Monday, March 29, 2010
Tun Razak's unfinished agenda....but son, Najib to realise his dream
Race, money and power. When all the flowery words of rhetoric are stripped away, these three remain. In Parliament on Tuesday, they will still remain, shadowy themes behind Najib Tun Razak's economic agenda as he seeks to shape the Malaysian dream as his father did four decades ago.
Behind the management-speak and grand economic theories that are likely to litter his speech, though, will be very simple questions. How will Malaysia make money in future? What must we do to make money? How will we spend it? And who will get the money?
He has two choices.
He can look back and seek political comfort in inward-looking old ways based on brute force.
Or he can accept that Malaysian society and the world outside have moved on, that the comfortable old ways are no longer acceptable, that the days of easy money are over, that a national economy cannot be built on a get-rich-quick culture.
On Saturday the Perkasa Malay rights movement loudly sought to place race back on top of the agenda. Their position is simple: Malays on top, Malays first, and Malays to get more of the money.
Their position, sadly, is outdated, outmoded, and just plain outrageous. Perkasa seeks to perpetuate the false promises of a get-quick-rich philosophy, their agenda based on the dubious principle of horse-trading — so much for me, and so much for you.
That way leads to false Malay strength and false Malay pride.
Modern economies are ruthlessly competitive, requiring constant innovation coupled with proven ability to deliver.
In 1971, Tun Abdul Razak set out to move Malay society into such a modern economy. He set out to end, within 20 years, the structural deficiencies of an economy shaped by 200 years of history, after an original 10-year period of Malay special privileges provided by the 1957 constitution had been wasted in directionless policies.
He mandated a specific programme with specific economic targets, to lay the foundation on which a modern economy could take shape, to provide social justice by reshaping a largely agricultural society.
That policy was hijacked after his death by an easy-money culture which believed that to get rich quickly, by any and all means, was glorious. Malaysian society has indeed been reshaped, by them and by other forces. But they have left the underlying foundations of society to rot, sacrificed on the altar of fast wealth creation.
Perkasa and their friends seek merely to perpetuate such a culture.
Najib Tun Razak can do no greater justice to his father's ambitions than to recognise the failure of Tun Razak's successors to build a real modern economy, where wealth is created from producing real things, with real ideas and not merely from concessions, contracts and kum cheng.
He must end the profligacy of the past. He must face up to the future. He must be prepared to harness the forces of creative destruction, sweeping away outmoded ways.
Remove the economic distortions brought by the vexed question of race, and of allocation of resources by race. The future will be one shaped in our region by China and India, and within our neigbourhood by Indonesia. Their economies are not hampered as ours is by the racial question, nor their institutions distorted by a culture of chauvinistic greed.
Accept that affirmative action is a social policy, not one of market economics. That affirmative action must cater for all those left behind by the modern economy. Accept that it is an issue of class, not one of race.
Rebuild the foundations by providing dependable and principled public institutions, a colour-blind civil service and justice system foremost among them.
Provide room for creativity, and clear, bold and independent thought to flourish. That means an education system that does more than just feed a private tuition system in a paper chase. That means a mass media and an artistic and literary culture that can rise above regurgitating party orthodoxy.
Provide adequate resources for polytechnics and technical schools and a professional artisan class. Adequate resources for research and development that capitalises on our strengths, and the real natural resources of the country, and not merely chase the fool's gold of inventors' medals.
End corruption. Not merely the day-to-day offering and receiving of bribes and favours, but also the corrupting effect of allowing party politics to take over the business of government.
Open the economy to competition. Break up monopolies. End the culture of contracts and concessions. Give room for real entrepreneurs to grow, not cronies to flourish. Remove subsidies that only prop up consumption.
Rethink the drain on resources from false "strategic" industries in which Malaysia lacks strategic advantage or scale. Concentrate on our real assets.
These are measures that only the government can put in place, with the right political will. The rest, Malaysians are quite capable of accomplishing for themselves.
But first government must get out of their way.
The bold, practical, and innovative measures that Malaysia needs will not come from allowing communal and sectarian interests to shape the economy of the new millenium.
Najib Tun Razak is now in a position to fully accomplish what his father's death cut short. He must do no less.