Can planet Earth survive Asia’s economic drive?

The Sustainable State is Hong Kong-based environmentalist and author Chandran Nair’s second book, following  Consumptionomics, published in 2011. Both call for urgent recognition of the looming ecological disaster for humanity. The book launch in Hong Kong’s trendy Lan Kwai Fong district on Nov. 13 was billed as a conversation between Nair, and Zoher Abdool Karim, the recently retired TIME Asia editor. Nair’s manifesto dominated. A bemused Zoher was the smiling prop. The audience could have gained more from meaningful interlocution.

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Chandran Nair has been the town crier on environmental disaster for 20 years. He faults industrialization, capitalism, free enterprise and liberal economics, for destroying the ecosystems of rivers, forests, air and water on so vast a scale, that life itself is the price paid by the poorest across the developing world. Malnutrition, starvation, and lack of access to potable water, plagues many societies at subsistence level.

Resource curse

The developed world prospered from early industrialization to capture vast resources via conquest and colonization of Asia, Africa and Latin America, he writes. The poorest societies hold the richest deposits of minerals, fossil fuels and land for plantations of rubber, palm oil, tea and coffee. Pesticides and insecticides from Monsanto and others destroy their soils and ruin their water systems. They have also been too frequently run by kleptocrats.

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What he calls the “externalities” of capitalist trade – environmental degradation, pollution, social dislocation, disease and malnutrition, impact the poorest disproportionately. Therein lies the supreme irony. Nair wants these externalities of economic activity priced and charged directly to corporations. He also wants individual accountability for wasteful consumption computed for carbon footprints and taxed to discourage waste.

Responsible development and consumer habits need to be enforced, if we are to survive our collective unwisdom. How the corporations and individuals would agree to these principles, and the respective methods to calculate the amounts to pay, are undefined. Nair does not expect the culprits to volunteer. By the legal trick of defining corporations as ‘persons,’ companies can argue rights protecting individual citizens, under national Constitutions.

Migration to cities in Europe progressed over an extended period, without too much social disruption. Rural migration to cities in the developing economies is too rapid, within a compressed time-frame. Slum populations struggle without sanitation, proper housing, access to fresh water, electricity, or schooling for children, in too many cities across the developing world. This hollowing-out of rural populations is wasteful.

Rethink development

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A whole new raft of public policies needs to evolve for ecological balance. Development plans to retain rural manpower and incentivize agricultural food security, are absent. Urban dwellers have to pay higher prices for natural produce, instead of buying packaged food in supermarkets. Efficient public transport systems have to be built to prevent city traffic gridlock. Electric vehicles have to replace fossil fuel engines.

Nair’s nightmare is the adoption by developing countries of the Western model for economic growth. India and China will constitute 30 percent of the global 10 billion by 2050. Add Africa, Latin America, and the rest of developing Asia to that, and the consequences of feckless industrialization, along with wasteful urban consumption, are too obvious. Nair advocates a radical overhaul of the development mindset.

Prescriptions from the developed world peddled by the World Bank and the IMF, in Nair’s mind, exceed Planet Earth’s healing capacity. Natural resource depletion and poisoning of the earth, water and air, must be stopped now. Hurricanes and typhoons destroying habitats and flooding societies, are increasing in frequency and ferocity. The consequences are all too real for climate change deniers.

The weight of floating plastic in the oceans will soon exceed that of the global fish stock. This poison has entered our food chain, killing us slowly while choking sea life. Human overpopulation, food cultivation and de-forestation, wipes out wildlife at the rate of 30,000 species per year, according to Harvard biologist E O Wilson. Now our collective irresponsibility will kill the oceans too.

Prioritize social equity

If replicating the Western growth model is madness, what are the alternatives? Nair moves into contentious territory on this. He calls for strong government and a revised development agenda. Rather than Hollywood-movie lifestyles, he suggests inclusive policies for all citizens to ensure clean water, electricity, sanitation, universal education and gainful employment as minimal benchmarks. Modest prosperity benefits all.

Social equity, well-being and protection of nature cannot be achieved without political legitimacy and effective rulership. Governance has been hijacked by Big Biz and sponsor politicians. Lobby groups target lawmakers. PR companies spin fakery for corporations and politicians. The mass media is co-opted through advertising and ownership. All at the expense of gullible citizens, led to believe they have some say every five years.

Strong state works

Nair contrasts the dysfunctions of India with the success of China. He skates on thin ice where individual rights and freedoms can be ignored, for the collective good. He says only a “strong” state has the mass mobilization capacity to marshal people, resources and investment, for sustainable development. To Nair, Hong Kong is a weak state unable to address basic public housing. He jests that a boss imposed by Beijing can fix that.

The European Union is a strong authority able to mandate socially responsible policy across its constituent members. Britain and the US are weak states floundering for effective governance, polarized by divisive populist politics. Nair is less interested in ideologies of the Left or Right, than in the State as effective authority for the common good. He wants the institutions of good governance strengthened at every level.

Oddly, Nair dismisses world governance as the solution. The United Nations, overly compromised by funding dependency and too timid to upset powerful voting blocs, is not his answer. Where then will the needed global course-correction come from? The issues Nair raises are urgent. Are we doomed to self-destruct by default anyway? If he has an answer, Nair has not articulated it in his books, or his public campaigns. Perhaps there might be a third book for that.

Malay anxiety, exclusion, and national unity


September 21,2018

Malay anxiety, exclusion, and national unity

A fragmented Malay society is making ‘Malay unity’ more urgent for those defeated by GE-14.

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Wake Up Malaysian Civil Servants: Duty Beckons


August 16, 2018

Wake Up Malaysian Civil Servants: Duty Beckons

by Dr Amar-Singh HSS

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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These Civil Servants pledge to feather their own nest

We need to get rid of the culture of censuring those in the civil service who speak up when they see wrong being done.

I found the courage to write this after the recent strong words from Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to the civil service. He encouraged those in the civil service not to blindly follow instructions, and to speak up if there are wrongdoings, saying he will support those who have been “tortured”.

There has been a long-standing culture of victimisation in the civil service. Many of us join the civil service to serve the public. Some of us have better financial prospects elsewhere but choose the civil service because it offers us an unparalleled opportunity to serve the people of our nation.

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Top Goons of the Malaysian Civil Service with the Prime Minister of Malaysia

Unfortunately, as Mahathir points out, the civil service is now populated with those who are self-serving, to put it mildly. Over the years, I have seen people take advantage of their position to enrich themselves or abuse their power, so much so that the prevalent culture becomes “keep your head down and follow instructions”, even if things are wrong.

Those of us who attempt to speak up when we see wrong, or make the necessary corrections in the system, are often censured, at times with measures detrimental to our career. We are constantly reminded that we belong to “the government service”.

Allow me to share an example from my own life. I recently retired after being in the civil service for more than 35 years. In April last year, I received a show-cause letter saying I had brought shame or detriment (memalukan dan memburukkan) to my ministry and the civil service. I was also informed verbally that action was being considered at the highest echelons of the organisation to sack me without pension.

You may ask what I did to bring such wrath upon myself. What prompted this response was a tweet I had made, stating that we are “civil servants, not government servants”. I went on to say that it is “the taxes of the people that pay our wages”.

You may say that what I tweeted was factual and “mild”, but remember that this was in April 2017, before the election, when fear was prevalent and many were being censured. My tweet was forwarded by “cybertroopers” to the highest level of the organisation, and I was issued a show-cause letter.

It was a traumatic learning experience for me. I found that despite many years of work and bringing change/pride to health services (I received a number of international awards), no one was prepared to openly stand up for me. I tried meeting the senior civil service management, but was unsuccessful.

In the end, the previous health minister Dr S Subramaniam was kind enough to act on my behalf when I approached him. Even then, I still received a warning letter saying I had been found to have brought shame/detriment to the organisation, and was warned about future action.

Why do I bring this up? If the civil service is to have any hope, we need to get rid of the petty victimisation of staff and offer safe opportunities for them to speak up when they see wrong being done. The Regulations for Public Officers (Conduct and Discipline) [Peraturan-Peraturan Pegawai Awam (Kelakuan dan Tatatertib) 1993] have an overreaching “Peraturan 19 (1)” about civil servants speaking up. It was put in place to protect government policy, but is also used to silence those who speak up. It can be and is used arbitrarily, as was the case with me.

I hope the institutional reforms committee can look at this section and consider with the government an amendment to focus on government policy, not on personal statements. If there is no safe platform to express the wrongs that are conducted in the civil service, a mechanism outside the system, then many will not dare to support the necessary change for reform in our civil service. Even now as I speak up about the way I was treated (and it is frightening when you go through it), I have some fear that action can be taken against me after retirement.

If you wonder why sometimes there is low morale in the civil service, remember how I was treated for making a simple, true statement. Remember the lack of support within the system for staff who speak up.

It is time to bring back a civil service that we can be proud of. This requires a radical change in how we appoint leaders in the service and how much we encourage constructive dissent (voiced disagreement and discussion on policies and decisions). There is a lot of dead wood and many self-serving individuals that need to be removed, but there are still many who want to serve our beloved nation.

I hope the civil service can be found committed to ensuring the best services for our public and nation and not that of individuals.

Dr Amar-Singh HSS is a senior consultant paediatrician.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Dr Kua Kia Soong hits out at PH ‘flip-flops’ ahead of 100-day milestone


August 15, 2018

Dr Kua Kia Soong hits out at PH ‘flip-flops’ ahead of 100-day milestone

Suaram Adviser Kua Kia Soong also says Putrajaya appears more interested in playing the blame game than getting down to business.

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Dr Kua Kia Soong, prominent activist,former Isa detainee, and prolific analyst, today accused the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government of flip-flopping on a number of issues, just days before the administration led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad marks its first 100 days in power.

Giving the example of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC), Kua Kia Soong asked why it would take five years to recognise it when PH had stated in its manifesto that it was ready to accept it. He said other issues included the oil royalty promised to East Malaysia and the abolition of highway tolls.

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In July, Mahathir announced in Parliament that Putrajaya would honour its promise to provide 20% royalty to petroleum-producing states. But he later clarified the statement, saying the 20% payment would be based on profit instead of royalty.

The Suaram Adviser said it was also unacceptable that local elections could only be held after three years. “Delaying reforms in unacceptable. A really important reform we want to see concerns the redistribution of wealth,” he added.

Dr. Kua was speaking at Suaram’s presentation of its report card for PH’s first 100 days in government.He said following the election, Putrajaya seemed more interested in playing the blame game than getting down to business.

“We read news of the missing goods and services tax (GST) money, yet there has been no movement. Have the Police or Attorney-General acted on it? We should be told what happened to the money within a week,” he said.

He also took issue with Tabung Harapan Malaysia, a fund established to help settle the country’s RM1 trillion debt, saying he could not accept “sob stories” related to the initiative.

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“It’s about the management of the economy to plug the leaks, not the piggy banks of little boys,” he said, referring to the story of a youth who donated his savings to the fund.

As for the government’s war on kleptocracy, Kua asked why authorities had yet to zoom in on former Sarawak chief minister Taib Mahmud, who was accused of corruption in the past.

“And why haven’t Mahathir and his children declared their assets?”

Can Anwar be PM this time around?


August 15, 2018

Can Anwar be PM this time around?

P Ramasamy

 

ADUN SPEAKS | Anwar Ibrahim nearly succeeded in taking up the post of Prime Minister when he was the Deputy UMNO Chief and Deputy Prime Minister when Dr Mahathir Mohamad was in his first role as prime minister of the country.

However, Anwar’s quick rise within the ranks of the party and government led to his dismissal and subsequent imprisonment on a charge of sodomy.

It was the incarceration of Anwar that led to the reform movement with far-reaching political implications.

The reform movement that galvanised people across racial and religious lines sowed the seeds of the political decay of Umno and BN. The victory of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, and with PKR winning the most number parliamentary seats, is testimony to the powerful forces having their roots in the reform movement.

Anwar must be credited for being the force and personality who gave hope and trust to those Malaysians who wanted a better Malaysia.

Anwar was perceived as a threat and was charged, with sodomy again, and jailed the second time by the BN regime under Najib Abdul Razak. And, with the election victory by Harapan this year, on terms agreed by its component parties, Anwar was pardoned and released from his captivity.

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It was also agreed that Mahathir would serve as the Prime Minister for two years following which Anwar would take over as Prime Minister.

Anwar has been released and he recently he won the presidency of PKR, uncontested. The question now is when is he going to stand for election to Parliament – provided someone in his party is willing to vacate a seat.

As per the agreement before the election, Mahathir will be the prime minister for two years after which he will relinquish the post to Anwar.

Mahathir, being a man of his words, there is no question of him not stepping down.

Spoilers bent on derailing the process…

As we understand, he entered the political arena merely to oust the kleptocratic Najib government from power and to pave the way for better governance of the country.

 

While everything seems to point in the direction of a smooth transition of power from Mahathir to Anwar, there, however, are spoilers who are bent on derailing the process of this smooth democratic transfer.

It has not been proven, despite the challenge thrown by Mahathir, that there those within PKR who have joined forces with one or two powerful figures to ensure that Anwar does not assume the post of prime minister after the two-year period.

There are some who are claiming that Mahathir might not easily give up his post and that he had hinted a few times in the past that he might stay longer if the situation warranted it.

I am not sure whether we can create mountains of these insinuations and indirect statements, but nowhere is there solid proof that Mahathir might overstay in the post.

Mahathir might be credited for providing the critical leadership to Harapan in unseating the BN regime. However, let us not forget the formidable role of Anwar in creating and sustaining the forces, together with the DAP leadership, in creating a new Malaysia.

Twice Anwar has been “cheated” of the opportunity to become Prime Minister. I hope this time around he succeeds!


P RAMASAMY is Penang Deputy Chief Minister (II) and Perai Assemblyperson.

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

Demonizing State-Owned Enterprises


August 14, 2018

Demonizing State-Owned Enterprises

http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/demonizing-state-owned-enterprises/

 

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Historically, the private sector has been unable or unwilling to affordably provide needed services. Hence, meeting such needs could not be left to the market or private interests. Thus, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) emerged, often under colonial rule, due to such ‘market failure’ as the private sector could not meet the needs of colonial capitalist expansion.

Thus, the establishment of government departments, statutory bodies or even government-owned private companies were deemed essential for maintaining the status quo and to advance state and private, particularly powerful and influential commercial interests.

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SOEs have also been established to advance national public policy priorities. Again, these emerged owing to ‘market failures’ to those who believe that markets would serve the national interest or purpose.However, neoliberal or libertarian economists do not recognize the existence of national or public interests, characterizing all associated policies as mere subterfuges for advancing particular interests under such guises.

Nevertheless, regardless of their original rationale or intent, many SOEs have undoubtedly become problematic and often inefficient. Yet, privatization is not, and has never been a universal panacea for the myriad problems faced by SOEs.

Causes of inefficiency

Undoubtedly, the track records of SOEs are very mixed and often vary by sector, activity and performance, with different governance and accountability arrangements. While many SOEs may have been quite inefficient, it is crucial to recognize the causes of and address such inefficiencies, rather than simply expect improvements from privatization.

First, SOEs often suffer from unclear, or sometimes even contradictory objectives. Some SOEs may be expected to deliver services to the entire population or to reduce geographical imbalances. Other SOEs may be expected to enhance growth, promote technological progress or generate jobs. Over-regulation may worsen such problems by imposing contradictory rules.

Privatization has never been a universal panacea. One has to understand the specific nature of a problem; sustainable solutions can only come from careful understanding of the specific problems to be addressed. To be sure, unclear and contradictory objectives – e.g., to simultaneously maximize sales revenue, address disparities and generate employment — often mean ambiguous performance criteria, open to abuse.

Typically, SOE failure by one criterion (such as cost efficiency) could be excused by citing fulfillment of other objectives (such as employment generation). Importantly, such ambiguity of objectives is not due to public or state ownership per se.

Second, performance criteria for evaluating SOEs — and privatization — are often ambiguous. SOE inefficiencies have often been justified by public policy objectives, such as employment generation, industrial or agricultural development, accelerating technological progress, regional development, affirmative action, or other considerations.

Ineffective monitoring, poor transparency and ambiguous accountability typically compromise SOE performance. Inadequate accountability requirements were a major problem as some public sectors grew rapidly, with policy objectives very loosely and broadly interpreted.

Third, coordination problems have often been exacerbated by inter-ministerial, inter-agency or inter-departmental rivalries. Some consequences included ineffective monitoring, inadequate accountability, or alternatively, over-regulation.

Hazard

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Moral hazard has also been a problem as many SOE managements expected sustained financial support from the government due to weak fiscal discipline or ‘soft budget constraints’. In many former state-socialist countries, such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, SOEs continued to be financed regardless of performance.

Excessive regulation has not helped as it generally proves counter-productive and ultimately ineffective. The powers of SOEs are widely acknowledged to have been abused, but privatization would simply transfer such powers to private hands.

Very often, inadequate managerial and technical skills and experience have weakened SOE performance, especially in developing countries, where the problem has sometimes been exacerbated by efforts to ‘nationalize’ managerial personnel.

Often, SOE managements have lacked adequate or relevant skills, but have also been constrained from addressing them expeditiously. Privatization, however, does not automatically overcome poor managerial capacities and capabilities.

Similarly, the privatization of SOEs which are natural monopolies (such as public utilities) will not overcome inefficiencies due to the monopolistic or monopsonistic nature of the industry or market. The key remaining question is whether privatization is an adequate or appropriate response to address SOE problems.

Throwing baby out with bathwater

SOEs often enjoy monopolistic powers, which can be abused, and hence require appropriate checks and balances. In this regard, there are instances where privatization may well be best. Two examples from Britain and Hungary may be helpful.

The most successful case of privatization in the United Kingdom during the Thatcher period involved National Freight, through a successful Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Thus, truck drivers and other staff co-owned National Freight and developed personal stakes in ensuring its success.

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In Hungary, the state became involved in running small stores. Many were poorly run due to over-centralized control. After privatization, most were more successfully run by the new owners who were previously store managers. Hence, there are circumstances when privatization can result in desirable outcomes, but a few such examples do not mean that privatization is the answer to all SOE problems.

Privatization has never been a universal panacea. One has to understand the specific nature of a problem; sustainable solutions can only come from careful understanding of the specific problems to be addressed.

 

Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.