How do you know who will win the next 13th general election? Simple – if PM Najib Razak select Ng Yen Yen as one of the “winnable” candidates, then the current BN (Barisan Nasional) regime will collapse and vice-versa. Well, that’s the joke on the street. But after the Minister of Tourism’s screw-up in the RM1.8 million Facebook scandal and the recent Chinese New Year’s “Gangnam Style” fiasco whereby the prime minister was humiliated by Psy’s refusal to appear in a “Loh-Sang” together, thanks to Ng Yen Yen’s boot-licking attempt, it appears this woman should be disposed of at the very first sight. If that’s not enough, Yen Yen’s latest humiliation by Malacca’s crowd at Jonker Street during Chap Goh Meh in yet another “Yes-No” fiasco should be a clear confirmation.
Now that opposition PR (Pakatan Rakyat) have begun the election war by drumming goodies and freebies via its 13th Election Manifesto unveiled 2 days ago, the ball is in Najib administration court to counter-attack. Of course the manifesto is not a promise but merely a declaration of intentions hence the immediate criticisms that the manifesto is yet another empty promises that need not be delivered. But so does a vision (read: Vision 2020 by Mahathir) statement which spells your desire to achieve or accomplish something. Whether it’s manifesto or vision, the objective is to achieve its beautiful goal hence the feel good factor accompanies it. In short, there’s no guarantee whether you can achieve your manifesto or vision.
On the surface, the promises in the PR’s manifesto’s leaflet looks extremely good, so much so that rural voters could get multiple-orgasms just by reading it. Judging from the fierce bombardment from the ruling coalition, the manifesto appears to be the ultimate cookbook in swinging both rural and young voters. If that is not enough to send shivers down Najib administration’s spine, the manifesto also comes in six languages – [BM] [English] [中文] [தமிழ்] [Iban] [Kadazan] – if only the opposition can print enough copies to be distributed to each of rural people. Now, let’s look at what are the offerings on the table.
[ 1 ] Lowering electricity, water, fuel prices
Scream as you like but the fact remains that Petronas have been subsidizing Tenaga Nasional Berhad (KLSE: TENAGA, stock-code 5347) and IPPs (Independent Power Producers) to the tune of RM37.3 billion and RM49.3 billion respectively in cumulative gas subsidy from 1997 – 2010. In short, both TNB and IPPs enjoyed a combine RM86.6 billion or 74.4% of total gas subsidy since 1997, and counting. Considering lopsided IPP contracts that guaranteed as much as 20% profit, you don’t need tertiary education to know that by eliminating monopolies to a few cronies, you can actually lower prices mentioned in the manifesto.
Pakatan’s plan is to transfer gains from IPPs subsidies restructuring to subsidizing fuel price reduction – brilliant. The same goes to private water management concessions that were promised forever water tariff hikes.
[ 2 ] Lowering car prices
We were actually quite surprise that Najib administration didn’t bother to counter-offer when Pakatan Rakyat proposed car excise duties reduction not many moons ago. This is perhaps the biggest attraction in pulling young voters since car installment can easily eat up to one-third of one’s take-home salary. It’s insane an American with monthly salary of US$3,000 could own a Toyota Camry with his 1-year salary while a Malaysian requires about 5-year salary to own the same car, dollar-to-dollar speaking. With CBU and CKD cars paying 75% to 105% in excise duties respectively, it is still possible for people to own a better quality cars at a lower prices by lowering the excessive duties.
While the manifesto didn’t state the quantum of excise duties to be lowered in precision, it did says the duties would be reduced in stages and subsequently abolished in 5-years period. That’s roughly 15% to 20% in yearly excise duties reduction – a good step in making car ownership affordable. Of course, the (new) government can still enjoys between 20% (CKD) to 40% (CBU) in cars import duty and sales tax even after the excise duties abolishment. Strangely, the manifesto did not mention about APs (approve permits), a money making concept that gave birth to AP King Nazimuddin and AP Queen Rafidah Aziz.
Oh yeah, Pakatan plans to sell APs, a business hopefully can off-set the loss of RM7 billion from excise duties. Wait a minute !! latest news today says the Ministry of International Trade and Industry will announce a cut in car duties from Japan and Australia tomorrow. The minister further said the reduction would be over three years for car models originating from the two countries. This is absolutely hilarious – didn’t Najib administration say this cannot be done as it will bankrupt the country and would make tens of thousands of Proton employees jobless? Well, maybe PM Najib has intention to announce a small reduction in excise duties at the eleventh hour before polling date after all. But I supposed it’s too late now for him to catch the worm.
[ 3 ] Abolishing AES, Revoking AES summonses
This is perhaps the easiest to execute – 90% of people including from both sides of opposition and ruling government are unhappy with AES. Every Tom, Dick and his pet knows AES (Automated Enforcement System) is another project to enrich current regime’s cronies especially MCA. It’s been ages since MCA secured a mega cash-cow, the last being multi-billion dollar PKFZ (scandal) project. Actually, more than 50% of existing drivers do not deserve to be on the roads since their licenses were secured under the table. No wonder JPJ was amongst Auntie Rosy’s top target ever since she became FLOM. Considering every sub-department within JPJ needs to be fed, no wonder they are fuming with anger because Auntie Rosy wants RM700-cut in every full “pao” package from new Malaysian F-1 drivers wannabe.
In less than 3-month, a whopping 300,000 traffic summonses were recorded in 14 locations alone. This generates RM90 million in revenue and by the time all 831 cameras are deployed, the amount of money ringing two BN cronies’ cash registry is definitely deafening (*grin*). Since Najib administration does not have the political will to revoke the summonses issued despite Attorney-General’s Chambers order to halt all court proceedings related to legal issues, maybe PR should be given the opportunity to right the wrong.
[ 4 ] Abolishing Monopolies
The proposed Anti-Monopoly Commission to stop unfair business practices is something similar to United States’ antitrust law where it give businesses an equal opportunity to compete for market share. Maybe the suggested commission should extend its coverage to include four sections including agreements between competitors, contracts between buyers and sellers, mergers and monopolies. As of now, the detail information from the manifesto is limited. It’s true that a lack of competition causes price of goods to rise as and when the monopoly tycoon wishes to.
A classic example – Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, an UMNO crony who is also the richest Bumiputra in the country, who owns Malakoff Corporation, Gas Malaysia, Port of Tanjong Pelepas, Johor Port, Senai Airport Terminal Services, SMART Tunnel, Edaran Otomobil Nasional (Proton), Modenas, Honda Malaysia, Bank Muamalat, Puspakom, Alam Flora, POS Malaysia, Defence Technologies, Tradewinds (M) Bhd, Bernas, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Mutiara Kuala Lumpur Hotel, Hilton Hotel (Kuching and Petaling Jaya), Hotel Istana, Malaysian Sugar Manufacturing Bhd and the list goes on.
[ 5 ] Abolishing PTPTN, Free Education
Besides lower car price, PTPTN (National Higher Education Fund Corporation) is perhaps the most popular but controversial proposition by PR. Armed with justification that education is the people’s right and the government responsibility, PR hopes to swing fence sitters into their camp. PR propose that fees for higher education in all public institutions to be borne by the government while private institutions to be subsidized on par with public institution’s rate. Students will also be provided with living cost allowance for food, lodging, books and transportation. PR de-facto leader Anwar Ibrahim always tell the people at every political campaign that if Turkey, a country without oil revenue, can give away free education to its people, there’s no reason why an oil-producing Malaysia cannot do so.
Turkey, with population of over 75 million, has 166 universities and spends around US$13 billion to provide free education to its people. However, the main question is not about giving free education but rather providing quality education in order for the students to be employable. Whether it’s PTPTN or free education, it defeats the purpose if a huge number of graduates cannot find a job simply because they’re unemployable. It has to be based on merit and to deserving students only. Abolishing PTPTN can be done but require comprehensive study to prevent other abuses such as students spending taxpayers money on Formula-1 Perodua Kancils wheezing around the streets. As for the money, it can be sourced by plugging leakages and reducing toll charges, of which RM5 billion is now channeled into the pocket of concessionaires annually, which in turn owned by UMNO.
[ 6 ] 1 Million New Job, RM1,100 Minimum Wage, RM4,000 Income
MTUC believes foreign labours make up a staggering 30% of Malaysia’s workforce. A conservative figures show there are about 3.1 million documented illegal and legal immigrants in the country. The unofficial figures, of course, is much higher and it runs into millions. In order to remain competitive, Mahathir’s policy was to create an artificial cheap labour hence the opening floodgates of foreign workers especially from Indonesia. Instead of promoting highly skilled workers, Mahathirism pulled handbrakes and chose to remain backwards, encouraging brain drain. Over the time, Malaysians are no longer working in plantations and construction industries simply because the locals cannot compete with foreign worker’s cheap cost, even if they wanted to.
On paper, it’s wishful thinking to execute RM1,100 minimum wage for every worker, let alone RM4,000 monthly income in 5-year. The operational cost will increase for those (mostly SME) who currently employs foreign workers. As a result unemployment and inflation will skyrocket, at least that was the argument. However, one can easily argues that despite the current cheap labour employment, the price of goods and foods continue to escalate hence massive cheap workers does not necessary keep cost low. As there are about 33% workers in the private sector earning less than RM700 a month, it was hope the minimum wage initiative will increase productivity and replace foreign workers with locals, not to mention reducing risk factor due to over dependence on foreign workers. But the question remains – are locals ready to fill up vacancies after 1 million foreigners are sent back?
[ 7 ] 5 Technical Universities, 25 Vocational Schools, Retrain School Leavers
Education reform is the juice – from jobless school leavers who do not pursue higher education to graduates who are unemployable. The whole education system needs major overhaul with emphasis on quality instead of quantity. Producing human capital with the right skillsets that fulfils the vision and demands of the national economy is the answer. More than 20 years ago, local graduates major in Biotechnology had to cross over to Singapore because there’s no demand for such qualification. Today, Biotechnology is still at its infancy. In spite of billions spent on infrastructure, Biotechnology remains in uncertainties ever since Mahathir launched the much-hype BioValley in 2003.
Lesson from Mahathir’s BioValley’s failure – world class infrastructure will not produce knowledge economy without the correct human capital. Probably Mahathir thought he could inject Indonesians who swam Strait of Malacca illegally into the country to BioValley. Education reform’s scope must address the root problem – producing quality and knowledgeable educators. If you employ monkeys as teachers, most likely you’ll churn out little monkeys at the end of the production line (*grin*). Nevertheless, an education reform is a long-term process which take years to produce fruits.
[ 8 ] 150,000 Affordable and Comfortable Housing
Affordable housing is another issue being addressed annually during the budget. With escalating cost of living and housing prices, the gap between the rich and poor is worsening. PR manifesto propose to build 150,000 of low-cost (below RM75,000) and medium-cost (RM150,000 – RM250,000) within first term of administration. It doesn’t provide more info as to the specification of such “comfortable” housing and the suggested housing prices is a great challenge due to high cost of raw materials. It’s near impossible to achieve this if the plan is to depend heavily on private sector as there’s no money to be made performing such charity task.
In fact, PR realizes this hence the proposal to setup a National Housing Corporation (PPN) – an agency to build, regulate and develop the so-called comfortable housing. The (new) government has to do this task itself due to the cost factor. And they plan to pump in RM5 billion in the first year and RM2 billion for the subsequent year. Can this be done? Before you foam at mouth yelling about how stupid such idea is, think of Singapore. Using Singapore’s Housing and Development Board successful model in solving its housing shortages, obviously opposition’s proposal deserve some attentions. Now, who said PR is stupid?
[ 9 ] Shutting Lynas, Review RAPID
Pakatan Rakyat will halt operations of Lynas rare earth plant in Gebeng, Pahang. As with other mega projects, money changes hand hence the insistence by the ruling government that the radioactive waste and toxic residue are as safe as Lady’s Choice Mayonnaise. Heck, they’re willing to spread the toxic residue over the toast and eat it to prove that it’s not harmful at all (*tongue-in-cheek*). But didn’t former PM Mahathir say Bukit Merah’s radioactive waste was equally safe that he was considering bathing (*grin*) in it 20-years ago? If you do not know how fantastic this radioactive waste is, Bukit Merah operator, Mitsubishi Chemicals, is still running a massive RM300 million clean-up operation in the area.
As long as Australian Government does not allow import of radioactive waste, toxic residue, Thorium deposits and whatnot from Lynas plant back to their own country, those “Mayonnaise” are harmful, pure and simple. If Lynas wants to sue Pakatan due to the shutdown, so much the better as it would spills the beans about the hanky-panky done by BN government. As for Rapid (Petronas Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development) RM60 billion project in Pengerang, Johor, Pakatan actually wants a review over its implementation and not a total abolishment.
[ 10 ] Improving Public Transportation
Klang Valley traffic congestion problem is still the same compared to 10 or 20 years ago. Much can be done to integrate MRT and busses for a more efficient network access, similar to Singapore’s transportation model. Actually, Singapore’s MRT system started back in 1987 and to date, it’s so successful that it’s ridership is about 71% of the bus network. So one wonders why Malaysia, under Mahathir’s 22-year-rule, never attempt to copy such model to solve its traffic congestion problem. To be fair, PM Najib’s MRT project announced in 2010 should be applauded as it was long overdue, although the 150km project cost could exceed RM50 billion or even more due to kickbacks.
Pakatan plans to allocate RM2 billion in the first year to double the number of buses and bus routes in the Klang Valley. Obviously this is a short-term plan. It also careful not to promise the sun, moon and stars when it aims to reduce congestion by 50% within “10-year” only. However the manifesto does not address the transportation infrastructure problem in Sabah and Sarawak. Pakatan may just be able to solve the problem in Klang Valley by truely integrate all the different transportation entities which include KTM Komuter, LRT, monorail and buses. Of course, Pakatan can always consult Singapore on how to improve the current traffic havoc.
[ 11 ] Abolishing Tolls
Consistent with Orange Book (Buku Jingga), Pakatan Rakyat will take over the highways with the intention of gradually abolishing tolls. Built on a RM6 billion budget, PLUS had collected a whopping RM24.3 billion in toll collections since 1988. Due to political pressure, PLUS Expressways have waived their right to RM6.5 billion in compensation in exchange for toll collection extension, originally in 2015, to 2038. In a nutshell, UMNO via its nominees in PLUS has been sucking billions of dollars in tolls collection from the people. While abolishing tolls could make you orgasm, the fact remains that expressways need money for maintenance, although the amount could be a tiny fraction of the billions collected.
If the intention of abolishing tolls is to reduce the price of goods, then Pakatan may be over optimistic. Essentially, Pakatan needs to tackle another new area – formulating and enforcing price reduction supposedly from the tolls abolishment. How can this be done is another challenge to Pakatan. When price goes up, it’s very hard to come down due to greediness unless fierce competition is introduced.
[ 12 ] Recognise the UEC (Unified Examination Certificate)
Seriously, I bet some monies that PM Najib would announce goodies on this decades long issue – recognition of UEC – at the eleventh hour after he dissolved the parliament simply to fish for Chinese votes, if he is desperate enough. Actually this is a no brainer topic. Heck, it’s a non-issue at all if only the current regime does not mix education with politics. Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) isn’t recognized till today despite the fact it is recognized as a qualification for entrance into universities in the United States, United Kingdom, Singapore, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and others.
Do you know that UEC is recognised by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and students with the UEC are taken in as first year students even without the STPM? That speaks volume about the quality of that piece of UEC as compared to STPM. Whoever can champion the recognition of UEC wins a sizeable of Chinese votes. And considering many Malays and Indians are also enrolling their children into Chinese schools, their votes are in your bag as well. If Najib has indeed the intention of playing this card, he’s late again.
[ 13 ] Stopping Healthcare Tax
Just like education, basic health access is the people’s right, so goes the manifesto. The controversial healthcare tax 1Care secretly planned by Najib administration was mentioned as one of the rejections. It further offer free ward service to all citizen in all government hospitals. The interesting part is where the monopolies on pharmaceutical supplies, hospital construction and medical infrastructure would be abolish. Actually the cost of medicines in Malaysia should be very much lower than it is now, thanks to monopoly.
For example, in Dubai you can purchase a wide range of antibiotics for kids at any pharmacies but strangely you must get it at certain clinics in Malaysia. While it’s quite cheap purchasing it over the counter in Dubai, the same antibiotic would cost you a bomb under doctor’s prescription in Malaysia. This is because the cost of kickbacks to secure monopoly has to be recouped from consumers.
[ 14 ] Respecting Sabah and Sarawak Rights
Customary land rights, improving infrastructure development, restoring autonomy of Sabah and Sarawak and of course, raising petroleum royalty payments from existing 5% to 20% are some of the goodies in the manifesto. However, most of rural Sabahans and Sarawakians are deliberately left in the poverty zone by the current regime that they’re too poor and illiterate to understand the mumbo-jumbo of such goodies. In Sabah, you have greedy Jeffrey Kitingan, selfish Yong Teck Lee, traitor Pairin Kitingan and other Sabah champions who prefer to spend more time fighting for seats rather than educating voters.
In Sarawak, you have the undisputed heavyweight “Peh-Moh” Chief Minister who will flash some instant noodles and rice to poor rural voters for guaranteed votes. Heck, you can even give away 100% petroleum royalty yet the ignorant rural Sabahans and Sarawakians will still cross for BN when election comes.
[ 15 ] Reform Judiciary, AG Chambers, MACC and PDRM
Money talks so Pakatan plans to increase police personnels’ salary by 15%, yearly RM50 million to build police posts, yearly RM200 million allocation to increase PDRM’s capabilities. Everybody knows 90% of the police force are corrupts yet there’s no mention of IPCMC to address police brutality, for obvious reason. Pakatan cannot afford to anger the strong 100,000 police force and was hoping for their votes to take over Putrajaya. Already there’re voices within the police force favoring a government change. It would be interesting to see if Anwar, via his connection, can swing some police votes to the opposition.
Freeing up institutions such as Judiciary, Attorney General’s chambers, Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission from political control is great to have but of not immediate importance to mostly average-Joes on the street. You don’t talk about such noble objective if you can’t even bring foods to the table, can you? Furthermore, changing tainted and corrupted institutions cannot be done overnight.
[ 16 ] Others
– Each senior citizen aged 60 and above to get bonus amounting RM1,000 every year to ease financial burden. But surely millionaire doesn’t need such taxpayers money, right?
– Reserving 141,000 hectares of Orang Asli land together with clean water and electricity to all 852 Orang Asli settlements, plus 5,000 educational scholarships
– Tax adjustment – 26% tax rate for taxable income exceeding RM400,000 instead of current RM200,000
– RM500 million allocation to Military Veteran’s Small Entrepreneur Fund
– Abolishing existing taxi permits system – permits to be given directly to taxi drivers.
– Boosting R&D investment to 5% of GDP
– Restructure all ownership in Felda Global Ventures (FGV) aiming to return operation and ownership of FELDA land to settlers and staff.
– Implementing 8 demands of BERSIH as electoral reform
– Abolish all legislation restricting media freedom such as Printing Presses and Publication Act.
The big question – is Pakatan Rakyat’s manifesto populist or reformist? Of course it contains populist element, silly. All political manifesto contains popular and nice to have promises. Even PM Najib himself is spending hundreds of millions of dollars engaging APCO to re-image himself in order to get popular. Both ruling and opposition parties are in the popularity competition. At the same time, the manifesto also contains reformation measures, which can be done by Najib administration as well if there’s a political will. As usual, the critics’ normal question – how does Pakatan plans to get the huge funding?
One must not forget that there’s already a huge problem in the present government expenditure and procurement process. Auditor-General’s 2008 report stated that corruption had cost the country RM28 billion. Transparency-International said that RM40 billion can be saved from open tender. And do we have to start talking about PMO’s (Prime Minister Office) mind-boggling expenses costing a cool RM14 billion annually? Pakatan claims it only needs RM45.8 billion for it’s economic agenda. Hence, the targeted RM49.5 billion in savings annually by Pakatan, which is 24% of country’s RM206.4 billion annual expenditure looks doable.
Sure, scream again that the manifesto will bankrupt the country. Wait, didn’t the ruling government swear on their mother’s grave that opposition will bankrupt any states that they administer before this? The last I heard Penang and Selangor prosper under Pakatan administration. Now, it’s Najib administration turn to rubbish the opposition manifesto by having a nationwide live debate, once and for all. Will the popular prime minister dares to throw the challenge? Running away from debate and hiding behind pathetic excuse that debate is not part of Malaysian culture is not going to help Najib administration scoop more youngsters’ votes. Alternatively, if Auntie Rosy still disagree, PM Najib can nominate the newly appointed “Election War Room” director Mahathir to the debate. That would be awesome – Transformation vs Reformation.
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