Saturday, August 21, 2010

DEB: 'Dasar Ekonomi Bastard'?

It is a trend among Malay leaders and elite to denounce the DEB or NEP in its present form as ‘the bastardization of the original spirit of the DEB’. A recent example of this proclivity is a speech by Nazir Abdul Razak of CIMB at the bank’s function. According to press report, he also made the following points. The original spirit of the DEB was the eradication of poverty. The DEB is out of date, being decades old, and need to be revised since it is causing problems, ‘being everywhere’. He extolled the virtue of diversity and multi-racialism, being an important factor for economic growth. To give it emphasis, he quipped that after all CIMB has often been alluded to as ‘Chinese, Malay, Indian Bank’, bringing laughter to the audience. Such views had been aired before by national leaders, and I am sure Nazir Razak would not be the last, since such thinking had been ‘blessed’ by the national elite who are now preoccupied with ushering in the New Economic Model, to jettison the DEB unceremoniously.

Before I respond to the above, let me enter some caveat, lest I am misunderstood, deliberately or otherwise. I am not against multiracialism, nor against cultural diversity. Neither am I making an issue of the merit or demerit of the DEB or the NEM. This should require a separate treatment to do justice to the question. The subject of my present posting is a certain attitude of the elite concerning issues, which can only be described as flippant, superficial, and cannot be said responsible or accountable in a democratic sense.

Now what is wrong with such views as articulated by Nazir Razak? Firstly, it caricatures the DEB and misrepresented it. They speak of abuses and distortion of the DEB, dubbed as ‘bastardisation’, and championed the jettisoning of it on that score. Yet they do not acknowledge the real concerns and principles of the DEB that was ‘bastardised’. The DEB originally concerned with the eradication of rural poverty and the bridging of the rural-urban divide in the economy. The DEB was also concern about the restructuring of the economy to avoid the identification of economic activities along ethnic or racial lines. This has to be properly represented and discussed. Are these objectives still a national concern or has we as a nation adequately addressed this question. Our stand may differ on ways of addressing these problems, but we cannot afford to ignore the issues, ‘sweeping them under the carpet’. If we choose to ignore them, bury our head in the sand, confusing between avoidance of issues and resolving them, I am sure the problems would only revisit us one day, and with a vengeance.

By caricaturing the DEB, and oversimplifying it, they usually misrepresent it, in order to justify their new found policies or models. Let us move on with an understanding of our past. The DEB has been an integral part of our lives for so long. Should we move on, let it be based on understanding and not self-delusion, supported by the rhetoric and cliché of ‘pluralism’, ‘democracy’ or ‘equality’. I am not against these as ideals, but certainly as uninformed bravado and dilletantism. Before we move on, surely and maturely, we need to make peace with our past, ‘an accounting of our previous position’, for good or bad, and on the basis of that self-introspection, move on wisely.

When we caricature the DEB, thereby misrepresenting it, simply because we wish to justify our new path, we may be subverting the very cause of pluralism and democracy that we claim to champion. When we conveniently suppress the fact that the original concern of the DEB was to ensure racial harmony by ensuring social justice, alleviating rural poverty and restructuring the economy, we contribute to racial prejudice. By willfully suppressing this aspect, merely highlighting its abuses, we demonized the DEB, demonizing too the Malays on the whole, on account of the greed of a small group of their own kind. The impact of this ‘distortive perspective’ on ethnic relations had been disastrous and ever deepening.

From the looks of things, we may not have to wait long for the problems to revisit us. Even as the NEM or the RMK 10 is being ushered in, and undergoing much vacillation and revision, we see many signs of the ‘ghost’ of the DEB revisiting, with little indication of ever leaving. Allow me to furnish some recent examples. The president of MCA, Chua Soi Lek , as mouthpiece of his party, had demanded that the quota of 30% Malay equity be decreased and phased out eventually. Cabinet Minister Koh Tsu Koon has attacked Perkasa’s president for his ‘obsession with bumiputra quota’ and ‘telling other races to do this and that’. He suggested Perkasa to focus instead on the implementation of the DEB and upgrading Malay skills and know-how, which can be read as a snipe at Malay economic and technological lag. Minister Koh Tsu Koon makes no mention, however, of non-Malays ‘telling the Malays to do this and that’.

Other very senior UMNO politician had jumped into the fray, no less than the Deputy Prime Minister Mukhyuddin himself. Cabinet Minister Nazri had reacted rather strongly, characterizing MCA’s president comment on Malay quota as violating the spirit of 1Malaysia and Barisan Nasional solidarity. I am sure there are many non-Malays, probably Soi Lek himself, who beg to differ, seeing the phasing of Malay equity quota to be in keeping with the spirit of 1Malaysia. Cabinet Minister Rais Yatim reacted rather strongly against the MCA president for his criticism of Malay 30% equity, categorizing it as ‘challenging the constitution and Malay rulers’. There are many other examples of the ‘ghost revisiting’.

An important aspect of our ‘reconciling’ and ‘accounting’ with the DEB is understanding, giving full account of the following questions. What were the principles of the DEB and abuses of them, clearly distinguishing between the two? Are there positive aspects of it which need to be incorporated in 'new vision' or 'model'?What were the causes of the DEB being ‘bastardised’? Who were responsible for ‘bastardising’ it or should be held accountable for it? All this is important. Without such understanding, we may end up in the ridiculous situation where those responsible for ‘bastardising’ the DEB, now cry foul of it. Having ‘bastardised’ the DEB they now choose ‘to dump the baby’. Without understanding the DEB and ‘accounting’ for it, we may see the same cycle afflicting other new policies and models. They would all be ‘bastardized’ in time, and subjected to ‘baby dumping’, in vicious cycles! It is the psychology of having soiled one spot,  move on to another place, soiling it in turn and so on and so forth. Should not they be taking responsibility, cleaning the mess at least, before moving on? To make it worse, they blame and scape goat on others for the mess they leave behind.This is certainly not the way to give leadership to a nation!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Corruption Creeps!

I am moved to comment on recent news on incidents of corruption in our nation, with some reservation though. A blogger friend perceptively,no doubt moulded by experience, that a blog posting on corruption is always a 'turn-off' for readers.Although I know my friend is right to a great extent,from the point of view of readers approval or hits, I cannot let this consideration be the sole determinant of my blogging concerns.

This antipathy towards the issue of corruption itself is worth thinking about. I wonder why? Allow me to hazard some possible explanations. I think for a great many they are simply weary not so much of the 'issue' but of the persistence of corruption  itself in their daily lives. This is reflected in their attitudes of being 'fed up', 'tired of it', 'weary', 'disillusioned', 'pissed off', 'revolted', 'disgusted','don't care anymore', and various other emotions or shades of them. In short it has hardened into public cynicism,scepticism and a demoralised sense, which we can perhaps be summed up as 'what's the use', 'what can we do about it', 'no point', 'why get worked up about it', 'its reality' and so forth. What is worrying about these responses is that they do suggest the 'normalisation' of corruption, a kind of reluctant acceptance of the inevitable. It is a kind of moral and psychological defeatism against the scourge of corruption.It is such fatalism or resignation which caused many to avoid the issue of corruption.

There can be other explanations why people are uncomfortable with the issue of corruption. It could be that corruption is really an integral part of their lives, not necessarily as perpetrator but as victims. I am sure readers can themselves think of examples from real life. For example stall operators who have to pay high rent to 'contractors' who managed to obtain cheap leases from town councils directly because of 'contacts', 'strings' etc. For such victims of corruption, they are not interested in the issue of corruption simply because it is a bitter and painful reminder of their lives.Such a response to corruption suggests the deepening dan widening spread of corruption, which had weaved itself into the fabric of our daily lives, assuming the status of 'reality'.

On the more sinister side, there are many others who 'shy' from the issue of corruption because they profit and gain from it operationally, either as 'taker'or 'giver'. Out of guilt conscience,, they avoid corruption as 'issue' but not as active participants.. To them corrup practices are merely part of daily business practices or modus operandi,expressed or manifested in normal practices like 'gift
making', 'entertaining','socialising', 'networking','recreational','courtesy', 'political support', and many other expressions.

Another unfortunate explanation can be a kind of 'sympathising', 'emphatising', even 'vicarious thrill' of some pertaining to corruption. This emotional or psychological state can be summed up as 'its normal', 'its human', 'I would too', 'who wouldn't'. 'you would too ,given half tthe chance', 'its everywhere', 'it can never be eradicated'. For this group,they do entertain perhaps the idea that their day may come, when they get their 'big break'. For some others, they know they may not have such chance, sufficing in mere sharing  vicarious thrills with  some corrupt ones waxing riches, leading the fabulous life of the rich and famous as idolised by the media.

One thing has to be said about the development of corruption in our nation today. Once it used to be thought that corruption is merely the affliction of the BN, but it is no longer so. Corruption is very much a question of power and the opportunity for it. It is easier for the opposition to point a finger at the establishment when it is in the oppositon with not much opportunity or tempatation  for corruption. But once a former opposition is thrusted into positon of power, authority and influence, events suggest it is just as adapt to the affliction of corruption, as recent events and news indicated.. I refer readers to the phenomena of sand stealing,business or contract 'brokering' by means of misrepresenting councillor's  letterhead, or the usual mundane direct acceptance of bribery in the granting of contracts etc. The reverse of this principle of 'power corrupts' while 'non-power limits ' is that corruption gets exposed and scandalised with the loss of power and position of authority. We note many examples of this in the news, an outstanding one  being the PKFZ case with a former cabinet minister being charged in court.

To give readers some materials to cross-refer the above observation with, take the recent reports on corruption cases brought to public attention. Last week we learned that the purchase of six new coaches for Malayan Railway Ltd had been inflated by more than half a billion. Those responsible are being investigated. This case suggests that there will always be some officials or executive ever  alert to  'opportunities'. The sad thing about our situation or condition is that whenever there is any big deal or mega project available, it never fails to attract the corrupt. This does not auger well for our future and well being. A simple direct consequence of this case would be Malayan Railway would have to make up for the 'extra cost' by passing it on to consumers, who would thus suffer, paying higher  for the same service, or settle for shoddy services, to make up for the inflated cost of providing them.

Another interesting development is the General Manager of Sime Darby is being charged for accepting briberies for favouring some  contractors. For the granting of one project, he accepted a bribe of $100,000, while for another he accepted $200,000. Going beyond the newspaper report, it is interesting for us to infer the impplications and mangnitude of the phenomenon. It reflects the decline of our corporate life. Sime Darby used to be a household name in the past, being a favourite of investors, a true blue chip. Recently Sime Darby annouced a loss of more than a billion ringgit. Is it a wonder how this could have happened? Now it is reasonable to infer that the case of the GM may not be the only one, neither is his 'collection' confined to just the two bribes that came to light. Interestingly as a footnote, he used the bribes as downpayment for luxury cars. Wow? He has  fine expensive taste, except he wanted it for free at public expense! I am reminded of a previous case of an assistant district  officer who took bribe related to sand stealing, who also used the money for a new car . Doesn't that suggest a pattern or a certain corrupt way of life? Based on my observation, I can say that for some, opportunity for corruption may also be an integral part of their career planning, prefering jobs or career lines with great opportunities for corruption.

Yesterday we read of the corruption related to the 'sale' of titles or datukships in Johor. A distant member of the royal family had been arrested and charged for attempting to 'broker' a tille for a doctor. The case came to light  when problems and complication developed.Putting this particular case aside, the talk of titles being 'marketed' and 'commercialised' had been going on for decades really.There was this much publicised case in Perak involving a close membeer of the royal family. We note that such cases get publicised only when 'complications' developed. I wonder if there are many cases or transactions that 'went smoothly' with the deals being closed? One thing I can say is that the public is somewhat cynical and sceptical about the titles of some being based on merit or meaningful  contribution to state and nation.

What can be done to curb or at least minimise corruption ?  A pertinent question indeed, but one that is too big to address in this posting. Perhaps in future posting I might venture to etxplore the matter. For now my intention is merely to jot down some personal reaction as I read the news. What's brewing certainly gives me the creep! It is plain to see that we are not going anywhere in terms of improving our lives as long as our progress is persistenly pulled  back by this scourge of corruption. Whatever little we gain by way of advancement in the quality of life is soon erased or squandered by the greed of some, leaving our citizens high and dry