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Umno reforms “not good enough”

TAN Sri Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas isn’t just a member of Umno’s disciplinary board. He is also Malaysian Institute for Corporate Governance (MICG) president, and former Transparency International (Malaysia) executive council member.

Megat Najmuddin has been outspoken about corruption, even describing political corruption as “the mother of all corruptions”. He is also a firm proponent of corporate governance. He speaks exclusively to The Nut Graph on 9 Oct 2009 about Umno‘s proposed constitutional amendments — which will be debated on Thursday, 15 Oct 2009 — and whether he believes they will lead to meaningful reforms.

TNG: You are aware of the constitutional amendments being proposed. What do you think of them so far? Will they bring about the reform you want?

Megat Najmuddin: To be honest, I am not that enamoured of the amendments to the constitution as I do not think that it is big or deep enough. Until and unless our total political makeup changes, I think nothing is going to change.

You don’t think widening the pool of voters to pick the leaders of the party is going to change things?

Well, I think that is good, but that is not my bone of contention. Widening the pool of voters is good, but the system and culture of self-interest and money politics have to change. There is this culture of focusing on material gains, and the question of “Apa yang ku dapat?” is being asked all the time.

I think that being in the party should be about sacrifice and perjuangan, and this is what we have lost sight of. It has been replaced by self-interest.

What is our ideology now? We have not spelt it out. What is our struggle? The whole old fight for Malay rights and interests, that is kaput. What is our new tagline now, and what is our thinking and our sense of purpose?

Currently, we have people who are in the party who view their positions in it as a means to achieve material success or power. But our forefathers started the party based on notions of sacrifice.

That’s interesting, that you are talking about Umno having no ideology. But if not [the struggle] for Malay rights, then what now?

It is time to fight for everybody, and that includes the non-Malay [Malaysians]. That mindset has not gone in yet, not even after [the general election of] 2008. On the ground we still have people spouting semi-racist or racist comments, and this is worrying to me. I think we should open up the party to the non-Malay [Malaysians].

And I think there should be an emphasis on quality rather than quantity when it comes to membership. We cannot have those who are clearly unsuitable becoming members in our ranks.

Surely there are many in Umno who would not agree with this at all, opening the party up to non-Malay [Malaysians]. Are there others like you, saying this?

There are. But perhaps it is just that I dare to say it openly. I don’t aspire for public office anyway, and I’ve always been consistent with my opinions. But well, what’s the worry anyway, opening it up? We have to be free of these ghettoes of the mind. Why do we need MCA and MIC, when it’s a waste of time? I’m sorry if I hurt the feelings of my friends in those parties, but truly, we don’t need them.

The system is broken and we have to mend and change it. Ask any Chinese or Indian [Malaysian] on the streets, and you would have 99 out of 100 saying they are not relevant. The thing is they are totally in self-denial, and it’s pathetic.

Will for reform

I started asking you about Umno reforms, but I guess with what you are saying, you think that all these amendments — the removal of quotas and opening up the voting base from 2,500 to up to say, 146,000 — are ultimately inconsequential?

Well, all right, to open up the voting base, that is a big deal. It will be very difficult to bribe everyone. But then again, the warlords will still be around, the division chiefs for example, and the menteris besar. So they will still reign supreme and are powerful brokers.

The whole idea is to get rid of money politics, but if you have, let’s say, 700 delegates from each division, that still translates to a lot of votes and a lot of money. So the possibility of the heads of divisions and states being very powerful is still there. What I am saying is that this is a big change, but it may not solve all the problems.

You have been in the discussions on money politics and the constitutional amendments in the party. What is your feel about the will for reform? Is the desire to change real and shared?

At my level, yes, we really want to do it. I would say with the amendments, we would be 10 times better than what we were before. It is a quantum leap, but we have to monitor things very closely so that money politics will not rear its ugly head again. We would have to make sure, especially, that the division and state heads do not use their votes as bargaining chips.

So all this is a good start? You didn’t talk about the removal of the quota system.

Yes, it is a good start and it makes people think. As for the quota system, it was so bad and so controversial. I have been on the disciplinary board for seven years, and I can tell you people are very glad to be rid of it.

Disclose political funding

You have talked about opening up the party, but realistically this won’t be happening anytime soon. And you’ve said this is a good start. What else would equate to meaningful reform then?

We have to address the issue of disclosing political funding. It should be made law, and it should be in the constitution of all parties, and I mean all. There should be transparency: we want to know where the money comes from, what it goes to and how it is spent.

If we can have public companies do this, then why not political parties? They are in office anyway, and they are our rulers! There is total opaqueness in the field of political funding. We don’t want our leaders to be beholden to any party, God forbid, even to the underground kings.

If there is disclosure for political funding, there would effectively be an end to money politics as we know it within parties.

If they know everything, and all is transparent, then there is no treasure chest for people to go after any more. Right now, it is all, “So if I give you that contract, what are you going to give? Twenty percent of party funds?”

Besides the money, what else for real change?

We have to ensure that grassroots membership [is not] based on populism. It should be by invitation, or based on some sort of cadetship. Currently, populism just throws all sorts of characters upstairs. We should be getting the best and brightest, so we are talking about a new way of doing things. The grassroots are the face of Umno to the general public, so our focus must be on them. We cannot be mass-based.

However, look at PAS for example. They are mass-based, but they are very selective and there are checks and balances. Many good young professionals have now gone into PAS. It is an absolute matter of concern to us because we do not want riff-raff in our party.

See also:
What is Umno changing?
Halting the decline

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5 Responses to “Umno reforms “not good enough””

  1. Farish A Noor says:

    A good interview, and it helps to put the internal workings of Umno in public view. Men like him ought to be given more media time/space if there is going to be any change in the country.

    Crucially, we need to understand the historical roots of this culture of self-serving patronage politics that has been around for too long. Worse still, it affects all parties, including those in the opposition.

    If the BN can disband its various parties and create one Malaysian conservative right-of-centre party, that would go a long way towards creating a two-party system in the country. The current inflation of parties in Malaysia has demonstrated the weaknesses of an identity-based politics and a multiculturalism gone badly wrong.

  2. sywong says:

    That’s the whole trouble, the warlords in the MCA still do not realise that non-member Chinese [Malaysians] do not [care] about the MCA! By getting rid of Ong Tee Keat, they’ve shot themselves in the head. Wait and see where they stand in the next general election!

  3. pakkarim says:

    Yes, Tan Sri, political corruption is “the mother of all corruptions” and therefore Umno is the grandmother of all that is corrupt.

    And thank you for stating that PAS is way ahead of Umno and should be an example for Umno to emulate.

    Soon, insya Allah, PAS will lead the nation. So come and join PAS. We will welcome you with open arms.

    Malaysia for all.

  4. D Lim says:

    The MCA is irrelevant to the ethnic Chinese [Malaysians]! I am sure many MCA members know that but are in denial. From the very beginning, the MCA has been viewed as a party for those who wish to seek political power to grow rich — for the towkays and business[persons].

    I have never viewed the MCA as a people’s party. They can only garner votes from those who want something material out of the system, not speak for the common men and women and their needs. I think the MCA should tutup kedai!

    Self-renewal is very important for any party to survive. And you can only self-renew if you can attract young, intelligent talent with character and integrity into the party. Look around: so many [old] people in the parties who have stayed there for decades. How are you going to run a country with the same minds? You only get the same policies!

  5. fairplay says:

    Malay [ Malaysians] are getting to be more open, but where do they stand? All these years, all races have lived alongside each other in peace, until the politicians came and started a racist war among the peoples. To blame Umno for all failings is unfair … the ideology of each political party in Malaysia must change so that they aren’t based on hatred and suspicion of the next person.

    PAS has made inroads in getting good professionals to join them, but … for PAS to make headway [as the ruling] government, why don’t they sack all the hotheads? […]

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