[OPINION] New Malays in new direction: The paradigm shift
A "paradigm," according to the late Historian of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Thomas Kuhn, is based on the consensus of the scientists. The key word being consensus.
A "PARADIGM," according to the late Historian of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Thomas Kuhn, is based on the consensus of the scientists. The key word being consensus.
When Kuhn introduced such a concept, he created a major uproar all across the world in the 1970s: how can science, and its attendant theories, indeed, facts and careful experimentation in the laboratory, be based on 'consensus' ?
Many found Kuhn's scholarship to be outrageous, even sacrilegious, to the history and trajectory of science.
Yet Kuhn was able to explain how the physics and mechanics of Issac Newton later made their way for what Albert Einstein and others who embraced his theory of relativity. With one bold book, Kuhn changed the way people saw science.
Science was not a mere accumulation of facts —- through trials and errors over time —- but what the scientists themselves agreed as the correct "paradigm" (a mutually agreed agreement or consensus that is). In other words, science can be a form ideology too.
But Kuhn also argued that all "paradigms," can be disrupted. And, when they do, with new theories and new facts, the previous paradigm will collapse. Daniel Bell, a professor of Harvard University, called it the "end of ideology". This means when an old paradigm has lost its explanatory and policy prescription value, a new one will naturally supplant and displace the old one.
Consciously or unconsciously, policy makers in Malaysia have been doing that since the inception of the country in 1957: they tried to revise and challenge each five year plans.
More recently, this was done through the mid term review of the 11th Malaysian Plan. One can also include the Bumiputera Empowerment Congress in 2018.
Now, this is where Malaysian policy makers need to be extremely cautious and careful. Since the National Economic Policy (NEP) formed the back bone of the Malaysian economic planning by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), which is under the Prime Minister's Department, it goes without saying that all mid term or final review of any plans or vision documents in Malaysia, including Vision 2020, tend to echo the gold standards of NEP.
However, what was originally the gold standards of NEP —- indeed the top policy benchmark —- has been corroded, and corrupted, by UMNO between late 2004 mid 2018. Thus, all that glitters are not gold too as and when NEP is trudged out to create a new paradigm. How?
Under the rule of Tun Abdullah Badawi, the fifth Prime Minister, the scholarship of Professor Edmund Terence Gomez showed that all Government Linked Investment Companies (GLICs) were allowed to improve their balance sheets by going abroad.
However, once abroad, instead of harnessing the foreign direct investment (FDI) in and to Malaysia to benefit the country, these GLICs tried to find their greener pastures abroad almost permanently.
A case in point if FGV Felda or even MARA that went on a buying spreed of hotels in London, and Australia. Even Jho Low did the same in Los Angeles and New York City, until Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal became highly suspicions of each purchase, and their kleptocratic ruse was uncovered.
When Prime Minister Najib Razak took over in April 2009, he found this system of going abroad too cumbersome. Instead, he invented 1MDB to borrow heavily on various debts, with the financial guarantees of the Malaysian government to make a success out of Bandar Malaysia.
By building Bandar Malaysia within the close radius of KLCC Twin Towers, Najib was crowding out other good investments, making them more costly, in a section of the city that was already heavily congested.
To the degree 1MDB was affected by any controversy, both domestically and internationally, 1MDB's bad debt and liabilities were absorbed by the Ministry of Finance.
When Ministry of Finance could not handle the toxic assets and balance sheets, Tabung Haji and other GLICs, including Bank Negara, were brought in to bail 1MDB out time and again. Even the Auditor General Amrin Buang was asked to alter his report.
Regardless of what was done and how it was done, and by whom, the larger justification of UMNO has always been the self serving agenda to protect the UMNOputeras, rather than the Malays.
By focusing on themselves, UMNO lost touch with it's roots to help the Malays, in fact, to protect the provisions of Article 153 that spelt out the privileges of the Malay royalties and the people.
Thus, without giving due attention to the implication of pipping out the Malays, UMNO resorted to importing cheap labor into Malaysia to keep the wages low. When the wages were low, the Malays were the first to be affected. UMNO couldn't care less, and allowed more and more cheap labor to swarm in, depriving the Malays the right to enjoy ever higher wages.
The fact is this though: neither the administration of Badawi, through its 4th floor boys, or, Najib, through his "kitchen cabinet," knew how to protect the Malays. If they did, several oddities would not have occurred and pervaded the entire system top down.
First, PNB offered a higher dividend of 8.9 per cent to 9 per cent to all Bumiputera investors.
But of the 117,000 investors in PNB, 50 per cent of them controlled half of the financial liquidity of PNB according to an article in the Malaysian Insight. These were not long term investors. They were fair weather investors. At the slightest smell of trouble, these Malay investors would bail. This is how Malays betray the Malays, when the plutocrats look after their own material interest —- not the Malay laity on the ground.
Indeed, if PNB did not offer the dividend or yield at twice or thrice the market rate, which was nominally 3-4 per cent, the elites of UMNO would have parked their cash elsewhere, even if such a move would destroy the financial liquidity of PNB. The modus operandi of these investors was "Me first," rest in of the Malays always last.
Secondly, there are close to 94 Bumiputera Development Agencies according to the count of The Edge Malaysia. Some 1,170 companies were spawned by these Bumiputera Development Agencies, including MARA.
Yet, to date, aside from MARA, there is no telling of the annual returns. The Bumiputera Development Agencies clearly have become dishevelled, disorganized and disrupted.
Third, research seems to suggest that between 1970, when NEP was introduced, a program launched to allow Malays to own up to 30 per cent of the corporate equities, the current most reliable figures point to 18 per cent of the Malay corporate equities to date. If you take out the institutional Bumiputera equity participation, studies have shown it is abysmally low of less than 5 %.
Nor can 30 per cent be reached, since the Malays tend to want to sell their shares and equities as and when they have made a profit.
When they sell, without making the effort to hold and build their corporate nests and wealth, the 30 per cent threshold becomes the proverbial "moving goal mouth” indeed, a weak measure of what the Malays can achieve, or truly own in perpetuity. When they cannot reach the 30, Malays assume others are sticking a knife in their corporate portfolios; when in fact it is UMNO cheating them. The Malay saying, "Harapkan pagar, pagar pula yang memakan padi," is apt. UMNO embodied the worst form of "pagar yang memakan padi," which is why Malaysia spurn into a kleptocracy; before Pakatan Harapan managed to save it.
Fourth, an NEP-centric document that is numerically tagged to 30 per cent may not be a good thing, especially when UMNO has undermined, or, manipulated with it. One of the manipulations involves keeping the wealth within the Supreme Council of UMNO. By creating a false but positive balance sheet economy, UMNO has run wool over the eyes of all, until May 9 2018.
The fact of the matter is, Malays and Malaysia must globalize. And the economic conditions can only become more varied and complex, not driven by how UMNO pad the accounting books and spread sheets alone.
For example, the World Economic Forum has listed top ten risks of doing business in the current international economic system (Source: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/11/growth-is-running-out-of-steam-how-do-we-prepare-for-the-next-crisis/).
The US economy has also the lowest unemployment in 49 years; while the European Union in 43 years; while Japan in 25 years. The mid term review of the 11th Malaysian plan seems oblivious to the external situations abroad.
Yet with a gross domestic product of US$320 billion, which it grew from US$47 billion at its independence in 1957, Malaysia has indeed come a long way, and could yet go further. But the latter is premised on good governance and strong economic statecraft which is nimble and effective, not just within the country, but in consonant with the world.
The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States, for instance, has approved of eight interest hike in the last two years alone. The era of cheap money can and will disappear in the next one to two years —- if the interest rates in Washington DC continue to raise.
On top of the above, the world's global economy is also going through more revolutions in apps, algorithm, analytics of big data and automation (4As). This will also mark more Sino US trade rivalry that is competing to be the preponderant power in and across 4 As.
These are the 4As that were not apparent in NEP, or, the 11th Master Plan, or it's Mid Term Review. Yet, Malaysia is right in the thick of these disruptive technologies driven by 4 As, as Malaysia is the 17th largest trading states in the world. Malaysia is also right in the thick of the Belt and Road Initiative of China.
A new Malay, in a new Malaysia, must take these disruptions in perspective. Jeremiah Ouyang has warned of the impending arrival of the "honeycomb economy," where each apps can theoretically disrupt the supply chain that anything one builds.
Take hotels, for example. With the arrival of Air B and B, foreign tourists can have peer to peer business transaction without going through the front desk of any major hotels.
In Germany, BMW has also introduced it's own app to rival Uber and Grab. Anyone who wants to go from point A and B in a BMW can rent one. He or she does not need to physically own a BMW. Such sharing applications will remove, and destroy, any old notions of ownership.
Similarly, students who do not want to study in a formal university can also collect their certificates by enrolling in EdX.org, which are accredited courses and certificates aporoved by MIT and Harvard.
A new Malay has to take all of the above changes into consideration —- the disruptive influences, instead of insisting on perpetual protection from the state.
Indeed, it is chastening to know that the state is not all knowing too. 90 per cent of the decisions that led to the collapse of the wages in the United States alone, according to The Washington Post, were caused by the politicians and policy makers' bad and flawed decisions (Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/12/17/politicians-have-deliberately-eroded-workers-power-resulting-collapse-pay-bottom-percent-researchers-say/?utm_term=.eff171c871c5).
If Malaysia does not try to think of new ways to become a new country, one that can adapt to the latest digital disruptions, the mere fetish with NEP, which has become a vehicle of sheer rents and corruptions that enrich the top half a per cent of UMNO, will cause the resentment of the 99.5 per cent of the Malays on the ground. May 9 2018 was but an indication of how mad the Rakyat can be when there is no trickle down effects.
As things stand, there are 113,000 Felda settlers, of which 32,000 of them have been receiving RM 800 — RM 1,000 a month.
While they wait, the prices of palm oil will not go up, any time soon, since China has agreed to buy the soybean from the US farmers in order to prevent the collapse of President Donald Trump. This was agreed by President Donald Trump and President Xi Jin Ping after the recent G20 meeting in Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Little wonder, palm oil is doing badly. Workers from Felda have to think of new ways, to make a break through. It is also important to diversify new markets for palm oil, including but not limited to countries like Russia, Eastern European Market, South Asian market etc.
Among others this includes working in Japan and Korea consistent with the Look East policy of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir.
A new Malay must have the strategic mentality to go where the returns are highest, even before their GLICS or GLCs have found the first breakthrough.
Look East, and the Malays will find the means to gain the necessary skills from the craftmens in Japan, with the goal that Malay and Malaysians who work in Japan are determined and tenacious enough to perfect their own skill sets in Japan or Korea.
There are four ways Malays can can change. With the help of Tun Dr Mahathir and Tan Sri Muhyddin Yassin, both senior statesmen, have to do a serious S.W.O.T. analysis, as tedious or rudimentary as this may sound. S.W.O.T. stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
First, the strengths of Malays, especially new Malays, stem from their willingness to salvage their honor, after years of being spoiled and over indulged by Najib. Nothing is more powerful than the will and tenacity to change or turn over a new leaf. After all passion does move mountains.
Second, just as some are committed to turning over a new leaf, there are elements in UMNO and PAS who have formed a quasi pact to ask them to return to the old racial, kleptocratic and insidious ways, in time for the 2023 general election.
Third, now that Malaysia has ditched kleptocracy and kakistocracy (rule by the worst leaders and MPs), new opportunities are opening up for the likes of Bersatu to field more qualified and capable candidates in the GLICS, Government Linked Companies, and even think tanks.
Bersatu must not lose this once in a life time change. Appointing qualified and capable candidates rather than mere politician is key towards recalibrating the Malay minds.
Finally, the threats to Malays, and Pribumis, come in the form of "pseudo-Islam," peddled by Pas, and increasingly UMNO.
Take the celebration of Christmas, for instance.
Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) was first protected by the Christian emperors of Ethiopia when he was on the run from the Quraisy before eventually settling down in Medina, and finally Mecca. One should not forget the good will of the early Christians to Muslims, as they too as the People of the Book as acknowledged by the Quran.
When Malays can engage, and work across the aisle with Christians, Japanese, even Indians and Persians, there is no stopping Malaysia from becoming a major strategic power in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) including East Asian Summit and Asia Europe Summit and the Asean Defense Ministers Plus Summit.
A new Malay must be defined by mental agility, humility and mobility, and an honorable sense of fairness, all of which are values deeply embedded in classic Malay, which can also be found in the likes of Japan.
Looking East is not a platform that should be seen by Malays or members of Felda as a bridge too far.
* Datuk Wira Dr Rais Hussin is the chief strategist of PPM.
** When he is not occupied strategising to strengthen the political party, he writes for Astro AWANI.
*** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.