OUTSPOKEN: After achieving independence in 1957, Malaysia embarked on a steady path towards development and following the racial riots in 1969, implemented measures to create a united nation based on democracy, freedom of religious practices and unity.
But the start of the 1980s saw the country beginning to move away from the visions of the founding fathers.
The leadership at the beginning of 1980, fearing the influence of the Islamic party PAS, had taken the drastic step of putting Islamisation at the forefront of its religious policy in the country.
It started giving more power to official religious institutions.
From just managing Muslim family affairs, such as marriages and divorces and the collection of religious taxes among the Muslims, these institutions now moved into the other areas of the social lives of Muslims.
Once they started to expand their scope of jurisdiction, and with little or no government supervision as to what their limits should be, they steamrolled their activities.
They became 'monsters' in the lives of all Muslims.
They tried to impose their authority on the non-Muslims as well, as can be seen happening now with the dress codes to enter government offices.
This is one aspect of the dark phase of the country’s history.
The political and government leadership at the beginning of 1980s was also very much in a hurry to propel the country into achieving a developed nation status as quickly as possible.
It adopted various measures to leapfrog the nation into a modern and developed nation.
But sadly, instead of achieving the goals that it hoped for, the outcome was the very opposite.
All government agencies that were run as government departments were corporatised.
It was hoped that this would bring about more efficiency and benefit the country and the people.
But those who were running these institutions had not been given adequate training either in physical terms or mind-set change to manage these corporate bodies more efficiently.
They were not managed as business entities but instead run in the old style, thus incurring losses due to inefficiency.
And those government commercial agencies that were set up to help the people become more business minded had been privatised to preferred individuals or employees of such bodies.
Some were sold off by the new owners after suffering colossal losses as in the case of the national airline.
The government had to bail out these loss-making privatised commercial establishments.
But those who were given these projects however made themselves rich at the expense of these bodies.
Thus the corporatisation exercise failed miserably with the country suffering as the government had to bail them out, time and again.
The same scenario happened in the privatisation exercise.
Those who were given the projects became filthy rich while the institutions suffered, thus being referred to as “piratisation" of these projects.
Malaysia also wanted to emulate the way Japan progressed. It embarked on the ‘Look East’ Policy. This too met with disaster.
The Japanese have a different work ethics which they have practised for generations. It was not possible to simply imitate them at the snap of the fingers.
This added to the dark phase of the country.
The political leadership of the country also wanted Kuala Lumpur to be known internationally.
It used the Petronas money to build the twin towers at the former Kuala Lumpur race course ground.
This structure was recognised as the tallest building in the world from 1998 to 2004.
The towers were designed by Argentine-North American architect Cesar Pelli and built by foreign construction companies. It would have been more environmental friendly if the area had been turned in to a mammoth public park, right in the heart of the city.
This was the start of the government’s expensive and extravagant spending which contributed much to the dark phase of Malaysia’s history.
Then there was the leadership tussle in Umno in 1987 which led to it being deregistered. A new Umno was formed called Umno Baru with a very rigid structure that cast aside democratic practices.
The new set-up was to ensure that the leadership would not be challenged and thrown out of office.
The rot had set in with all these unhealthy developments. The rot continues as the government currently is not in control of the administration.
The religious authorities and their supporters are going berserk with their religious agenda and these religious fanatics are using the occasion to further blacken the country’s history.
Sadly, this state of affairs will continue and this dark episode of the country’s history will not come to an end if the current parties are still in power.
Due to the lackadaisical attitude that has gripped the establishment, people have to grease the administration to get things done.
Corruption has become a part of daily life and this scourge will eventually cause the country to go bankrupt. The leadership currently has no control over its expenditure and the only recourse left is to tax the people more.
It is time to end this dark era of the country.
Ahmad Mustapha Hassan is a former press secretary to second Prime Minister Abdul Razak Hussein and the writer of the book, "The Unmaking of Malaysia”.
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