Tuesday, 21 July 2009


In light of Tun Mahathir's latest rant, "Kaki Dalam Kasut", these two posts from Dato' Mohd. Ariff Sabri bin Hj. Abdul Aziz aka Sakmongkol AK47 [ADUN of Pulau Manis, Pekan (2004-2008), in Najib's constituency] and Dr. Toh Kin Woon (Research Fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Kyoto and former State Executive Councillor, Penang) are worth reading.

What is it about ex-PMs these days!?!

If the shoes don’t fit, you must discard!

If it doesn't fit, you must acquit!

I would like to see ordinary Bumi-Puteras wear the shoes of the puteras- putera bangsawan, putera raja, putera UMNO etc. experience how it feels to have the power. You have the full force of legislation to prevail on others.

I am sure that wish will be rejected. Similarly we want to reject an economic policy that has failed to uplift the ordinary Malay. I feel like echoing Johnny Cochran's- if it doesn't fit, you must acquit to translate into, if it has failed, you must reject! If the shoes don't fit, you discard.

Why should we believe that a specific economic policy that has failed to uplift the Malays can work if it is now applied with added intensity? Yes I am talking about that piece of legislated economic solution to help out the Malays- the new economic policy. We are now arguing like Khir Toyo- the Malays are left behind because we failed to carry out more Islam, more Malayness and all those camel excretion arguments.

Since the 1970s, the government has forced the private sector to sell/give/transfer RM56 billion worth of equity in businesses that require licenses, quotas, permissions, monopolies etc. From that amount/value only RM2 billion is left. This has been confirmed by the PM.

What has that led to? It led to the creation of a parasitic elite eager to devour more at the expense of an adaptive and dynamic group of economic actors. Why should I agree to have this portion of the NEP fought for and retained? That portion of the NEP has not enabled the larger majority to benefit.

We should be treated as equals, we Bumiputeras. Our wants and desires are the same as those who inhabit the mansions in Bukit Tunku, Damansara Heights or even in Country Heights. The benefits must go to those best able to adapt themselves to external challenges. I mentioned adaptive- yes, its economic evolutionary process- survival of those elements that adapt to their environment.

Back to what's left of the RM56 billion. To me that only show that those Bumiputeras who were given the opportunities to become rich overnight, have cashed out. Let the government publish those who sold out and have them banned for life from having another chance to get freebies from the government.

The only aspects of the NEP that have benefited the Malays were those policies that involved land consolidation as in giving land to FELDA settlers, educational opportunities like giving those 3rd graders at one time, opportunities to go to places like ITM then, or 2nd graders for being able to go into 6th forms. The policies of giving jobs to Malays in the public and private sector and policies regarding scholarship and other forms of financial assistance for education have benefited the Malays. They did because these policies build capacities and empower ordinary Malays to free themselves from shackles.

The problem is, when things go back we want to go back to control- central planning. Central planning means by fiat, by legislation. You legislate prosperity onto Malays, the special Malays that is. The Malays have political control and by virtue of that, they prefer central planning. I have news for my Malay friends, central planning is often practised by communist countries. If the habit of inferring guilt by association is still practised, I would have to say, the Malays are nearer to communism than the Chinese. The Chinese are basically enterprising and entrepreneurs and by virtue of that disposition, are inclined to free market and competition. Not necessarily because they like it, but they have to adapt and survive.

Malays like to play the role of economic commissars ordering this and that. But they themselves do not want to do what it takes to succeed. When we fail, we attribute our failure as a result of some underhand scheming and conspiracy that unite to do us in.

Milton Friedman once came to KL and gave a lecture at the University of Malaya. That was probably in 1963 when he and his wife were travelling around the world. He put forward the idea of the path towards progress by comparing the paths taken by Japan and India. Japan was forced to modernise and to adopt almost a complete laissez faire system. India on the other hand rebelled against free market and opted for central planning ideas. (Nehru was prime architect). The differing economic paths produced contrasting economic achievements and should be an object lesson to Malaysia. At that particular lecture, the moderator was a Malay professor who quickly retorted by saying, if we followed Japan, the Chinese will dominate us. We Malays can't allow that.

That explains the primal paranoia of Malays about having to compete. Just like their politics, they want to control economics. The only way they can control is to have more quotas, more licences, more regulations, and more economic commissars.

We have failed since 1970 to correct the economic imbalances between races. We have to examine the central command edicts that we have used- from NEP to picking winners as TDM himself did. It is curious that TDM should now assail the policies that he himself used in creating economic mandarins among the non Malays.

Yet another rebuttle to TDM; this one from Dr Toh Kin Woon:

Dr. Mahathir ‘s Priorities are all Wrong! — Dr Toh Kin Woon

JULY 21 — I refer to the latest posting in Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s blog, in which he criticised non-Malays for asking for more concessions from state policies.

In response to these demands, the current Prime Minister has liberalised rules pertaining to equity ownership in some services’ sub-sectors and promised to set up a scholarship based purely on merit, beginning from next year.

Mahathir has found all these to be unacceptable, as they are tantamount to the government helping the relatively better off non-Malays taking even more from the relatively poorer Malays.

To substantiate his point, he went on to assert that non-Malays now own around 50 per cent of the share capital while Malays own only 20 per cent, far from the target set in the New Economic Policy of 30 per cent.

I find Mahathir’s arguments to be objectionable on 3 grounds. Firstly, quite apart from the accuracy of his statistics on share ownership according to ethnic group, his focus on this particular issue is a case of wrong priority.

We all know, and I am sure Mahathir himself, too that shares and even properties of high value in urban areas are owned only by a small proportion of the total population. This is true of all communities, not just in Malaysia, but in countries all over the world, including the USA and Japan.

For the bulk of the population, share ownership is far removed and irrelevant to their lives.

Their concern is with obtaining a just return to their efforts and labour, i.e. with egalitarianism.

Instead of focusing his concern on how wealth and income can be redistributed from the upper strata of all communities to the lower strata of all ethnic groups, Mahathir chose instead to concentrate on redistributing wealth from one socio-economic elite group to another. Precisely because of this misplaced priority, the pattern of wealth and income distribution for the country as a whole, and for the Malays in particular, has gotten worse over the years.

The wholesale adoption of neo-liberal policies, such as the privatisation of massive infrastructural projects to cronies; the increasing reliance on indirect taxes, which are regressive, as a source of governmental revenue; and shrinking the role of the state sector as a provider of public goods, has led in part to this rising inequality.

What is worse, and this is my second objection, Mahathir’s resort to using very strong ethnic underpinnings in his argument may well lead to further ethnic division and contradictions. I would have thought that as a former Prime Minister of 22 years, he would have made it his utmost priority to promote the core values of socio-economic egalitarianism, inter-ethnic co-operation and communitarian togetherness.

It would seem that this is not the case, which is indeed most disappointing.

Finally, Mahathir, like many others who take the racial approach, has taken the simplistic and unscientific assumption that all communities are monolithic and homogenous in socio-economic terms, when in fact they are far from so. All the ethnic communities in Malaysia are class stratified.

The Malays, as much as the Chinese and the Indians, are all stratified into different income groups, with the rich making up only a small percentage of the total. The bulk of the Chinese, like the bulk of the Malays and the Indians, are relatively poor. Over the years, these labouring Malaysians have found monetary returns to their labour unable to catch up with the rising cost of living. In real terms, all of them have suffered.

Mahathir’s thoughts and efforts should be on how governmental policies can be better designed to alleviate their economic sufferings and not resort to pursuing racist arguments in support of one group of the rich elite. Reorienting his priorities will go a long way towards helping the nation attain equality, social justice and inter-ethnic harmony.

Dr. Toh Kin Woon is a Research Fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Kyoto and former State Executive Councillor, Penang

No comments: