Towards A Developed Malaysia #1 of 6

The prevailing ethics in a developing country is that the law applies only to ordinary people, not the leaders.  Those in power have nothing but contempt for the law.  It is there to serve their purpose, and they never hesitate using it against their enemies.
M. Bakri Musa

[Presented at the Third Annual Alif Ba Ta Forum, “1Malaysia Towards Vision 2020,” Rochester Institute of Technology, NY, December 5, 2009, organized by Kelab UMNO NY-NJ.  The presentation can be viewed at (search under “Bakri Musa RIT”) or through this link: ] 
Part One of Six:         Definition of A Developed State
Thank you, President Shahrir Tamrin of Kelab UMNO-NY/NJ for inviting me again.  I still savor the many pleasant memories of last year’s event.  To President Arif Aiman of the Malaysian Students Association, RIT, your warm welcome and generous introduction more than made up for the chill of a New York autumn!  To Nur Fauzana and her committee, I congratulate you for your grit in holding this forum in December when American campuses are typically gripped with term paper deadlines and final examinations.
To fellow panelist Dr. Azly Rahman, it is good to see you again!  I was in Greece recently and imagined you conducting a Socratic-like seminar on the meaning of truth, wisdom, and knowledge, under those imposing columns!  To Ambassador Jarjis, it is a pleasure meeting you and your wife again.  That was an impressive picture of you with President Obama, a portrait of a Malay hulubalang (knight), fearsome yet elegant, with his tanjak (keris) discreetly tucked underneath the samping.  You effectively demonstrated that a genuine hulubalang need not brandish his keris to convey his message!
To Ali Iqbal, you significantly lower the average age of the panelists.  I enjoyed your panoramic take on the current economic crisis.  It was thankfully free of economic jargons and thus very informative.
To many, “1Malysia” is one of those slogans Malaysian leaders are so fond of coining.  Before that there was Malaysia Boleh (Malaysian Can!), and more recently, Cemerlang, Gemilang, dan Terbilang (excellence, glory, and distinction), and, as it turned out, all temberang (hot air).  To others, 1Malaysia is Prime Minister Najib Razak’s website.  Or is it that of a web-hosting company?
That last remark is unkind, of course, a lousy attempt at humor on my part!  That done with, I now turn to the topic at hand.
 “IMalaysia” is Najib’s vision of a united Malaysia.  The eight values of his 1Malaysia are perseverance, culture of excellence, acceptance, loyalty, education, humility, integrity, and meritocracy.  I am sure you were grilled on that at your scholarship interviews back home.
I do not know what the difference is, if any, between a culture of excellence and meritocracy, or between acceptance and loyalty.  My hunch is that Najib is superstitious, and eight is an auspicious number in his scheme of things.
Vision 2020 is former Prime Minister Mahathir’s inspiration, first articulated in1991, to propel Malaysia towards a developed state by 2020.  His original title was, “The Way Forward,” but that did not have quite the same zing.
One dictionary defines a developed state as one with a high degree of industrialization and standard of living brought on by wealth and technology.  Being the iconoclast that he is, Mahathir has his own ideas.  To him, a developed state is one that is, among others, “psychologically liberated,” “fully moral,” and “fully caring.”  Then perhaps unsure of what those fuzzy terms mean, he added the traditional economic criterion of “doubling of real gross domestic product every ten years between 1990 and 2020.”
Mahathir’s reference to GDP is both inadequate and misleading.  What is relevant is the size of the economy relative to the population:  the per capita GDP.  A developed nation typically has a per capita income in excess of $18K, adjusted for purchasing power parity.  That too has its limitations.  Brunei’s per capita GDP is nearly $50K, way ahead of Canada, but no one would suggest that Brunei is developed.  The figure for Malaysia is about $12K.
The United Nations has a more inclusive measure with its Human Development Index (HDI).  It factors in the health of the population (as reflected in life expectancy), level of education (as measured by adult literacy and school enrollment rates), and standard of living (per capita GDP).  Developed nations generally have an index greater than 0.900; Malaysia’s at 0.826.  If you believe in HDI, Malaysia is more developed than Russia!
I have a simpler definition.  A developed state is like pornography; I know it when I see it, to borrow Justice Potter Stewart’s famous phrase.  When I drive south from San Diego, California, to Tijuana, Mexico, I know that I am leaving a developed country and entering a developing one.  When I drive into Montreal, Canada, from Plattsburgh, New York, I know that I am entering another developed country.
In Tijuana, if the police were to stop me, I would grab my wallet to see how much cash I have to bribe him.  If a similar incident were to happen in Canada, I would check my driver’s license and car registration papers.
If I were unfortunate enough to have an accident in Tijuana, my first thought would be how to get back across the border as quickly as possible.  In Canada, I would not hesitate being sent to the nearest hospital.  When dining out in Montreal, my only consideration would be the choice of cuisine, ambience, and of course, cost.  In Tijuana I would have to choose very carefully, and even then I would stay away from the ice and salads.
I leave it to you to judge where Malaysia is, closer to Tijuana or Montreal.
My late father had an astute observation on what is meant by a developed society.  I was visiting him after a long absence.  It was in 1969, right after the deadly race riots, and the streets of Kuala Lumpur were deserted.  I was driving him and we came to a stop sign.  I duly stopped.  He asked me why I did that, and thinking that he did not see the sign, replied, “There was a stop sign.”
 “But there were no cars,” he protested.
I did not reply.  After a long pensive pause he added, “That is why the West is advanced.  People there obey the law even when no one is watching!”
 He may not have realized it, but my late father was on to something profound.  That is, respect for the rule of law is the feature of a developed society.  This is precisely what is lacking in a developing country, and more importantly, what keeps it trapped in its backward state.
The prevailing ethics in a developing country is that the law applies only to ordinary people, not the leaders.  Those in power have nothing but contempt for the law.  It is there to serve their purpose, and they never hesitate using it against their enemies.  On a mundane level, I have a picture of a limousine, with the title “Ketua Hakim Negara” (Chief Justice) emblazoned across its license plate, parked illegally and blocking the traffic at Sepang International Airport.
Of course even in America cars of cabinet secretaries and congressmen are exempt from the usual parking restrictions, but you would never see their cars blocking traffic at Reagan National Airport.
In New York, the biggest traffic violators are diplomats from developing countries.  There is a definite correlation between those diplomats and the World Bank’s index of public corruption in their home country.  Merely living in a developed country does not make you a developed person.  This supports my contention that you should focus on developing your people, not your country.
The Quran reminds us to “command good and forbid evil!” as if Allah is watching over us at all times (“closer than our jugular vein”).  In a developed country, they obey the law as if someone is watching over them all the time.  Of course today there are surveillance cameras at traffic intersections.  Better not run the red light!
The challenge is to ensure that Malaysia is headed towards Montreal and not sliding back to Tijuana.  If we do not get to Montreal, we will automatically slide quickly towards Tijuana.  Make not mistake about that; standing still is not an option.
Next:   Part Two of Six:  Diamond of Development