Spare a thought for Mahathir’s millionaire and billionaire friends. Taxes are apparently taxing their spirits. On his blog, Mahathir blasted tax authorities for hounding his long-time associate, Lee Kim Yew – the tycoon behind Country Heights Holding Bhd. Aren’t we all moved by our former dictator’s loyalty and devotion to his uber-rich pals? I know I am.
Mahathir’s questionable priorities surely come as no surprise to us. Throughout his 22 years in power, he was accused of putting tycoons first, and ordinary Malaysians last. In other words, hartawan didahulukan. Mahathir’s chosen few reaped the benefits of lucrative government contracts made possible by overpriced megaprojects. So what if taxpayers had to fork out a little more? Well, a lot more.
Indeed, Mahathir’s hostility toward Abdullah Badawi and now Najib Razak likely stems from their refusal to indulge in megaprojects that would line the pockets of powerful tycoons – many of them linked to Mahathir. Old guard plutocrats were suddenly deprived of funds to buy another lavish mansion or private jet. What an outrage! But finally, the Malaysian government began to tear itself away from the voracious appetites of the wealthy and well-connected.
But Mahathir would have none of it. Remember how he howled when Pak Lah and Najib didn’t build his precious ‘crooked bridge’ to Singapore. Why was the good doctor so obsessed with a project that made no sense whatsoever? If only Mahathir showed the same dedication in pushing for the advancement of the people he professes to care so much about – the Malays.
Mahathir has assiduously cultivated an image of a fervent Malay nationalist. But in contrast to his effusive defense of his deep-pocketed friends, he has a disturbing tendency to denigrate Malays in the harshest terms. In 2014, he notoriously described Malays as “lazy” and dishonest. What message does that send to Malaysians?
This isn’t a case of overzealous political correctness. Words have consequences. For Malays, Mahathir’s venom becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing them to doubt their abilities and recede from economic life. Hardworking Malays see their accomplishments belittled as the public attributes their successes to government aid, not effort or talent.
For many non-Malay employers, Mahathir’s comments are further justification for not hiring Malays and/or not promoting them. After all, Mahathir – the self-appointed, omnipresent father of Malays – surely knows them better than anyone else. It’s deeply ironic that our nation’s foremost Malay nationalist reinforced the very stereotypes that have kept Malays at the lower rungs of society.
Moreover, while Mahathir openly champions pro-Malay NEP policies, he has inadvertently made the case against them: Why give aid to the lazy and the dishonest? Mahathir may have done more to undermine the moral and intellectual foundation of affirmative action than even DAP itself. Worse, his words are tantamount to legitimizing anti-Malay racism. One wonders why Perkasa hasn’t taken him to task for it.
Unlike Mahathir, I don’t believe Malays to be either lazy or dishonest. I’ve had the privilege of working with many Malays in the course of my career, and have found them to be just as industrious, intelligent, and yes, honest as other Malaysians. But sadly, this isn’t the perception shared by wide swaths of the private sector.
A landmark study by researchers Lee Hwok-Aun and Muhammed Abdul Khalid found widespread discrimination against Malays in the job market. In a damning conclusion, they wrote, “Our results indicate high degrees of racial discrimination. Malay job applicants are significantly less likely than Chinese applicants to be called for interview, after controlling for applicants’ academic achievements and positive attributes, job requirements, and firms characteristics.”
In other words, Malays face an uphill battle even if they’re fully qualified for the job. This intolerable situation is the sort of thing that Mahathir should be paying attention to – if he cares one whit about the Malays. Instead, our former dictator spends his time railing against Najib and complaining about his friends’ tax troubles.
We’re all too familiar with Mahathir’s unique trait of avoiding the important issues and doubling down on personal vendettas. In the meantime, who will stand up for the rights and dignity of ordinary Malays? Certainly not Mahathir, who seems to think that Malays have only themselves to blame for their sorry predicament. Fantastically rich tycoons, on the other hand, can do no wrong.