This second volume follows the pattern of the first, Seeing Malaysia My Way, and carries the writer's commentaries from 2004 to 2007, a look at Malaysia under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. It is both reflective and prescriptive.
Malaysia is generously blessed with many favorable attributes. Properly harnessed they would propel Malaysians to be among the developed and prosperous. Instead, the nation is today mired in endless crises, its leadership hopelessly distracted, and citizens dangerously polarized. Malaysian institutions, once the envy of the region, are today irreparably damaged through the twin blights of corruption and incompetence.
These essays are a critical look at the leadership of Abdullah Badawi, and his management of these crucial issues facing Malaysia. The writer does not spare Abdullah's many enablers in his cabinet, party, academia, and mainstream media and others who still insist that the country is on the right track.
Bakri Musa offers his prescription on improving education, tackling corruption, and weaning off the subsidy mentality, adopting the best practices elsewhere and adapting them to the specific needs and problems of Malaysia. In highlighting the achievements of the past, the writer points to the potential the country is capable of achieving.
In contrast to quotas and other set-aside programs that are the hallmark of the current policy, the writer presents an alternative strategy aimed primarily at enhancing Bumiputra competitiveness. The proposed approach would not negatively impact the economy nor interfere with the freemarket. Equally important, it would not arouse resentment from other Malaysians. The first objective would be to modernize the nation's archaic educational system to emphasize English, mathematics, the sciences, and technical training. Secondly, the influences of religious and royal institutions must be curtailed, and the rates of urbanization and population growth reduced.
The primary objective is in enhancing competitiveness, not on meeting arbitrarily picked numerical goals and targets.
Instead of the present rigid and uniform system, the writer calls for one that is flexible and diverse, but with a core of commonality. There should also be private sector participation to provide competition and spur innovation.
Achieving this requires radically changing the ministry of education from one obsessed with strict top-down command, to a more democratized model with power and responsibilities delegated to the periphery. The minister is less a drill sergeant barking out orders to his raw recruits but more of a symphony conductor coaxing the best out of his skilled musicians.
The reforms suggested here will make Malaysians fluently bilingual in Malay and English, science literate, and mathematically competent, as well as foster a common Malaysian identity.
Yes there are sandbars and reefs, together with the inevitable storms and swells in the ocean of globalization. This calls for skillful navigators and sailors ready to trim the sails and batten the hatches. The alternative would be to remain in port, not an attractive option.
The writer offers specific prescriptions on how best to meet those challenges, from enhanced health care to superior education system, and by exposing Malaysians to greater competition. As Islam is a pervasive influence in Malaysia, the writer calls for an enlightened interpretation of the faith, one more in tune with its ideals of tolerance for diversity, reverence for learning, and a passion for trade.
The writer draws lessons from as far away as Argentina and as far back as the ancient Muslims, and from sociology to biology. The perspectives offered here are refreshing departures from the wisdom currently emanating from Kuala Lumpur.