Jun 102010
 

I’m too far away on too small a computer to write too much, but looks pretty disappointing so far.

I think there was a very strong undercurrent of ‘business as usual’ – ie, the government will spend tons of money, to keep the wheels of corrution, cronyism and cannabalisation.

Najib ‘pawns’ Idris, sending him to tell all the ‘bad news’ about how we’re going bankrupt, then he turns around, stabs Idris in the back, and then says we are all fine.

And now? We are about to spend more money than we ever have before.

And on what? Exactly the type of white elephant projects that have been the lifeblood of BN cronies for decades.

How will we fund it? By ‘rationalising’ the price of petrol. Read: make the rakyat pay to enable projects that make cronies rich.

Note, there wasn’t (in TwitterJaya at least) a single announcement related to stemming corruption and leakage – I think this is extremely indicative.

There were a number of announcements with regards to talent and education.

We will never progress meaningfully with AUKU and AkuJanji – the stifflers of academic freedom.

If we want Malaysians to come back from overseas, bribery and lip service will not work. They need respect, dignity and a Malaysia run with genuine integrity.

The 10MP seems to be the furthest from such goals, being only pork barrel politics at its very worst.

ps- more comments @NatAsasi

Jun 042010
 

I wanted to:

a) Highlight some brilliant points made by Derek Fernandez recently
b) Reproduce an article I wrote some time back on TMI

My Malay article basically argues that the more gambling there is (and I think there’s no doubt there will be more than before), the more financial losses the rakyat will bear on aggregate, especially low to middle income earners.

Thus, there is plenty of economic reason (in addition to many moral ones) not to encourage more betting.

Derek Fernandez’s points thus rang very true to me, and added more perspectives that I hadn’t considered. Good read!

Malaysiakini:

He also said that there was a big difference between sports betting and the existing forms of legalised gambling in the country.

Sports betting uses the media as a platform for the purposes of gaming. Mass media like TV is broadcasted into houses. It’s bringing gambling into our homes.

“So when you or your child look at football, you don’t look at it as entertainment but as gambling,” he said.

He also said that the federal government had years ago banned the live telecast of horseracing because it de-stigmatises the activity as a form of gambling.

“But now with sports betting, watching horseracing is the same as watching a game of football or badminton,” he said.

He also said that the current plethora of lottery games as well as slot machine premises were adequate to satisfy the public’s gambling needs.

“So there is no need for more,” he said, adding that the local councils do not plan to close existing gaming outlets.

The urban planning lawyer also rubbished the argument that legalised sports betting will put a stop to underground gambling syndicates, which Berjaya Corp has estimated to represent a loss of RM20 billion per annum in uncollected tax revenue.

“If legalisation is given to the individual illegal operators, then this argument is maybe valid.

But this is not the case. By giving a monopoly to just one operator, the illegal bookies will still not close down.

“In fact, it will just create a price war and the illegal operators will still raise the winnings payouts to make it more attractive to punters,” he said.

“If you really want to be honest about it, then just award the a sport betting licence to everyone.”

My article from TMI:

Judi bola: Politik dan ekonomi

26 MEI — Saya penagih poker. Kebanyakkan orang menganggap ini bermaksud saya suka judi, dan mereka tidak 100 per cent salah.

Sebenarnya, di kalangan pemain poker sendiri ada spektrum yang merangkumi pemain yang bersifat amat konservatif (“nits”) dan yang bermain secara lebih mengambil risiko (“loose/aggressive”). Saya biasanya dikira konservatif.

Saya tidak berminat mana-mana lain permainan yang melibatkan perjudian — terutamanya di kasino.

Pertamanya, saya tidak suka bergantung kepada nasib. Dalam poker, walaupun unsur nasib memang ada, menang kalah serta jumlah yang terlibat boleh dikawal sedikit dengan kemahiran dan disiplin.

Satu lagi sebab saya mengelak dari kasino, mainan nombor dan sebagainya diungkap baik dalam pepatah Inggeris “The house always wins.”

Maksudnya, permainan di kasino, judi nombor, dan sebagainya telah distrukturkan supaya badan yang mengawal permainan itu selalu untung dan tidak mungkin rugi sama sekali. Walaupun kadang kala (sebenarnya cukup jarang sekali) kita boleh menang, dalam jangka masa panjang, syarikat judi itu selalu menang.

Dilihat dari sudut lain, maksudnya orang yang judi selalu kalah.

Itulah sebabnya konglomerat judi di merata dunia selalu mengaut keuntungan yang luar biasa, dan nilai sahamnya tinggi sekali.

Saya tidak berapa layak untuk menilai soal judi bola di Malaysia dari segi moral, tetapi saya rasa berbaloi juga kita mendekati soalan ini dari segi ekonomi dan kebajikan rakyat.

Seorang rakan di universiti jurusan ekonomi dulu menulis tesisnya berasaskan dua soalan mudah: a) Patutkah sebuah kerajaan menganjurkan loteri? b) Pada keseluruhannya adakah loteri ini menguntungkan atau merugikan rakyat?

Soalan berkenaan penganjuran loteri secara langsung oleh kerajaan berpaksikan beberapa aspek. Keuntungan dari loteri ini boleh diandaikan sebagai sesuatu cukai (walaupun suatu cukai yang biasanya hanya dibayar oleh golongan miskin dan serdahana). Hasil cukai tersebut secara teorinya boleh digunakaan balik untuk manfaat masyarakat am.

Walaubagaimanapun, jika loteri atau mana-mana mainan judi yang lain dianjurkan oleh pihak swasta, manfaat ini amat dikurangkan kerana kebanyakan dari hasil untung disalurkan ke konglomerat (dalam kes kita: Berjaya, saudara Tan Sri Vincent Tan, dan pihak-pihak politik yang disokongnya) dan bukannya balik kepada rakyat (kecuali cukai kerajaan yang kecil — halalnya cukai ini mungkin boleh dipertikaikan).

Mainan judi sebegini jelas pada keseluruhannya merugikan rakyat. Jumlah duit yang dimenang melalui judi bola oleh golongan menang, contohnya, sudah tentu cukup kurang dari jumlah yang hilang oleh golongan kalah. Kesimpulannya, rakyat secara keseluruhannya lebih miskin selepas Piala Dunia dari sebelumnya.

Kita juga harus tanya: Siapakah yang biasanya berjudi sebegini? Dalam isu judi bola, dan lebih lagi untuk mainan nombor, kebanyakkan pemain terdiri daripada rakyat yang berkedudukan ekonomi rendah ke serdahana.

Ini bermaksud perluasan aktiviti judi yang menarik rakyat dengan janji-janji untung mudah dan besar sebenarnya memiskinkan lagi rakyat yang sudah cukup dibebankan dengan masalah ekonomi.

Ada yang berhujah bahawa pemberian lesen judi bola adalah berpatutan kerana sah atau tidak, kegiatan ini tetap berlaku — lebih baik ia diregulasasikan, dipantau, dan sebahagian keuntungannya dialirkan kepada kerajaan.

Ramai pula berbalas bahawa jika pendekatan ini logik, maka ia harus diperluaskan untuk merangkumi aktiviti-aktiviti seperti pelacuran, pinjaman wang melalui Ah Long dan sebagainya.

Saya ingin bertambah bahawa lesen judi bola juga akan memperbanyakkan nombor orang yang akan berjudi. Mereka yang dulunya takut untuk melibatkan diri dalam aktiviti yang tak sah dari segi undang-undang akan kini menampil untuk mengambil kesempatan peluang baru ini.

Memang sukar untuk kita percaya penganugerahan lesen judi bola tanpa apa-apa tender kepada Vincent Tan dan Berjaya tiada kaitan langsung dengan hubungan dekat Tan dengan pihak-pihak berkuasa.

Nama Tan kerap muncul dalam perbincangan melibatkan wakil-wakil rakyat yang telah melompat parti dalam setahun dua ini, dan kita terpaksa tanya dari mana datangnya dana untuk semua “hadiah-hadiah pilihanraya” di Hulu Selangor, Sibu dan seterusnya. Ramai juga mengaitkan lesen judi ini dengan “tabung dana” untuk pilihanraya umum ke-13 yang dirasai kian mendekati.

Usaha-usaha menggunakan cara haram untuk mengaut keuntungan yang meningkatkan beban ekonomi rakyat demi menyokong aktiviti-aktiviti yang lebih haram lagi haruslah dipantau dengan dekat oleh rakyat, dan jika didapati memang benar, dibantah sekeras-kerasnya.

Jun 012010
 

I had some interesting conversations on Twitter that inspired the following article on subsidies cuts. Thanks to everyone who commented on TMI!

(I’ve also included some facts and figures someone sent me on specifics of the proposed cuts below)

I wanted to make a quick mention of another misleading comment by Idris Jala:

“Imagine, even Somalis are paying much more for petrol than Malaysians,” he said

Sigh, another ‘gem’ the spin doctors figured they thought up.

I thought we’ve been through all this – what the hell is the point of comparing Malaysia to Somalia?!? That’s the yardstick to which we hold ourselves?? As Anwar is fond of saying, next we’ll be so proud of how our economy is doing better than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh :|

Anyway, the article:

Stop subsidising corruption first

Without eliminating corruption and leakage, how can the government expect the rakyat to bear the burden of cut subsidies?

In the play Caught in the Middle 4, Chandran asks simply, “And when are we going to stop subsidising the government?”

These simple questions strike at the heart of the current subsidies debate.

The government goes on about reduced coffers, debt and economic hardship, saying that is time for the rakyat to tighten their belts and throw away their crutches – to change their lifestyle, as BN has said before.

This is a lot to ask of Malaysians – the millions who run small food stalls, are low wage earners, or work in the local night market.

The better of amongst us will be protected from the worst effects of these policies, but for the rest of Malaysia, cuts in food subsidies will make the difference between a meal with meat, or just eggs; cuts in education subsidies will make the difference of whether a poor family’s youngest child will be able to attend school.

In times of crisis, it may be justified to ask the rakyat to bear such increased economic burdens.

The question though, are those in power carrying their share of the burden?

Can they honestly say that they’ve done enough to stop the horrendous and immense outflow of public funds due to corruption and inefficiency?

If not, is it morally right of them to be thinking of making the rakyat bear this cross, while so many continue to steal from Malaysia?

Some may think that detractors like me are exaggerating, but I think recent history provides us with ample examples.

Ramli and Muthu vs. Submarines and PKFZ

After all, is it right to ask Ramli’s family to stop including chicken for dinner, while Razak Baginda is taking half a BILLION in ‘commission’ for the purchase of submarines that don’t submerge?

Is it right that Muthu’s daughter can no longer go to school after textbook fees have become unbearable for the family, while RM 12 billion of our money that could have made those textbooks available for free is lost through the PKFZ scandal?

As an aside, it is sad that MCA has lost the president who did his best to uncover this scandal and bring the perpetrators to justice, only to have him replaced by a president whose ‘big plan’ is to go around begging for more funds from Umno – funds that will likely end up in the hands of ‘select’ contractors anyway.

The simple fact of the matter is that not only has the government not done enough to bring corrupt officials to book; the government is in fact led by the very worst of these offenders.

Having the same former Minister of Defence who was behind said submarine deal and his buddy’s commission now ask Malaysians to please tighten their belts is, I think, a little too much for us to bear.

Such a government completely lacks the moral authority or credibility to ask the rest of us to sacrifice, while top officials stay unaffected and continue to live comfortably off the fat they have accumulated at our expense over decades. To even consider doing so is to demonstrate the exact antithesis of what leadership should be.

If and when significant progress is made in fighting corruption and leakage, then we can perhaps discuss the economics of subsidies.

If not, all cutting subsidies will do is give the current pirates running our government more riches for them to loot.

Malaysia = Greece?

It has been disappointing to see Idris Jalla at the forefront of the campaign to cut subsidies. His former reputation has been reduced to one of a common BN spin doctor and hatchet man – sacrificed as a pawn to do BN’s dirty work.

I can just imagine their communications ‘think tank’ thinking that they struck gold when they came up with the Greek analogy.

I am in fact entirely inclined to agree that we are headed the way of Greece. What Idris and his boys aren’t telling you however, is summarised very well in Wikipedia:

“However, the Greek economy also faces significant problems, including rising unemployment levels, inefficient bureaucracy, tax evasion and corruption.

“In 2009, Greece had the EU’s second lowest Index of Economic Freedom (after Poland), ranking 81st in the world. The country suffers from high levels of political and economic corruption and low global competitiveness relative to its EU partners.”

Sound familiar?

In Greece, as in Malaysia, what is tearing the economy apart is not subsidies, but hopeless mismanagement, piratisation, and wholesale rape of the economy by the corrupt.

This tirade against subsidies has also not gone unnoticed by corporate watchers.

The hypocrisy bites hard when Malaysians remember Proton, MAS, UEM, DRB, Perwaja, YTL’s IPPs and most recently Sime Darby.

Who on earth do these people think they are, when they want to make Ramli and Muthu pay the price for the mishaps of Eric Tan or so that Francis Yeoh can get richer than he already is?

And why are we continuing to support industries in which we are not competitive – just because an old man got it into his head a long time ago that it would be ‘awesome’ for the country?

Let’s not even get started on multi-million New York Times ads to feature select ‘big’ personalities.

Leadership by example

Good governance is in no small part about leadership by example.

The rakyat may be able to accept some measure of subsidies reduction, if a government can in fact show truly genuine progress in combatting corruption and leakages, as well as maintaining impeccable standards of integrity and austerity amongst its top leaders.

Failing this – and I think failure is exactly what surrounds our current government – it falls to the rest of us to object to any more measures (added to the already neverending list) that will burden the rakyat while allowing the fat cats to roam free.

Continue reading »

May 272010
 

MK:

Malaysia risks becoming the next Greece unless voters swallow subsidy cuts that will see the price of petrol, food, electricity and other staples rise, a government minister warned today.

Idris Jala, a minister in the prime minister’s department who heads the body advising the government, said that Malaysia’s debt would rise to 100 percent of gross domestic product by 2019 from 54 percent of GDP at present without the cuts.

“We don’t want to end up as another Greece,” he told a roadshow, referring to the European Union member whose debt woes have unsettled global markets.

100% disagree: subsidies is what could make us another Greece.

100% agree: we are on our way to becoming another Greece.

Now, I understand this Idris Jala chap isn’t too bad a guy, but what he is saying here is straight out of the BN bullshit spin handbook.

Does anyone believe for a second that the real problem behind Malaysia’s economy = too many subsidies?

I’ll admit that from an economic point of view, the issue of subsidies are contentious.

Nonetheless, I’m absolutely confident that it is a drop in the ocean compared to what is really destroying and ruining our economy, and truly bringing us close to a Greek scale tragedy: corruption.

Observe Wikipedia:

However, the Greek economy also faces significant problems, including rising unemployment levels, inefficient bureaucracy, tax evasion and corruption.

In 2009, Greece had the EU’s second lowest Index of Economic Freedom (after Poland), ranking 81st in the world. The country suffers from high levels of political and economic corruption and low global competitiveness relative to its EU partners.

Oh. Sound familiar?

No need to repeat our litany of RM 500 million submarine commissions, MCA presidents who get fired because of PKFZ investigations, missing jet engines, election bribery. (whoops, just did).

So, YB Idris and YAB Najib, please don’t try to mislead the rakyat. Removing subsidies hurts the least protected in society – why don’t you remove the corruption that is bleeding the entire nation dry, just so you can line your own pockets.

Dec 082009
 

TMI:

The recent sale of 90 million Plus Expressway shares by Malaysia’s state pension fund Khazanah Nasional could signal moves by the government to accelerate the reduction of its big holdings in government linked companies (GLCs), analysts say.

Coincidental or not, Khazanah’s sale of about 90 million Plus shares in the last week of November — around the time Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak visited New York to pitch Malaysia to investment funds — has raised expectations the government is finally committed to paring its stakes to inject more liquidity into the stock market and to give the private sector more room to manoeuvre.

Hmm. Now, I’m no economic expert, but I suspect there’s more than one angle to this.

Perhaps this will indeed boost the stock market, increase things with fancy names like ‘trading velocity’ and so on, but: we are talking about public goods here.

Highway concessions in Malaysia are notorious for being overpriced, crony laden institutions that make fat profits off the rakyat.

If I’m not mistaken, the DAP recently did a costing that suggested the government can buy over PLUS, and then after less than 10 years, abolish tolls completely along the PLUS highways. (Maintenance? Road tax)

Now that’s what I call rakyat-centric. Why should we be paying forever for something that has been paid for in full?

This brings to mind the water issue and other privatisations. I am sympathetic to minimal government intervention on some big theory level, but in the Malaysian context, I think way too much money goes to crony capitalists at the expense of the man in the street.

It just seems wrong to let rich people profiteer in a way that burdens the rest of Malaysia considerably (man, the amount of toll I’ve paid in my lifetime…).

Again though, I’m not Mr. Economy. What do you think about all this? Experts?

Dec 012009
 

Aargh, so busy these days…

Let’s talk some GST.

I’m no economist, but isn’t one of the reasons a GST is a bad idea the fact that it burdens everyone without regard to their economic standing?

Thus, the poor would have to pay the same percentage GST as rich people.

I suppose this is like the issue of petrol subsidies. The way BN was handling it last year meant that the increased burden was shared ‘equally’ by rich and poor alike.

I imagine that a more (pakatan? :P) rakyat-centric economic policy would be one where the poor don’t have to bear even more economic burdens than the ones they are already struggling to deal with.

But perhaps Najib and his filthy rich cronies aren’t too keen about pulling their weight in the nation’s economy.

Also, as usual, Uncle Kit and gang couch it in pretty effective terms: No sense gaining RM1b from GST to lose RM28b to graft.

Then again, like I said, I’m no economist, so I’m all ears to alternative views :)

Nov 122008
 

Our 2nd Finance Minister seeks to reassure us about the injection of RM 7 5 billion into ValueCap.

I sought the wisdom of my colleagues in trying to understand the motives for this, and what areas of this move may raise suspicions. I learnt quite a bit.

I think the crux of the matter is that huge sums of money are being moved from institutions with at least the semblance of transparency, into a company that has zero transparency and is essentially accountable to no one except the Finance Ministry.

If I’m not mistaken, the three major shareholders of ValueCap are EPF, Khazanah and PNB. EPF at least is subject to a modicum (or more even) of oversight – wherein the public has some access to how funds are being used.

Basically, the Finance Ministry has direct and overriding say as to who manages ValueCap, and who within the company makes decisions about how to spend the money.

While RM 7 5 billion is a paltry amount to ‘stabilise’ the market (which, it seems, has been almost anything but – the USD 700b package announcement should have been a lesson), I suppose the argument that there are value buys out there may not be entirely facetious.

However, why do we need to use ValueCap as an investment vehicle? Does EPF not have its own equities trading account? Qualified fund managers?

If there really are such good deals out there, why doesn’t EPF buy directly from the market? Exactly what ‘value’ does ValueCap add to this process?

If we cannot see what ValueCap is buying and selling, how do we actually know they are investing into good stocks and not say pumping up share prices of companies that have dubious links to those in power?

If we were to theorise as to what the most ‘in bad faith’ interpretation of this move is, one could say that the new Finance Minister and his unholy gang of cronies is merely shifting public funds around so that they can be spent in a less transparent, shadier manner.

I think it’s safe to say our new Finance Minister doesn’t quite have the best of records when it comes to spending public funds. Scorpenes, Sukhois, et al, anyone?

This is a new area of writing for me, so my apologies for any inaccuracies, all corrections welcome

update: thanks for correction from 7 to 5b!