Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Malaysia Treats its Leaders like Children

Written by johnleemk on 4:24:07 pm Feb 8, 2008.
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It is accepted convention that scholars funded by the government must have restrictions placed on them. Whether it's what kind of special study programmes you can sign up for, or how many years you are allowed funding, we accept bounds placed on our nation's best and brightest.

Here in the United States, Malaysian and Singaporean scholars compete to see who has it worst off. I tell my roommate about how a friend cannot take advantage of foreign study programmes in Europe because the Malaysian government won't allow it; he fires back that he knows Singaporeans who are bonded to work for the government for six years after they graduate (the poor soul naively thinking that Malaysia doesn't bond its scholars either).

At a meeting of Malaysian and Singaporean students, I overheard one Malaysian complain that languishing in a menial position in the Malaysian civil service would hamper his ability to pursue a graduate degree after he finishes his bond.

A Singaporean responded that regardless of how long it takes to finish a degree (in some American universities it takes five years to finish a Bachelor's in Engineering), their government expects them to graduate within three years, forcing them to take on an unusually heavy courseload.

The amazing thing is, we know these students are bright. That's why we're willing to sink our money in them and allow them to pursue their studies — otherwise we wouldn't fund them. Yet we expect that the government knows more about what they want and need than they themselves do.

The government's thinking is that it has an obligation to further the collective "greater good". But surely what's best for everyone is allowing our brightest students to decide for themselves? If these people are the future of our country, our future political, business and philanthropic leaders, why do we say they cannot even decide how they will study, or how they will lead their lives?

I know one JPA scholar who lives in mortal fear of his opinions about the government being discovered. A lot of students either end up learning not to speak their minds and not to lead because they are wary of government action being taken against them.

It is truly ludicrous that the government tells the future leaders of our country who they can and cannot listen to. You should meet the Prime Minister when he visits Australia, but at all costs do not even try to accidentally bump into Anwar Ibrahim at Georgetown University.

The ultimate result of our wrongheaded policies is that the future of our country goes to waste. I know several Malaysian scholars who have either cancelled their scholarship, or are in the process of trying to do so, funding their education in some other way because of the straitjackets placed on them. I know an equal number who have strong opinions about where our country should be going and where we should move forward, but demur to exercise leadership because their own government will not let them.

Why do we persist in treating our leaders like children? Why do we refuse to let them be responsible for their own actions? Why do we deem them intelligent and responsible enough to be sent to university on public money, but not smart or wise enough to make their own decisions?


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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