Stop subsidising corruption first
MAY 31 — Without eliminating corruption and leakages, how can the government expect the rakyat to bear the burden of subsidy cuts?
In the play “Caught in the Middle 4,” Chandran pointedly asks, “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 shrinking coffers, increasing debt and economic hardship; saying that it is time for the rakyat to tighten their belts and throw away their crutches — to change their lifestyles, as Barisan Nasional (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 local night markets.
The better-off among us will be protected from the worst effects of these policies, but for the rest of Malaysia, food subsidies mean whether a meal comes with meat or just eggs; education subsidies are the difference between a poor family’s youngest child attending school and staying at home.
In times of crisis, it might be justified to ask the rakyat to bear such increased economic burdens.
But the question is: Are those in power also carrying their share of the burden?
Can they honestly say 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 burden, 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 some people are 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 RM12 billion of our money — 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 is that not only has the government failed 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 asking Malaysians to tighten their belts is, I think, a little too much for us to bear.
Such a government lacks any moral authority or credibility to ask the rest of us to make sacrifices, when 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 leakages, then we can perhaps discuss the economics of subsidies.
If not, all that cutting subsidies will do is give the current pirates running our government more to loot.
Malaysia = Greece?
It has been disappointing to see Datuk Seri Idris Jala at the forefront of the campaign to cut subsidies. His past 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” believing they struck gold when they came up with the Greek analogy.
I am entirely inclined to agree that we are headed the way of Greece. But 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.”
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.
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 subsidy reductions — if a government can show truly genuine progress in combating corruption and leakages, as well as maintaining impeccable standards of integrity and austerity among 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 an already never-ending list) that will burden the rakyat while allowing the fat cats to roam free.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.