Malaysian Civil Service Reform requires Political Will


August 20, 2018

Malaysian Civil Service Reform requires Political Will

Change must come from the political leadership. There must be an insistence on greater diversity at the intake level. There must be an insistence on promotion and posting based on fairness, meritocracy and competency… Soon, you will find top civil servants praising Dr Mahathir Mohamad sky high, just like they did with other Prime Ministers.–T K Chua

by T K Chua@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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I refer to the letter, “Is there hope for the civil service?” by Dr Amar-Singh HSS.

As a former government servant, I too can relate to what he was saying although I have tried to avoid writing about it directly.

The environment in the civil service is more than stifling. It is also where favouritism, parochialism and bigotry are allowed to thrive. Discrimination in terms of recruitment, promotion and posting is routine and done with impunity. Tokenism has evolved into a fine art. If you are assertive and smart, be prepared to be sidelined and marginalised.

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A Bloated, Mediocre, Unproductive Malay dominated civil service

The civil service values mediocrity – this is absurd but true. The top echelon of the civil service is not populated by the smartest, but they know how to play politics to the hilt. To survive and keep the goodies to themselves, all they need to do is to quickly align themselves with the new regime. Soon, you will find top civil servants praising Dr Mahathir Mohamad sky high, just like they did with other Prime Ministers.

As a body, the civil service has its own inertia. It is not known for efficiency and progressiveness. On the contrary, the service is often associated with wastage, lack of initiative and poor service orientation.

The civil service is essentially an input-driven organisation, i.e. it will not move an inch without additional manpower and resources. Redeployment, revamp and reorganisation are hardly part of its consideration. That is why the civil service is ever expanding, often not in tandem with the size of the economy.

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Reports like the above which was written by two top civil servants of the Mahathir 1.0 Era, Tun Ahmad Sarji and Tan Sri Mahmud bin Taib are useless when there is no political will to undertake serious reforms.

Left on its own, I don’t think the civil service will ever change. It will remain insular, discriminatory and even racist.

Change must come from the political leadership. There must be an insistence on greater diversity at the intake level. There must be an insistence on promotion and posting based on fairness, meritocracy and competency.

We must temper the rights and privileges of communities with the need for competition, efficiency and performance. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be talking so much about greater dynamism and competitiveness for this country.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

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?

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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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Arrivals and departures in ‘New Malaysia’


July 9, 2018

Arrivals and departures in ‘New Malaysia’

by Dr. Bridget Welsh@www.malaysiakini.com

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Change, however, is not just a matter of priorities and press statements but will require a crucial remoulding within the system itself. There are persistent practices inside the government – paying for meetings with ministers, using position for personal wealth and prioritising loyalty over merit – that need to be changed as well.–Dr. Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | Today marks two months since the May elections, coming after a dramatic week of appointments, an arrest, and a nauseating court gag order.

These headlines mark the arrival of important changes taking place in Malaysia, in governance and in the adoption of new political positions. Key is whether actors in their new roles are genuinely willing to engage in departures from the past.

In looking at two important developments this week – the new cabinet and the first major response of UMNO as a political opposition – Malaysia’s past offers important insights to the development ahead.

Newbie cabinet

Malaysia’s new cabinet makes history not only for the fact that it is comprised of new faces from a new coalition, but it is made up of a record number of professionals and non-scandal tainted individuals.

This combination of talent and fresh eyes offers great promise, and over the past week since the new ministers and deputy ministers took up their appointments, there has been a variety of positive messages sent from open tender to much-needed reviews of contracts.

The appointees are taking their tasks seriously, and while there are steep learning curves ahead, the resolve shown reinforces the sense of confidence of voters last May.

Change, however, is not just a matter of priorities and press statements but will require a crucial remoulding within the system itself. There are persistent practices inside the government – paying for meetings with ministers, using position for personal wealth and prioritising loyalty over merit – that need to be changed as well.

Ministers can set examples in pushing for reform in everyday governance, as the bureaucracy should not be seen as a bastion for patronage and a centre of corruption.

One of the most important and welcome shifts of the early years of the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was the refocus of the civil service on serving the public. This same administration also offers another lesson, as it was during this period that corruption became more entrenched within the civil service itself. This was primarily a product of an inadequate oversight of bureaucrats and poor management.

Civil servants need strong reminders that they are there to serve the public, not themselves or their political bosses. Good governance practices need to be incentivised from the onset.

The ongoing necessary removal of senior leadership within the bureaucracy and restructuring/consolidation of departments is positive, but it is stronger if accompanied by more fundamental and decisive shifts in norms and practices.

Rethinking representation

One important reframing of governance is to stop seeing the ministers as representing one ethnic community, party or state.

Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world where the dominant counting is based on race. The cabinet selection process has been largely one of political accommodation, rather than focused on the leadership needed to resolve the problems that ordinary Malaysians face.

 

Political parties have been seen to narrowly focused on their numbers within the cabinet, with the usual petty grouses. This sends the message that the position is about themselves, their respective power, rather than serving the public. It is not a surprise that there has been public outrage with the position complainers.

The challenge ahead is to move beyond numbers, to move from nominal to substantive representation, a situation where a minister is seen to be representing people not for who she/he is, but for what he/she does; for an Indian Malaysian minister to be seen as equally representing all communities be they in Sabah, Johor or Kelantan, for an Islamic education minister to be seen as advocating and improving the education of all Malaysians irrespective of faith, and for racial and sectarian politics to be given the back seat to promoting the nation.

The Merdeka era of the early 1960s offers important lessons here. It was a time when talent was prioritised in appointees, both within and outside of government. The sincere goal of building Malaysia overshadowed narrow interests. There was a willingness to bring in appointees from the outside based on skills. Malaysia’s bureaucracy urgently needs to strengthen its implementation capacity.

In this time of transformation, there is an opportunity to harness the goodwill and strong underlying national commitment to public service by bringing in more technocratic expertise.

Repeat offender

That sense of public service was, however, not on show with the events around this week’s arrest of the former prime minister. The drama shows clearly that the de facto new leader of the opposition is none other than Najib himself. He overshadows Umno’s new President, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, as Najib’s leadership continues to haunt the party.

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Stop lamenting and worry not, when the time comes, you will have plenty to do.

Once again, Najib has rallied the party faithful to his defence. The thuggish elements in the party have returned as the dominant public face of UMNO, adopting a narrative of racial confrontation. Najib’s battle for himself reveals what has long been clear – that his own personal future is more important than that of his party or the future of the country.

There are important lessons from his years in office that also merit recalling. Najib’s administration excelled in using the system to his advantage, particularly using the rule by law to stay in power. His approach was one focused on division and polarising Malaysia, rather than bringing the country together. All tactics, no matter how ruthless, were fair game.

A common practice was to obfuscate, to warp realities using slick storytellers. Najib’s administration set new lows in standards of dirty politics, seen to be fueled by cash payments. These trends have the potential to continue to dominate Malaysia’s political opposition narratives ahead, in what will be a long-drawn-out drama and in an opposition politics that is not focused on making Malaysia stronger.

Najib mistakenly believed that Malaysians could be fooled. May 9 showed him how wrong he was. He should have opted for a graceful departure. Instead, we have seen the arrival of a new battle for Najib’s survival, one in which the Malaysian public will face a repeat of the hubris and guile of his recent past.


BRIDGET WELSH is an Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a Senior Associate Research Fellow at National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is entitled ‘Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore’. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

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

 

GE-14: Malaysians Voted for Big Change. Now work hard for its success. There is no such a thing as a free lunch


May 15, 2018

GE-14: Malaysians Voted for Big Change. Now work hard for its success. There is no such a thing as a free lunch

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By Janice Fredah Ti

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Pakatan Harapan–Stop Bickering and Got on with the Business of Government

Let’s examine the word “revolution”. It’s usually used to describe the forceful or even violent overthrow of a government by a huge part of the population. It brings to mind chaos, fighting, tear gas and chemical-laced water unleashed against citizens; citizens fighting the authorities; police, ambulances, sirens, injuries and even death.

However, my understanding of the word “revolution” is not limited to just that. Revolution, to me, means a big change. It means any movement or activity brought about by concerned citizens to bring about a paradigm shift in the mindset of fellow citizens, that will hopefully eventually effect a major shift in any given political or socioeconomic situation through entrepreneurship, education, the ballot box and others.

Let us hope there will be more to come and lot of changes in personnel in the civil and foreign service and GLCs.

Given that, a revolution is hard to define. It’s hard to determine when it starts or comes full circle. But a half-revolution – that is what I’d like to explore today.

Given our unique political conundrum, made worse by economic uncertainty, Malaysians cannot be faulted for toying with the word “revolution”. One minute, we’re plagued by political fatigue and on the verge of giving up; the next, someone mentions “revolution” and we’re instantly energised!

But what exactly is a revolution in the Malaysian context? Are we managing our expectations, are we leaving things to chance, are some people blindly following so-called leaders, and are others being misled?

Many of us do not like the fact that we are dependent on opposition political parties for any possible change in government. However, many believe that we are. Efforts to create a meaningful and sizeable third force by informed and concerned citizens over the years have met with very little success. Smaller parties like PSM are doing great work but unfortunately, they have not been accepted into the main opposition coalition, perhaps due to ideological differences.

The main opposition pact, Pakatan Harapan (PH), consists of PKR, DAP, PPBM and Amanah. We also have the runaway faction of the standalone PAS, PSM and other smaller parties. Putting aside PAS for now, what is PH doing in terms of effecting a paradigm shift in the minds of the general population to bring about the much needed change in government?

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Governing Malaysia is no circus with clowns. It is hard work and sacrifice. There is no such a thing as a free lunch.

PH parties have been fighting among themselves. They were involved in multi-cornered fights in the Sarawak state elections, giving the enemy an easy victory much to the bewilderment and disappointment of those who placed their hope in them. Are we to trust them with federal power if they can’t sort themselves out in state elections?

Some remain silent while others flip-flop on important matters like RUU 355. Shouldn’t PH, as the main opposition coalition, have a collective stand on major issues concerning the people?

PKR’s Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail even went on record in an interview with Al Jazeera to say, albeit vaguely, things most would not like to hear on the hudud issue. She closed the interview by saying she was only a seat-warmer for Anwar Ibrahim.

DAP’s arrogance meanwhile has shot through the roof, what with the production of tacky video clips which supposedly serve to amuse a particular set of audience. And more than one DAP representative has used racial slurs in a public speech.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as Malaysia’s main opposition coalition is concerned, but it should not be taken lightly.

As if the ruling government’s circus of incompetent and corrupt members was not bad enough, the main opposition has started its own circus as well.

It all began with a major upset that occurred in the already-polarised nation torn apart by a government gone mad. A movement started by former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad emerged out of no where in 2016, and to date, all it has succeeded in doing has been to further divide the people, much to the amusement of the ruling government.

Why has this happened? Why is the nation divided by a new movement that didn’t quite accomplish its mission?Because it was started by none other than Mahathir himself, and supported by a string of stars in a line-up consisting of the ever-important who’s who of opposition political parties and civil movements.

For several months there was major confusion, debates, quarrels, and coffee shop talk that resulted even in the loss of friendships as people could not understand why others supported or refused to support such an initiative.

Some are adamant that the engineer of Malaysia’s current situation cannot be supported at any cost; that it would be an insult to former ISA detainees and their families (who, by the way, are very much alive and among us still); that he has never been sorry for what happened or for what resulted in Malaysia today; and so on and so forth.

This group of people think if Mahathir wants to start something, by all means he should but it is way too early to throw any support behind him. Others meanwhile are inclined to think that since Mahathir is taking this step, he should be supported regardless of his past deeds or association with current UMNO leaders, or for that matter, even his personal agendas if any.

The second group just want Barisan Nasional’s (BN) current top guy out, it seems. Some are fine with a reformed UMNO in the event that Mahathir does return to his former party, while some hope he will continue leading the opposition. Some don’t care about anything as long as the current top guy (Najib) is out. Who is right and who is wrong?

The leaders of some civil movements became involved, resulting in many Malaysians jumping into the fray to sign the Citizens’ Declaration without too much consideration. If you believe this is the right thing to do, well, they have rightly influenced people to the right path, otherwise they have misled them.

I am sure many would not disagree that a huge number of Malaysians would support and sign anything without question or analysis for the simple reason that their idols are there.

I personally think they have misled the people – not all, but many. We could argue until the cows come home, but don’t we all know of someone who has regretted signing the Citizens’ Declaration for one reason or another? This is the first step towards the grand disunity about to besiege the nation.

Based on the premise that a revolution is the result of unity and a paradigm shift in the minds of citizens, is this a revolution… or half a revolution?

Then came the formation of Mahathir’s new party PPBM, which initially accepted only Bumiputera membership. This was later revised to allow non-Bumiputeras to become associate members with no voting rights. I’m not sure how many, but I’ve been made to understand that quite a few non-Bumiputeras accepted this arrangement, including my own friends.

Have we not fought against racism for so long? Have we not complained about the current administration’s racially biased policies? Have we not completely despised groups like Perkasa (coincidentally, Mahathir is the VIP patron) and the infamous Ikan Bakar Tak Laku? And we are now told to accept a new racist party into the main opposition fold, because apparently, “we have no other choice”.

It’s mind-boggling, but again – is this leading us to the revolution we seek, or only half a revolution?

After an agonising wait, GE14 has finally been called. Most of us have been there, done that, seen and heard it all. Social media, which is a big part of many voters’ lives, is threatening to explode with the insults and quarrels from both sides of the political divide.

Understandable, many want change. But what change? Change is a process and a journey, not an event called GE-14. And a change to something worse is also called change.

PH, which has been entrusted to make this change, is now led by the very same person whom many acknowledge laid the foundation for the kleptocratic and autocratic government that we have today. To make things worse, he recently sought to exonerate himself from two of the nation’s saddest and darkest events: Ops Lalang and the prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim. How convenient!

For those who must believe that it takes a thief to catch a thief, please carry on. For the rest of us, this is not palatable. It was never an issue of forgive and forget, but more of what possible reforms PH can bring forward with Mahathir in the coalition. What reforms could possibly take place with someone who apologises and makes a U-turn in six hours? PH is taking us for a ride, lock, stock and barrel.

Someone once said, “Change can never take place from the level of consciousness it was created.”PH – are you leading us to a revolution, or half a revolution?

If PH is serious about change and good governance, why are its parties, particularly PKR, fielding last-minute parachute candidates, worse still those who are not local, for state seats? Last-minute decisions for something as important as what they call “the mother of all elections”?

The power struggle is so blatant, and they are trying to tell us that they are for the people? How are they different from the very people they wish to bring down – BN? Try harder next time, PH.

PH, we want a revolution, not half a revolution. Many are angry at my disapproval and constant bashing of PH, as well as what they call my idealism. They say I am seeking perfection when the reality is that it doesn’t exist. I don’t think idealism is exactly the opposite of realism, but let’s save that for another day. If idealism involves not voting for a half-baked opposition coalition which could have presented itself as a sincere catalyst of change through real hard work and good planning, I am fine with idealism for now.

Happy voting, abstaining, or spoiling of votes!

Janice Fredah Ti is an FMT reader.

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect that of FMT.

 

 

Voodoonomics: How successive governments impoverished Malaysians


March 15, 2018

Voodoonomics: How successive governments impoverished Malaysians

by P. Gunasegaran@www.malaysiakini.com

A QUESTION OF BUSINESS | At least two ways – both very wrong in the longer term – were used to support the export sector in Malaysia in believing that growth through exports was the right thing for a developing country like Malaysia.

Even though there was economic growth, which means more wealth was created, there was impoverishment too. But how could that be? Basically, those who were rich got richer and those who were poor got poorer.

How did the government achieve export competitiveness over the years? Through two measures. First, they reduced the number of things Malaysians generally could buy by opting for a policy which weakened the ringgit. And two, they imported poverty by allowing the uncontrolled import of cheap labour.

Both improved Malaysia’s competitiveness not by raising productivity, although there was some of that, but by cutting down the cost of labour through the import of cheap labour (imported poverty) and lowering the relative value of the currency or currency depreciation, effectively lowering costs in US dollars.

Let’s look at these measures in turn.

1. Currency Depreciation

The ringgit fell in value from around as strong as around RM2.2 to the US dollar in 1980 to around RM4.0 now. The US dollar appreciated by over 80% during the period and the ringgit lost over four-tenths of its value relative to the US dollar.

Consider what that does: if an imported food item cost US$1, it was RM2.2 in 1980. But it rises to RM4 now, an increase of some 82%. But consider it now from the exporter’s perspective: If he sells something for US$1 overseas now, he gets RM4 versus RM2.2 then, again 82% more.

Unless he shares this benefit equitably with the worker – and in practice, he does not – a depreciated currency is a subsidy to exporters and a tax on workers because everyone depends on imported goods and even services for a good part of what they consume. Think in terms of food, clothing and buying from foreign chains.

While a depreciated currency improves the appearance of export figures in ringgit terms, it is still not a long-term solution for the betterment of people because it directly impoverishes a major part of the public by reducing their purchasing power – the amount they can buy with the ringgit.

2. Importing poverty through cheap foreign labour

The next major stupid move successive governments did was to import cheap labour from overseas. Until today, this is largely from Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh and India.

In the 1980s, this happened in the plantations affecting mainly Indian Malaysians who were displaced from the estates due to cheap Indonesian legal and illegal labour. Soon, this imported cheap labour spread into all areas, heavily depressing labour wages, affecting all Malaysian labour including Malays.

Was wealth ever created?

How terribly short-sighted! While developed countries were importing skilled and white-collar workers from developing countries, Malaysia, still very much a developing country then (and still is despite what others say), was importing cheap labour from other countries, depressing wages of a large section – probably as much as 50% – of its own workforce.

What kind of a madness was this that at the same time inhibited improved productivity by opening the tap to cheap labour and delayed the invention and adoption of new processes to reduce labour input while improving productivity per person through training and automation?

Till this day, when employers complain of labour shortage, it irritates one to see imported labour at car parks, for instance, being used to hand out parking tickets even after the process has been automated at the entry points.

Drive further in and you see others directing traffic and blowing loudly on whistles. The price of labour is so cheap that imported labour is used for such menial tasks. Are Malaysians so illiterate that they can’t read and follow signs?

As if the whole situation is not ridiculous enough, government officials and ministers regularly regurgitate garbage by saying that labour imports are necessary because Malaysians do not want to do these jobs. Pay them enough and Malaysians will do the job. Perhaps the ministers should send their daughters and sons to do this kind of work for a pittance.

And as many millions of workers are imported, a thriving business sanctioned by the government sprouts up living off the blood and sweat of workers and exploiting employers by making both parties pay ridiculous amounts for legal import, driving them towards employing illegal workers.

One may ask, what then is the alternative? If you want a broad section of the public to get richer and more affluent, the only way is to create wealth for everyone.

Image result for Productivity Matters

That means improving the overall productivity or output per person so that he or she deserves a higher wage. Not by creating wealth for some and impoverishing most via currency depreciation and depressing wages.

Ah, yes but how do you do that? There is only the hard way. First, improve the quality of education for all and focus on the right kind of education which will make people employable.

Next promote the kind of industries which will increase the dollar value of output per person and ensure that productivity gains drive wealth creation, not cost-cutting.

Third, ensure that as much as possible of the resources go towards improving educational opportunities and building the necessary infrastructure for continuing productivity improvements with as little leakage as possible.

How much of this has been done since independence? Little.

The frightening part

According to Khazanah Research Institute’s (KRI) ‘State of Household Report’ dated November 2014 and Employees Provident Fund (EPF) data on individual incomes which includes salary or wages, overtime payments and bonus in 2013:

  • 96 percent of active EPF members earned less than RM6,000 a month
  • 85 percent less than RM4,000
  • 62 percent less than RM2,000

That’s a telling figure – 62 percent of workers earn less than RM2,000 a month. How can many of them live comfortably with such an income, especially when they have children to support?

Meantime, the median monthly salaries and wages per month for individuals was RM1,700 in 2013 (see chart below). That means half of all workers get this much or less, KRI explains.

And what does an illegal Indonesian worker earn in a month these days? In March, there are 27 working days including Saturdays on which they typically work as well. Industry employers say Indonesian illegal workers cost RM70 a day, casual, that means not contracted. Multiply that figure by 27, we get RM1,890 for the month of March.

Now, the frightening part is that this is more than the RM1,700 median salary for Malaysia which means that 50% of Malaysians earn less than casual Indonesian workers!

Clearly, the majority of the country lives in poverty. Income gains for the wage-earner have not gone up enough. And for a country like Malaysia with abundant resources and which once had the highest income in Asia after Japan, that reflects a failure of government.

If one needs an example of successful economic development, you just need to look across the Causeway which started pretty much from where Malaysia did and look where it is now with the adoption of the right policy mix coupled with an incorruptible government.

Image result for Quality Education crucial Singapore

The currency–the Singapore Dollar– is now valued at three times Malaysia’s against about parity in 1980 and its per capita income is among the highest in the world.

We are not saying that Singapore is the perfect state but in terms of economic development, they have beaten us by far and continue to do so.


P GUNASEGARAM still hopes that sometime in the future (perhaps soon?) there will be a government not only of the people but for the people. E-mail him at t.p.guna@gmail.com

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