Dark look at the country’s financial situation | Selangor Times
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Dark look at the country’s financial situation
Writer: Tricia Yeoh
Published: Fri, 17 Aug 2012

In the lead up to the 13th General Election, economic issues will inevitably be hotly debated by all sides of the political divide. It is within this context that a book of great relevance to Malaysian readers and voters has been recently published. 

“UMNO-nomics: The Dark Side of the Budget” is a concise analysis by Teh Chi-Chang on the national budget and the various issues facing the country’s public finances. 

Illustrated by Johnny Ong, it also provides for entertaining reference through accompanying cartoons. 

I personally read the book in a single sitting, because it touched on subjects I am particularly interested in. Although many scandals and controversies are reported in Malaysia, rarely are they examined in light of the bigger picture: the country’s dire financial situation and public administration. 

These sometimes complex issues are written in a style that is easy to read and understand, making sense of terms such as revenues, expenditures, debt, subsidies, disposable income and resource management – that eventually connect the dots to present the whole of what is often perceived as a fragmented story. 

And it is this whole that is the most worrying of all – what ran through my mind whilst reading it was, is this truly the situation our country faces? 

For example, the author brings us through the reality of the national debt, using well-referenced figures to show that if we were to include contingent liabilities in the calculation, our real national debt is actually as high as RM573 billion, or “nearly RM20,000 for each and every one of us”, which would constitute 67 per cent of our GDP. 

This far surpasses the 55 per cent federal government loan limit as defined by our national laws. 

Second, some disturbing figures are also revealed, where only 1.7 million Malaysians pay taxes, which contributes only RM20 billion, or 11 per cent of total government revenue. 

Teh argues that if the government were more prudent and efficient, it may be able to save even more than the total income taxes currently contributed by Malaysians. 

His central argument is therefore that the country has been inefficient in its expenditure through a number of ways (blanket subsidies, centralised government, over-reliance on oil revenues). 

Of course, given such a bleak analysis, surely urgent solutions must be equally sought to resolve this, one imagines. 

Without going into too much detail, some policy proposals include raising household incomes, implementing open tenders, cutting the cost of living and streamlining the civil service. 

The book makes no attempt at hiding its agenda – it very clearly presents alternative solutions by the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat. 

Given this, readers might easily dismiss its contents as being biased and shadowed by an entirely political flavour. 

And it is true, there are sections which promote the two Pakatan-led states of Penang and Selangor based on case studies that succeeded there. 

Further, it is published by Research for Social Advancement (REFSA) that is now known for its series of hard-hitting pieces against the government organisation, the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU). 

Nevertheless, read with an open and analytical mind, a reasonable Malaysian would grow increasingly concerned at the government’s structural problems. 

The book reminds us that if we are concerned about the future of the country, along with the next generations to follow, serious planning and systemic reform need to be done. 

Great thought, for example, must be given to addressing long-term policies of subsidies, minimum wage, oil and gas, procurement, and the centralisation of government. 

One immediate proposed change is that the prime minister (akin to a company’s chief executive officer) should not assume the same position as that of finance minister (akin to a company’s chief financial officer). In a corporation, the separation of functions and responsibilities of the CEO and CFO ensure good governance, and stringent checks and balances. 

Finally, it challenges us to consider the economic model that is currently being pursued by the government. 

The huge government presence in the economy through government-linked companies (GLCs) has slowly driven out ordinary small businesses, resulting in “massive shrinkage of private investments in Malaysia”. 

This is a startling admission that despite government’s efforts to promote the private sector, it contradicts itself by allowing government-owned companies to compete with the private sector. 

These teasers provoke us to pause and consider the tremendous amount of public sector reform that will be needed in the immediate future. Political polemics aside, leaders from both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat would do well to make this book bedtime reading. Sometimes, an acute awareness of present problems is needed, to present the answers that are now so desperately needed by ordinary citizens. 

UMNO-Nomics - the Dark Side of the Budget is available at: 

a) First Edition Book Stores, 40, Jalan SS21/39, Damansara Utama Uptown, Petaling Jaya (opposite Uptown 5 McDonald’s)  03-7727 1932 
b) Silverfish Books, First Floor, 28, Jalan Telawi, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur (same row as post office) 03-2284 4837 
or order on-line at www.refsa.org for personal delivery.

 

 Selangor Times

 

 

Also by Tricia Yeoh:

Towards a New Malaysia

THE term “think tank” may evoke images of stuffy bespectacled researchers sitting behind desks towering with stacks of paper.

The Personal and The Professional

YET another Malaysian incident has made it into international news. 

The PAS conundrum – or is it really?

At a recent policy dinner at St. Mike’s, a cozy Ipoh restaurant, I spoke of civil society, reform issues and my experience of having worked at the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government. The discussion eventually centred on one subject alone, that being the ‘PAS conundrum’ (titled by me); conundrum being defined as a confusing and difficult problem or question. 

‘Tis the season to be rallying

THE past weekend has been a busy one indeed. Not only was the city’s annual arts festival, Urbanscapes, taking place, but this time Sigur Ros, the atmospheric Icelandic band graced the occasion and performed right in the heart of Petaling Jaya. 

Can overseas Malaysians contribute?

At the Singapore FreedomFilmFest 2012 where the three documentaries were screened (including The Rights of The Dead, on the late Teoh Beng Hock’s story), a sizeable number of Malaysians interspersed the audience. Roughly making up 20% of the crowd size, the question-and-answer session following the screening reminded me of the aspirations Malaysians living overseas continue to have about their country, back home. 

Models for state and city

As part of the Penang launch of my book, "States of Reform", as well as the FreedomFilmFest screenings of my documentary, "The Rights of the Dead" in the same state, I spent several days in Penang recently (a sister state of Selangor, in the sense that both are governed by the Pakatan Rakyat coalition as a result of the March 2008 elections). 

Lessons from Selangor show way forward

It was an entertaining thought that my friend, Keith Leong, would have spent long hours in the very English Cambridge University writing his MPhil thesis on the Selangor experience under Pakatan Rakyat. 

Walking the narrow path

I had the privilege of speaking to a group of young interns under the Otak-Otak Internship Programme this week.

Decentralisation the way forward?

At the launch of my book, “States of  Reform: Governing Selangor and Penang” last Saturday, three esteemed panelists, YB Liew Chin Tong (member of Parliament, Bukit Bendera), YB Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (state assemblypersom, Seri Setia) and Dr Ooi Kee Beng (Deputy Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore) took on the increasingly popular, but also controversial, subject of decentralisation of government in Malaysia.

Wading through the so-called ‘water crisis’

Election fever is in the air, and the games have begun. Last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stated that Selangor was heading towards a water crisis, after the state government blocked the building of the Langat 2 water treatment plant.

That Religious Issue: Faith, Space and Justice

Every now and then arises a hot potato issue that few are inclined to comment upon, namely that of religious sensitivities. This week former Selangor state executive councillor and head of new NGO JATI, Hasan Ali, revealed a video of purported proselytisation of Muslims by a group of Christians.

Four years of PR in Selangor

What the Debate says about the Chinese

The much hyped-up debate between Lim Guan Eng and Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek last weekend took place with as much drama as there was in the days leading up to it.

Politics vs Policy: How do people really vote?

Malaysian lessons from Bolivia

At the Centre for Independent Journalism’s Human Rights in Outer Space series of events last week, I was asked to speak on a panel analysing the Our Brand is Crisis documentary and draw comparisons between issues arising within it and the Malaysian context.

Sewerage privatisation once again?

Cyberspace was on fire last week after the Auditor-General’s 2010 annual report revealed a host of financial irregularities perpetrated by several government agencies and government-linked companies.

Of schooling and the Budget

In my conversation with Malaysian parents, the topic almost always steers back to the issue of the country’s education system. They are most often in a dilemma about which schools they should place their children in, and which system to opt for.

Setting the tone with Selangorku

Selangor was one of the first governments in Malaysia to have officially celebrated Malaysia Day on Sept 16 in 2009, which was followed thereafter by the federal government in 2010 when it was declared a public holiday.

This year, Selangor launched its version of an agenda in con- junction with Malaysia Day, called "Selangorku", or “My Selangor". The project took about a year to complete, having been initiated when I was then Research Officer at the Selangor Menteri Besar's office. Although I have since moved on, it was indeed a gratifying moment knowing the agenda has finally

 

Assimilation versus integration

Last weekend, I was invited to speak at a forum organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Isis).

Water deal makes Malaysians RM6.5b poorer

A new chapter has unfolded in the long-drawn-out Selangor water saga recently. Acqua SPV, a Special-Purpose Vehicle set up under the gederal government body PAAB (Pengurusan Aset Air Berhad), has announced plans to acquire 100% of Selangor water bonds. The total outstanding bonds come up to RM6.5 billion.

Let’s start talking to one another as a nation

It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that people are driven by insecurity and fear, especially of what they do not understand or know.

The dead have rights, too

Malaysia is in desperate need of a reliable and trustworthy institute to conduct autopsies, especially in relation to deaths in custody. Last week, the body of customs officer Ahmad Sarbani was found on the grounds of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Federal Territory office.

 

 

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