Anger is good: it makes you stand up to be counted

Raja Petra Kamarudin

One blogger going by the pseudonym of ‘zique’ posted this message in my Monday Morning Blues column, I am my own man:

R. Petra

Been watching you getting angry and angrier, while our society plunges deeper into chaotic social disorder.

Swamped by your anger you are losing your focus and you will lose your ability to see things in perspective

Hope you get sober. The society at large still needs a fighter like you. Please do not allow your hunger to be different to drown you.

Hmm… this message certainly made me stop to think for awhile. Will I now regain my composure and act with a more level head? Will this cool me down and dampen the rage that has dominated my heart? Will my head be able to regain control of my heart?

Probably not! But what it has achieved is to trigger nostalgia in my mind. They say, when you keep thinking of the past, this is a sign that age has caught up with you. Well…I am going to be 55 this September, so I am definitely no spring chicken. And my wife keeps reminding me of this every time I attempt something from Kamasutra on Thursday nights. Hmm… come to think of it, today is Thursday… happy days are here again.

Old folks say: if you do not change by 40, then you will never change. I suppose, since I am 55, you can expect no changes from me right till the day I breathe my last breath.

Yes, I am angry. And back in the mid-1980s, when I was only in my 30s, I was just as angry. Back then they called my AYM. Other members of the Royal Family are called YM, which means Yang Mulia. The AYM against my name did not stand for Amat Yang Mulia, it meant Angry Young Man. Sure, I am not young anymore, but my anger has not grown old nevertheless, unlike my tired body.

And how did I inherit the AYM title?

It all started during the seminar organised by the then Trade and Industry Minister, Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, in his Ministry at Jalan Duta. I was asked to present a paper for discussion and my paper was about rampant corruption and abuse of power in the government.

The seminar was attended by the top government officers of the various ministries and they did not take too kindly to my revelations, complete with documents as evidence. The ministry representatives were speechless. The evidence was overwhelming and they had no defence to offer.

My paper was subsequently published into a book and I was thereafter blacklisted by the Ministry of Finance. My business, which depended on government contracts, invariably suffered.

Tengku Razaleigh was surprisingly most amused by my presentation which was laced with showmanship. I almost felt like Hitler standing on the stage in front of the rostrum raising my voice and waving my hands with clenched fist, slamming all and sundry in the government. At the end of my presentation, the hall fell into a stunned silence — until Tengku Razaleigh clapped before the entire hall echoed with reverberating applause.

I may have been my best that day, but I paid dearly thereafter when I was declared persona non grata by the Malaysian government. Soon after that Tengku Razaleigh mounted a challenge for the Umno presidency and I, of course, was thereafter labelled a Semangat 46 stooge, not good for someone who depended on government business for his survival.

During the mid-1980s economic crisis following the ‘Black Monday’ worldwide stock market collapse, the Malay Chamber of Commerce organised a two-day conference at the Shangrila Hotel. Again, I was asked to present a paper and, again, I slammed the government.

Bank Bumiputera Malaysia Berhad (BBMB) was the bone of contention. It was instituting legal action against all loan defaulters, mainly Malays, and by the end of the day there would be no Malay businessmen left standing.

“BBMB,” I said, “Is not Bank Bumiputera Malaysia Berhad. It stands for Basir Buat Melayu Bankrupt.”

Tan Sri Basir, the BBMB Chairman then, was outraged. He instructed the Terengganu Branch of BBMB to recall my RM5.7 million facilities with the bank. The bank was perturbed and they tried come to my defence and argue my case. My account was well managed, explained the branch manager, and the interest earned from me alone was enough to pay the entire branch’s monthly overheads. In fact, argued the branch, I am the largest private account holder, second to the state government-owned companies, which cannot be considered private companies.

But Basir would not budge. He was adamant that my account should be closed and I was given 14 days to fully repay my RM5.7 million or else my case would be handed over to the legal department.

I met the late Chai Fook Loong, the then Chairman of the Malaysian plywood manufacturers association, an old colleague of my father from the London student days, to explain my predicament. He was extremely surprised that Basir would do this as he (Basir) knew my late father and was a fellow-colleague from the London days.

Fook Loong immediately phoned Basir.

“Do you know who Raja Petra is?” Fook Long asked Basir. “He is the son of the late Raja Kamarudin Raja Tun Uda.”

“Yes, I know who he is,” Basir curtly replied. “His file is on my table right in front of me. And I have given him 14 days to fully cover his facilities and close his account.”

Basir then abruptly hung up.

Fook Loong was stunned. He said he knew Basir well enough to know that he is quite a reasonable man. Why would Basir react in such a manner? “What did you do to make him so angry?” Fook Loong asked me.

I explained what I had done. I then fully repaid my facilities within the 14 days. Now it was Basir’s turn to be shocked. He did not think I could do it.

The two-day conference at the Shangrila was officially opened by Dr Mahathir Mohamad and closed by his Deputy, Ghaffar Baba. With both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister gracing the occasion, I grabbed the opportunity to slam the government.

You are traitors to the Malay race, I screamed. Government-owned banks are fair weather banks, I shouted. When we have plenty of money and are doing well, you give us loans. The minute we get into trouble you pounce on us and get us declared bankrupt. You accuse Bumiputeras of being bad businessmen. You say we over-extended ourselves. But it is you who gave us these loans. If you knew we were overextending ourselves why give us loans? Why make it easy for us to obtain money from your banks?

I carried on pounding. The government has a moral duty to help the Malay businessmen in trouble because you got us into trouble. You threw contracts our way and threw money at us to finance these contracts. If the Malays are not capable like you say, why not just leave us in the kampongs to plant rice? Why try to cultivate and create a Bumiputera corporate community then abandon us when we are in trouble?

This is not a Bumiputera problem, I argued. It is a worldwide problem. Even Japan and America are in trouble. Even the Chinese in Malaysia too are in trouble. But when the Chinese cooperatives run into problems, the government instructs the banks to bail them out to the tune of billions of Ringgit. Then BBMB goes and loses billions in the BMF fiasco in Hong Kong. Is BBMB’s job to blow billions on a few people in Hong Kong or to help the Malays?

I demanded that the government put aside RM1 billion to help the Malay businessmen in trouble. If you can spend RM2 billion in Hong Kong and RM5 billion on the Chinese cooperatives, then what is RM1 billion to help the Malays? And if the government abandons the Malays today, then the Malays will abandon the government come the next election.

Yes, I was angry, very angry, and the Angry Young Man title stuck to me like a hungry leech that has not satisfied its desire for blood.

Dr Mahathir agreed to set up a special fund to bail out the Malay businessmen in trouble; the Tabung Pemulihan Usahawan or TPU. And RM500 million was allocated to the fund. We protested. We wanted RM1 billion, but Dr Mahathir said the government will start with half that and if it is not enough it can always be increased later.

In the end RM560 million was given out.

In one of the TPU meetings the case of Marina Yusof was raised. She needed RM60 million to bail her out from her Marinara crisis — but by then she had joined Tengku Razaleigh in Semangat 46 so Bank Negara wanted her application rejected; on the instructions of the Ministry of Finance.

I protested. If she is genuine and deserving, then her case should be considered. Politics should have nothing to do with it. Dato Bakar Lazim was outnumbered and outvoted.

Many others in Terengganu who made the same mistake of aligning themselves with Tengku Razaleigh suffered the same fate as Marina Yusof and I raised hell at the Malay Chamber meetings. They too got their allocation under the TPU approved.

Yes, I was very angry back in the 1980s when I was in my 30s. And I am still angry today though I am hitting 55. But we need to be angry. Islam says if you see an injustice, then do something about it with your hands. If you cannot or dare not use your hands, then use your mouth. And if you still dare not use your mouth, then despise it in your heart. Yes, despise it, get angry. Only then will justice prevail.

So, zique, you are right, I am angry. I always was angry. And I will always be angry. But, by being angry, only then can we see change. And my 55 years walking the face of this earth has proven this. But of course we shall have to face the consequences of our anger as I have had to over these last two decades. And I am prepared to pay for the folly of my anger.