Malaysia will lose its competitive economic edge if its politics continue to cater to racial and religious extremes, a former senior diplomat warned today.

NONERazali Ismail (left), who was a diplomat for 35 years before retiring in 1998, warned that although polemics - the practise of one-sided political arguments - was inescapable in multi-racial, multi-religious Malaysia, it must not translate into a welfare state.

"If you just want to be a backwater country somewhere, that's a different story.

"But we are in a strategic position (for economic growth) ...all the differences between us have to be worked out," Razali said at the Prime Lecture on Culture 2013, where he was invited to speak on "polemical politics" by the Tourism and Culture Ministry.

To emphasise his point, Razali cited that Malaysia's rivals, such as Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, already woke up to global realities and are well on their way to fortifying their own economies to attract foreign investments. 

During his years as a diplomat, including as ambasadors to several European counctries, he saw almost all countries he served in as seeing Malaysia as a stable country.

However, Razali added, his international friends have of late started to question the divisive goings-on in the country.
"They are confused, their confidence has been shaken... As public servants, there is no way out but to do the right thing."

In his speech to a room full of about a 100 high-level ministry officers, the former president of the UN General Assembly said that he sensed a high degree of sensitivity and resistance to change, especially among young bumiputeras.

"Any suggested changes by the prime minister in line with the New Economic Model (NEM) apparently has been met by some bumiputera with a inertia...

"We should not let populist polemics lead us to squander possibilities by attaching our fates to a debilitating culture of welfare dependency," he said.

Gov't must also tackle corruption

NONEPrime Minister Najib Abdul Razak (right)  introduced the race-free NEM in 2010 and ended the pro-bumiputera New Economic Policy (NEP), which was initiated by his father Tun Abdul Razak after the racial riots of May 13, 1969.

Recently, Najib appeared to be skewing the economy back towards bumiputeras-enriching policies with his Bumiputera Economic Enhancement (BEE) measures.

Meanwhile, Razali further urged the government to tackle corruption in all forms.

Razali, who is also chairperson of the Global Movement of Moderates, said he recently met with young activists and came out feeling concerned.

"The younger generation are beginning to lose faith and confidence in public institutions," he said.

He cited that while political masters had sound ideas and good policies, the implementation part of the process was often poor.

"There are all these questions. The question of accountability comes out regularly... you say you want to stop corruption, but how are you going to do it?"

Razali, 74, has served as Malaysian ambassador to Poland, Germany, Czechoslavakia, Hungary, and he was High Commissioner to India before becoming Malaysia's permanent  representative to the UN.

He was the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar from 2000 to 2005, and was also a former president of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Malaysia.