Monday, July 11, 2011

The Struggle For Power

It is quite interesting to observe how the struggle for power -potentially absolute power - can lead to very desperate acts.

We imagine that the struggle for political power - for Malaysia, and recently for South Sudan (congratulations!) - is made for the purpose of independence - to define one's own destiny - as opposed to be abused as an agent for someone's benefit which therefore all points to a common good that the people of a society can nurture for itself.

The greatness of George Orwell in his Animal Farm is how the objective of the struggle can metamorphosise from high level to more degraded levels. In South Sudan, we are hearing worries over tribal warfare and potentially huge economic survival issues at all levels. In Malaysia, we have descended from an inspired greater commonwealth to one of sectarianism. We have not done ourselves justice.

We thought we started with a fairly good institutional structure of checks and balances, but with a very big loophole in the shape of the Internal Security Act which allows the authorities to detain people without trial for 60 days plus 2 years - which unfortunately has been abused to kill dissent. As a result, the inherited institutional structure devolved into a lopsided one with the power accumulated in the hands of the very top. The question now becomes: How can this concentrated power be opposed or even disposed?

It is interesting to note that with the concentration of political power comes the concentration of economic power. "I say this is mine" and it is his or hers. This phenomenon is being justified as the building up of the war chests of political parties, which invariably is the war chest of the political party of the incumbent government and, by extension, of the few individuals who control everything. With that sense of power, it is extremely difficult to dream of fair play and a more balanced approach to how things can turn out in the future for our country and our people. Thoughts are likely to be focused on "how I can siphon the money out without being caught." (Those caught would be considered stupid and ostracized in order not to damage the whole branch.)

When things come to an extreme, how do we proceed as a country? We can continue to let the system squeeze the juice out of the economy and the strength of the people, inviting inflation to redistribute wealth from the very poor to the very rich through "rapid growth of the money supply and loans at low interest rates." This has been going on. "It is not our fault - it is imported global inflation, crop failures in other parts of the world." The nation stares and justifies as a bystander to this global drama.

There are those who figure that they may be able to provide a change - a breath of fresh air, so to speak. The great beauty of democracy is that everybody has a chance to try their hands at governing the nation. How can one claim to know more than another, except through long years of dictatorship which the modern world is trying to do away with. The answer is really to limit the term of tenure so that ideas do get rotated. Do not believe in dictators however benevolent they are making themselves to be - the world can always be a better place without them.

With flexibility and adaptability and room for change and hopefully improvement, the nation and society can evolve and adjust into an animal that is the product of no one person's mind but that of the facets of many people's views - rightly or wrongly. This is where the storytelling comes in for the nation. This is where the wise men and women and sages and prophets come in to guide the people towards redemption. Lest, we are all caught in the quagmire of our own conceit.

There is no mystery to why private investments here have tanked. It spells how much confidence we have in ourselves. We have abused ourselves, our own people, we have spit at each other. We do this because we still have the luxury of past wealth which is slowly being eroded by mismanagement. We are being arrogant.

The path out of this darkness is the light of trust and cooperation, of exerting our selves and making efforts to serve our neighbours by providing them with goods and services in return for what they can provide for what we need. Whether we should persist in what we are doing depends on the vote of society in the exercise of their right to decide what they want to want and do not want. It is the freedom of choice. It is the demonstration of revealed preference.

Malaysians' Right To (MRT) Speak

The 9 July 2011 Bersih rally is significant. It shows clearly that the ordinary Malaysian citizen is now reduced to nothing but an ant for the authorities who is supposed to look after us to step on.

It is the fundamental right of a Malaysian citizen to raise his or her concern over any aspect of the nation. Not to do so is to fail in one's duty to serve the country. Does the government of the day think that after being elected into power it has the absolute power to do whatever it likes until the next election? Isn't there any recourse in the interim?

Is Malaysia still a democratic country, or is it now a dictatorship, or is it now a police state?

What happens to civil liberties? Or, don't the authorities do not understand any of these things anymore?

The recent event has shown that while the government of the day may put on a smiling face, it may not desist from using crude methods to prevent dissent. This is dangerous.

Of all the transformations that the government is trying to institute to get the economy into high income, I fear that the current transformation of civil society from a once proud society to dirt is probably the most potent and alas! the most dreadful.

Unpleasant it may be to the government of the day, it should have the good of society at heart to let the people demonstrate the seriousness of their call for a clean election, no matter how clean the government or the election commission may insist that it is. Truth will prevail. The recent event in Thailand how that truth will eventually re-assert itself, no matter how much it may be supposed.

I do not think that the government of the day is doing itself a service with its recent actions, with collusion from an authority which should have been more competent and professional in handling such a difficult situation. It is only when a situation becomes intricate that professionals are called in. We do not seem to have any.

Cry, my beloved country!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Six Strategic Reform Initiatives (SRIs)

This latest set of initiatives is to wrap up the New Economic Model, with focus on trying to solve the problems of running a proper government machinery and correct the abuses of the past (or rather, the present). But somehow it lacks the Oomph! for the private sector - which I suppose the EPPs are suppose to be doing.

SRI 1: Public Finance: Increasing Revenue, Reducing Cost
+RM13 billion (contractionary on economy)
Improving tax administration
Rationalising corporate tax incentives
Transparent procurement
Control expenditure
Accrual accounting
Implement GST

SRI 2: Government's Role in Business
Since the government has a funding problem, the government will divest its stable of companies and will only be involved in business in strategic and "GNI-positive" areas:
Regional corridor developments
Procurement of defence technology, etc
Investment in "large growth capital, catalytic or new technology"
Biotechnology, renewable energy, public transport systems, etc

SRI 3: Human Capital Development for High-Income Economy
Minimum wage to be instituted
Talent Corporation to draw up a plan
Unemployment insurance to be introduced
To study labour market
Gender issues
SMEs workforce requirements

SRI 4: Public Service Delivery: Lean, Efficient, Facilitative Government
Remove overlapping processes
Standardise functions
Clear governance structure
Real-time performance monitoring
Real-time feedback rating mechanism
Greater public involvement in high level policy review
"Strategic human resources practices"
Open recruitment within civil service and public-private sectors
Enhancing "cross-moblility" by introducing "mobility characteristics" in new superannuation schemes and enhancing current pension scheme (meaning that civil servants can quit or be sacked halfway through their career and still get pension?)

SRI 5: International Standards and Liberalisation: Improving Malaysia's Competitiveness
Liberalisation of the services sector: healthcare, education, business services (professional businesses)
Competition law - to promote "competition, private investment and market dynamism" and safeguard against "anti-competition practices and abuse of market power"

SRI 6: Narrowing Disparities (Bumiputera SMEs): Capacity Building Boost
Develop Bumiputera SMEs
Promote wealth creation
Uplift low-income Malaysian households
TERAJU to "lead, coordinate, drive Bumiputera economic participation and to strengthen the Bumiputera development agenda"
High-Performance Bumiputera SME programme
Develop next generation of world-class Bumiputera entrepreneurs
To be able to compete in "open market without heavy reliance on Government contracts"