Politics Web: Operation ‘big kick up the pants’

24 Jun 2014Andrew Donaldson

Andrew Donaldson questions whether govt should be taking tips from the Malaysians on transformation

WONDERFUL news reaches us here at the Mahogany Ridge – we are to become Malaysian Tigers. In the economic sense, that is.

President Jacob Zuma was going on about it in the National Assembly just yesterday, in his response to the State of the Nation debate. Pretoria has apparently been in discussion with their Malaysian counterparts to this end and will next month be launching Operation Phakisa, which is the Zuma administration’s customised version of the “methodology” of Kuala Lumpur’s big kick up the pants of their transformation programme.

The Ridge regulars tell me that Phakisa means “speed it up”. The Malaysians called their methodology “Big Fast Results”. Perhaps imitation really is a sincere form of flattery.

“The methodology involves setting clear targets and following up with on-going monitoring of progress and making the results public”, Zuma said, “Using this implementation methodology, the government of Malaysia was able to register impressive results within a short period”.

The Department of Environmental Affairs – and not, as you’d imagine, Trade and Industries or Economic Development – is to lead the first implementation of Phakisa. “It will focus on unlocking the economic potential of SA’s oceans, which are estimated to have the potential to contribute up to R177bn to the GDP by 2033 compared to R54bn in 2010″.

This is a potential windfall for the GDP but perhaps not such good news for the fish. And, as is often the case, a number of individuals stand to be as affirmed as Croesus.

That is the worrying aspect about Malaysian transformation; it may not have invented cronyism, but it certainly got it down to a fine art.

Policies which favour ethnic Malays or the two-thirds of the population known as the bumiputra, or “the sons of the soil”, at the expense of the country’s ethnic Chinese and Indian citizens are oddities in state discrimination in that the Chinese and the Indians never ruled the country.

But it’s easy to understand why they’ve been targeted. Their presence in the country, where they formed the “merchant class”, was encouraged by British colonial rulers, much to the chagrin of native Malays. Aggrieved indigenes rose up after independence and, in 1969, killed hundreds of Chinese and looted their shops in a series of nation-wide riots.

The Malaysian government’s response was to introduce its “New Economic Policy” aimed at improving the lives of Malays by giving them preferences in university admissions and civil-service jobs. Upon its introduction, it was billed as a temporary measure, but now more than 40 years later, the NEP remains firmly in place, underpinning a system of corrupt patronage.

True, there were “big fast results”. In the span of a generation, a native urban middle class emerged. But so too did a small pool of fabulously wealthy and politically well-connected businessmen. They were generally not nice people.

I remember, back in the early 1990s, there was much giddy gossip on the social circuit in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs that one of these businessmen, a self-styled dato, or prince, Samsudin Bin Abu Hassan, had started a wild affair with a former topless model and skin magazine feature from Randfontein, one Melleney Miller.

The two apparently met at a dinner party hosted by the insurance industry mogul and vulgarian, Douw Steyn. Later, after she and her Malaysian prince had married, the datin Samsudin told a glossy magazine that the poor man had been smitten by her breasts.

When I repeated this wonderful titbit in a Sunday newspaper, she took great exception and hauled me before the press ombusdman. Proceedings were somewhat shaken when the datin began shrieking that she should perhaps demand to see my penis. I still have no idea what she was on about. Neither did the ombudsman.

Alas, all is not as rosy as it once was with the dato and datin. Last we heard of him, about ten years ago, he was a fugitive in Malaysia, accused of looting SA companies. And the princess? Well, she was having a royal time of it trying to convince the courts that she and her estranged husband were not married in community of property despite having tied the knot without an ante-nuptial contract in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court in 1995. Which didn’t count, because they had already married in a low key Sharia law ceremony in Malaysia the year before.

As you may well know, things are not good if your husband is sequestrated and you’re married in community of property. Half of his is suddenly all of theirs.

But why worry about yesterday’s soiled goods when tomorrow’s are just around the corner? Operation Phikasi? Just bring it on already.

This is an amended version of an article that first appeared in the Weekend Argus.