I told the reporter that I was invited to the 2001 Tunku Abdul Rahman Lecture the previous week in Kuala Lumpur. The guest speaker was Andrew Sheng, Chairman of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission.
Sheng is a Malaysian. He spent a major part of his working career with Bank Negara Malaysia, holding various positions including Chief Economist and Assistant Governor in charge of Bank and Insurance Regulations.
In 1989 he was seconded to the World Bank in Washington D.C., and five years later, he moved on to Hong Kong to assume the position of Deputy Chief Executive, Hong Kong Monetary Authority and in 1998 he was appointed Chairman of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission.
Before Sheng delivered his lecture, the thought that occurred to me was whether Sheng could have risen to the very top to become the Chairman of the Securities Commission in Malaysia for instance if he had stayed on in the country and not moved on to the World Bank and to Hong Kong.
Unless the answer to the question is in the positive, Malaysia has still a very long way to go to fairly restructure employment in the country. As expected, my response to the Star d was not reported at all by the newspaper.
Before I leave the subject of corporate governance, I wish to suggest that Sheng’s Tunku Abdul Rahman Annual Lecture on “Transparency, accountability and governance in Asian markets” should be a “must” read for the Cabinet, Parliament and all top government officers as it is the failures of corporate governance illustrated by mismanaged companies and absence of proper checks and balances to monitor crony capitalists which are the real causes of the Asian financial crisis in 1997.
Let me just quote briefly from Sheng’s lecture:
“In the global race to the top, if we wish to compete in the Olympics, we must meet Olympic standards. No one is stopping us competing in the local league. Our choice is therefore becoming either a village in the global marketplace or an important driver of innovation and change in global markets.”
“At the local level, the corporation or the market authorities have the freedom of choice whether to meet local standards or global standards. If you wish to tap international capital, then you have to meet international standards. The international investor and lender also have freedom of choice. They do not have to invest in a particular local market. If they are not confident about the level of transparency and accountability, and believe, rightly or wrongly, that decisions made by firms or markets they invest in are taken against their interests, then they will simply exit that particular investment or market. The market can be brutal in its judgement.”
“Each country has obviously its own policy priorities. I only wish to point out that for market discipline to work, failed businesses must be allowed to fail.”
Is Mahathir and Daim listening?
The Andrew Sheng episode should be a reminder that Malaysia has not yet developed policies to entice the best talents to win the new world war for the best brains without which the country cannot hope to succeed in its ambition to become a knowledge-economy and IT power.
In a world which is global, open and transparent, Malaysia must be able to create a favourable environment not only for the best investments but also for the best brains.
This brings me to the third question - whether Malaysia is psychologically prepared as a united nation to face the challenges of the new century.
The answer cannot be in the positive, when Malaysia is degenerating into an “ISA country” with the infamous detention-without-trial law being used against the political opposition and civil society dissent as well as threats to further clamp down on the little that is left of press freedom and to censor the Internet.
On Saturday, the remaining criminal charges against Anwar Ibrahim would be brought before the Kuala Lumpur High Court either for the fixing of dates for trial or for withdrawal.
If Malaysia is to start on a right footing in the new century, to forge “a united Malaysian nation with a sense of common shared destiny, a nation at peace with itself, ethnically integrated, living in harmony and full and fair partnership made up of Bangsa Malaysia, loyal and dedicated to the nation”, then bold steps must be taken to initiate a historic national reconciliation starting with the full release of Anwar Ibrahim and the restoration of his civil and political rights.
Is Mahathir capable of rising to the occasion and challenge?