GOING by the definition given in Alibaba.com, the Alibaba Culture is all about championing small businesses.
“Participants in (Alibaba’s) ecosystem – consumers, merchants, third-party service providers and others – (all have) an opportunity to prosper (together),” it claimed on its website.
Ask any Chinese businessman, and they will explain to you that this is almost synonymous to the Chinese concept of guānxì (关系) taught by the great Chinese philosopher Confucius.
Guānxì has been referred to as the complex network of relationship within the business circles.
It somehow explains why Chinese businesses will continue to thrive if the concept is practised like it used to be during the era of business patriarchs such as Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong, Tan Sri Yeoh Tiong Lay and Robert Kuok Hock Nien who built their business empires from ground zero.
The elements of trust (信用), affection or ganqing (感情) and esteem were keys to building good business relationships during their lifetime.
For that reason, guānxì is defined as the complex network of a closed system (关系) of relationships. This is the oil that has kept the China motor running.
Last week, when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (PMX) spoke about stamping out Ali Baba Culture for the greater good, he was referring to “the rent-seeking culture (which) had a negative impact on the economy”.
What he meant was the hòumén (or backdoor) guānxì (后门关系) which is simply an illegitimate demand for rent. In short, bribery, graft and corruption, something that no genuine Chinese businessman likes.
The hòumén guānxì has its roots in the way how the Chinese forefathers arrived in Malaya to slog day and night, lived a frugal life and sought to invest in businesses.
They became tin miners and farmers who needed to lease the land which belonged to the local Datuk. In those days, this was in the form of a rent which was a legitimate amount paid to the landowner before the entrepreneur could work on the land.
It is the opinion of this writer that whether consciously or unconsciously, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s idea of ketuanan Melayu is derived from this rent seeking culture.
In the modern day context, however, such ‘rent seeking’ culture is no longer a legitimate form of payment but a blatant form of bribery that the country can do without in order for businesses to thrive.
The cost of bribery is huge – and often – it gets added to the cost of products sold in the market.
PMX understands this very well, and for the first time, we have a prime minister who seeks to dismantle the rent seeking culture. It takes more than one person achieve this long-term goal.
It takes two to tango
Chinese businessmen will always complain and blame the authorities for demanding a bribe, but in order for the country to come out of this ‘rent-seeking’ culture, the Chinese businessmen’s mindset must also change.
The Chinese businessmen have suffered enough. When they resort to the hòumén guānxì just to carry out their businesses, they still have to pay the taxes.
And what is worse is they are accused as corrupt by PAS leaders such as its president Tan Sri Hadi Awang and Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor.
Even former twice premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad blames the Chinese for corrupting the sultans with money from their sale of candu (opium) – which is an insult to every Chinese in the country as most of their predecessors were never involved in the opium trade.
It is time for the Chinese businessmen to say, “enough is enough!” and to say, “no!” to the potential receivers of dirty money. Should the latter retaliate, they should be bold enough to file a report to the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
The old mindset of businessmen has to change. From this writer’s own research, it is interesting that even within what is uniquely a local Chinese culture, there is also the obeisance of the Datuk (or Na Tuk Gong). Interestingly, this deity did not have its origin in China.
It is not uncommon for someone in a Chinese village, for example, to pray with hands clasped towards the shrine of the Na Tok Gong or god of the land when walking past the shrine.
Such culture has been entrenched for more than a hundred years. For this reason, Chinese businessmen find that they become so vulnerable to the extent that they feel the necessity to pay the ‘rent’ – now in the form of bribes – in order to carry out their businesses.
Until they realise this and willing to change – or follow the government’s direction to carve a better future for Malaysia – it is either they report to the MACC or they get arrested for bribery and corruption.
They have nobody to blame except themselves if they persist with their old ways instead of harnessing on their strengths and competitive edge over their rivals to win government tenders.
For the record, there are a number of Malaysian companies which have worked hard to comply with the stringent government regulations instead of resorting to paying a bribe for non-compliance.
This eventually helped them to become better suppliers based on their compliance to the environmental, social, and governance (ESQ) framework. Some of these companies have even beaten others in their ability to become suppliers to the European Union (EU).
Perhaps, PMX’s unity government should single out such companies and use them as role models in order to encourage others to emulate their business strengths. – July 15, 2023.