By Kee Thuan Chye
Prime Minister Najib Razak is wrong to blame Malaysians for the country’s standing in comparison to Japan and South Korea. He says Malaysia is not as developed and economically advanced as those two countries are because Malaysians lack strong will and fighting spirit.
This is bullshit.
He should instead blame his own party, Umno, and its partners in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. If it were not for the New Economic Policy (NEP) and its continued existence to this day, almost a quarter-century past its original termination date of 1990, we would not be in the state we’re in now.
The NEP made us economically less competitive. Investors were reluctant to put money into ventures for which they had to yield 30 per cent share to partners who brought hardly anything to the table.
The NEP triggered a massive brain drain that is now recognised as one of the factors weakening our hopes of becoming an advanced nation.
The NEP came to be abused by Umnoputras to enrich themselves at the expense of the nation’s welfare. Its negative spin-offs include cronyism, rent-seeking, widespread corruption – all of which retard national development.
Najib knows all this. Why doesn’t he admit it? Why doesn’t he instead blame the people who deserve to be blamed?
With regard to his point about Malaysians lacking strong will and fighting spirit, he need only look at how hard some of our citizens work, and how determined they are to give their children a better life despite the odds against them, to see that Malaysians – or, at least, a percentage of them – do have strong will and fighting spirit.
He says he saw a documentary showing why South Koreans are so successful – “Their students attend school in the morning, go for extra classes in the afternoon, do revision at night and sleep only at 11pm.” Well, that also describes the daily routine of many Malaysian students who are forced to excel – in order to get places in good universities, mostly overseas. And also scholarships, which they can’t get from their own government.
As for those who may fit his description of lacking in strong will and fighting spirit, he need only ask himself why they are so. Is it not because they are constantly being reminded that they cannot compete and must therefore depend on aid and subsidies? And who is doing all this reminding if not his own Umno party?
Why does he talk bullshit now when he himself initiated the dishing out of such aid last September with his Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Plan (BEEP)? Is this how he builds up strong will and fighting spirit?
The worst of it is, he came up with BEEP to shore up support for himself and his party. It was to reward those who had helped Umno win nine parliamentary seats extra at the last general election. He played politics with it, like his predecessors did with the NEP. Mahathir Mohamad kept it going after 1990 because by doing so, he could maintain his power over the Bumiputeras. And Abdullah Badawi was just as savvy about it.
It is politics as played by Umno and BN that has arrested the development of Malaysia. The politics of selling out the country for their own selfish gains. And at the root of it all is the forsaking of meritocracy, which has inevitably resulted in mediocrity.
Najib now says Malaysians should go all-out to achieve success like the Japanese and South Koreans did. He cites the success of Samsung as a global brand and attributes this to its emphasis on education and human capital development. Yes, he’s right, but does Malaysia do the same?
In terms of human capital, many of our best talents have been compelled to go elsewhere because they are not recognised at home or given opportunities to bloom. Najib should ask himself this question: How do we achieve success when we do not prioritise merit? How do we achieve success when we do not promote those who are good but instead promote those who are mediocre?
In terms of education, has our government over the last few decades been more concerned with improving standards or politicising educational matters?
When it was found that rural students had difficulty coping with Mathematics and Science being taught in English, the Government decided to switch back to teaching both subjects in Malay. This was an obvious political decision. It goes against the grain of promoting proficiency in English among our young, many of whom are now hopeless in their grasp of that language.
Even the matter of promoting English in the education system is politicised – seen as being unpatriotic, anti-nationalistic. And yet Najib says we need to be able to compete globally to attain success. How do we do that when many of our young lack proficiency in the global language? And the Government lacks the political will to make them proficient in it?
What about the lowering of the passing mark for numerous subjects at public examinations like the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) – in order to allow more students to pass them? Can Najib pretend not to know that the SPM passing mark for, say, Mathematics, can be as low as 20? That’s 20 out of 100, mind you. Way below the normal passing mark of 40. What values is the Government imparting in doing this? What good does it do for Malaysia’s students? Is it promoting excellence or mediocrity?
Isn’t Najib ashamed that his government perpetuates this practice? And he dares to call for “excellence in education” to make Malaysia a successful nation?
He lauds Japan and South Korea for having managed to succeed “without even having a drop of oil in their soil”. He should first tell the rakyat what he does with the tons of money Petronas makes since Petronas is completely under his control as prime minister. How much of it actually goes towards national development?
And since, in essence, he is saying that Japan and South Korea have succeeded without natural resources (whereas Malaysia has plenty), he should study the systems of both countries, their regard for human capital, their work ethics, their values, etc, and adopt them for Malaysia.
That’s more productive than blaming Malaysians.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the book The Elections Bullshit, available in bookstores.