Why I don’t need the NEP

As I said, I would hate it if people say my success is because I happen to have been born Malay. I would prefer people say I am successful because I am smart. Why can’t other Malays share my pride? Why can’t other Malays take on Malaysians not of Malay ethnicity and fight them on a level playing field?


Raja Petra Kamarudin

It was more than 30 years or so ago, back in 1977. My Terengganu based company had tendered for the Ministry of Finance contract to supply marine engines to the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture. The Minister of Finance then was Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and the Minister of Agriculture, Sharif Ahmad

It was a RM30 million tender. At today’s purchasing power I really don’t know what that would be but I suppose we can easily multiply that by five. The biggest contract I had ever secured before that was for a value of RM750,000 — so RM30 million was certainly a great leap forwards.

The tender committee met, chaired by Tengku Razaleigh. I, of course, had my eyes and ears in that meeting room, as I always do until this very day. And the decision of the tender committee was to award the entire contract to UMW, which was then headed by Eric Chia, with Datuk Dr Mokhzani Abdul Rahim as one of its Directors.

Invariably, Dr Mokhzani was a high profile and well-known Malay personality while I was a young unknown punk doing business in a remote fishing village called Kuala Terengganu.  UMW was a star of the Malaysian corporate world with links not only to various Ministers but also all the way up to the Prime Minister. It was the only Malaysian company that enjoyed a Japanese government guarantee on all its purchases made from Japan on credit.

My company was a mere RM10,000 paid-up capital papa-mama outfit.

The tender committee allowed every member of the committee to have his say. Then the Minister spoke. The RM30 million contract would be awarded to the more stable and reliable UMW.

Then the Secretary spoke up. He was a short unassuming man.  In a crowd he would probably blend with the wallpaper and go unnoticed. He was a hardcore ABIM member. He refuses to meet contractors and businessmen. If you made an appointment to see him he would never say yes and you would be left waiting months for the appointment to be confirmed. If you tried to gatecrash his office and attempt to get in without an appointment he would shout at you to get out of his office, like what I personally discovered.

This ABIM man, Secretary of the tender committee, spoke up. He said that the government should not give the entire contract to one company. There should not be any monopoly. At least two companies should be awarded the contract. UMW is offering Mitsubishi. This small papa-mama outfit in Terengganu is offering Yanmar. Give both these companies the contract.

Yes, said the Minister. But the Terengganu company’s price is higher. UMW is cheaper by 7%.

What if we negotiate with the Terengganu company and ask them to reduce their price, suggested the Secretary of the tender committee. Only if they can match UMW’s price will we give them the contract.

Okay, ask them to reduce their price and offer them 30% of the contract, ruled the Minister.

Why 30%, the very stubborn Secretary asked. By now my ‘eyes and ears’ in that meeting room was absolutely amused and quite puzzled as to why the Secretary, who did not know me from Adam, would go out on a limb to oppose his Minister in favour of me.

Okay, then give UMW and this Terengganu company 50:50. Each company will get RM15 million. But the Terengganu company will have to first reduce its price and match UMW’s offer. If not then UMW gets the entire contract.

I received a call from my ‘eyes and ears’ who told me what happened. Great, so I will soon be called and asked to reduce my price. And if I reduce it by 7% then I will get half the contract. A few days later that was exactly what happened. And as to why this ABIM man, the Secretary of the tender committee, fought for me I do not know until today. I can only assume it is because he wanted to do the right thing. He was, after all, an ABIM member and someone who holds Islam as his guiding principle. I am sure he too was equally surprised as to how come I offered a 7% discount, which ‘coincidentally’ brought our price down to exactly what UMW was offering.

Anyway, UMW and my company each got half the RM30 million contract. But whether we will really get RM15 million worth of orders in the end was left to be seen. The contract was a two-year contract. But the amount would all depend on which engines the fishermen chose.

UMW brought in RM6 million worth of engines, confident that they can sell all. I had less then RM1 million in stock and would have to contact Singapore and Indonesia in the event I needed more. But which brand will the fishermen choose? Yanmar or Mitsubishi?

UMW started giving away a few engines free of charge so that the fishermen could try them out. They were hoping that this would be a great endorsement for their Mitsubishi engines whereby more fishermen would demand their brand. They even gave all these fishermen who agreed to try out their engines ‘cash rewards’. And they of course got to keep the engines as well.

I realised that UMW was an aggressive company — always has been — and they would probably sweep the market. I could not afford to do what UMW was doing so I went back to Yanmar and negotiated two free engines from them so that we could do what UMW was doing. Yanmar agreed.

I went to meet two of those fishermen who had received free Mitsubishi engines from UMW and offered them these Yanmar engines, also free of charge. But the condition was, they would have to first sabotage their Mitsubishi engines in the middle of the sea and get rescued by the Fisheries Department.

Invariably, when word spread throughout the fishing villages that two brand new Mitsubishi engines broke down in the middle of the sea and the two boats spent the whole night drifting aimlessly and had to be towed back to port, no one wanted to touch Mitsubishis.

UMW was stuck with unsold Mitsubishis worth RM6 million. My RM15 million contract ended up as a RM30 million contract because UMW could not sell anything. And I laughed all the way to the bank, the double pleasure of defeating the great UMW at its own game.

Now, at this stage, you may be asking what the point of this whole story is. Simple really. I won. UMW lost. No matter how much bigger, powerful and influential they may have been, I still beat them. And I beat them not because I had contacts with the Minister or Prime Minister like UMW. I beat them not because of the NEP. I beat them not because I bribed the government officers and politicians. I beat them not because I was an Umno member. I beat them not because I am Malay. I beat them because I was more devious and dirty than those devious and dirty people in UMW.

I would hate it if people say that I won the RM30 million contact because I am Malay or because of the NEP or because I am an Umno member or whatever. That would be implying I am not really that smart but was given a crutch or handicap. Even a blind man can walk on the streets if you hold his hand and guide him along. I would like to believe that I won the contract because, while I knew UMW had friends in high places, I kept tabs on what they were doing by infiltrating the Ministry of Finance tender committee with my spies. And because of this I was able to monitor what my enemies were doing.

After getting the contract I had to ensure that UMW did not get any orders. And to ensure this I sabotaged their engines on the high sea and gave Mitsubishi a bad name. After that they could not even give away those engines free let alone sell them. And this is not because I am Malay or because of the NEP or whatever.

I am opposed to the NEP in its present form — that is no secret. However, I do feel that a special poverty alleviation programme must replace it so that the have-nots and less fortunate can be assisted. But I don’t believe the Malays need special protection and handicaps to win the game. I, for one, resent it if someone says my success is attributed to the fact I happen to be born Malay. This is the same as saying if I was not born Malay I would be a failure.

Who says we Malays are weak and stupid and that we need crutches? I beat the biggest and most powerful Chinese public company called UMW back in 1977. And I beat them using their own strategy. And UMW is not the only big company I whacked. Fusan fishing net company got whacked by me. Pernas got whacked by me. Shamlin got whacked by me. The Bank Pertanian trading company, can’t remember its name now, got whacked by me. I took on the big boys, those with loads of money and political connections, and beat them. And it is not because I am Malay or because of the NEP. I would honestly like to believe it is because I have brains.

As I said, I would hate it if people say my success is because I happen to have been born Malay. I would prefer people say I am successful because I am smart. Why can’t other Malays share my pride? Why can’t other Malays take on Malaysians not of Malay ethnicity and fight them on a level playing field? It is so much more satisfying when you win that way rather than you engage in a boxing match with an opponent whose hands are tied behind his back and a blindfold over his eyes. Anyone can win that type of contest.