Friday January 7, 2005

The achievements of Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam


THE spacious, clutter-free home of Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam reflects its owner’s outlook on life: no-nonsense, honest and, as he puts it, “intolerant of inefficiencies”. 

The former Transport Ministry Secretary-General and current Sunway Group corporate advisor abhors luxuries that many others seek. 

“Frankly, I’m not interested in money. I’m not motivated by it. I’ve got a comfortable house. It’s not huge, but it’s not small either. How many beds can you sleep in in one night? How many cars can you drive at a time?” asks Ramon in an interview at his bungalow in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, which he shares with his 69-year-old wife, Samaladevi. 

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam: ‘I feel strongly, that’s why I write. I don’t like people to get away with nonsense.’
Rather than wealth, Ramon has over the years accumulated other kinds of riches that money cannot buy: respect, authority and dignity. 

Those who know his work will be familiar with his thoughts on poverty, financial policies, economics, education and a slew of social issues in and out of Malaysia, particularly those affecting Third World countries. 

He has authored eight books, including his most recent – an autobiography titled My Life and Times: A Memoir, and often writes to newspapers in response to opinions and policies that he feels are unfair. 

Yesterday, Ramon reached another milestone: he turned 70. To celebrate, he will be entertaining family and close friends at a birthday bash at the Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel in Selangor tomorrow. 

What spurred his crusade against injustice and corruption? 

Ramon says his empathy for those less fortunate was sparked in 1943, at the age of eight, when he began working as an office boy for the Japanese Road Transport Department in Ipoh. 

“I ran errands, dusted desks, swept the floors, and dispatched letters to other government departments. Being eight years old and having to work for a living, you would develop a sensitivity to misery, hunger and people struggling for a living. You develop a compassion for the poor and marginalised. 

“My family had just enough. My father worked as an audit clerk with the government and his income met our basic needs.  

“We moved around a lot, and in the different towns and villages, I saw a lot of difficulty and misery which I thought was unjustified,” says Ramon, who was born in Kuala Lumpur. 

Ramon worked hard to earn himself a partial scholarship to the University of Malaya in Singapore, where he pursued a degree in Economics in 1959. 

After graduation, he began working as Assistant Secretary in the Health and Social Welfare Ministry. 

In 1969, he went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Public Administration at Harvard University, Massachusetts, on a full university scholarship.  

He was at the time employed in the Economic Division of the Treasury and, upon returning, rejoined it. Shortly after, he became its deputy head. 

“My father was in the government and that was one of my incentives to work in the government as well.  

“Back then, you felt you wanted to take over from the white man, to be able to do something, to serve your country and your people rather than just working to enhance your wealth. 

“It was quite comfortable and we were well paid. At the same time we felt we were doing something for independent Malaysia (then Malaya),” explains Ramon. 

“In those days, there was a great surge in sensitivity, service to country and commitment. There was the excitement in taking over from the British to run the country, and the people looked up to you to lead them.” 

But, laments Ramon, “today, the civil service does not enjoy that prestigious position. Those in the civil service are not as well paid as their private sector counterparts. In those days, there was hardly any private sector. 

“And, unfortunately, the civil service is now predominantly one race, so many young Malaysians feel a sense of alienation. They don’t feel they have equal chances. Back then we felt we had equal opportunities.” 

In 1971 and 72, he was selected to represent Malaysia as alternate executive director in the World Bank in Washington DC. 

His post required him to travel to South-East Asian countries, where he helped to brief officials on developments in World Bank policies and the progress of their applications for loans. 

Ramon worked his way up to the posts of Deputy Secretary-General of the Finance Ministry in 1979, and then to his final posting within the Government, as Secretary-General of the Transport Ministry in 1986. 

He retired in 1989. 

“When I was with the Government and got to attend World Bank and IMF meetings and negotiations, I saw the great inequity between the rich and poor countries, and I recognised through economics, which I studied, and through economic policies, that half the world’s population earned less than US$1 a day, and that their poverty is largely because of unfair trade and international financial policies.” 

The more experience and knowledge Ramon acquired, the more he felt attuned to the plight of the poor. 

“Knowing all this, you react against it as a reasonable, compassionate human being.  

“That’s how my thoughts and concerns develop and which I feel have to be articulated and expressed, so that they might contribute a little bit towards change in thinking and policies.  

“I feel strongly, that’s why I write. I don’t like people to get away with nonsense.”  

Ramon says he tries to come across as “positively provocative to win the response and reaction of Malaysians”, but adds with disappointment: “People are reluctant to debate and talk publicly. 

“Democracy is new to us. It’s not part of our heritage. People here are not culturally accustomed to it. They are taught to respect authority and not question it. They think it’s a liability to disagree, but that’s a bad attitude and bad practice.” 

Ramon says Malaysians must change their outlook and be open to discussion to reap the benefits of the system. 

“From an exchange of ideas and thoughts, we’ll be able to get a better consensus.” 

Will he ever stop trying to change things for the better? 

“I will continue to work, because there’s a saying that work is prayer. There must be purpose in life. As long as God gives me life, I will utilise it to the full.  

“I want to be active. I don’t want my mind to be idle. I want to be self-reliant for my own self-respect.” 

On life beyond 70, Ramon says: “I want to focus more on my spiritual development and feel closer to my Creator. 

“Life has taught me to live and let live. You can’t change the world.  

“You have to accept the world for what it is and try your best to be your best, and to give your best, hoping that others will too – to make this a fairer, more just and equitable world to live in.”

Friday January 7, 2005

Tan Sri Ramon's career watch

HERE is a summary of Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam’s illustrious career: 

  • Jan 6, 1935: Ramon Veerasingam Navaratnam was born to K.R. Navaratnam and Ruth Lee at the General Hospital in Kuala Lumpur. 

  • 1943: At the age of eight, Ramon got his first job as an office boy at the Japanese Road Transport Department in Ipoh, Perak. 

  • 1945: Began his primary one schooling at Anderson School in Ipoh. He completed his secondary school education at the Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur. 

  • 1959: Obtained his Honours degree in Economics from University of Malaya in Singapore. He joined the Health and Social Welfare Ministry as an Assistant Secretary upon graduation. 

  • 1961: Posted to the Administration Division of the Treasury. 

  • 1964 -1972: Transferred to the Economic Division within the Treasury, in which he held several posts. 

  • 1969: Earned his Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University, Massachusetts. 

  • 1971-1972: Ramon was chosen to represent Malaysia as alternate executive director in the World Bank in Washington DC. 

  • 1972-1978: Promoted to Under-Secretary in the Economic Division of the Treasury. 

  • 1979-1986: Posted to the Finance Ministry as Deputy Secretary-General. 

  • 1985: Ramon became the first government representative on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (now Bursa Malaysia) Executive Committee. 

  • 1986-1989: Posted to the Transport Ministry as Secretary-General. 

  • 1989: Became a member of the National Development Planning Committee. He retired from government service. 

  • 1989-1994: Joined Bank Buruh (M) Bhd as executive director/chief executive officer. 

  • 1994-1995: Ramon became executive vice-chairman of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute in Kuala Lumpur. At this time, he was also appointed group corporate adviser to the Sunway Group – a post he still holds. 

  • 1996: Appointed as executive director of Sunway College. 

  • 1997: Published his first book, Managing the Malaysian Economy

  • 1997-1998: Became a member of the Special Education Committee in the Education Ministry. 

  • 1998: Released Strengthening the Malaysian Economy. 

  • 1999: Released Healing the Wounded Tiger: How the Turmoil Is Reshaping Malaysia

  • 1999-2000: Became a member of the National Economic Consultative Council. 

  • 2000: Released Malaysia’s Economic Recovery. Ramon was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by Oxford Brookes University, Britain. He joined the National Unity Advisory Panel, of which he is still a member. 

  • 2002: Released Malaysia’s Economic Sustainability. He joined the National Economic Action Council. 

  • 2003: Released Malaysia’s Economic Challenges

  • 2004: Released Malaysia’s Socio-economic Challenges. Ramon became a member of the National Higher Education Council. 

  • 2005: Released My Life and Times: A Memoir.

    Saturday, 08 July 2006
  • Use the whiplah
    Sharon Kam

    Former civil servant and now corporate personality, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam was an economist with the Malaysian treasury for 27 years, where he rose to become its deputy secretary-general. During that time, he also served as alternate director on the board of directors of the World Bank in Washington, D.C. A graduate in Economics from the University of Malaya in Singapore and a postgraduate of Harvard University, the 71-year-old is also the author of nine books, including his own memoir. SHARON KAM talks to the Sunway Group corporate adviser who was recently elected the president of Transparency International Malaysia.

    theSun: You are involved in a lot of things, wearing many hats, can you tell us where and what are you now?

    I was CEO of Bank Buruh, then I came here as the Sunway Group corporate adviser and deputy chairman of Sunway College. I am chairman of the Centre for Public Policy Studies at ASLI or the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute and more recently the president of Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M), a position which was unsolicited. I was pushed into it because of some problems, you know about it - some member organisations like the International Chamber of Commerce threatened to pull out. I am also on several government committees, including the National Higher Education Council and the National Economic Action Committee.

    You were also with Suhakam (National Human Rights Commission)?

    I was with Suhakam for two terms.

    What motivated you to take on the TI-M position when you are already holding so many others?

    I was brought up in the civil service and taught to serve without any private individual interest. I was trained to gain enormous satisfaction from being of some use or service, and of fulfilling a purpose.

    Have you read the book A Purpose- driven Life? It confirms my philosophy of life which I shared all these years. And if you look at my memoir, I wrote this: "Everyday I do my best and to God I leave the rest, I cannot do better than my best. so I sit back and rest."

    Now I have retired but I am still working here. If I can be of any service, I will.

    You know, you are brought up to serve and you don't know of anything else. I wouldn't like to be a businessman because money is not important to me and I don't see why I should spend my time chasing money, become tamak (greedy). What for? All of us, we live 60, 70, 90 years and then meninggal (die), then what happens? I am a public servant first, a servant to society. If I am worthy of service anywhere, I will respond to that call with my talent, resource and my time.

    How is TI now?

    I think we have put our house in order. We have a good team; Prof Mohd Ali is the deputy, Dr Chin is KPMG senior partner and Stewart Forbes from the International Chamber of Commerce is the treasurer, so we have good people. We cannot talk about transparency and integrity if we don't try hard enough to maintain those standards. But if these principles are questioned by members and the public, then we are not worthy of their trust.

    You follow the developments of the country very closely, current issues...?

    Ya, I read all the papers if I can, theSun, New Straits Times ...

    So you are very informed about what's going on in the country?

    I must be. If I don't read the newspapers early in the morning, I feel like I lost something. I have to be kept abreast of what's going on at home and abroad as much as possible. As the Chinese say, the rot begins from the head. Kalau tak jaga otak, badan semua rosaklah.

    Since you are an economist, let's talk about the economy. What are the current concerns with the country's economy?

    I think after Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over, I feel more confident that the budget is better managed. Why? Because of the considerable deficits for a long period of time which have now been brought under control. But there are certain disadvantages in that. Reducing government spending deprives some people of their business, especially the big contractors but we have to look at the economy as belonging to everybody and not just the contractors.

    If deficit persists, inflation will rise, confidence in economic measurements will be reduced, foreign investments could be affected and our credibility and credit rating in the world financial markets will be adversely affected.

    I am not trying to be strategic in my reply, it is coming straight from my heart and my mind. So, it is painful, but you need to get some good medication and go through some bitter medicine and accept bitter medicine in order to restore your health. That is what is happening in the country today. With that, the balance of payments continues to be healthy because you don't have to borrow so much from abroad for which your debt servicing increases. The reserves continue to be healthy and the economy, is actually doing pretty well. The only problem is, people have got used to the idea that government is there to bail them out. If the world economy is sliding, or experiencing a slowdown, we expect government to employ counter-cyclical economics all the time.

    That is not possible and the public needs to be educated on the need to attach priority to financial discipline. It is simple to convey the message, and the press has a major role to play. They should not just report but analyse and comment. They should consult people, professors, businessmen, all sections of society and I must commend theSun for taking that role. They are not just mouthing government press statements and not just reproducing those but I can see that they've got a higher level of constructive criticism. They are much more critical, more constructive, more investigative rather than just conveying prepared messages. And that is good and useful. I wish more papers can do that and I am not trying to praise theSun because I am doing this interview but I think most people have that impression.

    I hear a lot of talk that the Prime Minister is not doing enough to stimulate the economy and investments.

    Well, this is the counter-cyclical problem but now the issue should not arise because the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) has come up with RM220 billion. What is however unfortunate is that, the public don't know what these projects or programmes are. It is so nicely put up in the Ninth Plan but that's a lot of policies there and lots of good intentions but the project list is not well-known.

    There is this concern that some people may know about the projects more and faster than others and that is not good from a transparency point of view. That does not reflect well on good management, good communication, openness and integrity, because although there may be a lot of integrity behind government, if they do not present their case in the right way, people who are disenchanted, disillusioned or dissatisfied and disappointed that they haven't heard about it or did not know how to (get information about it), especially businessmen who take advantage of business opportunities, they may get increasingly frustrated and start talking and reacting.

    So government PR is always not very good. When you think of it, PR officers in government departments, just deal with handouts. Minister got a speech, they go and give it to you. They do not know what it is to go and promote government's thinking and policies and anticipate questions and to respond to questions.

    So what the government should do now is to tell the people what exactly the projects are?

    Yes, tell the public. We are taxpayers, they forget we are taxpayers. They can only lead and manage government with your money and my money. No tax, no go. So we have a right to know and government has the responsibility to tell the public what is happening on the Plan. Who is going to really benefit? Not only contractors but the people on the ground want to know. I commend the PM for his statement recently that we should not be concerned only with how much we spend but the benefits from this spending. For too long we have taken pride in claiming credit for the amount that we have spent but so little has been known about the benefits of that spending.

    Even on the cost-benefit side, the cost has not been properly explained. That is why, when we don't have proper tendering when you are negotiating contracts, the public begin to feel let down because they are not getting the best value for the price they pay. On the benefit side, they have no clue into what these assessments are, not just in terms of large buildings but programmes, we want to know what is the cost-benefit ratio, what benefit is there for the rakyat.

    We must be concerned with our lower 40% of the income groups in the country, regardless of race. I don't care if it is Malay, Indian, Kadazan or Murut. He is Malaysian, he is in the lower-income group, he must be the target group. And you must bring it to his knowledge what you have done to help him. Otherwise, he only sees buildings, roads, and hospitals and they seem to be concentrated in the richer parts of the country.

    We must translate expenditure in terms of projects and programmes that benefit the lower-income groups because the rich can always look out for themselves and government sometimes forget that the bulk of the workers are not rich. I am just talking about simple economic management. The taxes may not come from the poor but the work comes from the poor but the taxes from the rich are meant for the poor, not for the rich again.

    The PM was a former civil servant. He understands the civil service well. He is perhaps in the best position to improve the delivery system, having been in the civil service for a long time but he seems to be soft on the civil service. And that reflects his goodness, his kindness, his compassion but I wish he can begin to crack the whip. Complaints of long waits, bureaucratic procedures at government departments, inefficiency ... His strength can be his weakness. Being kind, compassionate, big-hearted are wonderful qualities but to people who don't appreciate them, it won't work, you've got to use the stick.

    In a department of a hundred people, the bad apples are only a handful, you make an example of them - call them up, give them counselling, training, and after all that, if they are still recalcitrant, then you transfer them to Grik, or in English they say, send him to Coventry. In other words, send him to a sleepy hollow but if in Grik also he does not perform, sack him.

    What is the difference between the corporate sector and the public sector? What motivates the private sector? The carrot and the stick.. If you don't do well, you will not be promoted or you will be sacked. If you do well, you will be rewarded. So there is sense of justice, fairness so I wish the PM uses more stick.

    There are Napoleons everywhere but any boss who complains that he has a Napoleon must look at the mirror. How does he tolerate the Napoleon? The person is a Napoleon because he, the boss, has been too tolerant, so don't blame the Napolean. Find out why he became a Napoleon and why he was allowed to be developed into a Napoleon. He cannot become a Napoleon overnight. It's a process of decay that sets in over a period of time. There must be something wrong with the system if you cannot identify individuals who are declining and decaying in his performance. So the system is wrong and the people running the system are responsible.

    But Pak Lah has said he wants to improve the civil service, the delivery system, greater transparency, open tenders, etc.

    But what is happening? To be fair to him, he doesn't have enough ministers, senior officials who are prepared to act on his instructions with diligence, dedication on a sustained basis. Not sustained.

    Why is it so?

    Our culture is such. I think our Malaysian culture witnesses this malaise which sets in very quickly and unless you have sustained efforts, that culture reverts back.

    But efforts can be sustained?

    Of course. Look at Bank Negara. Did anyone say Bank Negara is inefficient? They may be a bit too overbearing, that's all you hear. Look at IJN (National Heart Institute) - it is world class. There are world-class centres in our country. But other departments, what happened to all the KPIs (key performance indices), what happened to the Client's Charter? So what is happening is, we have good ideas but we don't follow through and so the whole system is losing credibility due to complacency. Too much rhetoric and too little pragmatic follow-up.

    ACA (Anti-Corruption Agency) for example, you talk about corruption, very simple. What you want to do about corruption? Firstly, our temples, mosques, churches must be asked to preach that corruption is a sin, Second, our schools must teach that corruption can destroy the country. You know who suffers the most when there is corruption? The poor and the majority of people who are poor in the country are who? Malays. You look at the figures, the Malays have the lowest average income. They are the largest number of voters in the country. They have the most representatives in government or cabinet and yet corruption is not being handled strongly enough. The rich will survive whether there is corruption or not and there seems to be an unholy alliance of leaders at the top who scratch each other's backs and perpetuate their own selves at the expense of the poor. And there would soon be a realisation that many leaders, not all, are looking after themselves and their self- interests in terms of perpetuating their political power. That's why you have money politics. That's why it is difficult for them to stamp corruption too strongly - when their source of funds dries up, then they cannot become political leaders.

    Another way to tackle corruption. If a person is earning RM2,000, he cannot be owning 10 cars. Everybody can see that so if you see that happening, report it. Sometimes people give good evidence which can be checked by the ACA but people tend to dismiss the letter as poison letters because it is a convenient and easy argument to use. But our culture is such we dare not report unless you see with your own eyes, and if you complain about somebody, you may get walloped you know, there have been cases, so how do you explain?

    Next, we need to make the ACA independent. TI-M will be campaigning for that. Now it is like another government department. But sometimes independent is one thing but you put the wrong fellow there also no use. So government must be serious and get some honest, bright, experienced individuals who have nothing to lose to tell the truth.

    And let them operate without fear or favour then you would see a change.

    Another thing is to amend the law so that the onus of proving integrity is on the accused. For example, if someone accuses you of having 10 cars when you earn RM2,000 a month, you have to prove to me or explain how he is able to have 10 cars. In other words, if someone is found to be living beyond their means, the onus is on them to prove that they were not obtained through ill-gotten gains. If you implement these measures together, inter alia, you can break the back of corruption fast. Otherwise, it will drag on and people will believe or public perception will be that government is really not serious.

    Is that where we are now?

    That's where we are now. Let's put it this way. Government is not serious enough.

    The longer the wait, the more the doubts and the less the credibility and the greater the concern that government is not serious enough and then it encourages ironically, this perception encourages those who are inclined to be corrupt, to be more corrupt or to start being corrupt because they can get away (with it).

    It is human nature, spare the rod and spoil the child. This is what's happening today.

    Another measure is to declare assets and liabilities to an independent panel of very eminent honest people. The present system of reporting to the PM is not necessarily following best practices internationally because the PM would find it difficult to get rid of his leaders because it can undermine his own position in the party. To be fair to him, take away that liability and responsibility from him and put it on an independent panel or if it is embarrassing politically to prosecute top politicians, then, this panel can play a very useful role in quietly phasing out some leading political personalities at the federal, state and local authority level where they are not, unfortunately, elected and therefore feel they are not accountable. And I feel strongly that in the end the only recourse the rakyat have to fight corruption effectively is to cast their censure against corruption and corrupt leaders through the ballot box. That is the greatest asset of society in a democratic country which unfortunately is not adequately used for the advantage and well-being of Malaysians.

    But it seems like the former PM is not very happy with the present PM.

    He (the former PM) may not be entirely wrong but the only problem is that there are different ways of saying and dealing with things which can be more effective than public censure and reprimand. If I scold you, you can say this fella is a mad fella and you go away but if I were to shout at you out there, you will never forgive me. So it is unfortunate and unnecessary and I've said before, this is not good for the business community nor society at large because nobody likes to see their leaders quarrelling or to see their leader condemned publicly because they have elected that leader and I myself think that Pak Lah should have come out and say, enough is enough, if you've got problems let's settle it over a cup of teh tarik. There is no need to tell the whole world of our disagreements. I quarrel with my wife but I don't tell the whole world. I may have an argument, after that I make up-lah because we are supposed to love our brothers and sisters.

    But is it a coincidence that such quarrels between our leaders are coming out now? Besides Tun Mahathir and Pak Lah, look at Datuk Seri Samy Vellu and Datuk Seri Shahrir Samad. Why are we quarrelling openly?

    Quarrels are coming out now simply because, let's get down to basics, in a family, if a father doesn't pull up a son or a daughter for making a nuisance of themselves, others may be encouraged to be more difficult ... because it comes back again to discipline.

    These quarrels certainly look bad on the country.

    Leaders must lead and managers must manage and when they don't do it with diligence and dignity, then society who are the followers will get dispirited and depressed. Under those circumstances the whole economy can be affected beca?se what is economic growth but the drive and determination to excel, to enhance quality, meritocracy and competitiveness. Because while we are quarrelling and getting depressed, others are moving ahead. We cannot be jaguh kampung (village heroes) anymore. We are competing with the rest of the world. They are forging ahead and the gap is widening. We have to be at the helm and on the ball all the time.

    The recent demonstration over the Article 11 forum in Penang by a group who were against the setting up of an Inter-faith Commission which was proposed earlier by NGOs. Why do you think they are so against, not only the forum but efforts in developing better relations with people of different faiths? Where are we heading when it comes to inter-racial relations?

    I find myself in a state of confusion, disillusionment on this. Why? Because, according to Islam Hadhari which I support, it is clearly stated that Islam is a tolerant and a passionate religion which embraces the welfare of other minority religions in this country.

    As for the incident in Penang, to me, it is a good lesson, in future those who get permission to hold public forums should be given complete freedom because it poses no threat to security as it is within the confines of a building. Number two, the police should be firm and fair in defending the rights of Malaysians against the abuse of these rights by others. I hope those who violated the law that day will be called upon to pay the price, otherwise it becomes a very discouraging precedent.

    You were a Suhakam commissioner. How can Suhakam be more effective?

    Suhakam does not have enforcement regulations so they have strong limitations. Nevertheless, Suhakam can play a much, much more influential role if they came out more clearly and strongly on human rights issues to influence government thinking, planning and execution, even in regard to changing the laws to comply more to the letter and spirit of the Human Rights Charter and all its conventions. There are so many conventions we have not signed but where is Suhakam on these matters. It must enjoy public confidence which is not too high at this point in time.

    During my second term I managed to persuade them to set up the Economics, Social, Cultural Committee. I was the chairman. They are doing a reasonably good job I must say, to be fair. But ? they can come up with all the inquiries and reports but if nobody takes any notice of it or if nobody takes sufficient notice of it, then again, the public will get disappointed and the credibility gets affected.

    Back to the Article 11 demonstration. What does it reflect on the current atmosphere?

    I'm afraid we are going through a stage where open discussion and debate is of a high order but yet the government seems to be reacting more and responding more to voices of extremism, of minority rather than majority, rather than the silent majority. I mean this is obviously an extremist group that showed no tolerance or respect for the law and yet as I am aware, there has not been any action taken against any of them. So what is the message we are conveying to the people and to the world at large? That we are prepared to tolerate extremist and disruptive elements. And that is not good, for now and for the future. Because if we send the wrong signal, and more extremist groups who are minority groups had their way and get away, there would be number one, encouragement for them, number two, discouragement for the majority and three, we would therefore be held to ransom and the government should not tolerate that kind of situation because it can even undermine government and good governance. It would be like riding on a tiger.

    Then there was the proposed fatwa that kongsi raya celebrations could be blasphemous.

    If we act like this we become like the Klu Klux Klan in America, you know. Where is the hallmark of our tolerant, liberal, harmonious society?

    Yes, what happened?

    People can say anything they like but they must be responded to. I mean I can be a crazy fellow and I can say anything that is my freedom, but there must be countervailing forces and that can only come from government and government must exercise its authority and leadership. Extremist elements and statements must be countered so that the people will know that the government stands for what is right and proper and fair. If you think of it, all we ask of this country, all the people, is fairness, that's all. Be fair.

    This comes to the topic and I am on the National Unity Panel so I've got some authority, the National Unity Panel there again, much more could be done. Just by organising roadshows, cultural events, all very good, but these are all superficial and cosmetic if we do not address the substantive issues.

    What are the substantive issues? The poor, especially, want to feel cared for and not neglected. If they find the privileged are getting more privileges, they will feel increasingly marginalised. This starts from school. Do we have a good educational system? Are you able to learn sufficient so that when you graduate you can get jobs? Are we going to universities which are top class? If they are not employed, at least they can be self-employed. You can be a plumber, wireman, fisherman, writer, you don't have to be employed because that depends on the economy. What about the quality of life? Are we just looking after big industries, big businesses who are polluting the rivers? All these contribute to a lack of quality of life, disenchantment with the authorities and do not help to create a sense of patriotism which must lead to pride in country, pride in being Malaysian and so it becomes some kind of polarisation.

    Sometimes they blame government, sometimes they blame big businesses, sometimes they blame other races. From the non-Malay point of view, we help the poor regardless of race but if they feel rightly or wrongly, that only the Malays are being looked after, then that perception must be countered. It may be a wrong perception so counter it. If 45% of the population feel marginalised, disenchanted, and alienated, find out why. But in many respects, it seems to be legitimate - if I can't get a scholarship when I am very bright and I find others who are bright and rich getting them. Be fair. Why do I feel that in the civil service I cannot get promotions. These are perceptions. You can have surveys and it will prove it but why are there no survey on this because if you have, then the truth comes out. So we dismiss it as perception but you must correct it or it will lead to greater and greater polarisation. You must create for me a sense of belonging which I still feel, but I feel more strongly when I was in school at the Victoria Institution. They did not care who you are, rich or poor, red, black, white.

    Does the government know what to do?

    The government knows what to do but it doesn't have the will to do it because again, the soft approach. But in a multi-cultural, multi-racial setting, we have got to have a tougher approach in defence of what is proper and right and good for the whole Malaysian society, not just for some. In fact, the Malays are losing out because they have been spoilt. Many able bumiputras become weak because they are not exposed to the cutting edge of competition.

    You are a prolific writer, how do you do it?

    I've written nine books in 10 years. There are 365 days a year. Every day you write half a page, quarter page. In one year, you can get 150 pages average, two years, you get a book so while I am finishing one, I start another. My books are on what I am talking to you about now - about my views on socio-economic issues. Books don't sell. Royalty very little but I have given thousands of books to charity.

    If your books don't sell, why do you still write?

    Ah, for personal satisfaction.That comes back to my purpose. I am not greedy. I am not searching (for) contracts, I am not searching for position but thank God I've got it. I am not searching for political appointments, I am not interested in politics but I know I have got some good experience in government - 30 years, private sector 15 years. I've been honest, thank God I've been honest so nobody can accuse me of taking money or of talking emptily. So I think I've got a role to play which is to put my experience and knowledge to good use and express my view on what is happening today. That is why I am a great believer in public policy debate so that we have a more open society.

    VI The V.I. Web Page