Archive for March 2014

MH370 mystery exposes our catastrophic failures

March 21, 2014

We are now praying for more and more miracles. And the prayers are getting more intense as each day passes because the reasons for such intensity to seek the Almighty’s intervention get more desperate. The safe return of MH370, more rain fall in Klang valley, recurring haze and hope more tourists will visit Malaysia to name a few.

Of course those who are more politically inclined may also continue to pray for the Balingan and Kajang by-elections results and for more peace and understanding in Malaysia. It is one of those rare occasions in Malaysia where the authorities have urged all religions to offer their prayers to their respective Gods.

But during good and peaceful times, our authorities divide, segregate and accentuate the racial and religious differences and make the divide more and more divisive and irreconcilable. Even the usage of God’s name can be serious issue in Malaysia. In no other countries people claim the exclusive right to use God’s name. People are prompted to throw non-kosher meat into places of worship, raiding churches for Bahasa Indonesia bible editions and the cow head protest against relocation of temple goes unnoticed and unrestrained.

Malaysians are quietly suspicious and mistrusting of other races. I have seen the election leaflets and fliers containing highly seditious with racially charged words being distributed by none other than the ruling coalition in rural kampongs. The UMNO led coalitions will frighten the Malays in kampongs saying Chinese chauvinism will threaten their livelihood.  Meanwhile, its partner MCA and MIC will frighten the non-Malays with Islamic state propaganda. Malaysians only feel united during calamities but at other times it is all about race and religion.

Despite the abundant talent pool in our country we turn to the occultism when facing calamities and crisis. The extent of absurdity and stupidity by Malaysian authorities in resolving the MH370 crisis has made foreign journalist and others question whether Malaysia is a moderate progressive country. The claim of MH370 pilot Zaharie Ahmad hijacked the aircraft due to Anwar’s conviction and calling in a ‘1Malaysia bomoh ‘(shaman) to find the missing plane make Malaysia a laughing stock among nations.

Is Malaysia technically incompetent to give up to shamanism in the early party of crisis? Malaysia fumbled badly to prove to the international community that we are matured, talented and cohesive society. Will any heads roll to take responsibility for the lapses and neglects in the course of duty? This is quite un-Malaysian anyway.

Two million highly educated and competent Malaysians have moved to developed countries that appreciate their talents. But in Malaysia performers and high achievers are overlooked in the name of race and religious policies. Somehow Malaysia has failed to count its blessings. Sections of Malaysians are made to feel that they are not appreciated and unwanted by their very own country.

Even Malaysians are making fun of the way our authorities are handling the press meetings, the contradictions among different department, being the least of the troubles. The authorities could have better managed the expectations of next of kin and their emotions by being forthright from the beginning. By not being so we have complicated the matter and made others doubt the competencies of the agencies concerned.

Has Malaysia lost its way in its struggle to bring income equality and implementing the new economic policy? While our neighboring countries are progressing, Malaysia seems to be drifting aimlessly in the quagmire created by its leaders. Do we learn from mistakes?


March 6, 2014

Relocation of Tamil schools from estates to nearby towns can never be an easy task. The bureaucracy drags its feet and shows no will to relocate and MIC “the guardians of Tamil schools” will never allow Tamil schools to get out of their clutches. The partially aided Estate schools continue to be partially aided even when they are relocated to town areas. The headmasters and many teachers who have served long in Tamil schools have become so subservient, fearful and compliant to MIC and BN.  They dare not ask what is rightfully theirs and resort to begging. They have no choice anyway. One headmaster told me that they have to repeatedly ask the same thing before it is approved.

The relocation of Yong Peng Tamil School from Sime Darby B estate to the Taman Sri Kota in the town proper started in 2009 is one such case. It is already March 2014, the school construction has stopped and not resumed for the last 6 months. Whenever the delay is questioned in Tamil newspapers,  the local MIC will quickly rebuff and deny the delay and accuse the questioner as trouble maker.  After 5 years the completion of this school is still mired in secrecy and false promises by the state MIC. Johor state MIC leaders have once again promised to complete and start enrollment by June 2014. There were other dates promised earlier. Is the latest promise possible or is it another empty promise to cover their incompetence?

Yong Peng state assemblywoman YB Choo Peck Choo asked a question in the Johor state legislative meeting about the reason for delay and when it will be completed. State executive councilor YB Md. Jais bin Sarday replied that the school should be completed by June 2014 even though the original target date was June 2013.

He further added that cost estimated to build the school was RM4161309. The funds to build came from Prime Minister’s Department providing  RM2000000, state government RM300000 and the Member of Parliament allocated RM20000 making up RM2320000. This leaves a balance of RM1841309 for MIC to raise and complete the school. The MIC dominated school building committee has written to PM Office asking for balance amount and awaiting reply. Other schools in the vicinity are all fully aided schools. I wonder why SRJK (T) Yong Peng not made a fully aided school.  The School building committee still owe the contractor about RM1 million. The school building can be estimated as 80% complete.

So relocating an estate Tamil school is encumbered with so many constraints and red tapes causing MIC to practically fall at the PM’s feet. So much so falling at the PM’s feet has become a tradition and they look forward to fall at every turn of event. PM and his ministers claim that RM580 million has been allocated to build and repair Tamil schools since 2009. Why the delay in relocating SRJK (T) Yong Peng?

At this rate the June 2014 completion dateline is another false promise. When is the new date? Many Tamil school registered children are now enrolling with the nearby Chinese and national schools. Numbers will drop further with every delay in completing the school. Is there a deliberate attempt to delay by BN. Policies and plans may show rosy picture but ground reality is another story.

Snared in the middle income trap

March 4, 2014

Malaysia is said to be caught in the middle income trap. With gross national Income (GNI) per capita of US9820 in 2012, Malaysia is in the upper middle income range of US 4086 and US12615 category of the World Bank.

By 2020 Malaysian government wants to breach the US12615 threshold to be classified as high income nation.

When PM Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak came to office in 2009, moving up towards high income nation status topped his agenda.

But where are we now with just 6 years left to reach the high income status?

The salaries and wages survey report of Malaysia for 2012 shows that 9.09 million Malaysian workers out of 12 million workforces receive an average salary of RM1881 per month (US$6787 per annum).

In other words 75% of our workers are earning below the middle of the middle income range (US$8350) even though the national average falls in the upper middle income range. It’s a known fact that Malaysia has high income inequality, which pushed the average to near the upper threshold of the middle income range.

Ministry of human resource surveys highlights the average wage increases are at the rate of 2.4% per annum. At this rate, wages will take about 33 years to reach Malaysian target of US15000. So is high income nation status by 2020 possible?

With about 4 million legal and illegal foreign workers depressing the unskilled worker’s salary and the pro-foreign workers policies of businesses and government, any hope of wages increase is remote and farfetched.

Besides, only about 28% of Malaysian workers are considered skilled for higher value added jobs. The never ending racial preferential policy has driven off 2 million skilled Malaysian workers offshore for better prospects elsewhere. High wage earning Malaysians are developing other countries to achieve high income status.

The shortage of skilled workers and the mismatches and deficiencies in the education system coupled with abundant low wage migrant workers indicate the policy paralysis in transforming the nation into a high income nation.

Malaysian workforce includes 47% foreign workers, which acted as financial steroid, has numbed the policy makers from moving into automation and high end skilled work to earn higher salaries.

The education policy makers know that industries needs students with strong analytical and problem-solving capabilities, a good command of English, and effective social networking skills. But parochial and bigotry policies stands in the way to allow private sector to play a more direct role in education policy matters.

Only 10% of students enrolled in upper level secondary technical and vocational education, much lower than the average enrolment rate of 44% for OECD countries (EPU, 2010). Government must have been busy politicking whiles others equipped themselves with technical skills.

In 2012 the teaching of mathematics and science program was withdrawn after spending RM7 billion and 9 useful years. Whereas in 2014 after spending RM 6 billion and 3 years, the school based assessment (SBA) program is now put in ICU for serious surgeries. With frequent flip flops in education ministry policies producing high order thinking graduates remains a dream.

The Economic transformation program (ETP) was launched in 2009 to attract major investments that will drive GDP growth above 6% every year to cross the GNI of US15000 by 2020.

But the economy has been struggling to post an average growth rate of 5% since the past decade which is below the required average 6% to take the country into fully developed and high income status by 2020.

Post 2014 looks somewhat promising to an export dependent Malaysia given the improvement in global economy. But domestic consumption, investment and government spending is expected to be on lower scale taking into consideration the measures to reduce subsidy cutting, narrowing current account deficit and reducing the 55% public debt against the GDP.

This year is expected to be an inflationary year as the rollback of subsidy is expected to push the cost of living higher because food, electricity, fuel and transport among others will cost consumers more.

This will be further compounded by the introduction of GST in 2015. All these will put pressure on wage increase causing another round of cost push inflation. Malaysian households are already burdened with a high debt which will reduce the growth in household spending.

Under the current scenario the Malaysian government does not have much fiscal option to redress and stimulate the growth above the required 6%.

Given this prospect, the government needs to undertake painful and radical structural reform that is long overdue to hasten the process to reach the 2020 target. Is it possible?

Improving the skill and competencies of workers, improving technical skills of graduates, improving the quality of teaching profession, reducing the brain drain and last but not least, treating Malaysians as Malaysians and not segregating and segmenting into race and religion, are the sure ways to lift Malaysia from middle income trap to high income status. But one public objection from one obscure hard-line group can paralyse and derail the entire government’s effort to restructure bureaucracy.

Does the government under the leadership of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak have the iron will to make the much touted and talked about structural reforms. The ETP and GTP initiatives were initiated with much pomp and spender but the outcome is higher debt and nothing to celebrate yet. All attempts to reform have been hijacked by self-serving hardliners. Government need to detox and cleanse these parochial bigots and self-serving hardliners to achieve the high income status by 2020. Till then it remains an elusive goal.