Crunch time for Malaysia on economic reform


November 15, 2018

Crunch time for Malaysia on economic reform

by Stewart Nixon

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/11/04/crunch-time-for-malaysia-on-economic-reform/

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Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s honeymoon period after he swept to power in Malaysia may now be facing an economic reality test. Mahathir’s recent admission that his pre-election promises exceeded what can possibly be delivered is just the start. Analysts and investors alike are now hanging on further details of the government’s economic policy priorities.

In the six months since Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) under Mahathir ended more than six decades of one-party rule in Malaysia, the new government has taken a measured approach to policy development, allowing inexperienced ministers to get on top of their portfolios while it enjoyed electoral grace.

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“Under-investment in human capital is perhaps the single biggest drag on Malaysia’s economic development. It is therefore a positive that human capital remains a high policy priority in Malaysia — commanding its own pillar in the Mid-Term Review and the highest share of budget expenditure. Some of the worthwhile measures include policies to address immediate skills mismatches, invest in school infrastructure and raise the quality of education.”– Stewart Nixon

The release of the Mid-Term Review of the Eleventh Malaysia Plan, as well as the government’s first budget, throws some light on where the government might head on economic policy. Stronger governance and alleviating cost of living pressures are underlined as priority areas, along with greater regional development, entrepreneurship and digitalisation. These priorities represent positive investment in government effectiveness and inclusiveness. But there are questions about economic policy direction.

The Mid-Term Review provides a blueprint loaded with high-level aspirations that would represent an impressive reform agenda if translated into successful policies. But aspects of the Review raise questions about the government’s real capacity to navigate medium-term risks. The 2020 balanced budget target has been abandoned and the budget deficit has widened to 3.7 per cent of GDP (with an aim to reduce this to 3 per cent of GDP by 2020), while public investment — most notably in major rail and pipeline projects — is set to contract.

The cancellation and postponement of mega rail and pipeline projects has rightly been applauded on governance grounds, but the fallout presents some economic risks. Debate about future infrastructure needs has been sidelined by fear mongering about debt. Investors also now face higher levels of uncertainty and risk. While Chinese investors have been hit hardest by the cancellations, both governments appear to have so far handled the diplomacy of recontracting deftly.

The Review also foreshadows a host of new expenditure in healthcare, social protection, rural infrastructure and the environment that will need to be financed by either undeclared budget cuts in other areas or additional revenues.

Revenue raising — or the failure to address the need for it — is a serious weakness in government plans. Tax revenue has fallen to around 13 per cent of GDP — compared to the OECD average of over 34 per cent — and the government’s decision to dump the goods and services tax (GST) for a narrower ‘sales and service’ tax will accelerate the decline. The budget estimates tax revenue at just 11.5 per cent of GDP in 2019.

The Mid-Term Review hints at plans to diversify indirect taxes and increase non-tax revenue. Increasing indirect taxes appears ambitious after the noisily populist anti-GST campaign, while non-tax revenue is code for increasing dependence on revenues from state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The budget highlights this, reporting a 33 per cent drop in indirect tax revenue in 2018 and dividend hikes on PETRONAS in particular amounting to a doubling of non-tax revenue by 2019.

The budget hits some easy targets with higher taxes on property gains, sugar beverages, casinos, imports and online services. However it ignores potential reforms to wealth and property taxes or to the income tax system that currently covers only 15 per cent of workers and transfers very little from rich to poor households.

While the Malaysian government’s footprint may be low in taxation and expenditure, its participation in the economy is pervasive. The highly centralised top-down federation (that cripples local government initiative) and government ownership of more than half the local stock market ensure that the vast majority of economic activity is directly affected by the state.

Despite enabling the corruption scandals that brought down the former government, SOE dominance is not earmarked for meaningful reform in the near future. The budget speech declares that stakes in ‘non-strategic’ government businesses are to be reduced, yet if anything the Mid-Term Review is a blueprint for reinforcing paternalistic control of local governments and enhancing the primacy of SOEs. This is moving the Malaysian economy in the wrong direction. Rather, the government needs to focus on decentralising local governance and diluting SOE market concentration.

The large program of policies favouring Malays and other indigenous groups (Bumiputera) in the Mid-Term Review is another possible economic destabiliser. There was much hope that Mahathir’s more representative government would bring an end to the country’s long-running and ill-targeted affirmative action program. Yet the Review simply reaffirms the government’s commitment to continuing it. Outdated and divisive policies serve to perpetuate negative perceptions of the majority Malays, deter investment and encourage the brain drain of discriminated-against minorities.

Underinvestment in human capital is perhaps the single biggest drag on Malaysia’s economic development. It is therefore a positive that human capital remains a high policy priority in Malaysia — commanding its own pillar in the Mid-Term Review and the highest share of budget expenditure. Some of the worthwhile measures include policies to address immediate skills mismatches, invest in school infrastructure and raise the quality of education.

Still, the perpetuation of myths that low-skilled foreign workers are a drag on the economy and misguided plans to curb migrant inflows through increased levies and by further outsourcing responsibility to businesses with a vested interest in increasing numbers raise doubts about whether the government understands the extent and causes of Malaysia’s human capital deficiencies.

In the face of headwinds from global economic crises and trade wars, ambitious reforms are a must for Malaysia’s new government. Replacing current unproductive and populist measures with a medium-term policy platform that tackles distortions and disadvantage would not only enhance the country’s economy but also give needed weight to the government’s economic credentials.

Stewart Nixon is a Research Scholar in the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University. He is lead author of a new report from the Asian Bureau of Economic Research in the Crawford School on the Malaysian economy and was co-author of the OECD’s inaugural Economic Assessment of Malaysia.

Directions for Malaysia’s Economic Policy


October 28, 2018

Directions for Malaysia’s economic policy

by Cassey Lee / Khmer Times
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History repeats itself but often in slightly different ways. So it is with the tabling of the Mid-Term Review of the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (MTR-11MP) on October 11 by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Some 34 years ago, in March 1984, Mr Mahathir unveiled the mid-term review for the Fourth Malaysia Plan (4MP) (his first since assuming power in 1981). The Eleventh Malaysia Plan (11MP) is the country’s latest five-year development plan covering the period 2016 to 2020. It serves as a tool for medium-term economic planning. The mid-term review of the Plan essentially takes stock of the progress achieved half-way through its implementation period.

Though both the 4MP and 11MP were crafted under heightened fiscal constraints and contained significant new policy directions, there are some notable differences. A key difference is that the new policy directions in the MTR-11MP are noticeable but contain less implementation details. This is to be expected, as the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, which came into power in May, probably only had about three to four months to shape the MTR-11MP report. Work on the report commenced in October 2017 and was supposed to be tabled in Parliament by July or August.

Taking this time-constraint into account and the fact the new administration has had to struggle with a host of concurrent issues (including fiscal consolidation), the report is nevertheless a compelling read as it provides the first broad overview of the future directions of the PH government’s economic policies.

The report itself is divided into two major components. The first component which covers chapters two to eight provides reviews of the six strategic thrusts of the 11MP which were crafted by the Barisan Nasional government.

Aside from providing statistical updates on the progress achieved, the reviews are generally critical in the sense that they often attribute problems to existing institutional deficiencies. This then leads to the second component of the report (chapters 10 to 15), each of which contains one of the six “pillars” or new policy directions.

These are: (i) reforming governance towards greater transparency and enhancing efficiency of public service, (ii) enhancing inclusive development and well being, (iii) pursuing balanced regional development, (iv) empowering human capital, (v) enhancing environmental sustainability through green growth, and (vi) strengthening economic growth.

Comparing the MTR-11MP with the 11MP, there are some similarities in the themes and emphases of the two reports e.g. human capital, environmental sustainability and inclusiveness.

The significant departures from the original foci of 11MP are in pillar (i) on institutional reforms and pillar (iii) on regional development.

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The institutional reforms detailed in chapter 10 are likely to have drawn from the report from the Institutional Reforms Committee which submitted its final report in July. The reforms include policies to strengthen check and balance mechanisms, revive the spirit of federalism, deepen the anti-corruption agenda and drive political reforms.

One political reform proposal that has received media attention is the implementation of a two-term limit for the Office for the Prime Minister, Chief Minister and Menteri Besar. Given the importance of institutions as key determinants of long-term economic development and growth, the emphasis on institutional reforms is both appropriate and encouraging.

The renewed emphasis on regional development is refreshing and surprising. Surprising, because regional development was largely neglected during Mr. Mahathir’s first term as Prime Minister (1981-2003). Though the 11MP did promote the development of regional economic corridors, the new emphasis is on reducing state-level developmental gaps that have persisted. The report contains proposals to improve development allocations to less-developed states, namely, Sabah, Sarawak, Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis.

This strategy is both equitable and politically astute – the latter because the PH government needs to win the trust of rural Malay voters in northern Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysian voters before the next general election.

Dr Cassey Lee is Senior Fellow, and co-coordinator of the Malaysia Studies Programme, at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. This article first appeared in ISEAS Commentary and it can be read at https://bit.ly/2PgakFW

Political financing reforms should top PH Government’ s political agenda – Jomo


Political financing reforms should top PH Government’ s political agenda – Jomo

Koh Jun Lin  |  Published: September 27, 2018@ http://www.malaysiakini.com



Reforming how political activities are financed in Malaysia should be on top of the government’s political agenda, said the former Council of Eminent Persons member Jomo Kwame Sundaram.

He said Malaysia has a “very decadent” political system that had been abused, giving examples such as the 1MDB scandal and the inflated costs of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project and two gas pipeline projects that have since been cancelled.

“It is important to recognise that we have a system of political financing which has been so abused that we cannot get ourselves out of this, unless we develop a legitimate, accountable, system of political financing. “So, I would put the whole system of political financing at the top of the list of political priorities that needs to be addressed by the current government,” he said.

He was speaking as a panellist at a talk titled “The Way Forward for Malaysia” last night together with Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar in Kuala Lumpur last night. The event was organised by the Oxford and Cambridge Society of Malaysia and was attended by approximately 170 people.

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Former Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has been accused of siphoning money from 1MDB and SRC International and using part of the money to fund political activities through his personal bank account. Najib had maintained that the money had come from foreign donors.

Malaysiakini set up a microsite in July detailing some of the outflows from one of his bank accounts to political entities.

After Najib was implicated in the 1MDB scandal in 2015, he set up the National Consultative Council on Political Financing (JKNMPP) that went on to produce 32 recommendations to reform political financing in Malaysia.

However, the reforms were not in place in time for the 14th General Election.

ECRL ‘a hoax’
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As for the ECRL project, Jomo described it as a hoax that is not part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative projects, and would not be able to pay for itself even if its development expenses are written off.

The government has claimed the cost of the project is RM81 billion – compared to the previous administration’s estimate for RM55 billion – adding it is worth no more than RM30 billion.

China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC) Vice-President Sun Ziyu has defended the cost of the project.

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Meanwhile, Jomo said there needs to be consensus involving all political parties in Malaysia on what needs to be done to tacklecorruption, where political financing is only a part of the problem.

Otherwise, he said there won’t be much progress in the area.

“I have a great deal of concern with addressing other sources of corruption, and this of course is very, very important and necessary to address. But we have a very decadent and corrupt economic system as well as a political system. In other words, we have been thoroughly compromised,” he said.

Read More: How political financing is done in other countries https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/444827

Malaysia’s Sunway City: Thank You, Dr. Jeffery Cheah


August 21, 2018

Malaysia’s Sunway City: A Model in Sustainable Development

By: Lexie Ma, Tom Tsui and FY Lung

https://www.asiasentinel.com/econ-business/malaysia-sunway-city-sustainability-standout/

 

In a region where little attention is paid to sustainability and the environment, Sunway City, built on an abandoned tin mine on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, is a standout, more aligned with Singapore, whose Building Construction Authority aims for 80 percent of buildings to be Green Mark-certified by 2030, than Malaysia.

Wasteland-Turned Wonderland”

Called a “wasteland-turned wonderland,” this onetime township now boasts world-class resorts, hotels, shopping malls, schools and medical centers, and is home to 200,000 residents. It is the brainchild of developer Jeffrey Cheah Fook Ling, Malaysia’s 13th richest man. The  rehabilitation and transformation of the landscape has led to recognition as the country’s first integrated green township.

Thriving on a balance between sustainability and profitability, Sunway City has stayed on a course of sustainable development while remaining robust financially.  The conglomerate reportedly accrued RM137.5 million  (US$33.51 million) in first-quarter 2018 profit, a 11 percent rise year on year.

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Around Sunway City, posters and billboards of 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) are hanging everywhere, making clear Cheah’s determination to construct an integrated township and sustainable community. Unlike many companies which view green initiatives as a means to fulfill their corporate social responsibility, Sunway Group appears to set sustainability as the core value of the township.

The heart of the development is Sunway University, fully accredited both in Malaysia and by the Education Committee of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) of United Kingdom. But Sunway City didn’t always have college campuses, theme parks and a pyramid-shaped mall. When Malaysia was under British rule, Cheah bought an 800-acre tin mine from the British and developed his tin mining company which later diversified into sand mining, quarrying and construction.

The business came to a halt when the late 1980s brought a recession, causing tin prices to collapse. “It nearly bankrupted me,” said Cheah, now a Tan Sri, one of Malaysia’s highest-ranking honorifics. What he had built became a “mined-out wasteland,” as he would put it. He ended up selling quarries, one of his most profitable assets at the time, as well as laying off the unit’s employees.

“One incident that made me respect Tan Sri is that he promised not to abandon his quarry workers during the financial crisis,” said Dr. Elizabeth Lee. She joined Sunway Group’s education arm 20 years ago and is now its senior executive director. “He promised to employ them when he had earned back the money. And he did.”

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Malaysia was the world’s largest tin producer until the price collapse some three decades ago. Following that particularly difficult time in the country’s tin mining history, the private sector sought to rehabilitate deserted mining sites for more productive land use.

Cheah was among the first entrepreneurs in the country to grant a second lease of life to a mining wasteland. As he turned his vision of an integrated green township into reality while further diversifying his business interests, Sunway City supports 12 different business units, ranging from property development and hospitality to education and healthcare.

Cheah was not the only one transforming ex-mines into resorts either. In 1988, property tycoon Lee Kim Yew was tasked by the government to convert Hong Fatt Mines, the world’s biggest open-cast mine back then, into Mines Resort City, a tourist destination with a five-star hotel, man-made beach and golf course.

Sustainability and Profitability Hand-in-Hand

Today, Sunway Group has three publicly listed companies in Malaysia with a combined market capitalization of RM17 billion and 15,000 employees across 50 locations internationally, testament to how sustainability and profitability can go hand-in-hand.

“A lot of times, people think sustainability is a cost to what you do,” commented Chew Chee Kin, Sunway’s Group President since 1999 and long-time friend of Cheah. “What you have to do is to minimize the damage you do to the environment.”

To achieve this, the company strives to be as scientific as it can. Producing clay pipe used to require 48 hours of burning, but Sunway Group has managed to reduce that to 20 hours, saving more than 60 percent of energy, according to Chew. “If it is something we can save energy, it’s very good for profitability,” said Chew.

Environmental and economic sustainability aside, Cheah also tries to facilitate sustainable cultivation of talent through the group’s education arm and philanthropic channels. Established in 2010 to continue the mandate of Sunway Education Trust Fund, Jeffrey Cheah Foundation has awarded RM270 million in scholarships to thousands of individuals for their tertiary education, making it a leading education-focused social enterprise in the country.

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Managing the highly lucrative education business in the form of a foundation and running Sunway University as a nonprofit, Cheah effectively ensures that his realm is free from any shareholder control. “Surpluses can be plowed back for scholarships, for research and improvement in facilities,” he explained.

The foundation also dedicated US$10 million for sustainable development education in 2016, one of the most generous amounts gifted towards the cause in recent years. “Our strategy and our long-term thinking is through education, education, education,” said Cheah. “I know education is the best way out of poverty.”

Success or Gimmick?

Education is not the only way in which Sunway City pushes forward its sustainable development agenda. Little remained of the tin mine’s original biodiversity when Cheah acquired the site.  A lot of work had to be done to rebuild the entire ecosystem. Even earthworms had to be re-introduced for soil revitalization.

“Of course, I had to do a lot of transplantation of trees and shrubs and all these, and today the ecosystem is back,” he said. “This mother earth is so important to us, if we continue to damage it, … our future generation will have a big headache.”

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A quarter of Sunway City is designated as green space. The city offers free Wi-Fi coverage in public areas and provides free internet access for all students and residents.  A 4-km “Canopy Walkway” footbridge connects the city’s two universities and major facilities. Electric buses run on a flyover not shared with other vehicles. The group is urging the government to lower the bus fare, currently RM5.4 for a complete 5.4-km ride.

Attempts to promote sustainability in urban planning have won Sunway City multiple awards both within and beyond the borders. In 2017, it was recognized as an Integrated Smart and Low-Carbon Township by International Data Corporation Government Insights, a global market intelligence firm.

At first glance, Sunway City is nothing short of a perfect role model championing sustainable development without compromising economic viability. Nevertheless, things are always easier said than done, even more so on such a city-wide scale.

First of all, one questions if rules on sustainability are thoroughly implemented. Caterers at Sunway University continue to pack food in disposable plastic containers. Central air-conditioning on campus renders room-specific adjustments impossible. And recycling bins are yet to become common fixtures around the township. There seems to remain much room for improvement for Sunway City to translate the grand idea of sustainable development into the nitty-gritty of everyday life.

Regardless, with Sunway Group’s aggressive promotion on the notion, sustainability has over the years become a buzzword among city residents. Many are indeed mindful of sustainable living and serious about making positive changes on the environmental protection front through real-life practices. For instrance, there is Maslisa Zainuddin, a Sunway University design communications and interior architecture lecturer.

 

“[Sustainability is] something that I’ve decided to take onboard myself,” she said. A poster child for what has become known as “upcycling,”, Zainuddin proudly wears clothes refashioned from discarded garments on a daily basis. “Today’s top I’m wearing, it was a romper, which I refashioned into a high-low top,” she said, referring to her fitted ivory sleeveless blouse with embroidery details. “[The bottom part] is actually being transformed into a bow that sits on top of my shoulder of a tote bag that I’m making from an old skirt. Because as a designer, I still am a practicing designer, I just don’t believe in teaching and not practicing what you preach.”

“Walk the Talk”

While individuals like Zainuddin are making sustainability-conscious lifestyle choices and influencing others to follow suit, Sunway City is exploring new ways to closely align modern city life with the UNSDGs. Cheah hopes that a new government will steer things in the right direction.

The business mogul used to feel taken advantage of as he executed many urban renewal projects on his own which technically fell under government responsibilities. “We walk the talk. They don’t walk the talk,” said Cheah, frustrated with the former government’s inefficiency. “Hopefully, with the new government, people will listen, rather than they hear you, but they don’t listen.”

Learning from past mistakes, the conglomerate is already replicating the Sunway model elsewhere in Malaysia. Sunway City Ipoh in Perak and Sunway Iskandar in Johor are both set to promise the same sustainability-backed prosperity. The story of a flourishing integrated green township built from scratch even offers urban planning inspirations worldwide.

Yet, resources, policies and cultures do place restraints onto cross-national endeavors. “We’re doing a small project, ecocity project in Tianjin,” added Chew, as Sunway Group got invited by provinces in China to recreate the miracle. “But we probably don’t have the resources to build so many townships overseas.”

Lexie Ma, Tom Tsui and FY Lung  are students at the Hong Kong University Journalism and Media Studies Center

Judge Pakatan Harapan in 5 years, Dr. Rais Hussin


August 17, 2018

Judge Pakatan Harapan in 100 days, maybe too soon, but in 5 years definitely too late, Dr. Rais Hussin

Shocking  Admission

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The Pakatan Harapan Manifesto was launched in March 2018. It is now more than 100 days. How much more time do our new  Yang Berhormat Menteris and Timbalan Menteris need to read and understand their own pledges? What a shame.–Din Merican

Pakatan Harapan ministers and deputy ministers must take the time to read the coalition’s election manifesto, said Bersatu policy and strategy bureau chief Rais Hussin, who was part of the Harapan manifesto committee.

–www.malaysiakini.com

Interview with Dr. Rais Hussin, Pakatan Harapan’s Top  Spinner

by http://www.malaysiakini.com

100 DAYS | Pakatan Harapan ministers and deputy ministers must take the time to read the coalition’s election manifesto, said Bersatu policy and strategy bureau chief Rais Hussin, who was part of the Harapan manifesto committee.

“It is an observation but even ministers and deputy ministers have not read the manifesto.

“So, my first request is that the people, who are supposed to chaperone and deliver the promises, must read the manifesto,” he told Malaysiakini in an interview conducted in conjunction with Harapan’s 100 days in government.

Rais said this should also be expanded to chief secretaries and top civil servants.

“All those implementers, they also need to read this manifesto. It is important for them to read because this is the policy and main points of the Harapan administration – therefore they should be in the know,” he said.

Harapan had made 10 pledges for its first 100 days, but moving on, its longer-term promises will comprise 60 items.

However, Harapan was only able to fully fulfil two of the 10 promises within the first 100 days, namely the abolition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), and the review of mega projects.

Rais stressed that this was not a case of promises being broken, pointing out that the ministers were hard at work to try to fulfil them, albeit with a delayed timeline.

He reiterated that Harapan’s manifesto was drafted based on public information and without details that have now become available after the coalition became the government, particularly on the debt level.

“But we believe that given some time and recalibration of our plans, all these promises can be fulfilled,” Rais said.

Instead of finding excuses to justify failing to deliver on promises, he added, he believed in looking for solutions.

Post-GE attention on manifesto ‘unprecedented’

He added that the fact that Harapan’s manifesto is being talked about on a daily basis after the 14th general election was an achievement in itself.

“In the last 13 general elections, manifestos were only discussed before a general election but not afterwards.But after the 14th general election, everyone is talking about the manifesto every day. There is a new intensity in participatory democracy… people have become more sensitive,” he said.

Rais was also asked about Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad downplaying the manifesto, such as his statement that it was “not a Bible” or that it was too “thick“.

“If someone comes and say that it is not a ‘kitab suci’ (holy scripture) and all that, I leave it up to that person. Maybe it is to build a narrative to soften the blow or pressure on the ministers.

“In managing the country, you can’t write a thin manifesto. You need a thick manifesto, especially when it covers all walks of society.

 

“What is important is that what is contained, regardless if the manifesto is thin or thick, is the deliverables. We should not focus on excuses but on how to deliver,” he said.

Rais, who had previously said on May 14 that a manifesto monitoring committee would be formed, said he did raise the subject with the government.

‘Judge us in five years’

However, he said the government decided to have the committee within the cabinet and that the committee is chaired by Mahathir himself.

“If I was the Prime Minister, I would have an external person to audit (the manifest) because there’ll be an independent perspective – you can’t audit your own work.

“But it is his wisdom to have it at the cabinet level – to show its significance,” he said.

He stressed the promises in the manifesto were not arbitrarily drafted, and had gone through a rigorous process.

He said the pledges were derived from public consultation, research firms and party consultation before being approved by the leadership of the respective parties as well as the Harapan presidential council.

“I think with the capable ministers that we have now, under the very capable stewardship of Mahathir and his Deputy Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, I think this is doable.

“If we set our mind and focus towards fulfilling the promises rather than being defensive, I think it’ll be better for us.“At the end of the day, end of the fifth year, assess us then. We should be able to fulfil most of it,” he said.

This interview was jointly conducted by NIGEL AW, NORMAN GOH and ZIKRI KAMARULZAMAN.

RELATED REPORTS

What’s the progress of Harapan’s 100-day pledges?

New M’sia, 100 days later: A look back at Harapan’s first 100 days in power

100 days under Harapan – whither the national economy?

10 promises in 100 days – monitoring Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto pledges

KJ: After 100 days, time for BN to stop harping on the manifesto

Mustafa defends Harapan ‘failure’ in fulfilling 100-day promises

 

 

10 Things to do for Malaysian People


August 2, 2018

10 Things to do for Malaysian People

by P. Gunasegaram

http://www.malaysiakini.com

QUESTION TIME | All governments routinely claim that they are there for the people and that they will take care of the interests of the people. But is that what they really do? Or do the leaders forget about the plight of the rakyat and focus on other things such as consolidating their power?

 Image result for Mahathir and his new Cabinet

To do their jobs properly, the government needs to prioritise the rakyat so that the most important gets done first and the others follow on from there.

To remind Harapan, in the midst of all the controversies which have emerged post-May 9, here is a list of 10 things they should be prioritising.

1. Restore our democratic rights

What we need going forward is a full restoration of our democratic rights as envisaged in the original constitution of Aug 31, 1957, nothing less.

That entails removal of all oppressive new laws under the Najib regime such as the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (Poca), Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (Pota), Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), Anti-Fake News Act 2018 and National Security Council Act 2016.

It should also include archaic ones such as the Sedition Act 1948, the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA), the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA), the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) and serious overhaul of the Penal Code to remove ancient laws such as criminal defamation, etc.

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People Power dethroned UMNO-BN

After what we have been through, it must be crystal clear to everyone that to remove a corrupt government and one that is not meeting the legitimate aspirations of the rakyat, there must always be a means of check and balance.

Successive BN governments, including those under Dr Mahathir Mohamad previously, have eroded the legal system and undermined the laws protecting individual rights. These have to be rectified forthwith.

As long as these laws exist in the statute books, unscrupulous leaders can use it to oppress the people yet again. It is a matter of regret that not enough is being done in this regard, as one of the key promises of Harapan.

2. Demarcate lines between executive, judiciary and Parliament

If necessary, introduce legislation to do this. For too long, there has been executive interference in the judicial system, even before the time of Najib Abdul Razak.

Judicial independence all but died in 1987 following Mahathir’s interventions to suspend Federal Court judges.

The only recourse the public has against an oppressive executive is the judicial system. For this, prosecution and investigation too must be independent of government.

To ensure that the Police toe the line and follow the law (by the way, the Police come up tops in surveys of which government department is the most corrupt), an independent commission of investigation for police misconduct needs to be set up.

No matter how much the police maintain that oppressive legislation is necessary, they must follow the law – police brutality in detention is well documented.

3. Redraw constituencies to correct gerrymandering

There can be no argument that the will of the population is reflected in a one-man, one-vote system. However, when you have constituencies several times larger than others, the intention is negated because less people vote for one representative.

Keep differences to a maximum of say 15 percent between constituencies – that will be fair to everyone.

4. Do something concrete about corruption 

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It is not money that is the root of evil, but corruption in getting the money. So, lay the ground rules – open tenders, no patronage, accountability, an independent MACC reporting to Parliament, no cronyism, contracts no longer under the OSA, and 101 other things.

If current laws are not sufficient to bring those who clearly live beyond their means to account, enact new ones which will clearly require them to account for their assets, forfeit them if they can’t and charge them accordingly.

And why this strange reluctance now for all ministers, MPs and state assemblypersons to make a public declaration of their assets? What are they afraid of?

5. For the long term, do something about education

Black shoes only hide the dirt, they do nothing else. Is that the priority of the Education Ministry?

Without a long-term plan for education, the rot in the country cannot be stopped. Quality education has to start with headmasters and headmistresses and teachers – upgrading their quality.

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Our education has to move with the times, and improving English must be part of the agenda. Rural children want to learn English so that their chances of succeeding increase.

Education is too important to be left to chance and to people who don’t seem to have a clue about what they are doing.

It is definitely not just about whether the Unified Examination Certification (UEC) qualification is recognised. It is about preparing a new generation of people for the workplace, moving us up the economic ladder to higher value-added activities, greater opportunities and a better life for everyone.

6. Have a coherent economic plan

It’s all good and well to blame the previous government for everything, including falsely accusing them of having run up a debt of RM1 trillion.

But what is your programme for the economy? How are you going to achieve economic growth and ensure that it is achieved? How are you going to ensure that this is distributed among as many people as possible?

How will you ensure that the socio-economic position of everyone improves rapidly in line with the large amount of resources this country has? What are some of the specific measures you will be taking?

You can give subsidies, increase your spending for the public, build better infrastructure, etc, only if you increase revenue. How are you going to do that?

7. Set targets and make them public

Setting targets alone is not enough, there has to be someone monitoring them. Unfortunately, the new government dismantled the Performance Management and Delivery Unit, or Pemandu, and summarily discontinued their use.

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Despite all the vituperative criticism levelled against Pemandu, it played a major role in economic development under the previous regime. First, it helped all government departments and agencies, including even the police and others to set key performance indices or KPIs which they must achieve and then a system for monitoring this.

Thus, there was a clear, articulated and measurable path to achieving developed status, which not only included income criteria but socio-economic criteria as well.

Out of the labs that were set up and the discussions that arose, a number of useful initiatives arose for increasing economic growth while at the same time improving the quality of life. This was one of the better things that the previous government did and it contributed to better economic growth and living standards.

While it has disbanded Pemandu, the new government must come up with a similar or better system of setting KPIs among all the ministries and the key government agencies. Otherwise, there is going to be a lot of talk but no action plan which is measurable and can be monitored.

The manifesto is a good starting point – set targets and state how you are going to achieve them, and monitor them.

One of the things the government should consider here is a multi-agency government committee such as the National Development Planning Committee (NDPC) of old.

Such committees are typically headed by the Chief Secretary and comprise key people from other ministries, especially secretaries-general of economy-related ministries, the central bank governor and others.

Civil servants from various departments studied all major proposals thoroughly and made their recommendations to the NDPC, which then made a final decision. Seldom were their recommendations overturned in the past.

The NDPC was disbanded under the previous Mahathir regime and politicians decided whether projects were viable or not and whether they were desirable.

8. Consult and reach intraparty consensus

Harapan is a coalition of parties which have common aspirations. And in the spirit of consensus and consultation, they chose a Prime Minister, Mahathir, who will run the show until Anwar Ibrahim takes over.

This is the new Malaysia – consensus and consultation should be agreed upon at least at the supreme council level of the party and at the cabinet level of government.

Prime ministerial prerogative must only be exercised if there is a deadlock, much like a casting vote by the chair of a board. Majority views should prevail because the prime minister comes from a minority party.

No other committee should usurp the Cabinet, which should be the ultimate body for deciding on policy matters and must take joint responsibility for decisions taken. There should be no yes-men in the cabinet and everyone should speak their minds openly without fear of retribution.

9. Allow for dissenting views and discussion

This must be freely allowed within Harapan and within parties in the Harapan coalition, otherwise you will see a group of nodding yes-men who will fawn over the emperor’s clothes even when he is naked.

The room to criticise, make suggestions, to discuss and debate must be there. The prime minister does not know everything and must take advice and encourage opposite views to come out so that all angles can be scrutinised before a final decision is taken. Do we really want another national car? Is that going to be pushed through via prime ministerial prerogative?

I can’t stand, and certainly cannot understand, this call to let the government do its job without fair criticism and feedback. Look what prime ministerial prerogative got us in the past.

Any government worth its salt and truly interested in representing the rakyat and having its interests as its highest aims, instead of the leaders’ own interests, must be unambiguously receptive to constructive criticism and obliged to explain their policies and decisions so that the public understands it. That’s what transparency, good governance and accountability is about.

10. Be humane and fair in your decisions

Finally, don’t overdo things when you want to try and paint a black picture of the previous government.

Don’t tar and feather everyone. There are many people, including many top civil servants, and heads/boards of government-linked companies who have made a real contribution to the country.

Do not denigrate their contributions, do not make light of them, do not label them as corrupt unless you have evidence. If you have evidence, charge them.

There are many people in government who are professional and interested in doing a good job in the service of the nation. Use current resources, which are not corrupt and which are capable; acknowledge them.

Do not run roughshod over innocent human beings in your haste to put down everything the previous government has done. I dare say the politicians associated with previous BN governments over a long period of time are more corrupt than the civil servants, the vast majority of whom have had no opportunity for large-scale corruption in the way politicians have had all these years.

All Malaysians hope that Harapan can once and for all kill political corruption, the most insidious form of corruption there is because it leads to all other forms of corruption. As they say, the fish rots from the head.


This is the sixth and final part on a series of articles on Malaysia post-GE14.

Part 1: Mahathir’s patently unfair cabinet

Part 2: Did Mahathir win the general election?

Part 3: Do we really need a council of elders?

Part 4: Proton, Khazanah, Malaysia Inc and Mahathir

Part 5: Here’s how Khazanah can spread its wealth

Part 6: 10 things Harapan should do going forward

P GUNASEGARAM says the greatest challenge this government has is of getting rid of corruption, patronage and cronyism within their own ranks. If they can do that, the rest is easy. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.