Race to the bottom and avoiding political suicide

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Malaysiakini columnist, Ms Mariam Mokhtar, did not mince her words when she argued that current Government policy is pushing the Malays to attain “rock bottom standards.” She based this argument on the call made by Rural and Regional Development Minister, Dato Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who wanted Malay-owned businesses to be excluded from the strict requirements of obtaining a halal certificate.

Dato Seri Ismail Sabri based his call on the fact that Malay businesses start with limited capital, and invariably, Jakim’s stringent requirement may mean additional costs to the businesses. The costs entailed could involve operating costs or one-time costs to hire consultants to help Malay businesses through the process.

Technically, I do not see an issue out of Ismail Sabri’s call. The issue of the “Halalness” of a product involves the consumer behaviour of the majority Malay Muslim community. If Ismail feels that the capital could be better spent on other elements, such as procuring quality machinery or reducing operating costs, then this should not be viewed as “relaxing” the standards.  He has identified a cost savings approach and should be applauded for offering practical ideas to help Bumiputera businessmen.

Ultimately, it will be the Malay Muslim consumers who decide whether they are happy to frequent Malay establishments with a relaxed Halal requirement or not.   From a consumer behaviour point of view,  adding a “Halal” emblem to a Malay Muslim business does not add much to the brand equity of the business.  It is more important that the business maintain clean premises, friendly staff and efficient service.

But even though I disagree with Ms Marian on citing Dato Seri Ismail Sabri’s call to support her case, I do in general agree that there seems to an agenda which may result in Malays attaining rock bottom standards.

The key issues surrounds integrity involving money, a basic lack of decency, lying to the hilt and engaging in crass stupidity, with the hope that everybody else becomes as stupid as you.

With the revelation of 1MDB and the attempts by the Attorney General of Malaysia to cover up what is an “open and shut” case of corruption, questions may now be asked whether this is symptomatic of a larger “could-not-care-less” attitude with regards to integrity when handling money. The perpetual non-stop lying many had engaged in when trying to defend 1MDB has made may foreign investors shake their heads in disgust.

Now, this is an extremely serious perception defect that may further strengthen the arguments currently being used to exclude Malays from the Multinational Corporation. This is not helped by the many corruption cases being splashed about in the papers.

The duty of either correcting or further cementing this perception lies with the current leadership, from Dato Seri Zahid Hamidi to UMNO Youth Chief, Khairy Jamaluddin.  No doubt, politically amongst the Malay voters,  the 1MDB issue may count for zero.

However this issue has more or less destroyed any modicum of trust foreign companies may have had about appointing Malays to senior position, unless it was out of sheer necessity, and that with the proviso that the Financial Controller was a Non-Malay.

The issue is similar to a classic MBA marketing case about a brand executive at Moët & Chandon, who was aghast to find crates of Dom Pérignon, the company’s flagship brand of champagne lying about in at the bottom of aisle in a Sam’s Club , with the bold price tag : “2 for $99.”

Like the current crop of Ministers who are unable to voice out their displeasure at the Prime Minister, the brand executive could not say a thing about the undignified way her company’s premium product was being displayed. After all Sam’s Club accounted for sizeable percentage of North American revenue.

The answer is that the Brand Executive should just ignore the undignified way in which the product was being placed in Sam’s club but make sure there is enough spending in the US to promote the brand in the appropriate way and setting.

Similarly, even though it is impossible to mention those four letters, UMNO leaders should go on the offensive and talk up cases of integrity among the Malays. UMNO leaders must pressure the PM to bring back businessmen with ethics, like the Tan Sri Hassan Merican, to counteract the negative publicilty.

By keeping quiet and allowing perceptions to generate, these may cause many to lose confidence with the community.

 

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