Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Pakatan Rakyat's Manifesto: Populist or Reformist? 人民宣言大派糖果却未提改革 时评人忧朝野竞相扮圣诞老人

Pakatan Rakyat's Manifesto: Populist or Reformist?

Pakatan Rakyat's manifesto contains a lot of promises, goodies and freebies. It is not difficult to mistake as the latest budget. For a start, the coalition promises every Malaysian family a monthly take-home household income of at least RM4,000.

It sounds like almost Utopia and the nation's coffer is bottomless. It promises payment as small as RM50 per month to more significant allocation of RM2 billion to fund minimum wage.

However the manifesto is silent on how it is going to achieve its promises. It does not explain how this nation is going to be able to afford some new subsidies, grants, freebies and payouts. The coalition left details on revenue streams aside.

However, the manifesto is definitely a political document. It is designed to please housewives, undergraduates, civil servants, retired armed forces members and Felda settlers who are considered important constituents in the next GE.

Sabah and Sarawak appear clear winners too with promises of 20% share of oil royalty, pan-Borneo railways and better infrastructures. It offers protection of Orang Asli land rights and assistance.

However, it is going to be a bad news for big conglomerates. The manifesto has proposed an anti-monopoly law to curb and break up monopolies. Another question beckons, how are smaller companies going to be able to compete with larger foreign companies regionally?

The manifesto has failed to identify reforms needed in way the federal government conducts its business. Firstly, the federal government has to manage its on-going deficit. This country cannot continue spending beyond its means and expect money to drop from the sky. A cursory look at the PR manifesto does not suggest that they have a strategy in place to cut budget deficit.

Second, the manifesto touches very little about reforms and restructuring. It takes an antidote that money is the solution to all woes. This approach may not be too different compared to what PM Najib has done over the last 5 years.

As a result, both coalitions may end up trying to prove who is a better Santa Claus.

Let's look at some of the details:

1. Malaysian Women's Contribution Fund

PR intends to make legally compulsory for husbands to contribute between RM10-100. Government to provide RM50 per month for wives. It sounds great but RM10-100 is a tad too small a sum to even help pay anything. What about working couples? What about couples who are business partners? How does the government intend to enforce the contribution?

If the coalition wants to please housewives and full time moms, it should stick back to what it has preached - being need based. It should focus on single moms, health care for underprivileged women, capacity building and equal opportunities for all women. Inequality for women in some faiths should also be addressed to ensure that their rights are protected.

2. Senior Citizens' Bonus Scheme

Again, the coalition is exposing its populist tendency. Each senior citizen aged 60 and above will receive a bonus worth RM1, 000 each year to help ease their financial burdens. Private sector retirement age has been raised to 60 years old. Not all of those who are 60 and above are going to need the assistance.

However, there are many who might need more than just RM1,000 a year to survive. The coalition should stick back to its old adage - focus on needs and not blanket welfare. A retired CEO, who has millions in his bank accounts, does not deserve the RM1,000. Meanwhile, those who really need assistance might also need a shelter, food, nursing care, healthcare and others. It would be better for PR to focus on providing a decent and dignified retirement to the deserving senior citizens.

3. Economic Policy

3.1 Monthly Household Take-home Income of RM4,000

It would require the coalition to double our GDP per capita of almost RM22,000 to RM48,000 (assuming that there's a breadwinner per household). Doubling our GDP per capita is desirable but as easy as it sounds. It takes a systematic overhaul of the economy to ensure that better remuneration commensurates with better productivity and higher value of production. What is PR's strategy? Doubling of GDP per capita through subsidy or cash handout is not sustainable.

3.2 Add 1 million New Jobs

Malaysians are no longer working in industries such as plantations, the construction sector and the service industry. Pakatan Rakyat will introduce a comprehensive package to ensure one million new job opportunities for Malaysians in these sectors by progressive reduction of one million foreign workers within five years of Pakatan Rakyat rule.

It is erroneous to assume that Malaysians are ready to fill up the vacancies vacated by the one million foreign workers. It is false to assume that local employers will be ready to replace these foreign workers with local ones. Granted, new jobs will have to be created but most of our foreign workers are low-to-semi skilled. We need to create higher value jobs for our workers and growing number of unemployed graduates. This can only be achieved with a total overhaul of our education system and our economic structure.

If the coalition reduces intake of foreign workers, a number of our local companies are just going to close shop and move on to less labour intensive industries or adopt automation. It is not going to create 1 million new jobs for Malaysians as claimed in the manifesto.

3.3 Minimum Wage of RM1,100

The Pakatan Rakyat administration will introduce a minimum wage, where every worker will be paid at least RM1,100 per month. The initial financial burden incurred by the employer in the early stages of the minimum wage implementation shall be equally borne by the government.

The Minimum Wage Implementation Facilitation Fund worth RM2 billion aims to provide automation incentives and minimum wage implementation grants to eligible companies, to ensure that the entire job market is not jeopardised by the implementation of minimum wage.

The question is why should taxpayers' money be used to help offset the financial burden incurred by employers? At present, there are already grants and subsidies available to help companies to automate and new technology adoption. MIDA has allocated RM2 billion to assist local companies. Some of these are matching grants.

It has been proven that more funds/grants do not help local companies especially SMEs to automate. A change of corporate mindset, more demanding consumers and more competitive business environment are needed to instill the survival instinct in them.

4. Education

The proposal to set up 5 technical universities and 25 vocational schools are made in the right direction. The manifesto calls for an establishment of a RCI for education reform. Honestly, we have had enough of RCI. The government needs to revamp both the education and higher education ministries so that people of calibre and quality educators are picked to manage our education system. RCIs seldom meet our expectations.

PR needs to understand that "free education" is not synonymous with "quality education". It is important to focus on quality education than free education. Its manifesto affirms that fees for higher education in all public institutions will be borne by the government.

Fees for students in private institutions will be subsidised by the government to be on par with the public institution’s rate. This proposal is again problematic. There is no ceiling for fees in private institutions. Why should taxpayers' money be used to subsidized fees for students in private institutions?

PR manifesto affirms that all students in the public institutions will be provided with living cost allowance for food and lodging, books and transportation, except for those who are financially well-off.

Students in private institutions can borrow from a special fund to cover their living costs for the duration of their studies. How is this different from the PTPTN? It is just another form of PTPTN; which is probably going to end up with the same fate as the current one - not sustainable in the long run. Most private institutions are not just offering education, they are also promoting lifestyle and consumerism. It is quite common to find designer outlets, eateries and cafes operating in their premises. Surely cost of living is higher in private institutions compared to public ones.

The coalition should focus its resources on upgrading the quality of public institutions to provide excellent education and make them the institutions of choice.

5. Social Well-Being

Pakatan Rakyat is committed to resolve the problem of traffic congestion in the Klang Valley and other major cities within 10 years of coming to power, with the aim of reducing congestion by 50% during its first term. Additional investment of RM2 billion in the first year to double the number of buses and bus routes in the Klang Valley. It is a noble promise but may be too optimistic.

The provision of public transport like buses alone does not help to reduce congestion if the government cannot change our mobility culture. Car is a social status symbol to many Malaysians. How many are willing to ditch their car and walk to the bus stop? It takes education, awareness and policy intervention to promote public transport.

RM2 billion is a lot of money but without a comprehensive policy intervention, it is money into the drain. The increased number of buses may end up contributing to more congestion!

Worse, the coalition is determine to lower the car prices to as low as RM25,000! Singapore imposes a high COE price (certificate of entitlement) for a reason - to discourage private car ownership! How can PR achieve lower congestion by making it cheaper and easier to own a car?

It proposes to abolish tolls. It sounds good for those of us who using the highways often. However, toll is used as an effective way to reduce congestion by making it expensive to drive during peak hours.

In sum, PR needs to get a bit more serious about its policy making capability to ensure that its solution to reduce congestion is well thought out and comprehensive.

It is easy to sound populist but some of these policies may end up contradicting each other and being rendered ineffective.

6. Civil Service

PR has appeared to be quite cautious in suggestion a comprehensive restructuring of the civil service. A number of PR leaders are aware of the problems faced by the civil service. It is bloated and soaking a lot of resources from the country's annual budget. But the 1.4 million strong civil service is an important vote bank for the coalition. It has to be done but do not count it on PR to announce major reforms of the civil service.

It has worded its manifesto quite diplomatically by promising to restore the prestige and honour of the civil service and to free them from undue political interference. It is left to be seen if any government of the day would willingly not impose any control and command over its civil service. Most of the top civil servants are reporting to the executives. The nexus between the government and the civil service has to be moderated by an independent check-and-balance mechanism e.g. anti-corruption agency and IPCMC.

Ironically, the PR manifesto is silent on the implementation of the IPCMC but promised an allocation of RM200 million per annum to the police force for modernisation.

In summary, the PR manifesto may appeal to certain voter groups but it is hardly transformational. It does contain some heart warming promises to halt Lynas and to review the Pengerang projects but it has promises very little drastic reforms that are direly needed.

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通告 Notification

人民之友对下届大选意见书
英巫文译稿将在此陆续贴出

作为坚守“独立自主”和“与民同在”的立场的一个民间组织,人民之友在上个月对即将来临的第14届全国大选投票,发表了一篇以华文书写的意见书,题为:投票支持"反对国家伊斯兰化的候选人": 反对巫统霸权统治!莫让马哈迪帮派"复辟"!。

这篇意见书的英文译稿,将在近期内在本部落格贴出。马来文译稿将在下个月内贴出。敬请关注!

我们希望,我们在意见书内所表达的对下届大选的立场和观点,能够准确而又广泛地传播到我国各民族、各阶层的人民群众中接受考验,并接受各党派在这次全国大选斗争和今后实践的检验。


The English and Malay renditions of Sahabat Rakyat’s opinions about next election will be published here consecutively

As an NGO which upholds “independent and autonomous” position and "always be with the people" principle, Sahabat Rakyat had released a Chinese-written statement of views with regard to the voting in the upcoming 14th General Election, entitled “Vote for candidates who are against State Islamisation: Oppose UMNO hegemonic rule! Prevent the return to power of Mahathir’s faction!”

The English rendition of this statement will be published in our blog in the near future whereas the Malay rendition will be published next month (November). Please stay tuned!

We hope that our position and views pertaining to the next General Election expressed in the statement will be accurately and widely disseminated and also examined by the popular masses of various ethnicities and social strata through their involvement in the struggle of the next General Election carried out by various political parties and their practices in all fields in future.


Akan datang: Penerbitan penterjemahan pendapat Sahabat Rakyat mengenai pilihan raya ke-14 dalam Bahasa Inggeris dan Bahasa Melayu

Sebagai sebuah pertubuhan masyarakat yang berpendirian teguh tentang prinsip "bebas dan berautonomi" dan “sentiasa berdampingan dengan rakyat jelata”, Sahabat Rakyat telah menerbitkan kenyataan tentang pandangan kami terhadap Pilihan Raya Umum ke-14 yang akan datang yang bertajuk "Undilah calon yang menentang Pengislaman Negera: Menentang pemerintahan hegemoni UMNO! Jangan benarkan puak Mahathir kembali memerintah! "

Penterjemahan Bahasa Inggeris kenyataan tersebut akan diterbitkan dalam blog kita dalam waktu terdekat manakala penterjemahan Bahasa Melayu akan diterbitkan pada bulan hadapan.

Kami berharap pendirian dan pandangan kami berkenaan pilihan raya kali ini yang dinyatakan dalam kenyataan tersebut dapat disebarkan dengan tepat dan meluas untuk diuji dalam kalangan rakyat semua bangsa semua strata sosial melalui penglibatan mereka dalam amalan pelbagai parti politik dalam pertempuran pilihan raya umum kali ini mahupun masa depan.

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