Monday, March 26, 2007

Problems of NEP: Is it the Policy or its Implementation

(Link edited by YM)

Former Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Musa Hitam seems to be playing to the non-Malay gallery. Last Dec in an interview with the largest circulated daily newspaper in the country, Sin Chew Jit Poh he was quoted as telling the GLCs to stop pinching Malay professionals from Chinese enterprises.

The story was picked up by the Sun newspaper on Dec 19. I find such a call most intriguing as I keep wondering how many Malay professionals have the GLCs pinched from the Chinese enterprises?

Subsequently I wrote to the Sun seeking Tun Musa to tell us how many Malay executives have the GLCs pinched from Chinese enterprises. For I keep wondering whether there are enough Malay professionals being employed in Chinese enterprises for them to be pinched in the first place? As expected the letter never got to see daylight.

(In that letter to the editor e-mailed on Christmas Day last year I had also responded to Chairman of the Malaysian Chapter of Transparency International, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam who had claimed that it was difficult for non-Malay companies to employ Malay professionals. In the report (Dec 21 issue of the Sun) he justified his claim to the “unavailability of suitably qualified Malay professionals and those with the right corporate values and attitudes of diligence and commitment”.

Isn’t it odd that on the one hand Musa had asked the GLCs to stop pinching Malay executives from the Chinese companies but Navaratnam had claimed that it was difficult for chinese companies to employ Malay executives and professionals. So if there are so few Malay professionals and executives being employed by the Chinese companies what is there for the GLCs to pinch? I found such claim really incredulous. I am sure Malay professionals would take umbrage to Navaratnam’s claims that Malay professionals and executives do not have the right corporate values and attitudes of diligence and commitment.

Navaratnam had also blamed extremists (Malays) for perpetrating and encouraging the myths of non-Malay companies not wanting to employ Malays. But I countered if what the Malays think as mere myths then he should give the figures to show otherwise. I am sure the Malays would like to know the number of Malay executives and professionals as well as the number of Chinese companies that have employed them.

It seems he made the generalisations that non-Malay companies find difficulty in getting Malay professionals just on the basis of an experience of the Sunway Group where he is a director. But I believe Sunway faced such difficulties out of its own reputation vis-à-vis the Malay professionals.

Navaratnam also claimed that the Malay professionals prefer to work in GLCs and government service where they are more comfortable. My rejoinder: so the Malay professionals are not suitable for non-Malay companies but they are OK with the GLCs and government because the government entities do not require diligence nor commitment from their staff? Is that why they are more comfortable there? So the Malays are not diligent nor committed in their work? Doesn’t such remarks smack of racialist sentiments?)

And in the face of such unprofessional and racist attitude by a very senior non-Malay corporate figure we now have a decision by the Advisory Panel of the Iskandar Development Region – made up of five very wise and influential men – that the race quota favouring the Malays should be done away with. The other members are tycoon Robert Kuok, Tan Sri Samsudin Osman former Chief Secretary to the Government, prominent Indian business tycoon Tan Sri Kishu Tirathai and economist Datuk Andrew Sheng.

Musa who made the announcement gave this reason: the Iskandar Development Region being actively promoted to upgrade development efforts in southern Johore can only succeed if policies favouring the Malays are dropped.

The IDR is the biggest project announced by the present government with the hope that it could spur economic growth with greater foreign participation not just for southern Johore but extending to other parts of the country as well.

It is indeed odd that a lot of people are making out as if affirmative action for the Malays is becoming a hindrance to greater economic growth. Foreign Direct Investment in the country is said to have dropped to RM15billion in 2005 from RM17.6 billion in 2004. And it looks as if the affirmative action in favour of the Malays is being made the scapegoat. Musa seems to agree. Thus the Advisory panel’s recommendations as articulated by Musa.

But we also know that foreigners would invest wherever they can make money even if they have to comply with various local requirements. So what’s the drift?

Is the NEP the real problem for it to get such a bad reputation? As I see it the problem is not the policy but its implementation. How can we blame the policy for the various problems when undeserved so-called Malay companies are selected for various jobs and projects merely because of political connections and other unprofessional considerations? In the end the Malays get the ‘shit’.

Now if implementation of the policy is at fault, the remedy is to ensure better and more transparent implementation. Do away with the political connections, the patronage and the ‘greasing of the palms’ for approvals. Not to discard the policy.

In any decision over awards of contracts or whatever jobs only the genuine Malay company should be considered. The rent seekers should not be considered at all. But this does not mean that a real working partnership between the Malay and non-Malay should not be considered.

It looks as if for the sake of the IDR we are willing to forgo anything, not just compromising Malay interests, but even to the extent of compromising our sovereignty over the region to the Singaporeans. Under the proposals Singaporeans can come and go as they pleased without having to go through Immigration and Customs formalities. It looks as if Johore is being made the playground for the Singaporeans.

Comparison is being made of how Shenzen in China had developed after being tied with Hong Hong. But it must be remembered that Hong Kong and Shenzen are part of the same country, whilst Singapore and Malaysia are two different nations.

And we know the mentality of the Singaporeans and how they looked upon us. But we seem to be going out of our way to please the Singaporeans.

A newspaper columnist Gavin Yap earlier this month has this to say of the Singaporeans arising from an encounter he had with a Singapore chick. She had kept on boasting of the many more opportunities available in the republic than in Malaysia, “better this, better that, more professional, more talent, blah, blah, blah”.

He wrote: “When I meet Singaporeans in Singapore, they never come across as annoying as they do when I meet them here. I mean, they're still annoying but something happens to them once they cross the bridge, I don't know. It's like they get possessed by demons hell-bent on making as few friends as possible.

“They get out of their car, look for the nearest local and hit them with the verbal equivalent of a baseball bat — Singapore this, Singapore that, cleaner, more efficient, everything works, everyone's pretty, everyone's rich, no crime, no pollution, no war, no sex, no fun, no problem!

“Yet, the moment they get here, every single one of them starts enjoying the simple freedoms that are not afforded to them back in their sterilised utopia. What freedoms, you ask? Well, let's count them, shall we?

“Littering, smoking, chewing, sucking, drinking, laughing, smiling, flicking, eating hawker food that actually tastes good, and meeting people who have the guts to venture outside without an Armani T-shirt. You see where I'm going with this?

“So, what gives, neighbours? What's the deal with the superiority complex? We know you've done well for yourselves. We know your shopping malls rock. We know your cinemas show uncensored movies. We know you're very pleased with your public transportation. We know you're very proud of your Esplanade.”

I responded to Mr. Yap’s very perceptive piece in a letter to the editor a few days after that. You guess it: the letter also never saw daylight.

Some excerpts: Actually I think the Singaporeans' behaviour towards us is not because they think they are superior. In fact it's the converse.

Deep within them is their inferiority complex of being small, a dot on the map as described by former Indonesia President, B.J. Habibie. Their being successful is to a certain extent also due to their being exploitative in their relationships with their immediate neighbours ie Indonesia and Malaysia. Thus this obsession to convince themselves that they are better. The one-upmanship, the kiasu mentality.

And at the same time they have this fetish of either Malaysia or Indonesia want to gobble them up. Thus the fortress mentality.

Their coming into being is also not something they would want to cherish. Especially when comparing to other countries that attained their independence after so much of struggles against their colonial masters and the sacrifices made by their people.

While in their case they were actually 'kicked out' by the founding first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra after the island's leaders, especially Lee Kuan Yew who went on the offensive to play up racial issues during the 1964 elections when the PAP contested for a number of seats for the federal parliament. Such campaign tone could compromise the somewhat fragile relationships between the Malays and the non-Malays then.

Despite the combative nature of the campaign by their leaders spearheaded by Lee Kuan Yew who had harped on the "Malaysian Malaysia" issue and continuously questioned Malays rights as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, the PAP lost. The Malaysian Chinese refused to be baited and thus only one of the PAP's candidates, C.V. Devan Nair who stood in Bangsar was returned even though the party had contested only in Chinese predominant areas.

Still Lee Kuan Yew cannot accept facts and continued with his "Malaysian Malaysia" rhetoric to the extent that by 1965 the atmosphere was racially charged and could easily have sparked some ugly incidents. The Tunku then felt it was becoming untenable and decided to cut off the cancerous lump thereby denying the PAP from continuing with its devisive rhetorics.

Lee Kuan Yew was stunned by the Tunku's reaction and decision. To their credit they not only survived the trauma of being cut off but made the best of that situation to carve out for themselves to becoming a developed nation within the space of less than 40 years.

Unfortunately they made the mistake of consulting and engaging the Israelis as their advisors since they had drawn a parallel to their existence of being surrounded by the Malays (Malaysia and Indonesia) to that of Israel which is surrounded by the Arabs.

But they forget that Singapore is no Israel. Singapore is a legitimate entity even if formed by being not wanted by the Malaysian leader then. Israel is not. It was illegally and artificially created by the British (the Balfour Declaration of 1917 made in a letter by the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild, a British Jewish leader for transmission to the Zionist Federation following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire with Britain agreeing to the Zionist plans for a Jewish "national home" in Palestine and then forcibly brought into being to place all the Jews unwanted by Europe in the land already occupied by the Palestinians after the Second World War).

So the Jews do have a legitimate fear of being pushed out by the Palestinians whose land they had illegally confiscated and occupied leading to millions of Palestinians being displaced as refugees until today. But this is not the case for Singapore. So what do they have to fear from Malaysia or Indonesia? Indonesia let alone Malaysia is not going to overrun that island. So why this obsessive fear and the siege mentality?

This can be explained by Lee Kuan Yew's obsession of making Singapore the rugged society able to withstand any pressures inside or outside. And the belief that they cannot be seen to give away anything lest they be seen as a weakling. So they need this self assurance that they are not 'pliable'.

And this uncompromising attitude has brought them to the current very low ebb in their relationships with Indonesia and Thailand. They cannot be seem to be weak at all but must always flex their muscles.

(Their relationships with Malaysia is no different. We still have the four unresolved issues to contend with even if the current leadership had placed them on the back burner merely because we are groveling to be pally with them and opening up the Iskandar Development Region to the full for the Singaporeans).

Thus the statement by its Foreign Minister, George Yeo earlier this month is not surprising at all. This is what he said: "From time to time we must expect countries to pressure us in the hope that we will give way to their demands. Singaporeans know that if we give in to such pressure, we would only invite more such pressures," so said Yeo in the Singapore parliament.

Their huge defense expenditure (averaging RM20billion a year) for the past 10 years has ensured the republic's armed forces especially its air force to be equipped only with the latest and the best war machines including combat air crafts and armaments including missiles.

This attitude of its leaders has rubbed off onto the ordinary Singaporeans. So Mr Gavin Yap's description of them is apt. They are so docile in their homeland but seem to be let loose as if they don't know what to do once out of their cage.

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