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Of public practices, political discourse
Decision making systems either survive or sink because of practices developed under those who are at the helm. This aspect is never taken up in public discourse
Life in general has several ironical experiences. This fortnight I was in Malaysia regarding some consulting work. I could not but be impressed by the robust sense of realism and sagacity with which the elders of a group approached a problem. A fulfilling experience. And I found time to take a re-look at Malaysia's third and latest federal territory, Putrajaya. It always leaves me overwhelmed. It was the brain-child of Mahathir Mohamad, one of the greatest leaders of modern Malaysia. Both, conception and execution; architecturally and aesthetically of the city are superb. He conceived of their highest court of justice being called ‘the palace of justice'. Each Government department has a separate building and the design of each building is in sync with the character of the subject the department deals with. Illustratively, the Ministry of Environment has a façade which gives the impression of environmental richness.
Now the irony. As I opened the page of a daily, on the second page, there was a picture of Mahathir leaving the palace of justice, where proceedings were on regarding foreign exchange losses in the 1980s and 1990s. Put simply, there was a Royal Commission of Enquiry holding meetings to examine the above referred losses which were estimated to be RM8.5 billion. This, as a result of such losses, was reported to be deducted from the Central Bank's reserves. The loss was charged to its ‘other reserve’ account (Bank Negara Malaysia has two reserves, ;international’ and ‘other’).
Mahathir was implicated in this enquiry. Wong Yew Sen, 69, who was then the Manager of Bank Negara Malaysia's internal audit department, reportedly said that according to an audit report, the losses were recorded for forex transactions in 1992. Twenty five years down the line, Prime Minister Dato' Sri Najib Abdul Razak has strong views on the subject. So be it. As it happens, Mahathir, who himself is past 90, is alive and chugging full steam ahead.
Mahathir Mohamad was reported to have said that he felt compelled to observe the proceedings because of its significance. This may not be the best place to get into the merits of this drama. All civil societies have their quirks. In our case, we may take well over a decade to complete an enquiry. There is, however, a great alacrity in setting them up. The irony of a person as tall as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad spending his sunset years in this kind of a situation needs little comment. Many of us will recall how Mahathir not only put the roads on Malaysia in shape but conceived and delivered on the architecture of Integrated Transaction Control systems.
In America for one, they have developed many practices for making their Presidents immune from prosecution for several acts committed while in the White House. The basic question remains, each decision making system survives or sinks because of certain practices it develops under the influence of those who control the power of the day. This aspect of public life does not seem to get adequate attention in public discourse and the approach seems to be: The victor takes all.
This needs attention and a conscious debate. We have to, as a collective, do some introspection and see how India, as a political unit, (with its dozens of varying political practices) is growing within a certain broadband of sustainable priority. This can prove decisive in the years to come. In our case, the overlay of British practices seems to be the touchstone in a very large number of cases but on the ground, political practices from Tamil Nadu to Bihar show strange regional variations.
This applies even more to conceptual dialogues. Illustratively, in the last four to five years, there has been so much heat on real and projected gross domestic product growth. And in all things, the measurement of revenue is in US dollars. The Finance Minister of Malaysia, Johari Abdul Ghani, observed, “Economic activity in Malaysia is measured primarily through activities transacted by households, businesses and Governments in Ringgit. Hence, measurement in Ringgit terms is more reflective of our economy.” One only hopes this message is heard by the breed of economists in India, for its due implications.
(The writer is a well-known management consultant)
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