one lush meadow to another while protecting us from predators.

The reality is far different. In far too many instances our leaders are not saintly shepherds. They are only too happy to lead the flock over the cliff or to the slaughterhouse to feed their ego and greed, as the sultans did with signing the Malayan Union Treaty. Even if Malay leaders were saintly to begin with, the endless uncritical adulations from their followers would eventually get to their egos and then they would think that they could walk on water or do no wrong. Then be ready for the masses to be led to the slaughterhouse.

I agree that we must be united, but let it be in our vigilance against predators. We must also remember that sometimes this predation could come from within, as from our greedy, corrupt, and incompetent leaders.

Next:  Malay Myths Versus Malay Problems


Adapted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released in January 2016.


Putting The Malay Dilemma In Perspective

May 30th, 2017

Putting The Malay Dilemma in Perspective

M. Bakri Musa

Wealth converts a strange land into homeland, and poverty turns a native place into a strange land.

Saidina Ali, RA, Nahj ul Balagha (Peak of Eloquence)

Malays are inured to the litany of our problems, and to our leaders’ endless sloganeering to what they presume to be the answer. We too respond in the same predictable manner each time a slogan is hollered. Our leaders would chant, Melayu Baru! (New Malay!) and we would echo likewise, and with greater fervor. Then came Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa (Language the soul of a nation), and we would repeat the mantra with even greater lust. The latest is Ketuanan Melayu (Malay hegemony), and being the latest, our responses are even louder and shriller. We could hardly contain our enthusiasm, chomping at the bit to do battle for its cause.

At the December 2011 UMNO General Assembly, the delegates were whooping it up over Ketuanan Melayu. They could not contain their frenzy, cheered on by their leaders. To me the atmosphere was less being ready to do battle for a great cause, more like a service in a Black Southern Church where the exuberance of the congregants’ “Hallelujahs!” were exceeded only by their bodily gyrations. Women’s Minister Sharizat Jalil was aggressively rolling up her sleeves as if readying herself for a mano-a-mano with the Pakatan leader. Whether the enthusiasm reflected a deeper appreciation of the message or merely an expression of relief that the service was finally over was hard to say.

My purpose in recasting these all-too-familiar challenges in a different light is not to elicit an “Amen!” or “Say it again, brother!” type of responses rather a more cerebral “Let me ponder that!” or, “That’s a different way of looking at the problem!”

            Whenever the “Malay problem” is discussed, whether at the highest levels in the hallowed halls of Putrajaya or by the Pak Wans at the more plebian warong kopi (coffee stalls) of Kota Baru, the “analyses” would never venture far beyond the dredging up and resurrecting of old ugly stereotypes.

The only difference between the lofty self-glorifying participants at Putrajaya versus the earthy warong kopi patrons would be their language. The official report would be elaborately bound and released with great fanfare, with all the highly-paid consultants and participants in attendance. It would also bore the imprimatur of the World Bank or some such prestigious international authority, and carry the names of distinguished foreign professors or partners of elite consultancy firms that had been hired at great costs to produce the report.

A few months later those expensively paid reports would be all but forgotten, lost in the belly of the bureaucracy, just as the pretentious pronouncements of Pak Wan would be lost in the heavy haze of his cheap kretek smoke. The only difference would be in the half-life or decay rate, weeks or months at most for the official report versus minutes with Pak Wan’s.

A policy based on faulty assumptions will remain so no matter how elegantly written or impressive its authors’ titles. And when those policies fail, as inevitably they would, the effect would be to further reinforce prevailing ugly stereotypes, making subsequent attempts at solving the problem that much more difficult. This is quite apart from the wasted efforts and resources, as well as the accompanying lost opportunity.

“We have tried everything,” earnest leaders like Najib and Mahathir would cry, literally, “but Malays just refuse to respond!” The implication is that there is nothing wrong with those policies or their brilliant authors, only that we Malays are just too lazy or too dependent on the government.

Predictably those deliberations at Putrajaya or Pak Wan’s warong kopi would crystallize around two polar themes. On one side would be those who conveniently and confidently assert that there is nothing wrong with us, rather the fault is with the evil outside world intent on doing us in, the old and recurring “us” versus “them” argument.

At the other end would be those who could find nothing right with us. To them we are our own problem; the enemy is us. If it is not our culture, religion or upbringing, then it must be our inner being, our nature or genes, as Mahathir asserted in his The Malay Dilemma.

The two viewpoints may be poles apart in their basic assumptions, but they share one underlying commonality. They view Malays essentially as victims; the first seeing us as victims of the merciless outsiders – the “them” – while the second reduces us as invalids, the tragic victims of our own inadequacies, real or perceived.

Some resort to both arguments. In his The Malay Dilemma, citizen Mahathir faulted us; during the 1997 economic crisis, Prime Minister Mahathir blamed “them” – the neo colonialist, Jewish financiers, and currency traders. That is definitely one way to ensure that you win the argument one-way or the other!

In the past, the cruel “them” would be the colonialists. If only they had stayed out of our world, then we would not today be burdened with the current dangerous race problems. We also would not have to work so hard to keep up with those pesky, hungry and diligent immigrants. We would then be able to enjoy our tropical nirvana while being serenaded by dondang sayang.

Colonialism is now long gone but its ghost is still being invoked every so often, and not just by the less informed. With the old devil gone, the sophisticated have invented new players to fill the void of the now long-gone imagined enemies.

Enter the neo-colonialist. This modern variant is even more virulent as it is intent on colonizing us mentally as well. Worse, those who fall victims to this new spell do not even realize that they are being colonized. Such are the awesome powers of these neo-colonialists.

If only these neo-colonialists – the cabal of evil international financiers and currency traders with their foreign ideology of capitalism – would leave us alone, we would not be burdened with the economic crisis of 1997 and we would still have our beloved Bank Bumiputra. Left unsaid, what about its massive portfolios of dud loans?

If it is not the neo-colonialists and their destructive capitalist ideology, then there would not be those hordes of hungry immigrants, the pendatangs. Their obsession for hard work, habits handed down from their ancestors who came from lands less blessed and forgiving, made it difficult for us to keep up with them while enjoying our privileged lifestyle. Well, at least in that regards we are no different from the Americans, Australians, and Europeans. They too complain of these pesky and hardworking immigrants from strange lands bringing with them their equally strange cultures and willingness for hard work.

Never mind that now we have been in charge of our destiny for well over half a century, with plenty of time to correct whatever problems those colonialists had left us with. However, instead of doing that and in a twist of irony, we have aped their ways. We have taken them further. While those colonialists would jail only a few hardened rabble-rousers, we have jailed anyone who dared disagree with us. At least those colonialists did not incarcerate their own kind; we do.

Like the colonialists, we too have brought in hordes of a new breed of pendatangs, this time not to work in the tin mines or rubber estates but as maids, food servers, odd-job laborers, and “sex workers.” What new social and cultural problems will they create?

Next:  The Enemy Is Us – The Self-Blamers

Adapted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released in January 2016.

The Malay Dilemma Revisited. Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia. Updated Edition (2017)

May 22nd, 2017
The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics In Modern Malaysia – Updated Edition
List Price: $19.90  (April 2017)
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
408 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1543242423 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1543242421
LCCN: 2017903018
BISAC: Political Science / Public Affairs & Administration

Few countries today have culturally or ethnically homogenous populations, the consequence of colonization, globalization, and mass migrations. Thus, the Malaysian dilemma of socioeconomic and other inequities paralleling racial and cultural divisions has global relevance as it also burdens many nations.

Malaysia’s basic instrument in ameliorating these horizontal (between groups) inequities has been its New Economic Policy (NEP). Its core mechanism being preferential socio-economic and other initiatives favoring indigenous Malays and other non-immigrant minorities, as well as massive state interventions in the marketplace. In place since 1970 in the aftermath of the deadly 1969 race riots, NEP has been continuously “strengthened,” meaning, ever increasing resources expended and preferences being imposed with greater assertiveness.

Malaysia succeeded to some degree in reducing her earlier inequities and in the process created a sizeable Malay middle class. There was however, a steep price. Apart from the marketplace distortions and consequent drag on the economy, those earlier horizontal inequities are now replaced by the more destabilizing vertical variety. NEP also bred a rentier- economy mindset among Malays and other recipient communities. Those preferences now impair rather than enhance the recipents’ (in particular Malay) competitiveness, the universal law of unintended consequences being operative.

Initiated by Prime Minister Razak in 1970, his successor, Mahathir, raised NEP to a much more aggressive level, only to have that initiative today corrupted and degraded by, ironically, Tun Razak’s son, current Prime Minister Najib. By July 2016, the US Department of Justice alleges that “Malaysian Official 1” (aka Najib) illicitly siphoned over US$3.5 Billion from a government-linked corporation, 1MDB. Corruption on such a gargantuan scale was the predictable and inevitable consequence of Malaysia’s New Economic Policy and state interventions in the marketplace.

Ths book chronicles Mahathir’s and Najib’s perversion of a once noble endeavor. Najib now adds another volatile mix. Desperate to hang on to power, he adds religious fanaticism to his already corrosive corruption and destructive incomptence. He now cavorts with extremist Islamists, threatening and undermining the nation’s still fragile race dynamics. Malaysia is today still burdened and blighted by Najib’s inept, corrupt, and chauvinistic leadership, with no end in sight. This would inevitably undermone the current fragile but still peaceful racial equilibrium in the country.

Instead of arbitrarily-picked numbers and targets, Malaysia should focus on strengthening Malay competitiveness through enhancing our human and social capitals. Modernizing the education system to emphasize the sciences, mathematics, English fluency, and technical training would address the first. Curtailing royal institutions and other vestiges of feudalism, as well as the regressive form of religion as propagated by the state, would develop the second. It is difficult to wean Malays off the special privilege narcotic when the sultans are frolicking at the top of the heap.

Beyond chronicling the failures of both the Najib and Mahathir Administrations, the author offers these alternative strategies for enhancing Malay competitiveness. Apart from improving the quality of our human and social capital through modern education and responsive institutions, the author advocates removing or at least toning down the stifling influence of official religion.