NOVEMBER 29 — Malaysia’s richest man Robert Kuok recalled in his memoir that the nation’s second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak had asked acting PM Tun Hussein Onn to implement the meritocracy system while he was undergoing treatment in London.
However, Hussein said admittedly he was powerless in effectuating the change.
With our Umno leaders today prioritizing their hold to power, getting the message across to them is even more unthinkable.
We have sadly missed the opportunity for some real reforms and as such we are destined to continue ploughing on down the road of racist politics.
Quoting Robert Kuok: “The train of the nation had been put on the wrong track. Hussein wasn’t strong enough to lift up the train and set it down on the right track.”
Moving the train down the wrong track is not so much about the lapses of a single individual but the reverberations could be felt across several generations.
Umno’s founder Onn Jaafar, the father of Hussein, had advocated a liberal Umno open to all Malayans irrespective of race. His proposal was rejected and he was forced to leave the party he founded. Although Onn Jaafar did not win the approval of the Malays, he would continue to be remembered by many of us today.
Back to Kuok’s advice to Hussein Onn which reflected a business tycoon’s pragmatism. He saw the stigma of racist politics and believed the country could be very different if our leaders had dropped race-based criteria when selecting people.
There seems to be a crack of late in the decades-old policy. Sultan Ibrahim of Johor has called on the government to review racial quotas for housing projects and requiring developers to build affordable homes for Malaysians regardless of race.
The national flag carrier earlier appointed two successive foreign chief executives, Christoph Mueller and Peter Bellew. Although they left before they managed to make the airline profitable, we still hope more foreign experts will be brought in here to reverse the destinies of our ailing companies.
Meanwhile, Geely, with its recently acquired 49.9% stake in Proton, has appointed Li Chunrong, a Chinese national, to head the national carmaker just because our government can no longer handle the company.
Li put it candidly in his first public address recently that Proton’s service quality (sales satisfaction index SSI and customer satisfaction index CSI) was downright disappointing. He said he had never seen anything this bad before.
He cited several examples to support his call for improved efficiency. He discovered that the culinary skills of the cooks at Proton’s canteen were so poor that they couldn’t even get kangkung cooked right. The HR director offered to fix the problem in two months, but the CEO only allowed two weeks!
It was later proven that the demand was never excessive, as the quality of canteen food has since improved remarkably!
Li also found that many of Proton’s sale consultants in Penang, Ipoh and JB could not speak Mandarin although there are many Chinese customers there. So he wanted more people who could speak Mandarin or even Tamil to serve the customers.
Li not only has given Proton a new Chinese name, he also ushers in pragmatism, efficiency, reforms, professionalism, integrity and integration as well as uncompromising pursuit of management and quality excellence. This invariably is a cultural shock to the Malaysian workforce.
In line with the One Belt One Road initiative and the establishment of Digital Free Trade Zone, the door of the country is now wide open. More and more Chinese companies are expected to set up operating bases here for expansion into Asean market.
If we continue to do things the way we used to, we will lose even our domestic market.
The government’s protective policy is no longer able to withstand the tide of a highly liberal and competitive marketplace. E-commerce is all about product quality, cost performance, design, packaging, brand image, etc. Non-competitive companies that bask on government privileges and subsidies will eventually be washed out of the market.
Consequently, we need to readjust our policies, mentality and attitude to tackle the challenges in the era of new economy.
While in the past we could still cling on to our patronage system and resist change, we can no longer do the same today. Change, or be changed by the world.
Kuok’s advice to the government remains relevant today, while Li’s demands from Malaysians should serve as a guiding light to lead us forward.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.