A Hundred Days of Prevarication

August 15, 2018

A Hundred Days of Prevarication

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser

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The GE-14 election defeat of the BN which had ruled the country since 1957 was testimony to the determination of the Malaysian people and civil society who had opposed BN rule for decades. Sixty-one years of BN domination had included 22 years with Prime Minister Mahathir at the helm. The Malaysian people chose to cast their votes for the PH coalition because PH had promised in their GE14 manifesto to implement wide ranging reforms that made them seem radically different from the governance experienced under the BN.

In the first 100 days of the new PH government, we find that their report card scores around 20% based on their own promises alone. The flip flopping over the abolition of BTN and National Service shows the importance of civil society to voice our opposition to such bitterly toxic and noxious institutions in the country. Nor do their promises consider the more urgent comprehensive list of reforms that civil society has long argued is of higher priority. On top of all that, we have witnessed a disturbing trend of autocratic decision making and policies symptomatic of the old Mahathir 1.0 era.

Sacrifices at the altar of the trillion-ringgit debt mountain

The convenient opt out clause for the new government is to pile much of the blame on the previous administration including the accusation of them of having run up a debt of RM1 trillion, or 80% of our GDP and apparently stealing RM19 billion of GST refunds. That blame frame then provides the new government with an emotional basis for gaining sympathy by starting a ‘Tabung Harapan’ and appealing for donations. While the way in which this fund will be used remains unclear, it is probably the only fund in the world set up with the apparent aim of trying to plug a country’s debt hole. It is telling that while a little boy has contributed his piggy bank to the fund, the two richest men in the country who happen to sit in the “Council of Eminent Advisors” have not made a comparable sacrifice to the fund.

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As for the actual size of the national debt, there is dispute between economists depending on whether we include government guarantees and lease payments under public-private partnerships. The size of Malaysia’s government debt in international statistics for 2017 is actually 64% of GDP, compared to China’s 65%, Singapore’s 110%, US’ 108% and Japan’s 236%. Clearly, what is at stake is the country’s economic fundamentals, which the new Finance Minister assures us are still strong. It also depends on how the debt is financed since relying on overseas borrowing can carry higher risks. It also depends on the country’s prospects for economic growth. Japan has one of the largest public sector debts in the world but it also has a large pool of domestic savings on which to draw.

Nonetheless, this mythical “trillion-ringgit debt mountain” has become an altar on which promises made by PH in the GE14 manifesto are sacrificed – local government elections, new approved Chinese schools, minimum wage, abolishing highway tolls and postponing PTPTN loans. This is definitely not acceptable as an excuse for putting off these urgent election promises since PH had assured us that they could manage the economy once they had ousted BN.

But then the much-trumpeted review of all mega projects so as to reprioritise and reduce the debt mountain is not consistent with the approval of the Penang Transport Master Plan nor with the recently announced Proton 2.0 project by the PM. The Infrastructure Development Minister Peter Anthony has also announced that a dam costing RM2 billion will be built at Kampung Bisuang in Papar when Parti Warisan Sabah had promised to scrap the Kaiduan Dam project.

Back to privatising national assets and Proton 2.0

So far, the new PH government has not spelled out their fundamental difference in economic policy from the old BN regime. What we have heard so far is the alarming news of the return of the old discredited Mahathirist policies, namely, privatisation of our national assets in the name of Bumiputeraism and the revival of the national car, Proton 2.0.

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The PM has said that the sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah will be privatised for the benefit of Bumiputeras. Malaysians need to be reminded that during the financial crisis of 1997/98, it was Khazanah that had stepped in to take over the assets of the failed companies owned by the Bumiputra crony capitalists in Renong, MAS and TRI. After taking over the assets, Khazanah revamped these GLCs with professional managers and better rules of governance. Khazanah currently owns 51% of PLUS Expressways, with the EPF owning the other 49%. By end 2017, the net worth of companies under Khazanah was RM125.6bil. Thus, Khazanah is successfully achieving its purpose of creating a sovereign wealth fund for the benefit of ALL Malaysians. Its expressed purpose never has been to be privatised to Bumiputera crony capitalists.

Mahathir’s privatization drive during his first term (1981-2003) was a boon for private crony capital, especially those linked to UMNO. Malaysian tax payers were the losers since these erstwhile profitable public utilities were sold for a song to the private capitalists and we became captive to UMNO-linked monopolies, such as the North-South Highway operator. Furthermore, these failed crony capitalists had to be bailed out with our money during the financial crisis of 1997/98.

During these 100 days, the Prime Minister has also announced the revival of yet another national car, or Proton 2.0. After the fiasco of Proton 1.0 and the huge cost to Malaysian taxpayers, our public transport system and Malaysian consumers, it is unbelievable that such a failed enterprise could be supported by a PH leadership full of former critics of the first Proton project. Another national car project will surely fail with further losses to the national coffers and we will have to underwrite the losses. The PH government won’t have 1MDB to blame for that anymore. We should further note that one of Mahathir’s former crony capitalists, Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, owns a majority 50.1% in Proton Holdings through DRB-Hicom. This hare-brained idea to start another national car project reminds me of what somebody said about politicians: “Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnels…”

Back to Mahathirist autocracy

It is truly alarming that no Cabinet member nor “eminent person” in the CEF has voiced any objections to Mahathir’s proposed plans to privatise Khazanah and to start another national car. They will have to bear collective responsibility for the consequences in the event of its failure. We are witnessing the same “silence of the lambs” culture for which the DAP used to criticise the BN leaders under Mahathir 1.0 with the new ministers saying “We’ll leave it to the prime minister” and “I’ll discuss this with the prime minister to let him decide”, ad nauseum.

The PH manifesto prohibits the PM from also taking over the Finance portfolio but Dr Mahathir has in the 100 days taken over the choicest companies, namely Khazanah, PNB & Petronas under his PMO. It is the return to the old Mahathirist autocracy. Was the Cabinet consulted in the decision to start Proton 2, privatise Khazanah, Malaysia Incorporated and the revival of the failed F1 circuit?

Image result for Economics Minister Azmin Ali and Mahathir Mohamad


The appointment of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali to the board of Khazanah Nasional Berhad also goes against the PH manifesto promise of keeping politicians out of publicly-funded investments since it leads to poor accountability. Only by insisting on boards being comprised of professionals and on rigorous parliamentary checks and balances for bodies such as Khazanah can we ensure a high level of transparency and accountability. Mahathir’s response to this criticism was the old feudal justification: “I started Khazanah so why can’t I be in it?” In other words, “Stuff your high ideals and democratic principles!”

We will have to wait for Lim Guan Eng’s memoirs in the future to see how he responded to Mahathir leaving him out of Khazanah. Did the PM even discuss this with him? After all, Khazanah is still under MoF Inc. If the finance minister is left out of the Khazanah board, how will he be privy to what the Khazanah board is doing? No doubt Mahathir knew that having given the DAP Secretary-General the Finance Minister post, he could get away with anything…

Consistency in the war on kleptocracy

The new PH government had pledged to wipe out kleptocracy and this promise was key to the victory at GE14. They have disappointed the people of Malaysia and especially Sarawakians who have seen the wealth of their state sucked dry by the rapacious greed of the kleptocrats there. The PH government has not yet acted to make the former Chief Minister Taib Mahmud declare all his assets and those of his spouse and family’s. The PH Government has shown us that where there is a political will in getting to the root of the 1MDB scandal, there is a way to get rid Malaysia of corruption and crony capitalism. However, by letting off his long-time ally in Sarawak, Taib Mahmud, arguably the richest man in Malaysia, the Prime Minister makes his campaign against the former PM Najib look like a personal vendetta. The Prime Minister has also failed to lead by example and declare his assets and those of his spouse and children’s.

Conflict of interest having corporate heads in Councils

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The Constitutional status of the appointed ‘Council of Eminent Persons’ has already been called into question especially when the Chairman of the Council, Daim Zainuddin is in a position in which he is able to call up judges and even represent the Government in negotiating with the Chinese Government over their investments in Malaysia. Now it has been reported that the Perak government has established the State Economic Advisory Council (SEAC) with corporate heads of MK Land Bhd, KL Kepong Bhd and Gamuda Bhd as “eminent advisors”.

There is gross conflict of interest with such arrangements when these corporate leaders still have interests in the local and international corporate scene. It is well known that Daim Zainuddin has corporate and banking interests all over the world. His business interests extend beyond banking to other key sectors of the country’s economy such as plantations, manufacturing, retailing, property development and construction.

Delaying urgent reforms is unacceptable

Using the excuse of the government debt to delay local government elections which have been suspended in our country since 1965 is not acceptable. It is a simple matter of abolishing a provision under the Local Government Act 1976 and reviving the Local Government Election Act in order to introduce local government elections. If the PH government is prepared to see billions going down the drain with the revived Proton 2.0 project, don’t tell us there is no money for running local council elections please.

It is equally absurd to tell Malaysian Independent Chinese Secondary School graduates that their UEC certificate can only be recognised in five years’ time. The UEC certificate went unrecognised by the BN for 61 years even though it has internationally proven its efficacy with thousands of graduates since 1975. This is a serious breach of promise in the PH GE14 manifesto since more than 80 per cent of Chinese voters voted for PH because of this promised reform. The only steadfast decision made by the Education Minister so far is the decision that students will have to wear black shoes instead of white ones.

Many lawyers have pointed out that the repeal or review of our laws that violate basic human rights can be expeditiously accomplished within the first 100 days of the new PH government. These include abolishing laws that allow detention without trial, namely, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (Poca), and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) 2015.

It is alarming to hear the Law Minister Datuk Liew Vui Keong say recently that the PH government is now reconsidering its initial pledge to abolish several contentious laws including, the Sedition Act 1948, Prevention of Crime Act (Poca) 1959, Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, Printing Presses and Publications (PPPA) Act 1984 and the National Security Council (NSC) Act 2016. This is totally unethical backtracking on the PH GE14 manifesto.

The death penalty is a violation of human rights and must be abolished. Meanwhile, there ought to have been an immediate moratorium on all executions pending abolition and commuting the sentences of all persons currently on death row. The implementation of the Independent Police Complaints & Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) and other recommendations of the Royal Police Commission in 2005 is long overdue to ensure transparency and accountability by the police and other enforcement agencies such as the MACC.

During the 100 days under the PH government, we have witnessed the Sedition Act and the CMA still being used against activists and prevarication on the issue of child marriages. We have also seen the rule of law being flouted when a Minister in the PM’s Department can order the removal of portraits of LGBTQ Malaysians from an exhibition in Penang. Just as alarming is the statement by another Minister that cyanide used by gold miners in Bukit Koman is perfectly safe and non-hazardous to people or the environment.

Reneging on manifesto promises

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From the failure by the PH government to fulfil their election promises in the 100 days, it is clear that the GE14 manifesto was drafted in a slipshod manner in order to secure populist votes. These include the promises to abolish toll from the highways within the stipulated time promised; no firm position regarding the PTPTN loan repayments; wavering on the promise to pay a 20 per cent instead of 5 per cent royalty to oil producing states based on revenue from gross production; the deduction of a percentage from a husband’s EPF contributions to go into the accounts of his wife, etc. PH has so far implemented less than half of their election promises. Will the PM apologise for reneging on these election promises?

Real reforms we expect in “new” Malaysia

Within the first year of the PH administration, Malaysians expect serious transformational reforms that will reconstitute truly democratic institutions and improve the lives of the 99 per cent and especially the B40 Malaysians. Of the highest priority, we expect urgent initiatives to implement the 8 key reforms including:

1. An end to race-based parties and policies especially replacing race-based policies with needs-based measures that truly benefit the lower-income and marginalized sectors and basing recruitment and promotion in the civil and armed services strictly on merit;

2. Re-instatement of our democratic institutions including bringing back elected local councils and enacting a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act at federal and state levels;

3. Zero tolerance for corruption and political leaders who have been charged with corruption must step down while their case is pending in the courts;

4. A progressive economic policy that will renationalize privatised assets, especially land, water, energy, which belong to the Malaysian people instead of local and foreign capitalists, opening up GLCs to democratic control of the people and directing them to implement good labour and environmental policies;

5. Redistribute wealth fairly through progressive taxation on the high-income earners, their wealth and property and effective tax laws to ensure there are no tax loopholes for the super-rich;

6. A far-sighted and fair education policy with equal opportunities for all without any racial discrimination with regard to enrolment into all schools including tertiary educational institutions;

7. Defend workers’ rights and interests especially their right to unionise and a progressive guaranteed living wage for all workers, including foreign workers;

8. People-centred and caring social policies including an effective low-cost public housing programme for rental or ownership throughout the country for the poor and marginalized communities;

9. Prioritise Orang Asal rights and livelihood by recognizing their rights over the land they have been occupying for centuries, prohibiting logging in Orang Asal land and ensuring all Orang Asal villages have adequate social facilities and services;

10. Sustainable development & environmental protection by allowing all local people to be consulted before any development projects and all permanent forest and wildlife reserves are gazetted.

The lesson of the first 100 days of the PH administration teaches us that, as always, civil society must be ever vigilant to push for these reforms because the government of the day will drag its feet and renege on these election promises when they have the opportunity.


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15 thoughts on “A Hundred Days of Prevarication

  1. The term “social activist” is an incorrect description of Dr.Kua. Fact is Dr. Kia is a social “ideologue”. Fact is he is against almost all things practical about politics, governance and development. He complains about everything but never ever responsible for any actual necessary achievements. In other words he is all about criticising when he avoid being responsible for result.

    Dr. Kua is a public intellectual, someone who dares to speak the truth to power. He was detained during Ops Lallang during Mahathir 1.0 administration. The word ideologue does not apply in his case. I beg to defer, but that is alright because I believe we have the right to disagree. CLF is right about Dr. Kua.–Din Merican

    • Arguing absolute morality of UEC, or against privatisation, against flip-flopping BTN that eventually came out right, is not intellectual, its arrogant ideology..

  2. Anything is better than a clerico-fascist regime (which MO1 was attempting to build prior to GE, to save his own political neck and hang on to power) that engages in grand scale kleptocracy, and is made up of kleptocrats, race supremacists and religious hardliners-cum-extremists. Such a regime would make Malaysia more polarised and ungovernable.

  3. I agree with Dr. Kua on every point except that the problems BN left in many areas, from the political to the administrative, really requires time to solve. Meanwhile, people like him are needed to ensure that the problems he stated are not forgotten.

    About a decade ago, I was told to teach at Era College as Kua and I shared a lot of common ideas. Unfortunately, when I returned he’d stopped working there and I was diverted by family affairs. Good to see his articles here, Din. Thanks.

  4. /// The size of Malaysia’s government debt in international statistics for 2017 is actually 64% of GDP, compared to China’s 65%, Singapore’s 110%, US’ 108% and Japan’s 236%. ///

    I love it when economically-literate people comment on Singapore’s public debt without understanding. Or worse, they knew, but withheld the full fact. Yes, Singapore’s public debt appears high, but that is due to the fact that the government issues bonds and government securities to develop and broaden the debt market and issues securities to the CPF Board so that the government has a cheap source of funding and they use that cheap money to invest globally.

    Fact is, Singapore has zero external debt. In fact, Singapore is a net creditor. The writer obviously referred to the CIA World Factbook, yet he still left out the footnote:
    “note: Singapore’s public debt consists largely of Singapore Government Securities (SGS) issued to assist the Central Provident Fund (CPF), which administers Singapore’s defined contribution pension fund; special issues of SGS are held by the CPF, and are non-tradable; the government has not borrowed to finance deficit expenditures since the 1980s; Singapore has no external public debt.”

    Singapore has reserves of forex and gold amounting to US$286 billion (2017 est). Likewise, China has external debt of US$1.6 trillion; but it has reserves of US$3.2 trillion. So, there.

    Japan looks alarming – it has external debt of US$3.2 trillion and reserves of US$1.2 trillion. And the US is definitely living beyond its means. But then the US is in a unique and enviable position of being able to print its way out of the fix. The world uses the greenback and that means the US can borrow to fund its consumption. It can even print money to effectively reduce its external debts. (No other countries can do this without hyper inflation.)

    So, by juxtaposing Malaysia with Singapore, China and the US, it gives the impression that Malaysia’s financial situation is not bad at all.

    I remember a few years ago, Mahathir’s lap dog Matthias thought he discovered the greatest secret on earth when he found out about the “alarming high” debt situation of Singapore. He went to town announcing to one and all in his web-site. He even proposed shorting the Singapore Dollar as he likened Singapore to the next Greece. I wish he had leveraged up to his hilts to short the Singapore Dollar – he would have lost his pants.


    Thanks, The, for your clarification on Singapore Debt position. I have always thought the Republic has zero external debt. Since the time of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, whose leadership I admire,Singapore has been very conservative and prudent in its fiscal and financial policies. The strength of the Sing dollar reflects investor confidence and Singapore’s status as one of the major global financial centers comparable to New York, Tokyo, Hongkong and London. –Din Merican

  5. The. You left the most crucial factor. The GDP of Singapore increased from SG 444.00 at the time of independence to SG 44,444.44 a few years ago. That ia all we need to know. Anyway thanks for listing the skin bones and the meat.

  6. The, to be fair, very few understood Singapore’s situation in how it dealt with the unholy Trinity of exchange, inflation, and employment rate. To keep all rates in favorable terms, Singapore did the most sensible thing. Borrow a lot from the world to invest a lot in the world, so to keep its’ exchange rate pegged with USD. Yes, Malaysia is not in a rosy state. It is silly to look just at external debt alone. The same applies to China also.

    //Likewise, China has external debt of US$1.6 trillion; but it has reserves of US$3.2 trillion.

    China has at least USD$4trillion debt denominated in RMB, issued locally to local corporates, or ‘GLCs’. That is at least 40% of their GDP, owned by various agencies.

    It is not good. The same is happening in Malaysia with the huge sukuk debt owed by ‘GLCs’ and corporates.

    On top of that, Malaysian individually has high household personal debt.

    • https://www.yanisvaroufakis.eu/2011/02/10/surplus-recycling-currency-unions-and-the-birth-of-the-global-minotaur/

      To me, tangentially, Singapore faces a need to do its’ own surplus recycling so that SGD could stay competitive to the rest of EM neighbors. It is just amazes me see how well they have been doing. Similarly, I really dig Yukon Huang’s reminder to us Americans that our trade deficit is essentially our own creation, as we became the capital provider of the world. If we don’t recycle our capital surplus, it is natural that our employment rate suffers. China faces her own schizophrenic ideal trying to constantly keep its’ onshore and offshore book in-sync. China could not perpetually be printing money onshore, without doing some BRI. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Malaysia got suck it into it, as Malaysia has been doing this for quite awhile also, to sustain a class of “Cash is King” phony 1PM class of kleptocrats. Both China and Malaysia should have a lot to talk about surplus recycling in a meaningful way as this tariff war takes its’ toll. Build something meaningful. This world is all we have. If God is willing, we can do this responsibly. My rakan-rakan, neither China nor America are your enemies. Just like Malaysia, they merely have their own internal problems, as their citizens should couldn’t understand what responsible capitalism mean. Cheap talk like dumping Treasury by the Chinese by some of their netizens, or raise tariff to stop China’s currency manipulation by some populist American politicians would not help anyone. I like Dr Kua. He is one who talks about inconvenient truth that matters. To me, not wanting to resolve second caste issue is the true reason for the continued Welayu state. Work on it. Else, there is no reason to stop being a pessimist for Malaysia’s future. I do see a strong possibility of a world with no Malaysia after Tun Dr. What took place in the 60s could happen again. The reason has nothing to do with Chinese robbing the Melayu, nor anything about ISIS taking over the nation. Malaysia would just simply berpecah-belah by the lies we tell ourselves, as kleptocrats fight amongst themselves. Harapan’s 100 days say it all. Not changing course would only result in the nonBumi giving up and just let the kleptocrats fight all they want. After the 100 day of kool-aid, I see no reason for any nonBumi to support any Harapan lies. Apathy kills. Kleptocrats win. Tun Dr could change this. After him, no one else could.

  7. katasayang – just a small point – Singapore does not borrow much, if any, from the world. It “borrows” mainly domestically from CPF. It has no external debt.

    • To American taxpayers, this is plain amazing! The nation borrow from its’ pension at rates attrative enough so that the pension could meet its’ future liability. Thus, pension could claim it is fully funded. The nation then take that money to invest overseas, hopefully with earnings greater that the rates paid to pension. This is so much better than the American way to let the next generation pay for the current retiring generation. It is an amazing mechanism of money printing without cost to SGD , as long as Temasek SWF could generate enough earnings.

  8. Mahathir just took a dig at Singapore again, and again. (When is this guy going to get over the perceived slight he got when he was a medical student in Singapore. He was sending his girl friend home in a taxi, and the taxi driver dropped in at the back entrance for servants instead of the front door. He had never forgotten or forgiven Singapore for that.)

    /// Whether or not a country is rich is determined not only by its people’s high salary rates, but also by its people’s purchasing power, said Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

    Speaking at the Prime Minister’s Department’s monthly assembly in Putrajaya today, Dr Mahathir stated that a salary raise will be offset by a rise in living costs.

    “The salary may be more [than before], but the capability to buy remains the same,” he said, adding: “What’s the use of becoming a millionaire if we can only afford to buy [things from] along the streets?”

    Purportedly citing the case of Singapore to illustrate his point, Dr Mahathir said that Malaysia’s southern neighbour is not a rich country despite its people having high salaries. ///

    Sure, any item or product will probably cost quite a bit more in Singapore than a similar product in Malaysia, but not to the tune of 2 or 3 times more.

    SG’s per capita GDP: US$93,900
    MY’s per capita GDP: US$29,000

    Can someone please tell Mahathir that these are ppp numbers. Explain to him what “purchasing power parity” means.

    Poor Singaporeans. They are millionaires, yet they can only afford to eat along Jalan Alor or Bukit Bintang.


  9. I disagree with afew statement of the professor. As a half past six I can only give simple explaination n reasoning. To say malaysian vote ph because of the manifesto is too little to be true. 50% of the winning votes was already in the bag for them before ph was form. The other 50%to be split first by 1mdb scandal, gst, sly tdm factor last manifesto.
    Accusing the ph gov of piling blame to the previous gov is uncalled for. Truth with proven fact cannot be call blame. Only those sleeping on their job not knowing their past administration wrong doing will come back to question for answer.
    Nothing wrong to be the first to set TH. Are u saying only others do it first then we follow. I hope this is not a compelling TH. About how they use this fund no need for u to worry. Our intellectual oppo. MP know how to deal with them. Their sleeping ndreaming days are over.
    UEC cert. Yes why need 5tahun. How many talent we’re going to lose in 5yrs. Narrow minded, lagging behind people only will feel threaten. It seem almost 1race 1religion people reject it. On those who approve multi races n religion.

  10. katasayang – Yes. Even before the borrowings, CPF is already fully funded – it is a defined contribution system as opposed to the defined benefits system. Employer and employee contribute monthly to their pension.

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