Sorry Minister Mentor, but you got it all wrong

COMMENT by Paddy Bowie*
(From New Straits Times Online of October 01, 2006)

ONE often encounters foreigners who, on the strength of having been here six months or six years, think they know all there is to know about Malaysia.
Even after half a century I would not so presume, being constantly reminded that it is still possible to be taken totally by surprise. As happened recently.
The source was our nearest neighbour, who should have known better. I thought verbal histrionics were the prerogative of this side of the Causeway, especially of late. But Lee Kuan Yew’s latest broadside, extraordinary and preposterous as it was, took most of us by surprise. To say that I was floored is an understatement.
How could anyone say our Chinese are "marginalised" and "compliant"? Coming from such an outright authoritarian state, it was almost impertinent. They seem capable of the most staggering obedience.
The answer is not far to seek and goes directly to the Minister Mentor, He Who Must Be Obeyed (with apologies to John Mortimer). Lee is perceived to have inherited the Mantle of Heaven, which in the Confucian ethic inspires the utmost allegiance, for which read compliance. Newcomers on first acquaintance with that well-ordered, disciplined city state are apt to exclaim, "But it’s just the West with palm trees". This it is decidedly not. It is a Confucian Chinese society with its own special brand of kiasu, to boot.
Kiasu is what Lee seemed to be exercising in his unprovoked remarks. And as for being marginalised, Singapore’s minority race is arguably the most qualified for this.
But not the Malaysian Chinese. Has Lee not heard of Francis Yeoh (about to send in a bullet train to his island and other daring ventures)? You just can’t keep them down, our commercial warrior class.
After all, if they hadn’t ventured, their ancestors would not have left China in the first place. And successful they are now, the backbone of our economy.
Robert Kuok, Lim Goh Tong, Quek Leng Chan, Teh Hong Piow can testify. The roll call is endless of all those who have responded with the work ethic and the success ethic to the business opportunity Malaysia gave them, and now have overtaken most of the rest of us.
As for the Chinese being "compliant", we may be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of joke. I can hardly say I have noticed this in my own irrepressible colleagues and friends. Is Lee unaware of Lim Kit Siang? Latterly, we may cite Mathias Chang, hardly quiescent, or Tian Chua in Keadilan. The Opposition in Parliament is led by DAP and very vocal they are, too. One is reminded of the well-worn joke about a fishing contest either side of the Johor Strait. The Malaysian caught all the fish, the Singaporean none. The explanation — on this side the fish are allowed to open their mouths.
If being "marginalised" produces a Vincent Tan, I have probably not understood it. In any of those fashionable rankings of our richest citizens there is hardly a non-Chinese among them. We need to contrast this with Singapore where the most glaring phenomenon is what has happened to their local private sector.
Now the latter is dominated by MNCs (once 70 per cent of the corporate sector) now joined by GLCs. It would appear that it is their entrepreneurs who have been marginalised, to the point of extinction, except for a few hardy family businesses in construction and finance.
And the non-compliant also tend to disappear. Where are Francis Seow and J.B. Jeyaratnam? The late Devan Nair, the late James Puthucheary, the late Sandra Woodhull were disgraced for non-conformity — two went to jail, then were dispatched across the Causeway where they were allowed to be independent and became prominent members of the community.
The Chinese this side are taken care of in another way — their educational privileges. We kept the Mandarin schools, the only country in the region to do so. Singapore did not. Besides the linguistic advantage for our Chinese, it allows them to preserve their traditions and pride of race.
Nor can one even begin to consider that the Malaysian Chinese are politically marginalised. On our side they are recognised by a very Malaysian form of proportional representation in government that has yielded six Chinese ministers in Cabinet, 13 Chinese deputy ministers and five parliamentary secretaries. Singapore is lucky to have one Malay in the Cabinet.
Here there is a sizeable contingent of Chinese in Parliament on both the government and the Opposition benches. Altogether they are accorded a place in the political scheme of things commensurate with their share of the population and their interests are well catered for.
This is thanks to our unique political coalition formula. The Malays, despite having the strategic vote and a clear majority, choose to share power in an inclusive system, accommodating Chinese parties like the MCA or Gerakan, and their political brothers in Sabah and Sarawak. One state is controlled by them — Penang — with a Chinese chief minister.
But where Lee got it most seriously wrong relates to the comparative social and economic standing of the different communities. Our "marginalised" Chinese have exceeded the 40 per cent of the corporate wealth allocated to them by the NEP (the lion’s share, I may point out), while the Malays have yet to reach 20 per cent, let alone the targeted 30 per cent. There is an embarrassing income disparity — the average income of the Chinese being 1.64 times that of the Malays.
But back to Lee and what possessed him. Was it a fit of pique or was there a hidden agenda in bracketing us with Indonesia? The Chinese there are different.
They are disguised Chinese to begin with, having had to assimilate. Only three per cent of the population, they are irrepressible economically, with 70 per cent of the corporate wealth, a cause for resentment, and periodically they are set upon for it.
Is there a fear factor here? Does Singapore see itself as in a precarious position — this tiny Chinese enclave squeezed between two larger Malay neighbours?
It ought rather to align itself with Malaysia as an oasis of mature democracy, economic development and stability in a region currently in turmoil.
And in all this we claim for Malaysia a unique status as a role model. Its competitive edge is its diversity, a microcosm of the future globalised world.
Instead of marginalising any one race it aims for an interracial synthesis that respects the culture and integrity of each community and strives towards the ultimate of that diversity — a Bangsa Malaysia.
But what will the world believe? In a situation where true identity is based on reality and image on perception — perception drives. Lee carries the legend. This writer feels like David tilting at Goliath but dare not hope for the biblical outcome.
We need to get our story out.

*The writer left the United Kingdom and moved to Malaysia where she has been living for the past 45 years. She is now a Malaysian citizen.

Better to call a spade, a spade

COMMENT by Kim Quek*
(From of September 25, 2006)

In the chorus of protests against Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's recent remark that Chinese Malaysians have been marginalised, one simple question remains unanswered.
If there has been no racial marginalisation, why has the word meritocracy been a taboo in Malaysian politics ever since the racial riots of May 13,1969?
A few more simple questions: Why has there been a massive and unrelenting brain drain since then, resulting in many Chinese Malaysians excelling in many fields in foreign lands? Why has there been a virtual monopoly by one race in the whole spectrum of the public sector, from the army and civil service to the judiciary and universities?
Why have there been, year after year, top Chinese Malaysian students barred from universities, only to be admitted later (for some) upon begging by Chinese Cabinet ministers?
No doubt Mr Lee may be faulted for lacking diplomatic niceties in his remarks, but he has spoken the truth. And I think every Malaysian knows that, at least in the deepest part of his heart.
Yes, we have been practising racial discrimination, and that is a zero sum game. When race A is barred so that race B can get in, it is one side's loss and another side's gain.
It is sheer dishonesty and hypocrisy to deny that no race has suffered a disadvantage as a result of this policy.
But the real question is: Is such policy justified? To answer that, we have to go back to where such policy started — the New Economic Policy (NEP), formulated after the racial riots in 1969.
In its original concept, the NEP's prime objective was to achieve national unity and the strategy was two-pronged: To eradicate poverty irrespective of race, and to restructure society so as to eliminate the identification of race with economic function.
There is nothing wrong with such an affirmative action policy, but the tragedy is that over the years, through racial hegemony, it has been transformed into a policy synonymous with racial privileges.
There is no question that in spite of the misapplication, the NEP has achieved its limited objective of elevating the status of Malays to a respectable level, compared to that of other races.
But such anachronistic and regressive policy has no place in the globalising world or in any civilised society. As it is, the pressure to dismantle such policy does not come from within — as the deprived races seem powerless to redress this wrong — but from the whole world who are our trading partners.
Our trade negotiators should be able to testify how tough the going is when it comes to negotiating free trade agreements — whether it is regional marketing pacts or bilateral agreements — due to the presence of Malaysia's race-based protectionist policies.
These NEP-inspired policies stand as stumbling blocks to the opening of a wider window for two-way trades and investments.
Even worse is the loss of Malaysia's economic competitiveness in the face of rising competition from abroad.
Our prime minister has correctly diagnosed this malaise as the prevalence of our third-world mentality, but he has not done enough to correct our uncompetitive culture or to stamp out our worsening racial and religious divide.
Mr Lee's comments have understandably riled many Malaysian leaders, but it should also have struck resonance among many who have silently put up with these unjust policies all these years.
The great silent majority should now ponder what would serve their interests best: To save face by angrily rebutting Mr Lee, or to stare at the ugly truth and institute changes that will put the nation on the right path?
We have reached a stage in our history critical enough to warrant caution in putting too much trust in incumbent leaders. The fact that we have scraped through as a nation despite such policies does not guarantee we will be similarly lucky in the future.
Internal and external circumstances have so altered that we can no longer commit such major errors without putting our future in peril. From this perspective, Mr Lee's bitter medicine may yet work to our advantage, if we are humble and brave enough to do some serious introspection that may lead to our common good.

*The writer is a political commentator and author of the Malaysian best-seller, Where to, Malaysia?.

Home Page