Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fool's guide to political economy and economic model-(post 2)

In the previous posting, we had seen how an otherwise historically sound and necessary policy degenerated into a racial policy, which in turn generated great racial or communal tension in the nation. Malay elite with vested interests justified them in the name of all Malays along communal line, while non-Malay elite with vested interests denounced all legitimate Malay interests in the name of their community along communal line too. The sum total of it all is that the DEB or NEP emerged as one of the most contentious single issue in Malaysian history. It became so contentious that we Malaysians forgot some basic truths or our nation, namely: a) there are many fair and broadminded Malays arguing for legitimate Malay interests, b) there are many fair and broadminded non-Malays arguing for legitimate non-Malay interests, c) there are many Malay chauvinists seeing everything in racial terms, d) there are many non-Malay chauvinists seeing everything in racial terms. The sad thing is that we had closed our mind to category a) and b), while surrendering it to the conditioning and manipulation of category c) and d), with the dire consequence of surrendering our civic life to chauvinism.

We would soon witness the dawning of another ‘era’, the much anticipated and speculated New Economic Model or NEM. I should like to jot down some comments and response to the idea, as mental notes more for my own understanding.

The timing and circumstances of its introduction is unfortunate. It comes in the aftermath of an electoral debacle and with a strange ‘airing’. There was an announcement of a ‘ big thing ‘ coming, with scanty details, and definitely with little or no public involvement in its genesis. The general public mood created can be reasonably summed up as cynical and skeptical ‘what now?’

The choice of the name ‘New Economic Model’ too invites some reflection. I know many might justifiably argue what’s in a name. On my part I wonder. Is it a reflection of how it sees itself in relation to its predecessor the NEP? It merely changes a word, from ‘policy’ to ‘model’. Is it a case of mere dislike of the word ‘policy’ because of its bureaucratic tenor, while the word ‘model’ is more ‘management-like’, ‘academic’ or ‘sophisticated’?. In other words, is it simply a case of sophistries or an indication of commitment and continuities with the past in the NEP? Is it an indication of ambivalence or ‘dualism’ for the future, for easy and convenient maneuver between the ethos of the NEP and the NEM, depending on occasions and audiences?

The choice of name apart, there is the more substantive issue of principles and development philosophy. To begin with, the New Economic Model should indicate clearly how it sees itself in relation to the New Economic Policy. In some aspects, indeed not wholly, the New Economic Model seems antagonistic to its past. Its closely associated concept of ‘liberal’ and ‘liberalism’ connote this. Liberalism suggests a freeing of from past constraints or ‘shackle’. Does this mean that the NEM does not feel a commitment to the issues and concerns of the NEP? If indeed, the NEM dissociates itself completely from past issues and principles, what would these be? ‘Eradication of poverty’ and ‘restructuring the economy, these being the main objectives of the NEP? The new slogan of ‘meritocracy’, interlaced with condescending rhetoric on the Malay lack of competitive spirit, certainly doesn’t help in projecting the NEM as a multiracial policy. It is the old argument of Malay elite with vested interests under the NEP, as well as the all time favourite of non-Malay chauvinists.

The simple truth is that, while there is a self-serving elite that waxed riches from corruption and cronyism, most Malaysians of all races, Malays and non-Malays, have to and do ‘compete’ to earn a decent leaving. Sloganeering under ‘liberalisation’ and ‘meritocracy’ without genuine understanding and commitment to the principles will merely lends itself readily the wild swinging of the pendulum between ‘ pro-Malay’ NEP and the ‘pro-non-Malay NEM’. Before we know it, we are back to the basic discourse of chauvinism that continually haunts our nation.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The fool's guide to our political economy and economic model-(post 1)

Today we are earnestly searching for an economic model. I presume then the existing model is deemed unsuitable and unacceptable by the people, or simply no longer relevant to our nation’s needs (depending on who define what these needs are).I have to presume this because the desire to change economic models can be due to many other considerations, such as political expedience, both internally (electoral votes?) and externally (foreign investments?), which does not necessarily mean the economic wellbeing of the citizens at large.

Before we discuss the new model, let us understand the old hag of an economic model, ordinarily referred to as the NEP( New Economic Policy). The best way to achieve this is to see the background and the rationale of it.  

Once upon a time, before the dawning of the NEP, the economic model was ironically more ‘liberal’ in the sense ‘the market’ was given a free reign, without much state intervention in the present sense. The catch phrase or principle then was ‘Malay political power, Chinese economic power’. Check all the major writings and documents of the era and you will see the great influence of this formula on the thinking of the time.  This principle of course had its origins in colonial times, when it was assumed that Malays are inherently rural folks, peasants, country bumpkins, who could not be otherwise. They are at best suitable as fishermen, padi planters, as food producers for the city, while the better off aspired only to be civil servants or penghulus. The pre-NEP era after independence continued this planning principle of ‘Malay political power, Chinese economic power’. Racial stereotypes reinforced this principle and vice-versa the principle engendered and reinforced the stereotypes that Malays ‘cannot compete’, while the Chinese are ‘money grabbers’ who are natural businessmen as fish in water, on whom the destiny of the nation’s economy should and must depend.

 The inevitable consequence of this principle was an economic pattern and development along ethnic lines, which conformed to the lopsidedness that attends the gap between rural peasant economy and modern industrial, capitalistic sector, a notable feature of which is the glaring gap in income and economic standing, with all its social and political implications.

The 1969 General Election shocked the nation into realization that the social, political and economic gap among ethnic groups was unhealthy for nation building. The naivety of the principle ‘Malay political power, Chinese economic power’ was generally felt and understood. The reality was that the Malays wanted to be rich and have a piece of the pie in the industrial corporate sector, while the Chinese and non-Malays did not content themselves only with economic power. As citizens they had political power and understandably wanted a say in the running of the nation.  There was introspection among Malaysians, Malay and non-Malays, that an imbalance economic development along racial or ethnic lines was a serious obstacle to nation building . The gap had to be corrected or redressed. Hence we had the declared objectives of the NEP, namely to eradicate poverty and restructure the economy so as to prevent the identification of economic activities along ethnic lines.

Few important points need to be highlighted here. The NEP then was really meant to be a plan for  social and economic reconstruction to redress specific problems. It set out to correct colonial legacy and the economic imbalance it bequeathed. Some would correctly see it as a plan of social justice, to redress economic and social imbalance. In this respect the NEP did not have a racial or ethnic basis, its main concern being social justice and economic reform. It had racial or ethnic reference only by virtue of the nature of the problems it set out to redress, since economic disparity was in fact closely along ethnic lines. In spirit and principle, however, the NEP should and could have been implemented to eradicate poverty and stimulate economic growth regardless of race or ethnicity by a principled, enlightened and just elite.

The evolution of the NEP however took a sad turn. In the hand of an opportunistic and greedy elite, it quickly turned into a racket of sort, camouflaging and justifying itself in the name of the Malay masses. I do not have to dwell too much on this episode in this fool’s guide, for it is by now a common knowledge, even for a fool. It suffices for me to say that in the end, the 'metamorphosis' of NEP led to the following situations: a) The aim of eradicating poverty had been marginalised and not been significantly achieved, b) the target of restructuring the economy likewise had not been realised in a meaningful way, c) the Malay masses had not benefited much by the policy, while being stigmatized as being over dependent and ‘spoilt’ ( in countless versions and renderings like ‘subsidy mentality’, ‘ crutch mentality’, etc), d) due to the abuses in its name, the NEP developed a negative image and assumed a racial character, with its own unique ethos, in the name of which influential, rich and middle-class Malays justify their vested interests,  e) the NEP engendered much resentment among the non-Malays, and understandably, as they see only the exploitative and acquisitive side of the NEP, most remote from its original aims and spirit, f) far from improving ethnic relations, the racketing image of NEP in fact deepened it.  

The 2008 General Election, the result of which almost mirrored the results of 1969, spurred another bout of this ‘electoral conscience’ and  introspection amongst our elite, just as it did in 1969. Once again the elite undertake a frantic hasty search for a new economic model purportedly to redress some ‘imbalance’.  

This raises many pertinent questions. I should like to touch on these in my next posting as I think my posting shouldn’t be too long and imposing on reader’s time or attention. I leave you with one question for now: Shouldn’t we distinguish the NEP, the policy and its spirit, from the abuses of it? In this respect, do we change the policy or check the abuses of it and the vested interests therein? Is the goal of alleviating poverty, rural and urban, no longer relevant? Has the problem of economic imbalance along racial or ethnic line been resolved and no longer a concern? More importantly we should be mindful that with or without a new model, the same opportunism and greed that hijacked and derailed the NEP could only promise failure and disaster for the future. There is no model capable of weathering the rot and decline inflicted by corruption and vested interests. If I may put it in a different way, had the NEP been implemented in a scrupulous, just and enlightened way, regardless of race or ethnicity, we could be in a better stead today, be it economically or as a nation.

The fool’s guide is to be continued…            

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I never cease to wonder ...

There had been many noteworthy news and events over the last one month or so in our public life. My own personal circumstances however do not permit me to respond to each of them separately, yet I feel compelled to respond in one form or another. So I figure some brief notes may suffice, lest these news and events pass me by without recording some response in my blog

Of course the public is following the case of Anwar Ibrahim on the sodomy charge with much interest, only to have their enthusiasm dampened somewhat by the technicalities raised by the defense over the judge’s impartiality or the lack of it. When the judge refused to cite Utusan Malaysia for contempt of court over its reporting of the case, the defense contended that was a measure of bias against the defense, rendering the judge unsuitable to preside over the case. The defense filed that the judge concerned should recuse himself. This stratagem seems to be very much favored by the defense, who had extended its application to the RM100m defamation suit brought by Anwar Ibrahim against Dr Mahathir Muhammad.

For my own mental note, I call this stratagem ‘judging the judge’. Law students and aspiring lawyers should note some of the possible effects of ‘judging the judge’. It is very effective as delaying tactics as it compels the court to sidetrack to other issues besides the main case. As a stratagem, ‘judging the judge’ is very effective also in bridging the gap between the legal and the political. Where political groups had alleged that a particular case is politically motivated, ‘judging the judge’ serves to reinforce the aspersions cast against the authority and the judiciary outside the court, within the framework of legality and the trial process itself. Another possible advantage of ‘judging the judge’ would be to exercise some degree of influence in the selection of a judge more favorable to its advocate.

Which reminds me of another issue generating much news and responses. 50 members of the Australian parliament had demanded that the sodomy case against Anwar Ibrahim be dropped. There are many other news in the opposition run media that certain groups and personalities the world over had made similar demands. While opposition affiliated groups are hyper sensitive to alleged interferences of the government in the case, they seemed to invite and welcome such ‘intervention’ by foreigners. Such intervention of foreigners had been publicized by them as being loft y and concern for justice. Clearly this is all orchestrated and is part of the move to politicize the sodomy case against Anwar. On my part, I see the contradiction on the part of the opposition. While ever picky on alleged government interferences, they don’t seem to feel the indignity of being patronized by foreigners in our own internal affairs. In fact such foreign meddling has gone much well beyond ‘interfering ‘to the point of demanding the case be dropped altogether!

Lately the management and administrative tool of ranking had been utilized in a rather bizarre way in politics. Opposition news work was in euphoria over a ranking which placed Nik Aziz of PAS in the top 500 Muslim thinkers in the world, while Anwar Ibrahim even higher up within the top 40. The opposition had been careful to point out, obviously tongue in cheek, that no BN leaders had been placed anywhere worthy of note. I think we should know better than to fall for this, hook and sinker. We know ranking is often abused as a tool to influence or condition public evaluation in a manipulative way. Just fix the questionnaires or the basis of evaluation in a way that gets you the result you want. Having achieved this, use the result itself to condition (or con) the public towards your own evaluation or conclusion. The term or appellate ‘thinker’ is by convention best reserved for great scholars or intellectuals who had bequeathed some great tradition or heritage to their society or humanity. Their works are generally acknowledged for their great depth or wisdom, capable standing the test of time. Normally the ‘greatness’of such thinkers are not amenable to ‘ranking’ in a mechanical and superficial manner, as in the case referred to above. The naivety of such ranking makes one wonder, is it a case of ‘thinker’ or ‘tinker’ that is being dished out to the public!

About a week ago, the Sun dated 23 February 2010 published an interesting case in the headline. This involved the case of Mr Lye Piang Yin, 71, a retiree who had been given back the title to his land in Hulu Langat, which was stolen from him in the words of the Sun ‘ through the hidden hands of government officers and individuals’. Here, I am not so much concerned with the legal aspects and the details of the case. For these, I refer readers to the copy of the Sun. But in other respects, the case should send shivers down our spine. Judging by this case, all property owners could very easily lose their properties.

This is how, in parallel to the shocking case of Mr Lye Piang Yin. Without your knowledge, some crooks register you as the director of Company X. Then by forgery of documents and signature, the fictitious director transfer the land to the company in exchange for the company shares. After that the fictitious director is ‘arranged’ to resign from the company ( of course leaving all his stakes and land in the company) , being replaced by some dishonest element as director. The new replacement director then sells the land to another party outside the Company X. The buyer or the new owner of the land is then quickly appointed as director in Company X. Hence, to cut a long story short, in this manner you can simply wake up one morning to discover that you are simply no longer the owner of your property! Mr. Lye Piang Yin was fortunate there had been a recent court decision which made the return of his land possible. Can you believe that until recently the position of the law actually favored the frauds. Before the legal loophole was plugged, had the buyer bought the land in good faith from the frauds with no inkling of the illegality, good title would have passed on to the buyer, depriving the original owner of his title. In this respect, to a certain extent, it can be said that a ‘good’ fraud who can convince his client that ‘ all is well’ would have been rewarded by the law and stood to gain by his crooked ways.

This reminds me of an interesting posting by Che Det. I read it as ‘how to pilfer a government linked company’. The details run as follows. Proton bought a motorcycle company for more than RM500m. Then somehow the company ‘became’ unprofitable and a huge liability. In response Proton sold it to a mysterious Italian for US1. The new owner sold the company to Harley Davidson for about RM628m. Hence from Proton’s point of view, theRM500m, the initial cost of buying the motorcycle company , simply vanished, evaporated, but somehow reappeared in somebody else’s coffer, with a further RM128m profit to boot! I am at a loss for words…