Saturday, May 29, 2010

Propaganda: Malaysian Style

The maxim that ‘If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it’ appears to be the driving principle behind the public relations effort by our Malaysian Government over the proposed removal of the subsidies. The official ‘story’ such as the one by Sin Chew entitled ‘The Malaysian Dilemma’ exemplifies this. Here is an extract:

If Malaysia's economy can expand robustly over the next couple of years, and our incomes grow significantly with the wealth gap narrowed concurrently, then the ensuing pains from subsidy cuts will be diluted.

Very simple. The subsidies North Korean government has provided to its citizens are perhaps the most generous in the world, but with appallingly low incomes, the people remain impoverished despite the generous government subsidies. In contrast, South Koreans can still enjoy very comfortable lives without the generous handouts from the government, because they have very high incomes.

As a matter of fact, our government needs not worry about subsidy cuts. More importantly, it must implement policies that will enhance economic growth, improve government efficiency, while cutting down unnecessary red tape and corruption so as to boost investor confidence.

Subsidies will no longer be that important once our per capita income becomes doubled.

Since this is an issue that concerns our livelihood, we should ‘THINK’ and see how ridiculous the argument above is.

IF, If and if
Reading the first paragraph implies that our economy has been stagnating, our income has shrunk and the wealth gap between the poor and the rich had grown substantially during the past decade.

Albert Einstein once quoted that ‘Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ So, let me ask you a simple question. How confident are you that the people that led our country on this financial precipice can find the courage, vision and wisdom to reverse our downturn and lead us onto a different path?

Subsidies Sucks
Is it true that subsidies are the bane of economic wealth? This article seems to imply that subsidies are the reason behind the decline of North Korea’s economy whereas the prosperity of the South Koreans is due to lack of subsidies. This is like comparing an apple with an orange. North Korea is under a dictatorship with substantial military spending. Further, with economic sanctions imposed on it by the United Nations, it is little wonder the country is suffering economically. To imply that subsidies are the reason for the poverty of the country is cheeky, to say the least.

Government Initiatives
The article goes further and states that the Government needs not worry about the cut in subsidies since ‘subsidies will no longer be that important once our per capita income becomes doubled’. Is this supposed to be a joke? Do you see the twisted logic here?

What the article is actually saying is that with the cut in subsidies, the Government will finally implement policies that will enhance economic growth and cut down on red tape and corruption. Of course, this implies that the Government has failed in implementing sound policies on economic growth for decades. Red tape and corruption have been allowed to flourish until we stand at the very edge of financial ruin.

The crux of the argument by the Government is that the subsidies are a waste of money. And that they are better used elsewhere to fuel economic growth of our country. We are now being asked to hand over more money to the people that created this mess in the first place. Now that’s really insane.

Whilst the Government is to be lauded with coming clean about the dire financial situation Malaysia is in, one should wonder whether it is too little, too late. Critical analysis and constructive suggestions such as ‘Economic tsunami heading our way’ by Dr Lim Teck Ghee is most instructive. What we don’t need is non-sensical propaganda saying ‘Yes’ to every government initiatives especially one as detrimental as removal of subsidies. Added with the proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST), these are really dire times ahead for Malaysians.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

When the Going gets Tough, The Tough gets Going

Today, as I skimmed through the headlines of our newspaper, three very interesting headlines caught my eye…

‘Malaysia government plans fuel and other subsidy cuts to avoid becoming bankrupt by 2019’

‘Sime defends business model after Q3 loss’

‘Malaysia's 40 Richest Wealth Soars 42 Per Cent To US$51 Billion’

Malaysia Boleh or 'Tidak Apa' Attitude
It is said that we often get what we deserve, and I believe that is true of our elected Government as well. The very fact that most Malaysians don’t even bat an eye at the excessive spending of our Government on lavish and often uneconomical projects such as the PKFZ projects is astounding.

The fact that the Government has admitted it may follow Greece into bankruptcy is a serious wake up call. Yet, even with the proposed removal of subsidies and implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) – I doubt Malaysia can remain in the black. These suggestions are an attempt to treat the symptoms of the disease but not the underlying reason.

The Buddha once cautioned that:

‘Just as in the case of a great tank with four inlets and outlets, if a man should close the inlets and open the outlets and there should be no adequate rainfall, decrease of water is to be expected in that tank, and not an increase’

Our Government seems to have taken Buddha lessons to heart. On one hand, its’ increasing its’ inlet [income] by raising new taxes such as GST and removing subsidies for the public. But will it do any good if it continues to spend, spend and spend by opening the outlets to the tank?

Proposed Goods & Services Tax
One, the Government is running out of money. Two, GST is supposed to bring in additional ‘moolah’ for the Government. Three, the Government says that taxes will actually be less under the GST and will not unduly burden the lower income and middle class.

So, where do you think the additional money for the Government is going to come from? Some of you might think – yeah, it will come from the upper class. Are you kidding me? The Income Tax that we pay via our Borang BE is by far, a more equitable system. If you earn more, you pay more to the Government. So, why doesn’t the Government increase the tax rates under Income Tax instead of using GST?

Simple, under the GST, the tax burden shifts more to the poor than the rich. Heck, the rich can afford to pay a measly 5% tax on that flashy handbag but to tax an additional 5% on a packet of nasi lemak may be too much on the poor. Forget about price controls! And if the Government tries to institute price controls on certain controlled items after the implementation on GST – well you might pay the same price for your packet of nasi lemak – but it may have shrunk by half.

Remove Subsidies and then what? [Spend, spend and spend?]
Typically, our official media has portrayed the Government as being responsible in highlighting the issue and trying to resolve it with public input. Hogwash! And we are missing the big picture here. It’s all fine and dandy to want to remove the subsidies to the public but what about the rest of the Government expenditures.

Firstly, isn’t the Government a little bloated? I am sure a large % of the government expenditures goes towards paying for the salaries of our civil servants. Hmmm… private entities usually ‘downsize’ in times of difficulties. What about our Government?

Secondly, why are we in this situation in the first place? Where have our vast natural resources such as timber, fertile land, petroleum etc. gone? If the Government is going to continue to sink our money into white elephants – I prefer the money go into subsidies rather than beasts such as PKFZ.

Thirdly, when are we going to stop bailing out GLCs such as MAS, Sime Darby and Proton? Sure, remove the subsidies if you want to – but please remove the excessive and ludicrous tax on foreign cars as well.

Often, it takes two to tango. If the Government wants the public to bear the burden of its’ fiscal deficit by removing subsidies – we want some accountability as well. How about some real effort in eliminating leakages and white elephants? What’s the point of saving a couple of billion in subsidies and squandering them later on. Can we also have more transparency such as releasing detailed financial statements of Petronas?

  © Blogger template 'Minimalist G' by 2008

Back to TOP