Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Malaysia Bodoh! Part 2

...and this is part 2 of the article that raised a strong response from the government and some staunch supporters... the guy just took the words out of my mouth...

Part 2

The response to my recent column 'While Malaysia fiddles, its opportunities are running dry', published in The Age newspaper on November 15 has been overwhelming. I've received hundreds of e-mails and messages, many from Malaysians both in Malaysia and outside, of which perhaps 95% have been supportive. Thank you for these. It seems that the column has given voice to concerns that many Malaysians have.

I'd like to emphasise (and as many of you realise already), that I wrote
the column as constructive criticism. I like Malaysia very much. I visit often and have many Malaysian friends of all races. I've also written a lot that is positive about Malaysia in the past, most notably in a previous book of mine - The Asian Insider: Unconventional Wisdom for Asian Business, which has no less than five chapters to explain to people outside Malaysia why I feel that Malaysiashould be given more credit than it gets.

There have been many achievements. There is much about which Malaysians can be proud. Malaysia, for example, is far more politically mature and developed than is Singapore. The media is more open too (but of course not asopen as it could or should be.) Malaysians are more entrepreneurial too. AirAsia started in Malaysia and has revolutionised air travel across Asia. In Singapore, there is very much a sense that the government has to doeverything.

I also believe that the NEP, which has seen special advantages given to
bumiputeras over other groups, has been important for Malaysia. It has been essential for nation building. Malaysia is peaceful and while the various groups may not mix much there is clear mutual respect between them. That is a huge achievement.

However, the problem as I said in my column, is waste. And also the use of statistics that are blatantly wrong. Malaysia also has a big problem with transparency. Too little account is made of how other people's money is spent.The police too are way too corrupt for a country as developed as Malaysia. The rote learning that is practiced in the
schools also needs to be done away with. Generations of Malaysian children are missing out on an education thatshould teach them how to be creative and critical - this is what a truly modern, boleh country needs. Again, my comments are meant to be constructive. And I make them as a non-Malaysian largely because many Malaysians feel rightly or wrongly that they cannot say these things themselves in their own country.

Since my column was published, plans for a new RM400 million Istana have been announced and the Agriculture Ministry parliamentary secretary has told Parliament that Malaysia's first astronaut will be playing batu seremban and spinning tops and making teh tarik while in space. There are countless scientists around the world who would give anything for the opportunity to go to space and do real experiments. For the Malaysian government to send anastronaut into space to play Malay children's games serves only to re-emphasise my point about waste. Not only that, it makes Malaysia look infantile in the eyes of the rest of the world, which is a great pity when Malaysia hasmade so many real
achievements. The world is getting more clever, more competitive and
more dynamic every day. There are too many in Malaysia who don't seem to understand this.

Of course my views are just that: my views. But I have spent most of my
adult life analysing and writing about Asia. I am direct and critical; I do not veil my criticisms because I don't want to waste my time or yours with readers trying to guess what I really mean. Open debate is absolutely critical for all modern, dynamic countries. The free flow ofideas and information helps to make countries rich. Political leaders cannot do everything on their own be they in the UK, Australia or Malaysia.
They need help. Otherwise they make mistakes. And when they do, whose fault is that? Those who prefer to stay quiet? And should I
as a non-Malaysian be commenting on Malaysia? Of course. Malaysian political leaders and commentators routinely comment about other countries. That's how the world is now,an inter-dependent, global world. And the world is much better for it.I will write another column about Malaysia soon.

Michael Backman
November 17, 2006

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