Monday, 1 March 2010

Umno's Bomoh-nomics

The future of Najibonomics

by John Lee

MARCH 1 — The more I learn about 1 Malaysia and the Najib Razak administration, the more convinced I am that this is all just another giant farce.

I cannot tell where this perception that Najib is more competent or principled than his predecessor is coming from.

1 Malaysia is all propaganda without results, and the actions of our government show it is more concerned with a good show rather than substance.

The latest propaganda triumph of the Najib regime is an impressive 4.5 per cent economic growth rate in the last quarter of 2009.

All well and good, but as Najib himself conceded, the growth was driven by unique conditions: the holiday season drove up consumer spending to a degree we cannot expect for the other three quarters of the year, and the government also ramped up its stimulus spending to boost aggregate demand.

This is not a sustainable economic recipe; it is not real, meaningful economic growth.

The government has been running deficits like mad for years, artificially boosting demand. Now, that is fine if we are doing it to keep pace with increasing aggregate supply.

Aggregate supply hinges on natural resources, technological innovation, and capital —both capital goods, and the more intangible human capital. And Najibonomics is a complete failure on the supply side, I can tell you right now.

In terms of capital, it is no secret that net investments in Malaysia are dropping off a cliff. Until about halfway through the Abdullah Badawi administration, net investment on an annual basis was hovering somewhere near zero—that is to say, foreign investments coming in roughly equaled Malaysian investments going out.

We want a positive level of saving and investment to boost our capital stock — but in the final years of the Badawi government, and now under Prime Minister Najib, we literally have seen investment drop off a cliff.

To put this in more concrete terms, what this means is that foreigners are refusing to invest in Malaysia, and Malaysians insist on investing their money overseas.

A back of the envelope calculation suggests that last year, Malaysians invested almost as much money in the entire Australian property market alone as foreigners invested in the whole of Malaysia.

Investors, both Malaysian and foreign, have completely lost confidence in our country — nobody wants to put money in Malaysia, and so our savings are flowing out of the country, instead of being invested in local enterprise.

Even if you don’t invest directly, you are still probably being screwed. The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), eschewing the best practices of most other public pension funds around the world, concentrates its investments solely in Malaysia, ensuring our employees’ pensions are subject to the risk of putting all their eggs in one single basket. Worse still, the Ministry of Finance manipulates the EPF portfolio at will to artificially prop up our stock market.

In other words, our financial markets are a farce built upon the farce of the EPF.

And speaking of economic farces, only about 10 per cent of working age Malaysians, or 1.5 million people, pay taxes. This isn’t because of massive tax evasion — it’s because only 1 out of every 10 Malaysians even earns enough to qualify for the income tax.

Even if we assume every last one of these Malaysians is a professional, square that with the 500,000 Malaysian professionals overseas. One out of every four Malaysian professionals lives and works abroad — our human capital stock stands at only 75 per cent of its full potential, and it is falling; last year, the emigration rate nearly doubled.

At home, our schools and universities are not training high-value workers, and our economy is distorted by rent-seekers.

When my father began working as an engineer thirty years ago, his salary was in the RM1,000 to RM2,000 range. That is still the case for a young engineer starting today—despite massive inflation and rising costs of living. Things are so bad that most of these young workers — who by right should be skilled professionals, commanding high wages — are not even eligible to pay income tax.

It’s no wonder people are losing faith in Malaysia. We have no plan to fix our fundamentals.

Our school system discourages innovation in favour of accepting orders from above; our economic system stifles entrepreneurship in favour of corrupt rent-seeking.

Our prosperity is pump-primed by petroleum and forestry — when we run out of these resources, without any human capital or meaningful industrial enterprises, our economy will collapse.

Instead of bravely confronting these realities, Prime Minister Najib is content to proclaim our recovery from the global recession — as if all will be nice and dandy now.

He should be announcing an ambitious policy to reverse our capital outflows, reduce our dependence on natural resources, and improve our human capital.

This is a crisis in the making — with no investment, we cannot build up our industry, and with no human capital, we cannot compete in the knowledge economy; the problem goes beyond a short-term recession.

But these things do not concern Najib’s regime.

After all, this is a regime of propaganda, not results. The government under Najib now brazenly seizes books it doesn’t like from bookstores across the country. It blatantly rewrites history by contradicting Tengku Razaleigh, who helped draw up the original petroleum royalty agreements with the states.

There is no policymaking here—just propaganda.

The Barisan Nasional government is simply a ship of fools, content to lead us to disaster. They have no vision for the country, no idea of the massive challenges we face or any intention to face such challenges to begin with.

All this government does is pat itself on the back for putting on a good show. We deserve a government which lives in reality, not the neverland of 1 Malaysia. Why is this regime of “no action, talk only” supposed to be so much better than the alternatives?

John Lee is a third-year student of economics at Dartmouth College in the United States. He has been thinking aloud since 2005 at

Bolehland Politics

Three kids and a flute

In exploring and demonstrating the idea that it is possible to have different reasons for justice, each of which would survive "critical scrutiny" but "yields divergent conclusions", Amartya Sen in his "The Idea of Justice" brought us a delightful tale of three kids with a flute.

As the tale goes, there are three children, Anne, Bob and Carla. And there is one flute. All three kids make claim for the flute on different reasons and with distinct justification.

Anne makes claim to the flute based on the fact that she is the only one who could play the flute. This fact is admitted by the other two kids, who know next to bleeding nut on how to even make a sound from the flute.

Bob on the other hand lays claim to the flute by being the most underprivileged of the three. Coming from a poor family he has no toys. Having the flute would very much make him happy and elevate his unhappy life. The other two children admit it as much that they are more privileged than Bob and that they have more toys then they need.

Carla on the other hand claims the flute due to the fact that the flute is the product of her hard labour. Yes. Carla actually is the one who makes the flute. This fact is also admitted by the other two children.

Who should get the flute?

The socialist-economic egalitarian among us will make a plausible - and probably incontrovertible - argument that Bob-the-poor ( as opposed to Bob the builder, I suppose) should get the flute. After all, Bob represents the sad face of the oppressed masses, the proletariat, so to speak. In the face of the bourgeoisie Anne and Carla, Bob should get the flute, argues the Marxist.

If the other facts are not available to us, we would even agree with the socialist-economic egalitarian.

The capitalist and probably the utilitarian among us would surely argue that Anne should get the flute. After all, only she alone can put the flute to really good use, namely, to make money out of it. She could perform in multiple concerts (full house of course) and makes money.

With that money, she could pay taxes. With that taxes, the State can help out Bob. Probably, the State can lend some money to Carla to build a flute making enterprise and employ Bob. Bob's financial position could then be elevated. The State could be richer and everyone could reap the benefit.

The capitalist would never ever waste this opportunity. That flute should never be wasted in the hands of Carla or Bob. Of course, if we do not know the other two arguments, we would agree with the capitalist.

The moralist-naturalist and probably also the libertarian among us would make a firm argument for the flute to be retained by Carla. A direct reference will of course be made to the fact that a person should be allowed to keep whatever he or she produces.

Without knowing the other two arguments, we would surely agree that Carla should keep the flute.

In Justice Is An Illusion, I have posited that all that we have is a notion of justice and not justice as a conceptual reality. Justice is presumed done when the law is applied to a set of facts and a determination of right or wrong is made together with an order by the adjudicator on how to redress the "injustice" or dispute.

That article brought a remark by a famous lawyer for me to re-read my Dias. For the uninitiated, Dias is an author of one of the most basic - and easily understandable - book on jurisprudence. Well, I do not know where I went wrong in that article and still, after re-reading Dias since then, I am none the wiser.

Allow me to explain my stand. A woman is raped and killed. And a man is found guilty of raping and killing her. He is sentenced to death by hanging. Justice is done?

The injustice here is the rape and murder. The application of the law makes the man guilty for rape and murder. And the order granting "redress" is that the man should be hanged to death. Following that, the resulting notion is that justice is done. But is it?

Let's say the woman has 2 children. She is also survived by a husband who loves her. Her parents are also still alive. The woman lost her life. Her children lose the opportunity of enjoying her company, affection, love and guidance forever. Her parents and husband lose her company, affection and love forever. So do her friends. And her relatives. Her boss lose her as an employee. And so on and so forth.

Now, does the hanging to death of the man who rapes and murders her bring justice? Justice to who?

Okay, let's look at another case. A man loses a hand in a car accident. The other man at fault is found liable and is ordered to pay the first man RM100000.00 as compensation. The law is applied. Is justice done?

You tell me.

Back to the three kids and the flute. I don't have an answer to the question on who should have the flute. And all of us could argue till all the cows are slaughtered and their head severed. No correct answer will ever come.

Yes. There would be arguments stronger than the others. And probably more acceptable than the others. But I doubt that there will be an answer acceptable to all and everyone of us.

Having said so, I can't help but run wild with imagination on how corporate Malaysia would deal with this nice problem.

Firstly, there will be a declaration. 1 Flute. All three kids will be implored to live happily with each other and share the benefit of the 1 Flute. After all, there is only 1 Flute.

Then there will be a huge protest somewhere because the flute, apparently, is a western influence and owning it, let alone playing it, will be as bad as women not wearing their panties on Valentines Day. Some Minister will then issue a statement that the 1 Flute is eroding our culture.

The Minister for Tourism will of course disagree. He or she will apply to the United Nation to declare that the 1 Flute is a world heritage coming from Malaysia. Indonesia will protest. They will assemble in front of a Balinese pub and start burning Malaysian flag. Then someone will accidentally step on someone else's feet. That will of course end in a bloodbath worthy of the next Bravehearts movie.

Brunei quietly obtain the heritage status.

Back in Malaysia Darul Boleh, suddenly there will be a huge outcry. Demonstrations are threatened. Cows are killed and their head, severed. A massive demonstration takes place in front of the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas where Anne was suppose to give a soulful rendition of M Nasir's first ever concerto, "Con - OPus 1" (in short) backed by Pancaragam Polis Di Raja Malaysia, flute section.

Banners, reading "Martabatkan Islam - lu sial pu%$mak" could be seen. Pictures of the 1 Flute was burnt and stomped on.

872 Malay NGOs meet at Bukit Jalil stadium, after the final Akademi Fantasia concert led by Mawi and some dolled up Malay chix and declared their intent on protecting the Malay music. Another 456 NGOs meet at at a Jom Heboh fun fare to declare their support for the first 872 NGOs.

Meanwhile, the Company Commission freezes new application for the registration of NGOs. "There are too many NGOs and we are short of staff. All applicants are advised to form a sendirian berhad instead,", says a spoke person who wishes to remain anonymous.

Opposition politicians call for a Malay counter-movement to fight for the right of all Malaysians to enjoy the 1 Flute.

On Facebook, a group entitled "Kami Golongan Benci Flute Dan Serunai" is started gaining 155000 members in 3 hours. Apparently, 149999 of them are new Facebook members since the morning before the group was started.

Meanwhile, the group "All Malays and Malaysians Clueless Apathetic Liberals Who Don't Mind The Flute As Long As We Are Not Killed Or Maimed" gain 4 members in the last 7 days. A Malay left-right winged UMNO member starts another group, "Kumpulan Melayu Yang Mahu DiMertabatkan Sebagai Melayu Yang DiMertabatkan." It quickly gain 3469 members in 2 days. By the way, do you call a right winger with leftist inclination a left-right, a leftist-right or just plain "gay"? LOL!!!

As a result of the planned concert at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, the chief of Petronas loses his job. A guy managing a shipping company replaces him.

Five people holding a candle light vigil to mark the "death of music, flute or otherwise" are arrested and charged for sedition. On the way to Court to meet their clients, 34 lawyers are also arrested, handcuffed and detained for a night.

The 30 people demonstrating in front of the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas who are arrested and interrogated for 2 minutes at nearby Nasi Kandar Pelita, KLCC outlet, are released. Latest. The AG Chambers say they are not going to be charged due to "massive public pleasure" (sic).

Tengku Razaleigh meanwhile calls for the 1 Flute to be shared equally among Malaysia's 13 states. The Federal government disagrees, saying the Tengku is being disloyal to UMNO for suggesting as such.

Karpal Singh files a suit in Court. Uproar in the Parliament.

Anne manages to get a contract to play the 1 Flute in the United State. Much hoo haa was made of it in the media. A Datukship was offered to Anne. Three officials are sent to the US to do the promo. But only 1 manages to appear at a press conference there. Unfortunately, the press conference quickly becomes an off-the-record event.

The concert never happen. The 1 Flute was stolen.

Bob goes back to his rubber estate in Bukit Selambau. He still does not have any toy.

Carla leaves for Singapore. There she starts a small industry manufacturing flutes from recycled material. She has won a Noble price.

An insult to our intelligence

An insult to our intelligence
"Do they acknowledge the difference in severity:
Kartika is to be whipped and fined RM5000 for drinking beer
but the man who leaves his wife and kids and mistreats her is only fined RM1000?
Do they notice the inconsistencies and injustice?"

Mariam Mokhtar, Malaysian Mirror

It has become something of a ritual lately that when certain Muslim NGOs run scared of a good debate, they eagerly go about making police reports.

Events of the past week have raised urgent questions about the political leadership in Malaysia. When various NGOs and Majlis Agama Islam Selangor (MAIS) lodged a police report against The Star's managing editor, P Gunasegaran, they said that he had no right to comment about Islamic matters because he is not a Muslim.

I disagree. As a Malaysian, his contribution is of immense importance.

In fact, there should be more voices to debate the issue. According to these protesting NGOs, I satisfy their requirements to comment on Islamic matters. However, I wouldn't be surprised to find that they will deem me unsuitable because I am not sufficiently scholarly in Islamic matters or that I am a woman. Therefore, just as Gunasegaran surmised, these issues have to be urgently aired.

Isn't it deplorable that a non-Muslim highlighted the inconsistencies with which our dual-system laws are interpreted? It shows how Muslims in Malaysia have been cowed into submission and have become fearful of taking the initiative.

Islam is also about critical thinking, reasoning and understanding. It was never meant to be by dogma and doctrine. What or who, do these NGOs and MAIS fear? Why are they acting like the class bully? A great debate will do our politicised religion a world of good.


Gunasegaran brought up valid points in his article and it is only by intelligent discourse that we are able to find amicable answers. Lodging police reports just shows the impotence of these NGOs and MAIS. Their apparent failure to act with dignity and intellect, fails Muslims in our country. Our political leaders, including the Minister for Women Family and Community Development, have not been expansive on these issues, and that is deplorable.

We are moving backwards

I remember a time when all of us lived under the one umbrella called Malaysia and got on well enough, regardless of our race, religion or gender. No one's saying we shouldn't move on from those good old days.

We have. Backwards! It seems that in Malaysia today, Muslim women's lives are under a microscope. When compared with their non-Muslim counterparts, they have relatively little freedom. The downside of this is that Muslim women will build up a lot of resentment. Is it any wonder that Malay women go abroad to find their first taste of freedom liberating; that some are unable to control themselves?

Somehow, I fail to see how the article 'Persuasion, no compulsion', would stir discontent among Muslims. Any unease surfaced days earlier, on Feb 9, when it was announced for the first time that three women had been whipped in Kajang.

All along, Malaysians were under the impression that Kartika, who consumed beer in public, was the first woman to be caned. How is it that none of the NGOs and women organisations was made aware of the plight of these women? To date, the only information we have is that they gave themselves up voluntarily, were 'pleased' to be whipped, and repented for their sins.

No information has been divulged about the men with whom these women had sex? Would it be possible for women organisations to have access to these women to check on their well-being? Did anyone know if they had legal representation and were able to exercise their full-rights? Or were they like lambs to the slaughter, and made show-case examples in a vain attempt to show us the might of the male sex, the might of the religious authorities and the authoritative indefatigable stamp of Islam in our society?

The furore and the international condemnation that ensued have caused a lot of backpedalling from our authorities, with a conference of caning to be hastily arranged. Taxpayers' money must not be wasted on this futile exercise. The answers can be found in this country and not from international participants. Moreover, the whipping laws have already been passed. Any discussion should have been done before implementation.

Some of the questions which we asked, but are denied answers, are simple ones such as why the women were whipped because of syariah law, even though civil law forbids it? Why did the women receive the harshest punishment, which is whipping? Why were they not given any consideration as first offenders, with fines or community service as alternatives?

Making a point

Are these religious authorities trying to make a point – that the government of the day is endorsing its Islamic identity? It is pathetic to use four (including Kartika) hapless women as pawns in their power-game. It is equally deplorable to waste police, as well as the Home Ministry's time to search for Gunasegaran's 'hidden motive' for the article he wrote? Do they think these institutions have nothing better to do?

If the ulama have so much time on their hands, they might care to reflect on the comments of Shahrizat that decaying family values and absentee fathers were compounding the problems in Muslim/Malay society. Maybe the state syariah bodies should finally sit down and formulate solutions to address these social breakdowns?

They could also decide when to standardise our syariah laws, which currently differ from state to state, and plug the various loopholes which men take advantage of.

Do they acknowledge the difference in severity: Kartika is to be whipped and fined RM5000 for drinking beer but the man who leaves his wife and kids and mistreats her is only fined RM1000? Do they notice the inconsistencies and injustice?

Furthermore, they could reassess the enforcement and raids of the religious police so they are conducted with less crudity, which strips people of their dignity. They might wish to reflect on individual human rights, too.

There is so much that these Muslim NGOs and the ulama could constructively do rather than be overly sensitive to statements from individuals.

If anyone has insulted the religion and brought it into disrepute, it is these NGOs and MAIS.