“If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.” – Talk show host, Johnny Carson

There’s a furore going on about non-Malay freight forwarding firms having to sell 51% of their equity to Malays.

It’s muted now because the government’s kicked it down the road – towards the end of next year – but, make no mistake, the ferment’s there and there’s reason for it. Do you think any Malaysian Chinese freight forwarder would happily relinquish control of a business he’s built up over a lifetime?

Even the government probably knows it’s not cricket. And it’s not. It’s the New Economic Policy, and although it’s been dolled up through two renovations – the National Development Policy in 1991 and the National Vision Policy in 2001 – it’s still very much the same old horse.

Indeed, Putrajaya didn’t even bother renaming the policy in its latest 5-year plan because, let’s face it, it’s here to stay.

The policy’s 50 years old now but it appears no nearer maturity than when it was birthed in 1971. That’s what happens when its most important prong – according to policy makers – has the grandiose aim of “restructuring” Malaysian society so that “no race can be identified with a specific economic function.” Methinks any government could compel many things under such sweeping ambition.

Unfortunately, no one remembers the policy’s second prong – the elimination of poverty, irrespective of race. And they seem to want to forget the policy’s overarching aim – national unity.

There’s a bucket of irony here. I’d submit that the policy’s implementation has been the single largest hindrance to national unity than anything else Malaysians have had to put up with.

When it was first mooted, the policy’s planners took pains to emphasise that its distributive element would always take place in a growing economy or, as they liked to say, “so long as the cake is growing.” And yet, the latest 51% bid for the freight forwarding cake was hatched during a pandemic!

The late Sanusi Junid, famously the “hatchet man” to a Dr Mahathir-run political machine, once told me it was fair because it was never about “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” In that equation, however, you could see how such a policy might always have the support of Paul.

The policy’s litmus test, its Holy Grail if you like, was for the Bumiputera to achieve a 30% share of national wealth. How the latter parameter is defined is mystifying to say the least but, over five decades, it’s now become clear that it will never be achieved. More pertinently, it was never meant to be achieved.

It was never meant to be achieved because that would mean the end of the policy. That’s anathema for Umno and the Malay right because the policy goes to the heart of Malay political dominance.

Abdullah Ahmad, another deceased Dr Mahathir confidant, spelt it out in an infamous 1986 speech he delivered in Singapore. The NEP, he declared, was “…for the protection, preservation and perpetuation” of Malay dominance.

Given that they constitute a majority, most non-Malays don’t quibble about a Malay-dominated government. But what, I ask, about Anwar Ibrahim’s excellent suggestion of a needs-based policy to replace the current one?

One doubts such a suggestion will fly. When it does not favour the Malay elite, nothing flies.

Sucker, watching a card game: “Is this a game of chance?”

W C Fields: “Not the way I play it, no.”



If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

What’s with Malaysia? Do we always have to be involved in some meaningless controversy or another? And do they almost always have to be about race or religion?

Other countries are advancing, moving on and getting things done. Even India – which we presume to condescend to – is getting its act together and embarking on the world’s largest vaccination drive in history.

Moreover, it’s produced its own vaccine and gifting it to poorer countries to boot.

Closer to home, Singapore thinks it will vaccinate all its people by July. Even Indonesia has begun to inoculate its people without too much fuss.

Meanwhile, apart from running our healthcare professionals into the ground amid successive lockdowns, what have we achieved?

First, there was a debate on whether the vaccine was shariah-compliant. Then, we seemed to want to hold out for our own “clinical trials.”

It was as if the country had been testing its own homegrown vaccine. Only it’s not, so let’s not waste time and money re-inventing the wheel.

Then there are the needless, inconsequential controversies.

A few days ago, Sanusi Md Nor, the chief minister of Kedah decided – for no other reason other than he could, apparently – that Thaipusam, a Hindu festival, would no longer be a state holiday. He said there would be none since all activities in the annual festival had been cancelled because of the movement control order.

All it did was to demonstrate his contempt for the festival. Reason: his reasoning would necessarily exclude holidays for Chinese New Year, even Hari Raya if the MCO stretched on.

Apart from showing Mr Sanusi’s lack of inclusive acceptance, not to mention intelligence, the controversy he began was pointless to say the least.

And what’s with the hypocrisy? Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin recently urged his party not to tolerate “liberalism, humanism and secularism.”

That is bunkum and, deep down in places he will not admit to, the premier knows it. It’s been our tacit adherence to secular, liberal values that’s brought Malaysia this far in the first place. Going forward, however, increasing conservatism will only hinder our progress.

The countries like those of East Asia and the West that profess fealty to secular, humanistic values are the ones progressing. No theocracy has done as well nor come close.

Indeed, Muhyiddin recently called on Asean to be tough on hate speech “including those based on gender or sexual orientation.”

Don’t look now Mr Prime Minister, you just came across sounding mighty liberal. But no one here seems to think it’s hypocritical to tell different things to different audiences. What happened to the so-called “Islamic” values espoused by the leadership?

And what’s happened to our sense of humour? When it comes to religion, it now appears that the two are mutually exclusive.

That conclusion would have horrified Tunku Abdul Rahman, the country’s easy-going first Prime Minister.

After he retired in the 1970s, the Tunku began a long-running column in the Star. One of his columns in the 1980s was especially critical of Hadi Awang, the firebrand leader of Parti Islam SeMalaysia, or Pas.

The ever-sensible Hadi had suggested that stoning should be prescribed for Muslims caught for adultery.

An indignant Tunku lambasted Hadi in his column and dismissed the proposal out of hand.

Reading his column then, I thought his reasoning was sound. I agree even more now.

“I know my country and my fellow Malaysians,” declared the Tunku cheerfully. “There simply aren’t enough stones to go around.”