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Monday, April 12, 2010

What is happening to Malaysia?

Kenny Gan  

What has happened to Malaysia? 
Forty years ago we were on par with Singapore and ahead of Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. Now these countries have outstripped us despite our advantage of bountiful natural resources. Their currencies and per capita incomes are a few multiples of ours and we are lagging further behind. We now compare ourselves with Vietnam and Indonesia, which are fast catching up.

What has happened to our standard of living? Our average income has stagnated for the past 15 years while cost of living has increased many fold meaning that our real income has declined. We are trapped in a middle income rut, unable to go up to the value chain to high income economy supported by skilled human capital. Our income gap between rich and poor is the widest in South East Asia.

What has happened to our economy?
 We are heavily dependent on declining resources like oil and timber and low end agricultural commodities. Our national budget is 40% funded by depleting oil and the budget deficit is increasing every year, which means we are living beyond our means. Both foreign and private investments have dropped drastically and manufacturing is retreating while capital flight has shot up.

What has happened to our human capital? Our best and brightest are heading for the exit especially those disadvantaged by race. An estimated 140,000 left in 2008 and 300,000 left in 2009 so the trend of productive young people leaving in droves is accelerating. These are people who would have paid taxes and help make the economy competitive had they stayed.

What has happened to our standard of education?
 Our universities have dropped out of the top 200 universities in the world. We are churning out masses of unemployable graduates with poor command of English every year. Our university entrance is based on racial quotas instead of meritocracy and many non-Malay students are shunted into courses they do not want.

What has happened to our fight against corruption? Our Corruption Perception Index has dropped 9 places to 56th position since MACC was formed. Corruption has gotten worse instead of better and negotiated contracts which make a cozy relationship between government and businesses still continue.

What has happened to our democratic institutions? Laws are applied selectively depending on political affiliation, police do not act evenly and MACC are more interested in pursuing opposition politicians for trite accusations, while being extremely tolerant of BN politicians. The reputation of the heavily pro-executive judiciary is in shambles and the election commission hold polls on working days to hobble the opposition.

What has happened to our free press? Our mass media is still shackled by restrictive laws which require their licenses to be renewed each year with no option for judicial review if not renewed. As a result, the mainstream press has become like a propaganda mouthpiece for the ruling regime.

What has happened to our race relations? 
Racial polarization has increased since independence and racial politics is still practiced by the ruling regime. We have a prime minister who reaches out with 1Malaysia on one hand while holding Perkasa with the other. No action is taken against Umno-controlled newspapers which spew racist vitriol nor politicians who offend minority races.

What has happened to our human rights?
 Deaths in custody happen with chilling regularity and nobody gets punished. A young witness went to the MACC office and left lifeless through the window of a high rise building. Peaceful candle light vigils are broken up forcefully and participants arrested. Tear gas and water cannons sweep away the people’s right to gather peacefully.

What has happened to our crime rate? 
Residents are blocking roads to set up gated and guarded communities to protect themselves from crime and women fear to walk on public road with their handbags. The police plead insufficient manpower but have no shortage of manpower and resources to pursuing opposition politicians for trite offences.

What has happened to our government? 
BN is more interested in politicking and attacking the opposition instead of governing. It refuses to work with PR state governments and tries to pull them down instead. Perak was grabbed in the most immoral way backed up by controversial court judgments. An opposition leader is dragged to court on dubious sodomy charges.

Where is Malaysia heading? No doubt about this. We are on the way to becoming a maid-exporting country and a poor standard of living, with the creation of a super-rich elite separated from the masses of teeming poor by a weak middle-class. We will end up with the human rights abuses and abject poverty of Zimbabwe.

What went wrong, Malaysia? The NEP was good policy in spirit but has been abused and implemented in a race-based way. Enlargement of race-based policies led to a decline in meritocracy, proliferation of rent seeking activities, cozy negotiated contracts, endemic corruption and loss of competitiveness in education and the economy.

Limited education and economic opportunities for non-Malays led to the flight of the brightest and most productive citizens which further pull down competitiveness. With human flight follows capital flight and a loss of private investments. To protect their positions of power in an environment of economic decline and corruption, democratic rights are curtailed and state apparatus abused to oppress the people. The lack of respect for human rights and a discredited judiciary lead to a decline in foreign investments.

The problems of the country are structural and can only be solved with deep and wide ranging reforms in national policies and a change in political mindset among the ruling elite. Unfortunately BN’s race-based politics leverages on exploiting racial diversity with unequal racial policies as their linchpin for racial divide-and-rule tactics. The structure of Umno is firmly grounded in patronage, so politics and dipping into the economic pot to fund political largess are inseparable.

We need a government which leverages racial diversity as the country’s strength instead of exploiting it for divide-and-rule. We need education, economic, employment and appointment policies which bring back meritocracy instead of harping on race. We need to make all races feel proud to be a part of the developing nation and reverse the brain drain into a brain gain. We need to repair all our damaged institutions, respect human rights and the rule of law to bring back foreign investments.

More than anything else we need to instill the spirit of confidence, hope and entrepreneurship to boost private investments. All these can only be done with a political change as BN is too fossilized and ossified to make any meaningful reform.

Who will save Malaysia?
 Pakatan Rakyat is on the right track with their multi-racial politics and concept of social justice. But Pakatan cannot save Malaysia if they are not in power. It is you, the voters who can save Malaysia by voting wisely.


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