Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year 2013

The year 2013 was an eventful one but the one that remained fresh in our memories was the GE13.

This year was indeed a tough one for two men. The many challenges that came their way exposed their strengths and weaknesses. They are Najib Razak and Anwar Ibrahim.

There was a long wait for GE13 as politicians were going around in full gear and speed since mid 2012. The final call for elections by the Prime Minister himself did not come even after the highlight of his career on 19 March 2013 in Angkasapuri / RTM when he delivered his Government's report card - Najib: Government has kept its promises on transformation

I still remember on that night, there was a point when PM said "Sehubungan dengan itu, tuan-tuan dan puan-puan, sukacita saya mengumumkan (PM paused) ..."

You could hear the excitement and whispers in the auditorium "pilihan raya?"

Well, it wasn't. PM used this stage to announce that -  kerajaan akan menjadikan dan meneruskan Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia sebagai inisiatif tahunan.

You can access his speech here - THE PRESENTATION OF GTP/ETP ANNUAL REPORT 2012. The speech carried the tone that the election is really, really near.

The many cash handouts were good Sir. It carries immediate relief to the people who need the money to buy textbooks (university students), buy uniform or school books (school children) and people who are in the low income households. To the economy, it was a cash injection and since Malaysia's GDP growth is consumption driven, the positive impact could be felt by businesses. Money exchanged hands faster and more frequent though in smaller quantum. That's good.

Two weeks later on Apr 3, true enough, PM announced the dissolution of the Parliament with the consent from Yang di Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah.

Borneo Post described it as - Mother of all elections begins

The results on 5th May 2013 was once again with Barisan Nasional. Barisan Nasional won 133 seats, Pakatan Rakyat won 89 seats. The ruling coalition won 2/3, a common election result during Tun Dr Mahathir's days but became "too close to call" since Pak Lah was Prime Minister in his 2nd term.

Whether or not it was a mother of all elections, I am not sure. Support from rural areas especially Sabah and Sarawak remained strong. Barisan Nasional has never sidelined them with the annual agricultural assistance and cost of living packages.

The same "positive reception" cannot be applied in urban areas. It was a social media and Government performance/policy battle. We failed to perform in improving both perception and actual incidences of crime and corruption. And our Communications plan - both Government and Barisan Nasional - were just ... well, sickening. (if there was one).

Look at the coalition's method. Barisan Nasional was active on Twitter, Facebook. That's ok. We have no complaints. Many supporters played their part on blogs too.

Well at least UMNO and MIC. I don't know where were the MCA folks. One day Sabah and Sarawak politicans will pay dearly if they don't play a more active role in social media. Seems to me Abdul Rahman Dahlan and Bung Mokhtar from Sabah are the only active ones.

But it gets annoying and drives people mad when we receive
  • automated calls (once you pick up, the recorded message will play)
  • calls from individuals (I believe they are from BN, and having a chat with us on who will we vote for etc)
  • sms-es from BN
I don't think this is the best way to reach out to people. PM should review this outreach programme in PWTC / BN.

Here's one that I just received:

Thanks, Happy New Year but try something else please.

To one man, regardless of any analysis on GE13, it was the mother of all frauds. He is Anwar Ibrahim. Ini bukan saya kata ya.

Check out the article on The Telegraph (UK) - Malaysian vote was 'mother of all frauds' says Ibrahim Anwar and on BBC News - Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim urges protest over poll defeat

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has urged supporters to stage a protest after Malaysia's ruling coalition won polls he said were marred by fraud....He added that there were "specific incidents" of voter fraud involving foreign nationals.

Actually, it all began on election day. Rumours of foreign nationals voting in GE13 started to go viral mid day. Here's one.

Hey, what b*llshit is this. I believe there are many people in Malaysia who can't sing Negaraku and speak Bahasa Malaysia. What sort of criteria are these to determine "genuine" voters? 

Here are two more

Then there was Chua Lai Fatt's issue with none other than the special one, DAP MP of Serdang, Dr Ong Kian Ming. Allow me to quote The Star -  "Dr Ong Kian Ming had used first-time voter Chua as an example when he questioned the Election Commission on allegations that the Government had issued MyKads to foreigners on May 4, the eve of the general election."

After GE13, Dr Ong apologized for wrongly accusing him. Chua was really a Malaysian and there's a reason why his name is Chinese but he doesn't look like Chinese. 

I think all the above are a form of racial profiling to me. Let this be a lesson to all that Malaysia is not about Malays, Chinese, Indians or "dan lain-lain". And have some respect for others who look, dress and eat differently than you.

If you go over to Sabah and Sarawak, you will realize that Malaysia is not about Malays, Chinese and Indians or "the others". Everyone looks, dresses and speaks the same language there. They even eat and drink together and you can't tell who is from what race. True story. And I hope the next joker who wants to mess around in Sabah (and Sarawak) on religion and racial politics reads this first:

Took this picture when I was in Ranau, Sabah.

Anyway, back to the Prime Minister wannabe, he was a sore and bitter man after GE13 on 5th May 2013. It was the only election and the only chance for him to be Prime Minister. In GE14, he will be too old and ... there's Azmin Ali who has been very patient in the sidelines. He can't be Anwar's coffee and doughnuts boy for too long right?

In the end, a few weeks after the elections, this confused man was all smiles at the swearing-in ceremony in Parliament.

Pic from Malaysia Chronicle

Pic from The Star

Err... okay. So much for the protests and rallies.

After the elections, PM clearly was not interested in political games with the Opposition anymore. He went straight into action, he has a country to manage. There were quite a number of things sitting on his table to be cleared and most of these are unpopular policies. All credits to him, he went full steam ahead to implement what he couldn't do before elections such as the Goods and Services Tax. Not because he can't but the amount of resources that BN or the Government need to put in to explain to voters are just too much.

You see, BN and the Government are not exactly good communicators or strategists minus a few bloggers like Rockybru, BigDog, AnotherBrickInWall, and a few leaders like Subramaniam, Mukhriz, Hishammuddin, Khairy, even Idris Jala the non politician. The rest need to attend a few tutorials.

PM's bold steps in
  • reducing subsidies for petrol and diesel (increased by 20 cents)
  • increasing electricity tariff 
  • increasing the feed in tariff on electricity bills from 1% to 1.6% to support the Renewable Energy programme
  • introducing the Goods and Services tax
were all well received by ratings agencies and analysts.

Except the public, of course. Many don't seem to understand why is there a electricity tariff hike for instance. Why don't you spend a few minutes to read this - Electricity Tariff Hike : How much do you know and how will it affects you? by Tai Zee Kin.

Before you switch excuses or spin any stories, the Government is actually doing just fine under Najib. We are not great but not bad either. We are on a steady climb towards a developed nation.

On 16 Dec, the Prime Minister addressed a crowd of about 1,000 people in Putrajaya International Convention Centre. This was the ETP Turns 3 event. In his speech, PM said:
  1. Malaysia’s real GDP grew from RM676.7 billion in 2010 to RM751.5 billion in 2012. This represents a significant increase of 11 percent.

  2. As of quarter three this year, GDP recorded a five percent increase year-on-year, outstripping forecasts. It is projected to hit 4.5 to five percent by year-end.

  3. The country is at full employment, with declining unemployment rates from 3.7 percent in 2009 to three percent in 2012. During my tenure, employment has increased by 1.8 million, as population growth held steady at 1.7 percent.

  4. We have tripled the annual growth rate of private investment since the start of the economic transformation in 2010. The baseline average of five percent a year from 2008 to 2010 has been lifted three-fold to 16 percent for the period 2010 to 2012.

  5. This year, private investment is forecast to grow at 16.2 percent, hitting RM135.8 billion.

  6. Private investment accounted for 65 percent of total investment in the first nine months of this year.

  7. Increase in government revenue of 14 percent for the period of 2010 to 2012, growing from RM160 billion to RM207 billion. We project to hit RM220 billion in revenue this year.

  8. We continue to slash back our fiscal deficit as a percentage of GDP. From 6.6 percent in 2009, we will reach four percent this year, and further reduce the deficit to three percent in 2015.

  9. Private consumption held steady since 2010, growing from six percent to 7.7 percent in 2012. In the first nine months alone this year, we grew at 7.7 percent. 

  10. Investors showed confidence in the Malaysian stock market, as can be seen by the FTSE-KLCI’s upward trend, hitting 66 historical highs in the last three years. On 10 December 2013, the market scaled another record high at 1,843.85 points. 

But we have to agree that regardless of the positive outlook of our economy under Najibnomics, subsidies are just to much to bear for the Government. Not just from the growing demand of the current users but there are new sets of consumer taste and preferences, population growth, and commodities costs to think about.

Our price ceiling policy for subsidies is never a good one. It should have been an absolute / specific subsidy rate eg a subsidy of RM0.60 per litre on RON95. Fluctuations in global prices, be it savings or additional costs, will be passed on to the consumer. But it will still be 60 cents cheaper than the market rate. This will allow the market to behave efficiently and learn how to adjust to shocks.

That's academic now.

If you think it is easy for the Prime Minister to sign off the GST and subsidy rationalization plans knowing very well that he's going to be unpopular, think again. Do you really think he enjoys seeing people suffer from his decisions? He's from Pekan, not Bangsar. But there are things that need to be done and he has the balls to do it. I think there are more things that the Prime Minister can do to complement the subsidy rationalization.

The Opposition is right, review the toll concessions. We have no objections if you want us to repay the cost of constructing the toll (finance, operations, etc). But once it is done, cap the toll fees to cover maintenance and operations only please.

There are also "sin" goods or if you like, unhealthy subsidies, that we can look at. Take for example, cooking oil. Why are we not removing the subsidies for this first? I think I know why but I can't tell you.

The Government must immediately look at removing monopolies in all sectors. The people can't be paying market prices for fuel, excessive toll rates, expensive cars and expect to smile and say I Love PM.

When we head towards market efficient points with the removal of subsidies, you need to allow people to have options and let us make choices. Let us choose where to allocate our resources - time and money. Let there be competition with prices that reflect true market efficient equilibrium points.

Be it logistics, transportation, or food. The market has to be competitive, free, and efficient.

It goes without saying that the Government must also go on roadshows to explain GST.

Why are you sitting down when people from PAS, PKR and DAP are actively hitting the road, preaching to people from all walks of life especially students that GST is unnecessary? Check Twitter.

There are so many things in Government that are not properly explained or communicated to the people. It is high time that the Prime Minister consider a dedicated Government communications unit, if not the Communications and Multimedia Ministry.

The Cabinet, Chief Secretary and Treasurer General knew very well that the subsidy removals will not go down well. You can't just bite the bullet and expect the people to continue with the theory that "Malaysians will forget by tomorrow". Where was the Communications plan? What happened to every Ministry's Communications Unit? Are they merely event managers and photographers?

People will be reminded everyday, from the moment they turn on the lights at home, they unlock their cars, they fill up their petrol tanks, they drive on toll roads, they eat in hawker stalls.

It is good to read that The Star - Public sector will see 11 cost-cutting measures implemented to compensate for price hikes

..........but it certainly came late.

First of all, I disagree with cutting the perks of the Ministers and senior Government officials. They are not exactly highly paid if you look at their basic salaries. When you tighten the politicians' belt, they will need to look for "funding" somewhere else. And that's definitely a grey area. We don't have political funding transparency in Malaysia - hey not even in Pakatan Rakyat okay?

But frankly, are the cost cutting measures enough? What about the standard practice of serving kuih and teh tarik / Nescafe in meetings? Do you know that there are agencies like PEMANDU who couldn't care less if you had your breakfast? They just provide a room with a table and chairs. If you really want, they will get you a glass of water but that's it. No catering contracts for anyone.

There's also an open secret of working in Government which is paying each other "speakers' and council member fees".

Every time a government official is invited to speak at a conference - most probably organized by another government agency - he or she gets paid to speak, depending on the seniority of the official. Why wasn't this slashed? End this practice.

Every time a new council is setup, that means money. Government officials do get extra income by setting up councils (they get paid to attend meetings) or getting themselves a Directorship in several government agencies or GLCs. All these need to be reviewed by the Public Service Dept Director General (KPPA). Maybe it is okay to get paid for advisory services to GLCs as Board member but there should only be one salary from the Government. Government officials must not setup councils in Ministries, invite each other to be a member and pay each other. End this practice.

I can go on and on but at times I wonder .... why should I bother....

What a year this has been. I am looking forward to 2014. It will be a challenging one with escalating costs of living and crazy politicians still running around, I'm sure.

As always, let's hope for a better, happy and peaceful New Year!

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