Saturday, November 26, 2011

Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011: The Rule of Law or the Rise of Mob Rule?

Parliament is deliberating on the Peaceful Assembly Bill, the essence of which is what is best for the nation in terms of balancing freedom of expression with regulating anarchic tendencies in the garb of it. As predictable, the opposition and anti-establishment elements have gone to town to oppose the proposed law, which recommends in principle that demonstration and assemblies be better regulated and channeled with the view of ensuring public order.

What is the bone of contention between the opposition and the legislators behind the move? Again as predictable anti-establishment elements wish to preserve the anarchic and emotive elements, while the advocates work towards neutralising them. The opposition rejects the proposal to ban street demonstration, to restrict assemblies to specific and confined avenues such as the stadium, and the stipulation of longer notice of intention and application to the authority. Those advocating the change in the law of course insist on those very things.

If the public chose to be partisan over the issue, it is clear how the alignment would polarise or gravitate.Basically the PR elements would oppose the proposed change, seeing it as 'draconian', out to neutralise their basic weapon or modus operandi, while BN elements would be in vehement support, seeing it as 'disarming' or putting the straight jacket on the opposition.

But then this is a serious issue involving public order, security and perhaps the very survival of our democracy. I propose we the public look beyond partisanship and the 'prankish' stances of both political divides.

The fact is that our democracy depends on public order and the rule of law.In our history in sombre moments, we admit our democracy cannot be of the puristic western type which can afford greater leeway to racial and ethnic sensitivities. Our democracy cannot!

Reflect upon our dark moments in history of ethnic relations, and you would know what I mean. Yes, some will be accusing me of raising the dark spectre of racial riots. But no, this is not 'raising the scare', 'the spectre of bloodshed' for ideological reasons, but facing history in its cold brute facts and learning instructively from it. We imperil our democracy in failing to distinguish between these different approaches to history. Machiavellian abuse of history should be distinguished from sincere learning from it.

Which brings to mind the recent scathing but historically accurate attack on the DAP and its leadership in Parliament by YB Zulkifli Nordin. Actually far worse abuses had been hurled at the Malays, besides those cited by YB Zulkifli Nordin, which had been left out perhaps due to sensitivities. There were abuses even to the effect of  compelling the Malays and Muslims to consume pork during the heated campaign of 1969. Incidentally, the remarks of YB Zulkifli Nordin should be taken together with his blog recounting his PKR or youth movement days as able lieutenant to Anwar Ibrahim. In the language of a direct participant and eye witness, he recounted the planning and deliberations that transpired in organising a street demonstration (peppered by emphatic 'I was there' ) . By his account, it was planned by the organisers which street to block, where to congregate in case of police action, at what stage cars were to be torched for maximum effect! These are disclosures not to be taken lightly.

Actually street demonstration is by nature violent. There is no such thing as ' peaceful' street demonstration. In this matter, it would be foolish for us to go by the pledge or pronouncement of organisers themselves. No sponsors or organisers of street demonstration would ever say they wish to organise a violent or anarchic one. It is axiomatic that all would say their intention is 'peaceful demonstration' in the name of 'freedom of expression' and 'democracy'.

A close examination of the structure and contents of street demonstration shows the following elements, regardless of the pronouncement of sponsors: a) defiance towards the law and authority, b) militancy and aggression in its style of political mobilisation, c) limited room for  genuine dialogue or reasoning, despite its surface appearance to the contrary, d) confrontational and antagonistic towards authority and other views e) heavy reliance on sensationalism or emotionalism, f)) anarchic psychology of the mob, g) authoritarian and oppressive towards the public in the sense of an 'imposition', 'loud', ' indoctrinating', and 'forced down their throat' , h) nihilistic, relativistic and Machiavellian contesting of social norms and limits, i) highly propagandist and manipulative of public opinion and mass medias, k) show of strength, brute power through sheer numbers, l) highly provocative (towards the law and authority), with latent intention of sparking conflict, m) dangerous play of bravado and populist 'heroism', secretly wishing for an iconic 'martyrdom', to be manipulated for escalating open violence, n) and many others.

 All of which enable me to say indeed street demonstration is by nature and structure a violent process. Of course I say so with the caveat that street demonstration is to be distinguished from the 'Salt March' or 'Spinning Wheel Movement' of Ghandi or  'We Shall Overcome' of Martin Luther King. These pacifist and civil right protests are by content and structure a different phenomenon altogether. They have nothing to do with the 'street demonstration' of Adolf Hitler towards seizing power, and its  variations we are witnessing in many Southeast Asia countries. .

Setting aside partisanship, I wonder just what are we witnessing before us? Where do we stand? How do we best preserve our democracy? How do we build a nation? What do we want really, transcending partisanship, populist tendencies, abstract liberalism and 'human right', bourgeoisie rhetoric, dangerous and convenient Machiavellian politics and uncritical personality cult? Of course by the' rule of law' we do not mean either a rubber ruler, pliable and malliable to vested interests. Such abuses should not be admitted into the conception of 'rule of law', nor compounded with it.

What is our choice effectively speaking, one we are willing to back morally or politically. The rule of law or mob rule?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why the public lost: ‘shifting goalposts’ and ‘good intention’ of bad goalkeepers

A few days ago Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid the Chairman of PAC, perhaps the most powerful parliamentary committee, charged with overseeing government spending, gave a press conference in connection with the National Feedlot Corporation  (NFC) debacle. On specific issues pertaining to NFC, he explained that so far the committee had invited only the Ministry of Agriculture. As he would be meeting the Ministry of Finance and NFC in January 2012, he refrained from commenting on the specific issues of NFC until then. On this front, fair enough.
However, while not commenting much on NFC, he said many other interesting things on the state of our government spending. He spoke of recurring patterns of poor management, bad planning and cripling delays in all ministries, departments, affecting not just NFC but ‘many many’ other projects across the board. His intonation is interesting enough, as well as his line of reasoning. I find it interesting to reflect upon as a discourse.  While lashing out at the general pattern of mismanagement and bad planning, he sounded almost like softening the gravity of the individual case of NFC by pleading a general malady affecting many, if not all ministries and government departments. In other words, thus run his line of reasoning: ‘do not single out NFC as bad, for generally they are all bad’. Since they are all bad, NFC is not that bad after all since it conforms to the general and recurring pattern! Hence it is all quite normal really, in ‘the nature of things’.
From this line of reduction, converting the individual case of NFC into the general, Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid then launched into denouncing the general malady, pledging to look into the problem, for the reason the public has had enough of the spinning and the twisting, so much so they do not believe the government even when it is telling the truth! This line of reasoning in a way conditions the ground for more spinning and twisting, implicitly suggesting that even as ministries and government department spin and manoeuvre in tight corners, they could well be telling the truth It is only public disgust and exasperation that’s blinding them from seeing truth! After morphing the individual case into the general, the gravity of the general is then ‘sanitize’ by insisting a ‘relook’ into the way the government manages and spends fund. In this manner, ‘action’ is seen or felt to be taken towards redressing the general problem of mismanagement, bad planning and paralysing delays affecting many projects.
While steps are being taken to ‘relook’ into the problem , the current mismanagement and misspending are absolved by Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid’s emphatic statement  that ‘all done with good intention’. In other words the mismanagement, misspending and bad planning are all the doings of honest but alas incompetent idiots. Well it all sounds like a fatal combination for the nation. On the one hand we have  'honest' idiots running ministries and the public sector, on the other hand we have dishonest clever people plundering the nation. Given this scenario can our nation survive in the long run! Nevertheless it explains a lot. It explains why public fund is readily depleted and wasted by the billions, while financial wizards, great industrialists and entrepreneurs seem always to end up with great fortunes. Perhaps there is much truth in Mahatma Gandhi's saying: 'Behind any great fortune there is always a crime'. Excuse me.. perhaps I should say: 'Behind any great fortune there is always an honest idiot'!
The kind of ‘delay’ Datuk Seri Azmi speaks of is not of the usual kind. Ordinarily what we understand by 'delay' is the kind that holds things up, hampers development or progress of a whole process. The kind of ‘delay’ he speaks of is of a special kind. It holds things up only partially, while expediting other elements in the same process or transaction. He gives an example, reflective  he said of a general pattern! In the case of the NFC, all the money for the project had been withdrawn by 2009, but due to ‘delay’ the contract or agreement was signed only in 2010. There you have it! In this form of ‘delay’ it expedited  payment and withdrawal, completed even before the agreement. Simultaneously the ‘delay’ holds up the agreement, effecting 'spedious' payment.
This peculiar form of ‘delay’, which upsets the normal sequence of agreement and payment, gives rise to an associated malady. Datuk Seri Azmi refered to the problem of ‘shifting goalpost’. He explains the problem as one in which obligations and things to be done keep changing. If before the deal was to do such and such, in the end they become different things altogether! Wow…this is dead serious for the nation. Small wonder why many mega projects went haywire and down the drain. It explains the ‘blunders’, ‘bad planning’ and the whole complex of ‘bad management’, ‘misspending’, or ‘non- deliveries’. Once payment had been secured prior to agreement, of course obligations and accountability would be weakened or subjected to renegotiation. Hence the ‘shifting goalpost’ and ‘changing targets’ lamented by the Chairman of PAC.
Given the vicious cycle of ‘shifting goalposts’, where honest idiots are confronted  by clever crooks, can the public ever win? A small comfort though to learn that the problem is being ‘relooked’ into by PAC!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Confession in the Charge of Conspiracy

Let’s face it. Many of us are very gullible when leaders defend their interests by charging ‘conspiracy’ on the part of others. This phenomenon says many things. For one it shows we are becoming more suspicious of the conduct and thinking of our leaders.  We are also growing more cynical and skeptical of politics and public life. In everyday expressions, we feel ‘pissed off’, ‘fed up’, ‘disgusted’, ‘disillusioned’ over their antics and pronouncements. In many ways this is healthy, in the sense we are now more predisposed to be critical, cautious and discriminating in our public or civic life. We are no longer that credulous or naive as to accept everything at face value in our relations with leaders. We tend now to examine their doings and views from more angles, for hidden motifs or vested interests lurking under or behind their stance.
But then, many of us tend to fall into another form of credulity or gullibility under the very same charges of conspiracy kicked up as a smoke screen by our leaders or public figures. In   short we are no less naive, credulous or gullible than before, only that our taste and menu has changed somewhat. Errant and incorrigible leaders has now smart up to our blind spots or rather soft spot for conspiracy theories. Hence in our politics and civic life, ‘conspiracy’ has grown to be the first weapon of choice in the arsenal of leaders in crisis.
This is by no means confined to particular parties, organizations or affiliations. The utility of conspiracy theory has not been missed by any groupings worth their salt. The potency of the conspiracy theory is availed of by the ruling party, as well as the opposition. Just for example, at the very beginning of the National Feedlot Corporation issue, the Minister at the center of the issue proclaimed this is a move ‘ out to destroy Wanita UMNO’ . This is quickly chorused and echoed by many. This pattern represents many of the responses of the ruling party to scores of other issues as well.
As for the opposition, we know they thrive on it. In fact Anwar Ibrahim built a whole personal platform on this charge of conspiracy. Very early in the beginning of the sodomy case, when his supporters were earnestly defending him along legalistic and logical grounds, he had expressed the view that the charge of sodomy ‘is politically motivated and hence must be fought politically’. In gist, he attributed it all to ‘conspiracy’ as genesis as well as his defense to it.
While we are more than aware of the currency or prevalence of ‘conspiracy’ as a tendency, we need to understand it’s psychological, moral and political effects on us in a more in depth manner. Otherwise we would be deluded and made prey of, all the while thinking  we are being ‘critical’, ‘ aware’, ‘discriminating’, ‘conscious’, ‘politically matured’, ‘ liberated’, ‘emancipated’, ‘just’ and the like.

 ‘Conspiracy’ as technique or political tactic works in the following way, with its corollary effects: 

 a) It deflects from issues at hand. Hence in the case of the National Feedlot Corporation, it serves its cause to deflect public gaze by pointing to the machination of others out to destroy or undermine Wanita UMNO. This deflective function explains too why Anwar Ibrahim has not sued over his sex video, challenged the authenticity of the video, has not been forthcoming with DNA samples, has avoided the ritual of religious oath and the like, all of which are directly connected with the issue. On the contrary, he has been most vociferous in denouncing ‘conspiracy’ out to destroy his political career. Maximum deflection is usually accomplished by errant leaders by identifying their personal self with bigger cause or mission. Thus an individual problem becomes the fate of  ' Wanita UMNO' or a leader with personal issues becomes 'the survival of the opposition' or ' the very embodiment of opposition cause' .  

 b) the conspiracy theory is most effective in dividing people over issues, making for partisanship
and sectarian views. Once unfolded, the theory begins to influence people to gravitate around partisanship, regardless of the issues at hand. Hence people begin to collude and conspire themselves to divert, deflect, to cover up the real issue at hand, be it corruption or sexual videos and the like. This explains the gross and jarring inconsistencies and contradictions in our political life. Parties or groups which are normally fast in denouncing the corruption of adversaries all of a sudden become vehement protectors and apologists of corrupt parties. Likewise, groups and public members who are never wanting in censuring leaders for sexual misconduct overnight turn into apologists for promiscuity. This is particular schizophrenic when it comes to generally orthodox PAS , with its rather stringent sexual mores, ever zealous over khalwat (close proximity), adultery, or sexual segregation.  Only the theory of conspiracy could explain and reconcile Nik Aziz’s views that beautiful women should not be allowed to work with his view that those who oppose Anwar Ibrahim (in the heat the sex video controversy) can never go to paradise!
c)  the conspiracy theory also acts in a devious manner to relativise our values or to blur our sense of right and wrong, that is to compromise our principles. Because the theory deflects from issues, and divide us along partisanship regardless of issues, it forces us to compromise our principles and values too in the process. In this regards, even as we try to infuse public life with higher morality or conscience, under the spell of conspiracy theory, unknowingly we conclude with errand leaders in making our politics and civic life unscrupulous or immoral. Deluded by conspiracy theory, we collude or conspire along with errant leaders,

 d) conspiracy theory develops a form of ‘false consciousness’ among the public duped in its sway. It undermines proper appreciation and understanding of the real issues and in this manner prevents them from the right course of action in politics, be it pertaining to ‘ reformasi’ or ‘transformasi’ .
As stated above we need to understand the working of the theory of conspiracy frequently resorted to by leaders in crisis situation. It is very useful for them whenever cornered or held to account. As we outlined, the theory of conspiracy deflects from real issues, it divides people into partisanship or sectarianism away from moral principles, it compromises public conscience or relativise it, and it clouds public understanding of the real issues or situation. While the theory of conspiracy effects all the above, if we examine our errant leaders closely, we can infer their confession of sort in their very theory of conspiracy. As they deflect, we know what they are really hiding. As they divide, we know what public opinion they fear. As they relativise values and principles, we know what principle they fear the public would judge them by. As they whip up smoke screen  to confuse and cloud understanding, we know what they fear the public understand.
 In  other words, it may serve their cause in the short term to resort to conspiracy charges. Unknowing to them though, as they do so, they may be signing their very own confession. As they try to cover their tracks, they leave even more telling signs!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Creative Corrupt

I have always been impressed by the fact that there are levels of corruption as indicated by its degree of ‘sophistication’. It ranges from the cheap direct ‘give’ and ‘take’ at face to face level, say at the counters of immigration, custom, utilities board, land office, licensing authorities or at traffic checkpoints and the like, to the super efficient and sophisticated corporate wizardry, capable of transforming billions from one form to another, from cattle to condos , from one airline to another, from agricultural to premium freehold land bank, from Malay reserve to freehold, from worthless shares at one point to those rocketing through the price ceiling. All it takes really is just a matter of ‘swapping’, ‘conversion’, ‘ reinvesting idle capital’, ‘rebranding’, ‘repackaging’, ‘rezoning’, and all manner of ‘tricks of the trade’, ‘ professionalism’, ‘ legal advice’, and of course ‘ vision’, ‘flair’, ‘entrepreneurship’.
At the highest or sophisticated level, corruption is hardly that, because it assumes the garb of legality. It achieves the perfect combination of abuse, opportunism, indecency, vulgarism with invulnerability against the law. At this level, corruption can even be transformed into saga of success, epitome of financial wizardry, the acts and doing of capitalist prophets. Failing banks can be turned around into the most dominant or premier bank, due to brilliant ‘merger’, ‘take over’ and ‘corporate make over’, ‘bail out’. At this level, great bankers, industrialists are mythologize as Midas whose touch can only turn ugly duckling corporations into gold. With their touch, or  the mere grace of their name, boasting of great parentage or siblings, penny shares become punters favorite overnight, appreciating five times or more with the batting of an eye.
If you study and reflect on all the happenings of sophisticated and legal form of corruption, which we cannot even call it by its name due to its legal guise and seamless metamorphosis, we are bound to acknowledge one truth, that is its perpetrators and practitioners are creative people with a special bend of mind. Study this scourge hitting our nation closely and you will be amazed at the spinning, wheeling and dealing going on. As some sociologist had observed corruption ‘greases’ things. It makes things moves smoothly in a devious way. For example, a hypothetical corporation, let’s say ‘National Fed A Lot Corporation’ or ‘ Anyone Can Fly With Easy Subsidy’ , can justify its purchase of premium real estate, or share swap, in terms of 'sound investments' with figures to boot, under dubious circumstances. When pressed for an explanation our hypothetical company is not obliged to divulge all the complex of vested interests involved in this transaction, the various kickbacks, the commissions, the profits, the trade offs, and the like, suffice with a mere ‘ sound investment’.
To handle corruption effectively, we need a higher level of public morality and a higher level of legal standards pertaining to corruption. We need this because vested interests would always work towards a low standard of legality that they can easily outwit or slither out of. We need to be as creative morally and legally as the creative corrupt in our midst!

Friday, November 11, 2011

National Feedlot Corporation: Meditation on the Cow

When it comes to leadership, the standard for integrity in office or governance should go beyond quibbles over legality. This is because everyone knows there can be many phenomena which may pass for 'legal' which nevertheless violate or at least compromise the principle of integrity in office. This is usually the case in the issue of cronyism. Usually practitioners are intelligent enough to 'fix' things in such a manner to satisfy legality, yet accommodating of vested or conflicting interests. In Malaysia there are only too many of such examples, which is a major bane for our nation. The basic issue is just where do we fix the standards for integrity in office, good governance or scrupulous leadership? If we just reflect on all our past issues involving fiscal policies, developmental planning or the implementation of mega projects, there is always this problem of 'legal vested interests' costing the public.

We will also note that whenever we have a relatively clean government in the world, it will be one which is prepared to set the standards of integrity in office higher and beyond minimal 'legality', into scruples and old fashioned morality or honesty. We will also note that in any major case of corruption in court, the defence will invariably be that of 'legal though interested',therefore 'not quite corrupt'. That is is why a good government will set its standards at the legal-moral level, stretching the limit of the law towards this end. On the other hand, a less principled government or leadership would instead use the 'legal' argument narrowly as to exclude all considerations of scruples, morality and decency. That is why at the end of the day, morality and decency should guide politics (tempered by the law of course!). Otherwise, many of the issues of 'corruption' or 'cronyism' could be a subject of polemics till the cows come home!

A capable and principled government should reflect serious commitment to weed out corruption and vested interests, regardless of party affiliation or partisanship. Without such resolve, a government would soon be riddled with corruption, for the simple reason that those of its inner circle would feel secure from action, on the understanding that only outsiders risk it. Also, corruption then becomes a sort of privilege for the ruling group. This is far from saying that a change of government necessarily ends this problem. The weakness would continue even with a change of government, as the incoming ruling group would simply avail itself of ' the privilege'. In fact, an opposition would always decry the 'corruption' of ruling group usually because it relishes its 'privelege' and opportunities for corruption. This is why a good government, or one which endeavour to go down in history as one, would combat corruption seriously, taking the bull by its horn! It aims directly for a bull's eye, instead of making excuses and side stepping into many irrelevant issues, or bull...!

An honest and people-oriented government would think of the national good and the interests of the citizens in general.The prime motivation in politics is not personal interests or gains. It doesn't see the nation as a cow to be milked dry. It would endeavour to secure and advance national interests , never to plunder or blunder deliberately for gains, exposing the nation to ruination as would a cow in a china shop!

The very little that I read of the Auditor's-Report, is already too much by way of dubious practices and abuses. It sets me wondering would there by any measure of the proverbial 'heads shall roll', or merely the usual 'let the good times roll'! Holy cow!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Seksualiti Merdeka 2011: The Thrill in the Drill

The public outcry on both sides, whether in support or opposition to Seksualiti Merdeka 2011, has been at cross-purpose to each other. In this respect, the issue has given rise to an atmosphere of exasperation to partisans and 'confusion' to members of the public. Those who object or criticise, see Seksualiti Merdeka 2011 as advocating 'free sex' in the form of LGBT. They see the event as a threat to the norms or values of the majority. They question the right of the sponsors and advocates to 'freedom of expressions' and 'human rights' in championing their cause, explicitly or latently. On the other hand the supporters or sympathisers of Seksualiti Merdeka 2011 seem to compound many issues in their stand, thereby creating a general mood of ' unsaid things' , 'latent support', or even 'streaks of opportunism' among them. The basic approach is essentially ' we like it, minus the liability', a kind of ' expediency or convenience ' if you like.  

The stand of PAS, PKR or PR in general is interesting to ponder. Although giving a semblance of non-committal stand on the issue directly championed by Seksualiti Merdeka, their stance clearly reflects the modus operandi of PAS, PKR and PR. On the whole they like the idea of street demonstration, the exercise in mobilizing, the networking, the organizing, the populistic stancing, the whetting of defiance, the conditioning of international opinion, cultivation of anarchic and anti-establishment psychology, and the subtle undermining of the legitimacy of authority and the establishment. Seeing street demonstration as a basic principle to its modus operandi, the opposition strives for its maintenance or preservation.

While keeping the practice of street demonstration alive and  intact, PKR, PR and PR carefully dissociates themselves from the issue of LGBT as such . This is carefully done in several ways.One way is to avoid official statement on the issue of LGBT directly. So as not to appear too glaring, members are allowed to speak up ' as individuals'. If pushed to the wall in making an official stand, they would sidestep into general diffused and abstract issues like 'human rights', 'freedom of expression', 'freedom from persecution', and of course the usual ' draconian establishment', ' authoritarian police' and 'protection of minority rights'.

In opposition to what PAS, PKR and PR see as 'heavy-handedness' or 'intolerance' of the authority, they advocate a general approach of 'social education', ' dialogue', 'forum', 'engagement' or ' moral persuasion' towards LGBT. While such approaches have their objective values, coming from PAS, PKR and PR they represent a glaring departure, even a stark contradiction to their general political disposition. All of a sudden we note the generally orthodox PAS and segments of PKR, noted for their preoccupation with attire, rituals , 'westernisation', sexual segregation and the like, prescribing rather unconvincingly the 'social education' approach or 'tolerance' towards alternative sexual mores or norms. The jarring contradiction suggests political expediency rather than political conviction or principle.

Although the opposition has 'dissociated' itself from LGBT as an issue, it has has vested interests in the polemics over the Seksualiti Merdeka 2011 event, politically speaking. The General Election is around the corner. It is clear that sex videos of wayward leaders would be one of the major arsenal of adversaries. If such videos promise to be a major political liability to the opposition, it would serve their cause to tamper sexual norm or values of society. If the paradigm of public sexual norm or values could be conditioned somewhat towards greater 'liberality' or 'permissiveness', then the errant sexual conduct of key oppositional leaders could be made more acceptable or palatable. In this way it is hoped  the public would be more accommodating, ' forgiving', 'understanding' of deviant leaders. Shifting the paradigm of sexual mores and values, or at least relativising it, would be an imperative of 'damage control' in the face of serial exposure of leaders in the mass media.

As evident in the Sensualiti Merdeka 2011 issue, the opposition is not really interested in the issues as such when it comes to street demonstration. It merely wants to ride the practice of street demonstration to its full advantages. Hence the public can expect the practice of street demonstration to continue or intensify. From the perspective of the opposition, street demonstration is to be eventually transformed into an opposition tradition. This explains why the practice is of increasing frequency, assuming a serial nature. It explains too why leadership and sponsorship is always the same for several incidents. As far as I can see, the interests is to move politics from parliament, the mass media, into the street. To shift politics from discussion and dialogue to 'direct action', regardless of what sponsors claim or declare to the contrary. Who knows, one day Malaysia can go the way of 'people's power' in the Middle East. Until then, never mind the issues. What matters is the drill must go on, the thrill must be whetted. To be prepared for any eventuality, 'the thrill of the drill' must be sustained at all cost!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Fool's Guide To Public Finance and Avoidance of Bankruptcy

Having read the horrors in the Auditor-General's Report and Minister Idris Jala's speech on finance and bankruptcy, I feel a huge gap in my grasp of financial matters. It is my impression that keeping and managing money is by no means matter. It is elusive, slippery and can simply evaporate or disappear into thin air. It is very vulnerable to plundering and blundering. It is very amenable to sleight -of- hand, falling readily into the pocket, easily concealed up the sleeve, or made a subject of illusion.

Just to help my own understanding of the mystical subject of finance, I decided to make some notes of my own, sharing them with those equally perplexed.

Firstly, there is the concept of 'operating cost'. This should normally refer to the regular or recurring cost of keeping things running, such as salaries and other overheads. Normally 'operating cost' should exclude subsidies, unless subsidies is part of your operational calculation, like for instance for winning votes, in the case of which subsidies is certainly part of 'operational cost'. In any case I think we need to distinguish 'operating cost' from 'operation cost'. 'Operation cost' is the huge burden of correcting, restoring, salvaging, bailing after the plundering and blunderings that we read of. If you like, 'operation cost' is analogous to the cost of restoring our health, say for instance after we go for a heart bypass. Putting it simply , 'operation cost' is the expenses of cleaning up the mess left by someone, which nevertheless continue to drain even more public funds. To recapitulate: We need to distinguish 'operational cost' from ' operation cost' .

I always note that 'subsidy' seems to be a dirty word for many leaders and some diehard of bourgeoisie thinking, normally of those in the private sector. It is taken to signify ' reliance', 'dependence', 'fatalism' of the lower classes, commonly designated as ' subsidy mentality' or 'crutch mentality' by the more affluent. The truth is all classes are usually the beneficiaries of 'subsidy' in one form or another as reflected in the economic or financial policies. Only the form and terminology differs. For the affluent', we don' t call it 'subsidy' but 'perks', 'tax reliefs', 'infrastructural developmental cost' , 'incentives', various form be of licenses like 'AP's', and many more.

Actually 'subsidy' can be either constructive or parasitic. Subsidies in the right places could be a vital developmental tool, like the encouragement of education or development of skills. Subsidy can be a vital mechanic of social and economic equality, and a dispenser of social justice. But there is the other kind of subsidy, which is parasitic in nature, which lives off public fund without accruing much benefits for national development. This can take many forms, wether we call it 'subsidy' or by any other term. Nevertheless subsidy of this kind acts as a drain of public fund. This phenomenon is best categorised as 'subsides', as it merely eats into public fund, depleting it.. To recapitulate: we need to distinguish clearly between ' subsidies' and 'subsides'.

I always have problems with this term ' investment', as in the case someone saying 'investment' must be prioritised over all else. As I understand, 'investment' is putting money to good use, accruing many other benefits, financially or otherwise. 'Investment' is foregoing present use of capital for long term profits or benefits. Within our context, normally 'investment' refers to huge projects costing billions, or big businesses and the like. But for some strange reasons, our 'investments' seems to  mean many other things, essentially plundering and disguised blunderings. Public funds seems to have vanished with no benefits accruing, for example a highway project costing billions which is unfit for public use. To make sense of this, even if it is only for myself, I would called such spending ' investiture', because it merely allows some to wax riches, often instantaneously without accountability. To recapitulate: we need to distinguish clearly between 'investment' and 'investiture'.

And then we have this dumbfounding subject of 'loan'. Now 'loan' to my understanding means the money the government needs to 'borrow' to run the country and finance its development. In this respect I do see the need to 'borrow' or take a 'loan'. If well managed, it can certainly be an important factor for our national well being. However, now I read our 'loan' has significantly escalated, jumping by 12.3 percent from the previous year to RM407 billion. With the horrors of the Auditor-General's Report still fresh  in mind, I realise something must be wrong with my earlier understanding of 'loan'. 'Loan' seems to be something dangerous, threatening of bankruptcy. For greater clarity , I would call this ever escalating and threatening factor not 'loan' but 'moan'. We should be worrying now that our 'moan' has greatly skyrocketed. As a corollary, we should not speak now of 'borrow' but 'sorrow', allowing for the verb form as in ' googling' or ' fingering'. In short our leaders and bureaucrats should stop 'sorrowing' more and more 'moan', bringing us to the brink of bankruptcy!To recapitulate: we need to distinguish between 'loan' and 'moan', between 'borrow' and 'sorrow'. 

I hope to share my personal notes with those equally lost in comprehending recent issues and development in public finance, who are nevertheless anxious over the prospect of our nation falling prey to bankruptcy. Admittedly the notes are too rudimentary or crude for government leaders and top civil servants holding the rein of public finance or the national economy in their hand, vowing 'never to let this (bankruptcy) to happen' -Minister', to cite Minister Idris Jala.