Archive for April 2015

PASMA, the moral alternate

April 30, 2015

The announcement by PASMA on the 26th May that they may form a new party in June after the PAS Muktamar should the need arise is another sign that politics in Malaysia is becoming more competitive sidestepping the usual stereotyping of race and religion. PASMA can provide an alternative to Malay heartland voters from UMNO’s handouts and baseless fear politics and PAS offer of hudud and hardline rule which is incompatible in a multiracial country. PASMA’s move can be progressive and steer the rural Malay minds to good governance and economic growth that will benefit youngsters. This new group can pose a serious challenge to the corrupted UMNO and hardline PAS.

Under the leadership of Tok guru Nik Aziz PAS was able ward off the strong challenge of UMNO and stay clear of all the traps set by UMNO to bait them. But without him PAS has become untrustworthy to even keep their words within their Pakatan partners. They have fallen back to religious hardline to gain moral acceptability from the Malays. PAS members have been at odds and therefore can never join hands with UMNO members. Their political rivalry goes a long way. Unless the present PAS leadership takes note of the ground sentiment and act accordingly they may end up being rejected by party members. PAS Ulamas wing should give up tabling Hudud bill and focus on winning Putrajaya.

The 1MDB fiasco with a debt of RM42 billion under the prime minister’s charge and simultaneously introducing GST because of 16 years of continuous fiscal deficit and high public debt has not gone down well with Malaysians including the kampong folks. The increase in prices of goods and services in name of GST pinches the pockets of these kampong folks and they feel let down by UMNO. Everything is not hunky-dory in UMNO either. Dr Mahathir’s tirade against the Prime Minister’s involvement in 1MDB, GST, BRIM and Altantuya murder case has weakened the moral integrity of UMNO and its leaders. The unquestionable support of Malays on UMNO’s ability to lead the race and the country is fast evaporating. Rich poor gap within Malay society is widening at an alarming rate.

Chinese and Indians have left MCA and MIC and now it’s the Malay community’s turn to dump UMNO. These component parties have become corrupted and keen on enriching themselves. Malaysia is on the verge of being downgraded by Fitch rating agency due to the chronic fiscal deficit, high public debt, 1MDB and poor commodities prices have weakened the ringgit. The conflicting and contradicting policies of economic growth and race based affirmative actions have not taken the country anywhere. It only enriched UMNO and BN leaders and their cronies. Race based politics of Malaysia has alienated the talented workforce inducing them to leave the country. Without the talented and skilled workforce no nation can become a developed or high income nation.

Of late we are hearing of IS militants attempting to destroy strategic locations within the country. Our forefathers laid the road to moderation and inclusiveness. But Dr Mahathir changed direction towards more race and religious based politics and policies leading to fundamentalism and extremism. Datuk Seri Najib’s economic transformation program and government transformation programs were sabotaged by hardliners and zealots within UMNO. Under the current governance model by race based parties Malaysia is trapped and cannot achieve its true potential. We have lost many useful years. Unfortunately we haven’t learnt our lessons yet.

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Racists, bigoted lunatics dictating economic and social reforms

April 24, 2015

The 11th Malaysia Plan is to be tabled on May 21, 2015 during the second parliamentary sitting of 2015. The 10th Malaysia Plan (for the period 2010 – 2015) was launched with much pomp after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak took office in 2009. It had 5 key strategic thrusts. For some reason or other, however, we did not hear of any mid-term review of the achievements and shortcomings of the 10th Malaysia Plan. It was instead described as a rolling plan. However, a national plan of this significance must be made available to parliamentarians much earlier for them to put forward their thoughts.

The 11th Malaysia Plan is the last attempt to become a high-income and developed nation within the next five years. The 10th Malaysia Plan started off with a focus on 5 key strategic reform thrusts to achieve 10 big agendas, but in the end, the results were quite disastrous. The national public debt grew to 80% of the GDP. Income inequality in Malaysia is amongst the worst in the region and has remained at the same level since 1990. The disposable income of the top 1% is 22 times the disposable income of the bottom 40%. On the Malay front the top 0.1% of investors in Tabung Haji had RM1.4 million average investments. The bottom 87% had average investments of RM567 which is 2500 times less. Three percent of Amanah Saham Bumiputra (ASB) is owned by 74% of unit-holders, while 8% is owned by 0.2% of unit-holders.

The country’s dependence on foreign workers is ever-increasing without any policy changes to halt the flow. Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot has made it public that there are an estimated 6.7 million foreign workers in this country but only 2.1 million of them have valid work permits. The chase towards reaching a High-Income Nation status is useless to the remaining 80% employed and self-employed Malaysians who earn below RM3000 a month.

The 10th Malaysia Plan envisaged SMEs to be the engine of growth and innovation, whose contribution to the GDP was 33% in 2013, based on the SME Corp report. By 2020, the SME’s contribution was to be 59%. The private sector was supposed to be the growth engine in the 10th Malaysia Plan, but private sector participation dwindled to 10% of the GDP from 30%. Seem to be moving backward on this front.

A nation cannot achieve a high-income and developed nation status with poor-quality education and low-skilled workers. Malaysia’s highest allocation every year is for education. Yet the quality of education and the employability of public university graduates still lag behind the demands and needs of industries. A nation’s human capital, largely built by its education system, is a fundamental driver of economic growth, says a World Bank report. To arrest the decline, the World Bank has said Malaysia needs to prioritise teacher quality over quantity, noting that the sharpest fall in education standards coincided with an aggressively expanded recruitment programme for educators. Our highly centralised and regulated education system stifles creativity and high thinking order among students.

Despite the previous 10 Malaysia Plans, the county’s economic growth trajectory and social cohesiveness are still very delicate and are dictated by the whims and fancies of some lunatics. The affirmative actions for the Bumiputra community for the past 45 years have not lifted them to become a high-income group or highly-skilled community. The Umno elites and the senior civil servants have become the high income earners with poor kampong folks remaining poor. Income inequality highest among Malays coupled with poor skills and low soft skills.

On the one hand, the government wants to achieve a high-income and developed nation status but at the same time it wants to reaffirm the racial and religious supremacy of one ethnic group. This attempt to reaffirm affirmative action for bumiputras has diverted much-needed resources. The thrust towards narrowing income inequality, improving health care, improving the quality of education and upgrading the skills of youths irrespective of race, has taken a back seat. More than a million highly-skilled Malaysians have left, thereby enabling other countries to develop. Unless the government resets its development and high-income goals, the 11th Malaysian plan may never reach its target. Racists and bigoted lunatics are the stumbling blocks halting and diverting the road towards development and high income status.

With proper management Malaysia does not need GST

April 8, 2015

The much-despised and repressive consumption tax GST is finally here to drain our pockets further. Despite the appeal from many quarters to postpone it, the government went on and implemented the GST collection as per schedule. After deliberating for 23 years, the Ministry of Finance(MOF) has finally implemented GST at 6% at every stage of the supply chain. In 2014, the MOF had scrapped subsidies for fuel, electricity and sugar. Then, in 2015, the GST was implemented to increase revenue so that the high fiscal deficit incurred continuously for the past 16 years would be narrowed and to reduce the high public debt to gross domestic product or face the risk of lowering sovereign ratings by rating agencies.

Unlike Malaysia, Singapore and many other countries introduced the GST as part of a larger tax restructuring exercise to shift their reliance on direct taxes to indirect taxes. Singapore’s GST was introduced on April 1 1994 at 3%. It was increased to 4% on January 1 2003, then to 5% on January 1 2004 and finally to its current rate of 7% on July 1 2007. In Singapore, the threshold was set at an annual turnover of S$1 million (RM2.6 million) while the threshold in Malaysia is RM500,000, to be GST-compliant.

The lower threshold for GST compliance in Malaysia means an increase in the number of businesses collecting the GST. The option to increase the GST rate is left to the minister of finance. There are suspicions whether traders are raising prices arbitrarily and taking advantage of the initial uncertain period. It will take a while before clarity and confidence set in. Consumers across the board feel the pinch when they eat out or when they make purchases. The working class are unhappy and are complaining of price increases.

The Malaysian corporate tax will be reduced from 25% to 24% and from 20% to 19% for medium- sized enterprises from 2016. In comparison, Thailand has brought down its corporate tax rate to 20% while Vietnam is also scaling back to a 20% corporate tax rate from 25% by 2016. Singapore’s corporate tax has been fixed at 17% since 2010.

The successful implementation of Malaysia’s GST depends on neutral, fair and corruption-free enforcement. The GST is expected to bring in 24 billion in revenue, replacing the current 13 billion from SST from which RM3.8 billion is for exempted goods and RM4.9 billion is to be paid as BRIM, leaving behind about RM700 million in the government’s coffers. More GST revenue is expected to flow from next year onwards.

In many countries, people do not grumble about or grudge contributing to the GST because of the efficient usage of GST collections to subsidise medical care, senior citizen care, efficient government delivery systems and affordable high-quality education systems for their citizens. Malaysia too has to rise up to its people’s expectation for more social safety nets and better delivery systems.

The annual Auditor-General’s report on government usage of public funds shows no improvement all these years. Public funds are simply wasted and squandered. The prime minister’s 1Malaysia initiative to transform the government delivery system has come to naught. How then will people pay the GST without any reservation? Given the recent 1MDB fiasco and the history of imprudent and unaccountable spending by the government which has landed it with high debts, the public is sceptical about how the GST revenue will be spent.

The indiscriminate undertaking of loans by GLCs with government guarantees does not instil confidence in the government. Recently, the social media exposed another MOF GLC Pembinaan PFI debacle, with RM47 billion in loans apart from the RM42 billion 1MDB loan. High house prices and car prices, poor public transport, high cost of living coupled with low and stagnant wages have made Malaysians poorer and more indebted. On top of that, we have to pay the GST.

That’s why the opposition maintains that with proper management of our public funds, Malaysia doesn’t need the GST. Can the government improve public transport, reduce house prices, improve medical care and reduce prices to justify the implementation of the GST? Malaysians are getting impatient and want improvement without excuses straight away. The GST can be a double-edged sword for the government.

Hudud incompatible with multi religious society

April 1, 2015

The Hudud amendment passed in Kelantan state assembly still preoccupies the thoughts of both Muslim and non-Muslim Malaysians. It is rightly so since the amendment can have far-reaching consequences that cannot be reversed. It is one way all the way.

Malaysians of all races and religions have to stand united to say a big ‘NO to Hudud’ once and for all to the proponents of this punitive bill. Party president Abdul Hadi Awang said PAS wanted to test Muslim MPs on their support for the Islamic criminal law. It is this kind of holier-than-thou attitude that we must stop. Religion is a personal matter and nobody has the right to test anyone’s faith in God. Islam gets a negative image due to the actions of people like Hadi and hardliners.

For a multiracial and multi-religious country, Hudud is certainly not an appropriate law. Many quarters have voiced their opposition to this bill and now PAS hardliners are saying that the government can save the money needed for operating prisons. This is a lame excuse for someone who has run out of bullet. Ulamas and Muslim hardliners must stop speaking for others. Everyone has equal access to God and these hardliners are not gatekeepers of heaven or hell to decide who is to go where. This attitude of ‘holier than thou’ of PAS hardliners and their UMNO supporters causes huge problems for moderate and ordinary Malaysians of different religions, including Muslims themselves.

This amendment is more about control and politics than anything else. It is public knowledge how the FT Islamic affairs department hounded and humiliated a Muslim bookstore manager after the High Court, Court of Appeal and even the Shariah High Court had all freed her of any wrongdoing. Now, she has to beg this department to let her go and to stop torturing her.

She has spoken up several times:

“My crime was being a Malay and Muslim store manager who could be a scapegoat for Jawi to show its power.”

“I thought the pain and humiliation I suffered for three years ended with the courts’ decisions. However, my happiness was short-lived.”

“Jawi, please let me go off this oppression.”(sic)

Already, JAWI, JAKIM and other state Islamic affairs departments feel that they are above the law. Life will become a veritable hell on earth for those like the bookstore manager if these departments are further equipped with Hudud punitive laws.

We already face problems with having two sets of laws – civil and shariah. These include body-snatching in the midst of grieving relatives and family without evidence of conversion, marriages interrupted because one party has Islam written somewhere in their identity documents and schoolchildren converted by teachers without their parents’ knowledge. The Islamic affairs departments are more keen on enforcing their religious law than on enforcing justice and fairness. Hudud law will certainly complicate and make matters worse.

When Sabah, Sarawak, Peninsular Malaya and Singapore, all separate entities, agreed to come together to form Malaysia, the condition set by Sabah and Sarawak was that there was to be no Islamic state and Hudud.

Yet, hardliners like Hadi Awang do not honor their words, as was seen in the Selangor Menteri Besar appointment. If they do not honor their words, how can people trust them regarding Hudud. They can twist their words and all promises of fairness and light punishment may be broken when it comes to delivering actual punishment. What happened to the welfare state promised by PAS before GE13?

The Hudud issue remains unresolved because Prime Minister Najib is steadfast in his silence. Malaysia has the weakest prime minister now. The Hudud amendment to the Kelantan Syariah Code 11 1993 has put Malay MPs in a difficult position. Either way they will be criticised. The prime minister must at least provide protection for those who openly voice their opinions. Threats of murder and rape must be acted upon by the police. If this is not possible, then there is no democratic process as claimed by PAS.