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Thursday, 17 September 2015
[an open letter to pm najib] Mr Prime Minister, we need to fix it now
[an open letter to pm najib] Mr Prime Minister, we need to fix it now – Chong Beng Lim
Dear Datuk Seri Najib Razak,
Recently, the results of our national football team receiving a devastating drubbing of 10-0 at the hands of the United Arab Emirates in a World Cup qualifying match were splashed across newspaper front pages.
It was a pandemonium of pain for the devoted Malaysian football fans. Anguish, bewilderment, chaos, despair, embarrassment, and frustrations reign in the wake of the humiliation. I believe you are still reeling from the shock of the rout by the UAE.
Our national football coach and former football hero, Dollah Salleh was quoted as saying, “The fans will not accept this result. I take full responsibility for the defeat.”
And he quit in no time. Dollah’s swift action was laudable as he is a responsible football coach.
Both of us are United fans. We know when a coach did a bad job leading a team to glory, he should resign or be fired from his post.
Likewise, if a country’s leader did a bad job by steering the country on a wrong trajectory, he or she should resign from his post gracefully.
Of course, Mr Prime Minister, you might think or say otherwise and object to my hint that you should step down.
However, to be honest, I would say that you, or your entire Cabinet of ministers, are suffering from cognitive biases.
Most people tend to perceive information that confirms their underlying beliefs and have a hard time believing something that is in conflict with their preconceived notions. Psychologists call this confirmation bias.
Dear Prime Minister, maybe you, or your Cabinet, still have a hard time grasping the basic idea of confirmation bias. To put it simply, or in layman terms, most of the ministers believe that "Malaysia Boleh". Whenever something happens that is not in line or in total contradiction to the spirit of "Malaysia Boleh", they find it incredibly difficult to swallow.
Mr Prime Minister, please do not take confirmation bias for granted. It was having this very concept that caused the once mighty Nokia and Blackberry to be unable to respond to the threats of disruptive technology and fall from grace eventually.
That’s why ever since you became the prime minister, Malaysia has been suffering from a pandemonium of problems.
From 2009 to 2015, our students in secondary schools sitting for SPM have been reported to have improved year by year, averaging 5%-20% in terms of the number of students obtaining straight As.
The results have painted a rosy picture of education in Malaysia, further underpinning the "Malaysia Boleh" spirit. Everyone was happy. It seemed that the Education Ministry had done a good job. It seemed that Malaysia’s level of education had achieved a measure of competence.
In one survey conducted by Introspek Asia, 55% of the adult respondents believed that our education system was equally competitive compared with other countries, whereas 35% of the respondents believed that our education system had leapfrogged some “developed countries”.
Even your then beloved education minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, believed that Malaysia’s education system was far superior to the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.
In 2009, the year you became the prime minister, Malaysia took part in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which was a test administered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to determine 15-year-olds' readiness to deploy what they learned at school to solve real-world problems.
When the results came out in 2012, it was a bombshell as Malaysian 15-year-olds were placed in the bottom 30% among 74 countries in the world.
In reading, we were ranked a pathetic 55th. In Maths, we were ranked a dismal 57th and in Science, we were ranked a poor 52nd.
In 2012, our 15-year-olds took part again in Pisa. Malaysian students were none the wiser this year, placed in the bottom third of all countries, ranked 52 out of 65 countries participating in the test.
We were in the same league with countries like Mexico, Montenegro, Kazakhstan, Uruguay and the like. Our neighbours, Singapore and Vietnam fared vastly better than us. Even Thailand did slightly better than our 15-year-olds. In fact, the results of Singapore, ranked second, had left Malaysia in the dust.
This is our nation.
In October 2010, I wrote to The Star, “Errors in PMR English 2010” and to The New Straits Times, “Just Too Many Errors”, pointing out the errors in the PMR English paper in 2010. The Education Ministry gave me a reply, “There are no grammatical and logical errors in the paper as alleged by C.B. Lim. The refuted sentences merely portray an author’s preferences and writing style.”
Again, the ministry had a confirmation bias that English papers set by teachers couldn’t be wrong. However, it was reported in the newspaper in September 2013, “about a third of English Language teachers in the country have been classified as incapable or unfit to teach the subject in schools... it was revealed that about 70% out of the 60,000 English Language teachers, who sat for the English Language Cambridge Placement Test, performed poorly”.
In 2014, the education minister set the audacious target of making English a must-pass subject in SPM. To everyone’s surprise recently this year, the ministry made a U-turn by announcing that teachers and students are not ready for the target yet.
This is our nation.
In the wake of the missing MAS airplane, MH370, government officials handling the tragedy were the laughing stock in the spotlight of the world.
First, it was reported in the media that the last words from the cockpit were, "alright goodnight", subsequently the last words were changed to "Goodnight Malaysian three seven zero". It seems that the investigating team had a hearing impairment.
In one press conference, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar strongly refuted that there were five passengers who had checked in their luggage but failed to board the flight whereas the Immigration director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said there were five such passengers on board.
Why were there conflicting statements between two high-profile government officials then?
And it was revealed that there were two passengers carrying stolen passports admitted entry into the flight as the immigration officer had failed to crosscheck their passports with the Interpol’s database of stolen passports.
Recently, two women with the same boarding pass were on board the same MAS flight from Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur. This was the failure of two different security check points (one upon entering, and another upon boarding). MAS had failed to learn the lessons of MH370.
While handling the MH370 tragedy, our government was perceived as inept and incompetent. Furthermore, the repeated release of contradictory information just added fuel to the fire.
Hence, Malaysia bore the brunt of the firestorm of criticism unleashed from China on the social media.
This is our nation.
Also, Lester Melanyi and Ramesh Rao, “recruited” by your minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, dropped a massive clanger by producing flimsy and conflicting evidence of a photo of a web designer named James Steward Stephen during a video confession, whereas the actual identity of the person in the photo was a senior manager of a bus company named James Steward in Norwich, England.
And lately, a team of officers of this devoted minister, the strategic communications director of Barisan Nasional and the urban minister, while on an assignment to send a RM65,000 clean-up bill to the Bersih organisers, made a classic howler by sending the bill to a wrong address although they were in a possession of the right address.
Many Malaysians were wondering who had picked Rahman to be the minister.
Perhaps, we could have a “Cambridge Political Place Test” for all the government officials and ministers. Could it be that 60%-70% of them would fail the test if there was really such a “test”?
This is our nation.
So far, I have been talking mostly about a series of cock-ups and clangers made by your ministers or government-linked companies.
Let’s talk about you, Mr Prime Minister.
First of all, I would like to say that I am not all together against you in terms of what you have done.
For example, I totally agree with you that to excel in a language, “a student should think in English, write in English, or think in Bahasa, write in Bahasa”.
We are all Man U fans, we are united in spirit to support this marvellous football club, and we all wish Man U success in its endeavours in the Barclay Premier League and the UEFA Champions League this season.
I really love and admire this immaculate opening paragraph of yours in the Wall Street Journal, “Nobody saw this coming, nobody knows why it happened, and nobody knows why it happened, and nobody knows precisely where it is. That, essentially, is the story of Flight MH370 – at least for now.”
Nonetheless, I do have things that I strongly disagree with you.
We all know that a robust economy is the main pillar of a country. Recently, you have painted a rosy picture of our economy by claiming that our economy continues to expand and grow in the face of economic uncertainties in the region and the world. I beg to differ.
If our economy were on the right path to achieving a developed nation by 2020, why has the ringgit gone into a nosedive?
Previously, the ringgit was 2.5 against the US dollar, now it is 4.3.
A long time ago, the ringgit was on a par with Singapore dollar, but now it is RM3 against S$1. Obviously, the fundamentals are not strong and they affect the stability of the ringgit.
Again, if Malaysia’s economy were on solid footing, why do you need to introduce the goods and services tax (GST) to add burden to the rakyat?
And it has been reported GST has added 15%-25% to prices of general items. Before GST, I paid only RM183 for a pack of 20-kg dog food, now I have to fork out around RM240 for the dog food. It is an increase of 31%.
Prior to GST, I only paid around RM5-7 for a packet of grape fruit in Bangsar, now the prices have skyrocketed, a packet of grape fruit in Bangsar costs me an astonishing RM20-35. It is a whopping 300%-400% increase in food items even though fruits are GST-free.
A day ago, a package of mixed vegetables I bought at a hypermarket went up by 10%, in spite of the fact that vegetables are GST-free.
Then, how about the massive layoffs at MAS, Naza and RHB Bank recently? The shutdown of CCM Fertilizer, Ansell, JVC and the impending closing down of Kuwait Finance House?
Dear Prime Minister, you seem to have suffered from confirmation bias with regard to the economy.
Also, people have a tendency to rationalise a bad situation by creating a convenient truth, psychologists call it cognitive dissonance. Thus, our economy is really in the doldrums, but, you, the Prime Minister rationalise it by saying the future is still positive.
However, the reality of our economy is an inconvenient truth that you dare not disclose to the rakyat. And the rakyat know that our economy is going to the dogs.
As your brother Datuk Seri Nazir Razak recently posted online, "I don't remember a time when just absolutely everything seems to be going badly for Malaysia. I pray that this is the darkest before dawn".
This is a powerful and fitting testament to the state of the economy we are in.
We all know that you have recently set up the Special Economic Committee to steer the course of Malaysia’s economy and solve the nagging problems of our financial crisis. But perhaps, the swiftest solution to the challenges our economy is facing is to ask you to leave your prime minister's and finance minister’s posts by mutual consent.
Why? The Russian proverb aptly says, “A fish rots from the head down.” We must stop the rot before Malaysia faces an eventual economic meltdown.
The current calamity of the Malaysian football team is a shining example for you to follow. You should look up to the football veteran Dollah by relinquishing your post. You don’t need to step down only when the ringgit is RM10 to US$1. Not only must you go, so must you entire Cabinet.
Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin encapsulates this brilliantly, “If the car is ‘buruk’ (thrashed) and if you put a Formula One driver in it, maybe it can perform a little bit better, but the car will still not become a Ferrari.”
When Steve Jobs made his second comeback to Apple, his first and foremost task was to fire the entire ineffectual board of directors. Then only Apple began to rise from the ashes and started to survive and thrive ever since.
It was reported at the end of July that fire and smoke had disrupted the LRT train services in Kuala Lumpur due to a faulty brake system. Surprisingly, it transpired that the faulty braking system had been plaguing the LRT service for six months.
You and your Cabinet have been plaguing our economy for a long time. Do not wait until raging fire and smouldering smoke grind Malaysia’s economy to a halt. We need to fix it now.
Already, Malaysia is being shrouded in haze.
Look Mr Prime Minister, I haven’t even had the time to talk about your two biggest bugbears: 1MDB and Altantuya. I could write books or direct Oscar-winning movies about them, which are shrouded in secrecy and mystery.
Do not wait until there people pour out onto the streets to demand your resignation, just like the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong in 2014, or like the People Power Revolution in the Philippines in 1983, that demanded the ouster of the government.
Already, football fans have asked for the suspension of the Football Association of Malaysia to save football in Malaysia. Now is the time for the complete overhaul of the government to save the economy of Malaysia.
The choice is yours: between stimulus and response – you have the power to choose!
You and your Cabinet can choose to leave by mutual consent, and we don’t need the ugly words like "removal", "topple", "resign", or "ouster".
Or you can choose to "retire", just like the legendary football manager Sir Alex Ferguson, one who knew to retire gracefully when his time was up.
Of course, Mr Prime Minister, you might object, “Why should I listen to you?”.
To this, I would like to quote the smart saying of Jean Louise Finch, the main character in the book “Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee:
“Aunty, it’s easy to tell somebody what to do – but very hard to make them do it. That’s the cause of most trouble in this world, people not doing as they’re told.”
I, and the rakyat, firmly believe that a government without you will be much more stronger, much more united, and much more stable than ever.
Mr Prime Minister, when your time is up, please do not overstay your welcome. Period. –