“Race and country”: Where has Malaysia gone wrong?

READING lawyer Chooi Mun Sou’s memoir “Malaysia My Home – Quo Vadis”, I was most touched by the unfinished letter written by Jalil Ibrahim to his wife and children before he was murdered in the Regent Hotel, Hong Kong on July 18, 1983: 

“The problems in Hong Kong are not my making and from today onwards I am going to think of myself and my family first and put the interests of the Bank, the race and the country behind me. If those directors had thought of the interests of the Bank, the race and the country first they wouldn’t have made all those blunders in the first place. I have sacrificed enough and suffered enough for their blunders…” 

Jalil Ibrahim sacrificed his life for race and country 39 years ago, while others became rich, famous, corrupt and involved in mega multi-billion-dollar scandals, like the 1MDB scandal, also in the name of “race and country”. 

Re-reading Jalil’s travails and murder in Hong Kong in 1983 in the RM2.5 bil Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF) scandal in Chooi’s memoirs strengthened my belief that we are very late in the day to save “race and country” from perdition. 

This is as financial scandals have now increased many-fold to become mega multi-billion scandals, gaining for Malaysia the odium and infamy of being described as “kleptocracy at its worst”. 

Where has Malaysia gone wrong? 

Is it possible for Malaysians to save “race and country” to return to the tolerant nation-building principles and policies our founding fathers have agreed on in the Malaysian Constitution and the Rukun Negara?  

For over half a century, Malaysia has lost its way, losing out to Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam and we missed out on becoming a Tiger economy. 

If we do not find way back to fulfil our potential, there will be a second Malaysian Diaspora where bright and brilliant Malaysian talents emigrate all over the world to make other nations great and we will be left further behind in the coming decades – even losing out to Indonesia and the Philippines. 

Recently, veteran economist and a founder of Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER), Tan Sri Kamal Salih called for the abolition of the New Economic Policy (NEP) and to replace it with a need-based policy to overhaul the economy. 

He said the resetting of the economy means doing away with protectionism and changing gears toward high productivity. 

Kamal opined that the NEP has “expired” in terms of its benefits, where an over-reliance on the policy would only be detrimental to the country. 

He said” “Only 10% who are the rich have benefited from the NEP. The rest, such as the M40 and B40, are struggling. The income disparity continues to widen after the pandemic.” 

Kamal pointed out that there are an estimated 800,000 unemployed Malaysians, of whom about 30% are graduates who have “nowhere to go”. 

He also said about 90% workers in Malaysia have mismatched jobs, with people being in the wrong positions or line of work. 

“We need to overcome this. Also, [there is] too much political interference in the economy. It is counterproductive.” 

Tan Sri Nazir Razak, the youngest son Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Malaysia’s second prime minister who was the architect of the NEP, recently said that many of the principles in the NEP no longer work and have instead led to dysfunctional politics and growing divisions among Malaysia’s communities. 

He said the status quo was quickly becoming untenable and asked if the country’s leaders had the initiative to develop and implement new political, economic, and social systems as the NEP was not meant to be a permanent solution.  

We have just lost an eminent Malaysian educator, Tun Arshad Ayub, the founding director of Institut Teknologi Mara (ITM) from 1966–1975 before it was elevated to university status as Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) who insisted the English language remained the medium of instruction of ITM. 

Arshad is the best example of a true Malay nationalist but who is Malaysian First who accepted that Malaysia is a plural nation which must leverage on the best virtues from the different cultural heritages to be found in Malaysia. 

Can Malaysians pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to reset our nation-building policies and principles for a plural society and prove that patriots like Jalil Ibrahim did not die in vain for “race and country” in Hong Kong in 1983? – June 21, 2022 

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