It’s a case of old habits die hard

THIS is the last time I will be away on a six-week stretch. It all started when I had to attend my Harvard Business School (HBS) AMP 182 annual class reunion in Lisbon, Portugal on June 20. As I had to attend two graduation convocations in London on July 11 and July 26, I decided to stay back in Europe and travel.

It was a big mistake. After two weeks, I miss the daily political announcements, my friends and our multicultural Malaysian food. I could find reasonably good Chinese and Indian food in London and New York but it was difficult to find authentic Malay curries and sambal.

So upon my return to Malaysia last week, I readily agree to join my local HBS-SMDP 2004 buddies for a Sunday breakfast outing at Warung Bunian in Kajang. My buddies claimed that Warung Bunian serves a unique egg wrapped nasi lemak with authentic sambal of onions and anchovies. Six of us agreed to meet up at the warung at 8am.

Ah Lai joined me for the drive to Sungai Merab Kajang and after half an hour past many highways, we turned into a side road which lead us to a small kampung with a smattering of wooden/cement houses over a spacious area. There were many cars parked on the grass at the side of narrow sandy roads.

We could see that the restaurant was packed to the brim with 20 to 30 people lining up to place their orders with a single cashier. Luckily for us, Sukri and Ah Foo were already lining up and Ghib had booked an uncleared table, chatting with a family that was about to leave. Despite the big crowd, the atmosphere was serene and everybody was waiting patiently.

Faris was the last to arrive even though his house is the nearest. Total strangers would just chat with our group. Sincere and gentle, kampung folks are the nicest and most genuine people that I have ever met. Sukri, who is from Kelantan, proudly claims that Kelantanese kampung folks are gentle and courteous all the time.

After facing some racist reactions in Long Island, New York, I was so happy to be home. Despite being the only Chinaman amongst the sea of Malays, the three of us felt comfortable chatting with total strangers and our Muslim brothers. Not forgetting the sambal ikan bilis was the best I have tasted for a long while, second only to my late mum’s home-made sambal belacan.

For more than two hours, there was no discussion about the current hot political topics on education, UEC, racial privileges, new corruption case, religion or Azmin vs Rafizi.

Ghib was advising us on how to handle more than one wife, Ah Lai was again lamenting on late payments from developers, Faris on his goat milk and skin care halal application, Ah Foo commenting on post GST car sales, Sukri and I on kampung family stories. Somehow the relaxed kampung environment shielded us from the political storm brewing nearby in Putrajaya.

Sometimes, I just wonder if all the perceived problems of the nation are manufactured and promoted by selfish politicians to prolong their hold on power.

Or are we all guilty of being racist by nature, stereotyping each race taught by our parents from young? Maybe not my generation but definitely over the last 30 years, the economic and education policies have polarised the various race even further rather than uniting the people.

The corrupt politicians unashamedly used race and religion to gather power and economic wealth whilst the poor remain downtrodden and fed scraps from spillover meals of greed. Hence the noble intention of gathering wealth through the state owned institutions for distribution to the poor was never achieved in totality.

The main reason was the involvement of politicians in the management of state-owned companies which strayed from state security interests of public utilities, infrastructure development into commercial businesses in every industry.

The expansion of the government’s involvement in commercial businesses created opportunity galore for mismanagement and corruption among its caretaker managers and politically-appointed directors.

I thought that our new government has this one golden opportunity to reverse the wrongs but I guess old habits die hard.

It had started its first 100 days with great promise as corrupt political appointees and civil servants were removed promptly. Irrespective of race and religion, the most senior and capable judges and lawyers were appointed to top posts in the judiciary and the Attorney General’s Chamber.

The new Malaysia got everyone excited.

But recent developments of the government inserting political appointees to the boards of GLICs and GLCs shows a reversal of the promised manifesto of non-political interference in state institutions.

One ought to remember that during the GE14 campaigns, Mat Sabu did a hilarious anecdote of 1MDB chairman reporting to the Finance Minister who reports to the Prime Minister who finally approved all the transactions.

The national car project was never a success so why raise another Titanic when the future is in electric cars? F1 was a major loss-making concern since its inception and our state financial standings can ill afford to suffer further losses.

In businesses, we have our profitable projects and those that had failed miserably. Similarly in nation building, political leaders leave behind legacies of great success and generally are forgiven for some failed projects. Let not your old habits feed your ego that will lead to a poor decision.

Of major concern is the current exercise of removing alleged corrupt political and technocrat leaders.

I am no fan of Wahid Omar and Azman Mokhtar but senior industry players who know the gentlemen find them as capable, hardworking and righteous technocrats. Paying them market wages is preferable to them amassing illegal gains on the side. Collateral damage from failure of the previous boss.

Perhaps Wahid and Azman might retire to their respective kampungs where they will find peace and tranquillity away from the maddening crowd.

Meanwhile I am planning to visit Warung Bunian again in search of the ultimate sambal. Old habits do die hard.


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