It was in the 1970s when I first became aware of the sheer diversity of the country.

Growing up in Seremban, we just absorbed the notion that there were three main races and that was, well, what it was. Even if the others weren’t aware of it, the “Indians” knew that there were Sri Lankan Tamils, Sinhalese, Malayalees, Bengalis and Sikhs – just to name a few — among the majority Tamils in the group broadly classified by the government as “Indian” but that was par for the course and no one really bothered.

I suppose the same might be said for the Chinese – the Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, Teochew, Hainanese, etc – but, again, no one thought too deeply about those things, or seemed to.

But in 1975, I was admitted to University Malaya and I found out, first, that not everyone used lah as the universal Malaysian suffix. There were people who used ‘bah” as well, and it sounded just as natural even if the speaker’s accent seemed vaguely Indonesian.

I met students with names like Boniface Bait, Lo Ling, Charles Terra Jolly and Sepian bin Belit. All from East Malaysia, they found us – orang Semananjung – uniformly mystifying. But one thing transcended everything else: to a man, they were awed by the size, scale and sweep of Kuala Lumpur.

So were we. Most of us were from small towns, from all over the country and it was easy to relate to ourselves and to one another.

I kept tripping over my stereotypes during my first weeks. Ahmad Borhan, for example, was an incredibly charismatic guy from Miri whom I assumed was a Malay. No way, he declared indignantly. He was Melanau! I was to find out later that he was a minority in his own community: its majority are Christian.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, maybe it’s just nostalgia on my part but I have a sense of those simple times bringing out the best in us, as a community and as a nation. There was certainly less race and religious stridency in those days: little of the “us” versus “them.” At least, it did not seem to be of the scale and scope of the here and now.

For one thing, I don’t remember Hussein Onn bringing race or religion to the front and centre of the Malaysian ethos. Certainly, he wasn’t prone to perpetually lamenting, at every turn, that the Malays had been “colonised and oppressed.”

There is a lot to be said for people like Hussein Onn, an understated man who never took himself too seriously. He never saw the need for Malaysia to always be seen punching above its international weight. Nor did he see the need to hector other nations on their faults or foibles.

But he took the important things seriously. Like not sweeping things under the carpet, those actions that actually deter corruption, the things that matter to a developing nation.

I’ve never forgotten a story related to me by a social scientist who was close to Hussein before the latter’s death.

When word leaked in 1975 that the government was planning to indict Harun Idris for corruption. Apparently, the three serving Umno vice-presidents, led by Dr Mahathir, went to see Hussein, then premier, to plead Harun’s case. Harun was the head of Umno Youth then.

Nothing moved the premier at first.

Finally, as if to clinch it, the men wheeled out their trump card: “But he’s a nationalist.”

“So am I,” countered Hussein and that was the end of the meeting.

Years later, in 1998, his son would tell me that he felt his father was not in Dr M’s league as the latter had “vision.” Even then, I couldn’t believe my ears!

All things being equal, I’d rather that honesty have been preferred as an overriding principle in governing Malaysia. It might have saved us a lot of grief.



Imagine that!

CNN reported Thursday that an Australian musk-duck had been recorded saying quite clearly; “You bloody fool.” The network said it was the “first documented instance of the species mimicking human speech.”

Consider it a latter-day miracle, even some celestial advice. When ducks are given tongue, man should listen, none more so than Malaysia’s timid Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

The guy is Malaysia’s 9th premier and, by all accounts, a secure one: he’s even got a cooperation agreement with the opposition, a move that vaults him into near-political impregnability.

And what does he do, this most timorous of leaders? He tries to placate everyone, to the detriment of societal mores and the rule of law.

Last week, the government proposed Ahmad Maslan, an MP from Johor and Umno’s secretary-general, as deputy speaker for Parliament.

Never mind that Mr Ahmad could always be counted on as a reliable sounding board on policy matters: he wasn’t known as Mat “Good Idea Boss” Maslan for nothing.

No, it’s the fact that he was, and remains, charged for money laundering by the country’s corruption agency and is awaiting trial.

What kind of message does Putrajaya think it sends the Malaysian people or the world at large by such appointments? That crime pays: a deputy speaker’s salary is not to be sneezed at.

It trivialises corruption at best and, at worst, it implies a foregone conclusion on his matter.

It might get worse. Singapore’s Straits Times reported that Ismail was considering appointing former premier Najib Razak as a government Economic Advisor. It was clearly a trial balloon. And as if to provide ballast to the attempt, Umno’s Nazri Aziz said it would be a waste not to do so “given his experience.”

Najib is many times removed from Ahmad Maslan. He is a criminal convicted of the world’s biggest theft and we are now asked to believe the government “needs” his advice? Are we that bankrupt of talent?

If so…

Quick! Let’s get Jho Low back to advise the central bank how to plug money laundering holes in the banking system.

Whatever happened to shame as a concept?

And while Ismail’s insecurity is displayed for the world to see, former diplomat Dennis Ignatius warns that the country is sliding faster into Islamic-type statehood than anyone realises. This is, of course, due to Pas’ current control of the federal religious agencies like Jakim.

Pas should give thanks to the former PH government. It could never dream of making it into the federal government on its own. But by preying on Malay fears of losing political dominance – aided and abetted by the ever-reliable Dr M – it’s managed to sneak into the Malay coalition now governing Malaysia.

Never mind it’s a weak party with far less popular support than, say, the DAP or PKR, it still controls the most influential lever over the country’s majority people – Islam. Indirectly, that translates into enormous influence over the whole country – unless there is check and balance.

That’s why Pas is the most committed to ensure the permanence of the three-party Malay coalition now in power. It’s never had it so good.

If history is any judge, everyone should worry about this trend going forward.
Because the Islamic Party of Malaysia, or Pas, has never made any secret of its over-arching ambition for Malaysia.



I like to consider myself an incurable optimist. I mean, I used to think the laundry guys had to be doing something wrong because my pants kept getting tighter.

Like everything else these days, blame it on the pandemic. There comes a time in a man’s life when the only important question to ask oneself, after yet-another tedious day at home, is the searching: “What’s for dinner?” 

And you can imagine what a surfeit of said questions can do to a man’s waistline. 

These days, I need to work out like a fanatic just to maintain my svelte chubby figure. Or, let me put it this way: if I had remained in journalism, I can take comfort in the fact that I still have a face for radio. 

I think we all get heavier as we age because there’s a lot more information in our heads courtesy of all our reading over the years. OK, I’ll concede that my working hypothesis isn’t biochemically self-evident. But, hey, it was a good try.

No, the increasing heft has more to do with metabolic rates and the law of gravity. As we get older, apparently, our metabolic rates slow – in my case, it may have plummeted – and it takes longer and longer for our bodies to burn off excess calories. And that’s when you get fat:  energy gone to waist. 

In gravity’s case, tissues at rest, well, sag: they droop, stoop, they dangle…I think you get the drift. 

But have you noticed that corpulent people make for dignified figures? Indeed, the said droop is in keeping with nature and is considered “solemn” and, truth be told, is the source of the word “gravitas” which, of course, means “dignity” or “solemnity of manner”. 

Let me paint you a picture:  Jho Low in judicial garb?

I suppose it would be too much to swallow, even for Jibby. In the interests of full disclosure, I admit the etymology of said word might be yet another working hypothesis on my part. But, hey, no loss, no foul. 

As I get older, I take comfort in the words of Abraham Lincoln. “Common looking people are the best in the world,” he once observed, “and that’s the reason the Lord made so many of them.”  

And Singapore is the worst place in the world to be overweight. For one thing, you notice very few overweight young men here. A mandatory, two-year national service requirement puts paid to that. And I suppose the habit clings because you don’t see any overweight, fat old guys either.

That’s depressing where I’m concerned because even slightly overweight guys see me in restaurants, feel reassured and order another beer. In my dotage, I’ve become a symbol of reassurance, that letting it all hang out is not only fine, but dandy. 

Who’d have thought? 

But a word to the wise. You don’t get a body like this overnight. I mean, you must work at it. It takes years of neglect.  

It isn’t wholly my fault. Rebecca was always a good cook, but this pandemic is turning her into a serious contender. 

The Food Network Channel has transformed her into an X-Chef, as it were. Our kitchen now boasts a cast iron skillet, a thermometer for the perfect steak and her sourdough loaf is a thing of beauty and a fleeting joy, until the next one.  

So, no, I don’t suffer from over-indulgence: I enjoy every minute of it. 



I suppose we should feel reassured.

Apparently, Ismail Sabri’s leadership was proven when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Malaysia. And “he is an expert in the fight against Covid-19.”

This is the opinion of Ahmad Maslan who, when not in the company of similarly inclined, red-shirted types chanting support for Malay- dominance, can generally be counted on for incisively untrue statements. His 2015 comment that the goods and services tax actually lowered prices is a case in point.

Even so, Mat’s description of Ismail should reassure because the latter has been nominated by 115 MPs – a majority – to be the ninth Premier of the country.

What do we know of him?

Quite apart from Mat’s extravagant tribute and a nagging feeling that Ismail’s characteristically doleful appearance might have been better suited to undertaking as a career choice, there is little we know.

His Wikipedia page only demonstrated one truth: the more things change, the more it stays the same.

Like Dr Mahathir and a host of politicians preceding him, Ismail has unabashedly played the race card to rise.

In 2015, he urged a boycott of Chinese businesses by Malay consumers to “cut prices.” In the process, he alleged that Old Town White Coffee’s halal signs had been called into question and that the Ngah family of Ipoh – a prominent member of the opposition Dap party – had an interest in the kopi-tiam chain.

Interestingly, he was witheringly called out by both the MCA’s Wee Ka Siong and Wan Saiful Wan Jan, previously of the IDEAS think tank. Messrs Wee and Wan went on to become members of the previous administration and are now, presumably, hearty cheerleaders for the Ismail-for-PM club.

For the record, the DAP’s Ngah Koo Han sued Ismail for defamation (being labelled anti-Islam) and won RM85,000 in damages and costs in 2018. It was also noted in court that his family had no interest in the Old Town chain.

In the same year, Ismail set up Low Yat 2, a digital mall along the lines of Low Yat Plaza, Kuala Lumpur’s most popular electronics mall, but one that would only house Malay traders, the better, presumably, to break the Chinese grip on the electronics business.

Interestingly, he was heavily criticised for it by Saifuddin Abdullah, then in Umno until he lost in the 2013 general election. That made him, Saifuddin, search his soul enough to defect to the PKR where he won in the 2018 elections and became Foreign Minister in the PH government.

More soul searching followed until he defected yet-again to the previous administration which resigned early this week. But we suppose he’s poised, alertly and with his usual nimble footedness, to rejoin Ismail’s government to which he will, no doubt, add his fulsome support.

For the record, Low Yat 2, and a further two other similar malls set up by Ismail, failed. It’s unclear how much money the government lost but it’s unlikely that Ismail lost any popularity in Umno in the process.

2015 seemed to be a banner year for Ismail where preposterous statements were concerned. In November, he lauded the country’s vaping industry because it was dominated by Malay entrepreneurs. Forget the health ministry warnings about vaping. In fact, Ismail hoped the unregulated industry “will expand globally.”

And there you have it, Ismail in his nutshell.

All the best folks, we might need it.



You can tell the Prime Minister is a student of history: like Napoleon, he learnt how, from the mistakes of the past, he could make new ones. 

Despite months of lockdown and reassurances from the authorities, the country has gotten no respite from the pandemic with new daily highs amid rising deaths. 

Its one success – a rapid vaccination rate – gets blighted by over-reach.  A mega vaccination centre for undocumented migrant workers, for example, can go horribly wrong when there are no clearly spelt-out protocols

A video on social media captured the chaos perfectly.  A motor cyclist stops to try and fashion order in a long waiting line with no semblance of social distancing. Indeed, they are sardine-like in their crush. 

He barks orders trying to make the line safer and there is some unenthusiastic movement. He cajoles, even begs, but they are bewildered and uncomprehending. He rants against government, screams at Minister Azmin Ali – Do something brother! – and finally breaks down, weeping, and asks why “no one in power is bothered about this.”

“People are dying,” he observes brokenly.

No explanations are needed. In truth, he should be commended for civic mindedness.

Whether the leadership cares is another matter. Truth be told, they all appear to be living different realities. 

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has clearly lost majority support but “appears confident and is willing to duke it out in Parliament.” This, from Free Malaysia Today. 

Yes, but only on September 6, which is weeks away. Why is that do you suppose? Why not now, if he is confident and prepared to duke it out? 

Everyone knows why – he does not have the numbers but needs time to, well, do so. No one, however, least of all the enforcement agencies, seems to care that getting the said numbers could be through a crime. 

At least three opposition lawmakers – all from the Democratic Action Party – have been approached through anonymous WhatsApp texts to support Muhyiddin in return for cash and ministerial appointments. 

Police reports have been made. That’s a week ago. Ho hum, thers’s SOP for you. The premier seems “unflappable”.

Maybe someone else will bite. Or, in the words of the Rolling Stones, “Time is on my side.”  

Meanwhile, you’d think former premier Jibby has a whole epoch on his side the way he’s pontificating about this, that and the other. Here is a man, to quote the Wall Street Journal, accused of the “greatest heist in history,” a man found guilty of said heist by Malaysia’s High Court. And he not only glibly dispenses advice to all and sundry, but has his own cheering squad to boot, and is considered a long shot contender for the premiership.

Now you can understand why countries like Japan consider bail a privilege and not a right. 

It is lamentable that Malaysia chooses to display its worst face to the world currently. But what is amazing is we do not appear to comprehend this stark truth. Not a bit, not at all. 

Why else would the Home Ministry suddenly quadruple the “offshore income” of participants in the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme to RM40,000 a month and insist on at least RM1 million in fixed deposits, from RM150,000 previously?

And the new rules appear to affect people already established under the old rules. 

Any number of lawyers will tell you that such retrospective effect is odious. Many of these people have been here for years and rely on offshore pensions that might have been sufficient under the old rules but not the new. 

We are doing it, apparently, to boost the economy by attracting richer, “higher quality” participants. 

The policy makers should get real. 

What do they think the rest of the world thinks of us? 



I’ve always thought Dr Hamid Pawanteh wasn’t your average Umno type. He’s not strident but reflective and quite unlike the sort of doctor who might confuse the Spanish flu for an aphrodisiac not quite from Spain.  

Now 77, the former chief minister of the tiny northern state of Perlis predicted that the country would become the world’s worst unless “its custodians change how they conduct themselves” as leaders.

Many of us know what ails the system. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise that there is something wrong with our education system. Dr Hamid agreed. In a word, it had “failed.” To his mind, it was the cause of our bad leadership.

The problem: while everyone agrees that, yes, this is so, no one wants, or knows how, to fix it. 

When he became premier again in 2018, Dr Mahathir said the curriculum had become too Islamised and promised to repair it. 

His choice for Minister wasn’t inspiring to begin with. Nevertheless, we heard that a report was commissioned to find out exactly how much time religion featured in an average school-day. Like a damp squib, nothing came out of it and there were whispers that the report was so damning that it was classified “secret.” 

There are other whispers. It’s said that the grading system for the harder subjects like Math and Science had been relaxed: a grotesque reclassification of merit that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Math for Dummies.” 

This particular whisper has been going on for years. 

Indeed, the cynicism is so great that when the latest SPM results showed dramatic improvements despite months of school lockdown, Sheriff Kassim, a former senior civil servant, wondered if it had to do with grade manipulation and urged an investigation.  

Nowhere is the failure of the education system more apparent than in the current problem of the contract doctor. The reason is clear – too many doctors chasing too few jobs. And its blame, crystal – the ruling politicians in Umno. 

The party seemed to think more universities meant more votes and soon most states boasted their own university. Whether there were sufficient faculty of competence seemed irrelevant. Similarly, whether the demand for those graduates were there was even less relevant.

As far back as a decade ago, people like Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, himself a doctor from the 1970s University Malaya, warned Parliament that the sheer number of local medical faculties coupled to the increasing recognition of medical degrees from Russia and Indonesia, was leading to an oversupply of doctors. 

That the government ignored these warnings is lunacy. Pity the poor wannabe Malaysian doctor. That they might not get employed, after almost six years of study in a field that’s near Godlike, is mindboggling and only attests to the government’s negligent stupidity.

An oversupply almost always results in a certain drop in quality. Recall the furore a few years ago when a local doctor confused chicken pox for chicken chop and issued a prescription to that effect. It isn’t clear what the pharmacist thought.  

It isn’t a unique problem. Singapore, too, thinks it’s getting there, according to a local doctor friend who graduated from Ireland’s Trinity College. He told me that he’d recently read that the Singapore government would, in a couple of years, no longer recognise the medical degrees from a number of foreign institutions including Trinity, one of the leading medical schools in the world. The government was giving notice to its citizenry in what can only be deemed a friendly warning, a caveat emptor regarding future employment, if you like. 

Isn’t that what responsible governments do? 



Singapore’s Channel News Asia is good at detailing the rigours afflicting its neighbours, the better, presumably, to show the city state’s administrative superiority. But it’s accurate, and the other day, it showed pictures of Serdang Hospital: a large tent under which patients drowsed on lines of camp beds that stretched to the car park, a sight simultaneously sad and pitiful, like a stanza out of Dante. There are worse stories. Klang Hospital is, apparently, running out of oxygen.

God bless our medical front-liners. They are, hands-down, the heroes of this crisis. My admiration for them is unbounded and the fact that they continue to go to work every day, uncomplainingly, is a miracle.

Take L, a skin specialist, compelled to help at the Covid ward at Serdang Hospital. The work, she says is non-stop: a daily grind of pressure and heartbreak in a hazmat suit.

And clap for the generous Malaysian. An hour after a doctor at Serdang Hospital urgently called for buns and bottled water, 400 of each, for his patients, swiftly relayed WhatsApp messages resulted in its delivery, courtesy of a Rotary Club chapter near the hospital

These are the country’s unsung heroes, not those clowns in government. I mean, don’t you just hate it when old men dream up new tricks to remain in power?

This Perikatan Naasional government seems fearful of being accountable for its decisions. For some reason, they do not want their decisions scrutinised by Parliament. Why not table its resolutions to revoke the Emergency ordinances before Parliament and subject it to debate?

That’s Democracy 101. It’s also basic courtesy after months of hiding under the skirts of an ersatz Emergency. Skulking around and then trying to push through a retrospective revocation of the emergency ordinances only signals something to hide, a whiff of fire and unholy smoke.

On Thursday, in an unheard-of display of royal pique, the King singled out Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan for “misleading” Parliament. There had, apparently, been a meeting between the King, the Minister and the Attorney General previously where the King had made clear that he wanted the revocation of the Emergency ordinances to be tabled and debated by Parliament before he consented to it.

The subsequent explanation from the PM’s office on Friday danced around the issue and never addressed the question of whether the King consented to the PN’s revocations. Did he sign off on it?

Nope. Neither did Parliament get a chance to debate anything. Takiyuddin coolly told Parliament that there was no need for debate as the Cabinet had done away with the revocations a week ago ergo there was nothing to get excited about.

Now if this was an action of the previous PH government, what do you think would have happened? Remember, also, the Law Minister then was one Liew Vui Keong from Sabah and the AG was a certain Tommy Thomas. I think we can safely assume that police reports would have piled up faster than an Usain Bolt on steroids. And the cries of treason would have reached near-hysteria.

Why is the government so fearful of scrutiny?

The simple answer is that they are loath to provide explanations: for the billions they have spent without legislative approval, for their dismal management of the pandemic.

The outbreak shows no sign of abating despite months of lockdown. The caseload now exceeds 1 million and continues to grow at an alarming pace.

Malaysia has always prided itself on its health system. Among developing countries, we were among the earliest to bring life expectancies and infant mortality rates on par with the developed world.

Now the system is breaking down. We are closing on 9,000 deaths from Covid and averaging 100-200 fatalities a day. The bodies are piling up, but the government insists that everything is “under control.”

This too shall pass. Meanwhile, you know what they say: some people are wise while some are otherwise.



There is a relatively inexpensive Italian café Rebecca and I frequent. It’s within walking distance from the apartment and Paul, its headwaiter, is both friendly and a countryman, being from Petaling Jaya. 

We decided to have dinner there before Singapore shut down Thursday on “heightened alert” fears. Dine-ins would no longer be permitted then. 

Paul seemed his usual cheerful self until we wondered, as is our wont when we meet Malaysians, when we might all go back next.

Then he bemoaned the “challenging” times and let slip that his mother, sister and brother-in law were all down with Covid-19.

When I asked him how old his mother was, he broke down, weeping, and fled the scene. We were transfixed and I felt mortified for having asked the question. 

It turned out, as we found out later, that his mother, 70, was critical, having suffered a stroke last year. To compound matters, both his sister and brother-in-law had lost their jobs which made his job in Singapore absolutely crucial to sustain the family. 

But what made him break down was his sudden realisation that he was unlikely to see his mother again. The cost of the quarantines – both in Malaysia and Singapore – and the resulting no-pay during the period ruled out its possibility with a finality that crushed him.

Malaysia can probably claim an over-achiever’s share of ‘Pauls’, all unheralded, and mostly unlamented. The latter observation seems especially apt in the wake of some of the statements coming from our leaders. 

Consider the Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who exhibits the taste and sensitivity of a gnat. In a put down of the “white flag” campaign, the premier remarked that “if we were to go to the ground, we would probably find the kitchens of homes to be full (of supplies).” The Prime Minister was implying that the government was doing enough about aid. Hence, to his mind, the white flag campaign was pointless.

Here’s a news flash for anyone who hasn’t got it:  the premier may be delusional. In which case, we might want to worry because delusional people tend to believe in themselves. 

What’s he smoking? Does he honestly think that anyone would want to raise the white flag, to admit that they cannot provide for their family and turn to charity? No one likes to be pitied. The premier should know this more than anyone else: there were many in Malaysia who sympathised when he was sacked from the Cabinet in 2016 by then premier Najib Razak. 

It was one of the many reasons behind the government’s ouster in the general election two years later. The Moo would do well to remember this.

“There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the world and it has a longer shelf life.” The statement was by no less than Frank Zappa, a rock musician whose onstage act included biting off the heads of snakes while wearing enough make up to delight Alan Pereira. 

What would Frank have made of Malaysian politicians? 

A Minister who can’t differentiate Spanish Fly from Flu and another who’s singularly blasé about the fact that the food aid from his ministry comes with his photograph!

And what about Hadi Awang, a minister whose exact function is vague but, as an avowed Islamic scholar, took pains to explain the public’s growing distrust of politicians. 

It was the fault of the liberals, the great thinker observed with the aplomb of a Zakir Naik, those “demons in human masks.” 

There are a great many ‘Pauls’ in Singapore and they will remember all this. 

And, make no mistake, they will return to cast their judgments. 



We have good news and bad news.

OK, it’s mostly bad news but there is a solitary ray of very good news that might ultimately prove our salvation.

It is this: Malaysia now can boast one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, second only to Canada on a similar-size basis and double that of Australia.

If so, we might just jab our way out of our current predicament given enough luck, nerve and a continued lockdown.

The initial signs are there. Out of Thursday’s tally of over 13,000 cases, fully 96% were asymptomatic or mild. That seems to indicate that the vaccinations are blunting the severity of the disease.

Even so, it does not get us off the hook. So long as the numbers keep climbing sharply, even a 5% rate of severity will continue to choke our health services.

That’s where luck and the lockdown come in.

We all know what the bad news is, but outside the reeling economy and the rising unemployment, other concerns are surfacing including a resurging Dr Mahathir.

OK, let me rephrase that with a question: What are the odds that Pejuang will throw its supports behind the Prime Minister, currently embattled by Umno’s withdrawal of support?

The only reason I ask is that the Home Ministry has suddenly been gracious enough to allow Pejuang’s registration as a “legitimate” political party while resolutely continuing to ignore Muda, a party of young, political aspirants, that has similarly sought registration.

Given that we are talking about Malaysia where there is always a political quid against someone else’s quo, there is ample reason to believe something is afoot.

Add to that Dr Mahathir‘s airy, and apropos of nothing, comment that he would quit Pejuang if offered the headship of the National Recovery Council, and we are left to ponder, once again, the Machiavellian machinations of Malaysia’s Mahathir.

In short, the man wants back.

You’d think he’s old enough to know better, having just turned 96. I mean, this is a guy who baby-sat Maharaja Lela, for God’s sake, and he still thinks he’s indispensable.

He once accused the Malays of being “easily forgetful.” In truth, most Malaysians aren’t. We remember all too well his odious assault on the judiciary and his dumbing down of the civil service. Then there were his deeply flawed ideas that cost the nation dear: the national car, the push for heavy industrialisation. None of these “Think Big” projects were successful but you wouldn’t know that, listening to him.

According to the late Barry Wain, who authored a critical book on the man, he once told Dr Mahathir that he’d estimated that the former physician had engineered over RM50 billion in wealth destruction during his tenure. Barry said that Dr Mahathir simply retorted that he’d “created more wealth than he destroyed.”

That might very well be true but it also speaks volumes about the country’s inherent wealth generating capacity, its industrious population and its resource-rich nature.

Immediately after the 2018 general election, a group of us were celebrating PH’s improbable victory when we were joined by another, an elderly arbitrator, a man who not only remembered British colonial rule but started his career during the period. Surveying our good cheer, he asked one question, clearly directed at the incoming Prime Minister: “Can a leopard change his spots?”

Apparently not.



I remember an interview we had with Dr Mahathir Mohamad. It was during the height of the Asian financial crisis in early 1998 and he was premier at the time.

That he was distracted was obvious. Every so often, an aide would come up and show him a slip of paper. He would glance at it and then turn back to us. After 40 minutes of this, I couldn’t contain my curiosity and asked him what it was all about.

He explained that the aide was bringing him the latest greenback-ringgit quotes. The exchange rate had been frenziedly volatile, and the premier wanted to keep his eye on the ball.

The Lord knows I’ve frequently been critical of Dr M but during the Asian financial crisis, he kept his eye firmly on the ball.

These are the times that try men’s souls, wrote Thomas Paine over two centuries ago. We have entered such a time now and what a horror it is! The crisis we face now makes the 1998 one appear frivolous, almost Winnie the Pooh-like in both its scale and its scope. Like it or not, we are looking down the barrel of a gun.

And can we confidently say our leaders have their eye on the ball?

If that ball is power, then yes. That’s all that seems to interest Umno or Bersatu these days and people are sick of their shenanigans.

Consider the following.

The Prime Minister is admitted to hospital over a week ago. The poor man seems very sick right up to Wednesday night, when Umno threatens to pull support from his fragile coalition.

Lo and behold, he makes a miraculous recovery and dashes to his residence where the first “crisis” meeting of the pandemic is held: TV footage shows limousines coming and going amid an air of urgency. Reporters assert that Weighty Matters of State are Unfolding.

The Attorney General is summoned and pronounces, with all the grave impartiality of a Lord Denning, that because there “are no clear” facts showing that the PM has lost the support of a majority of MPs, he can continue governing. Carry on, McMoo, he advises and the PM duly declares victory.


Over at the Putra World Trade Centre, Umno President Zahid Hamidi also declares victory, satisfied that Umno had fired a shot across the Prime Ministerial bow.

Two cheers for democracy!

Meanwhile, Ismail Sabri is promoted to deputy premier. It isn’t clear why, but it might have to do with his sadly lugubrious delivery of bad news.

Similarly, foreign minister Hishamuddin Hussain is promoted to senior minister for equally vague reasons. Insiders in the know, however, insist that it’s due to his masterful handling of foreign policy, noting that he kept Malaysia out of war for 16 months.

But hark, what of Master Azmin, a Master of the Universe and the Schemer behind the Sheraton Strategy?

But there is no joy in the Ministry of International Trade. Mr Azmin himself is spotted in contemplative prayer in a mosque in the Middle East, from where he will, doubtless, return, bearing much foreign investment and good cheer.

But before that, he will take a well-deserved holiday in Austria to unwind from the stresses and strains of holding high office.

Meanwhile, the rocket scientists in government continue to rock. On a day that Covid infections hit a new peak of 8,868 – a number that sent punter hearts aflutter – the Minister of Religion said that all mosques and suraus would be opened forthwith.

The future so bright, we’ll have to wear shades.