By Pak Bui
The 10th Malaysian Plan (10MP) is a misnomer. It does not serve Malaysian interests, and there is no viable planning on display.
The 10MP was “unveiled” with typical fanfare in Parliament like some work of art. The document was bound in a gaudy colourful cover, designed to distract from its lack of content and economic innovation. The 10MP is another prime example of outward appearance trumping substance in Malaysian politics.
Its true slogan should have been splashed across the cover: “Cronies First, Profits Now” (to paraphrase Apco and 1Israel).
The five year economic plan lays out a “development” expenditure of RM230 billion. The focus is fixed relentlessly on maximising income for UMNO cronies, and ensuring UMNO’s political survival, at the cost of ordinary Malaysians.
The 10MP makes no effort to reduce government spending in areas that hurt ordinary Malaysians the most: defence expenditure, bureaucratic wastage, and mega-projects that provide huge profits to ministers and developers, but little or no benefit to the people.
The 10MP provides pitifully inadequate encouragement for small- and medium-sized enterprises, crucial for our future. The blueprint pays no more than lip service to the training and education that are desperately needed to improve our employment prospects and income.
There is no substantial effort to improve the lives of the hardcore poor, including the neglected rural communities in Sarawak and Sabah, and the Orang Asli and estate Indians in peninsular Malaysia.
Poor will be hardest hit
Poor people will be hardest hit by the abolition of subsidies of fuel, food and utilities outlined in the 10MP, and the threatened imposition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
The loss of subsidies will be a heavy burden to middle-class and poor Malaysians alike. The only Malaysians to be spared will be the most wealthy, including Idris Jala and his “Lab Rats”, and of course, the corrupt ministers and bureaucrats who drew up the 10MP and their cronies who will benefit most from it.
As subsidies are slashed every six months, prices will spiral upwards, causing another blow to the poor. The double whammy of subsidy cuts and inflation will have the worst impact on the 40% of the Malaysian population earning less than RM1500 a month (likely to be more than 60% in Sarawak and Sabah).
Many Sarawakians earning a fixed meagre income, including farmers, coffee-shop workers, petty traders and office boys, will be hardest pressed to cope.
Malaysia’s income inequality is among the worst in Asia, according to UNICEF and the World Bank. The richest 20% of the Malaysian population enjoys 44% of our wealth, and the poorest 40% owning only 17%. We are painfully aware that a large number of the 10 million Malaysians making up this poorest 40% are from Sabah and Sarawak.
Triple whammy planned
As if that were not enough, the poor are threatened with another kick in the gut, the third part of a triple whammy. The threatened GST is the worst kind of burden: a regressive tax.
A progressive tax system, together with cutting corruption and bureaucratic wastage, are the best means of overcoming our enormous budget deficit. A progressive framework adjusts the amount of tax paid, graded according to the income bracket, so that the wealthiest pay the highest rates of tax, while the poorest pay the lowest.
But the GST is taxed at the point of consumption, meaning that all will have to pay, as long as they buy anything from a supermarket or a coffee-shop. It is regressive because it does not take income levels into account.
On the contrary, no expense has been spared on arms spending, as if the RM7.3 billion wasted on Scorpene submarines was not enough. The cabinet argues these weapons are meant to be a deterrent against some hostile neighbour – a threat that remains illusory.
There has been no national security threat to our borders, since the “domino theory” that successive Southeast Asian nations would fall under the influence of communism proved wrong, more than 30 years ago, after the French and Americans left Vietnam.
The last hostilities we had with a neighbour occurred during the Confrontation with Indonesia, under the tin-pot dictator Sukarno, in 1963. Our neighbours’ democracies have progressed since then, with the (less belligerent) exceptions of Singapore and Brunei.
The greatest regional security threats remain pirates in the Melaka Straits and the Sulu Sea, the prospect of the Burmese military regime seeking nuclear weapons, and terrorism. We can only combat these threats in co-operation with other ASEAN governments.
Splurging on submarines, tanks and Sukhoi fighter jets serves no useful purpose except to feed parasites like corrupt defence officials and cronies like Abdul Razak Baginda.
Our defence spending has risen over the years, to 11% of successive national budgets, while health care spending has remained at 6%.
The fact remains that the overpriced weapons bought by Najib Razak, when he was defence minister, do not even work. These arms deals fattened Abdul Razak Baginda and his friends in UMNO, and led to shocking worldwide reports of graft and Altantuya Shaariibuu’s murder.
But the Scorpene submarines bought were, in fact, supermarine – they have failed to submerge. Similarly, expensive fighter planes have found it hard to lift off when the jet engines had already taken off – to Uruguay.
The argument that these weapons are meant to deter attackers is a fig leaf. Perhaps our strategy is to distract our enemies by making them laugh.
Hungry white elephants
UMNO took a leaf out of Taib Mahmud’s big book of tricks, by announcing a new Parliament building costing RM800 million – another waste of public funds like Kuching’s hideous state assembly building.
We already know that the construction of the new Istana was awarded without open tender. The cost ballooned to RM811 million, from a projected outlay of RM400 million in 2006. If this debacle recurs with the new Parliament, perhaps we can look forward to paying double the estimate, or RM1.6 billion, for another white elephant.
Then there was RM36 million dished out to Worst Dressed Lady Rosmah Mansor’s Permata Pintar. Many Malaysians ask whether it may go some way to building up her private “permata” collection, for jewels dangling around her chubby chins.
We could find better uses for taxpayers’ money. We could hire competent teachers to run literacy and language classes for adult education for the urban poor. We could supply micro-credit via women’s NGOs rather than corrupt and bureaucratic banks, to small family businesses.
We could provide stimuli and technical support for rural communities to plant cash and food crops on their own land, and to encourage eco-tourism. Instead, the BN robs the rural communities of their NCR land, drives them to the towns, and turns them into the urban poor.
We could build a new hospital in Petra Jaya in Kuching and staff it adequately. We could increase allowances and rewards for good teachers, nurses and doctors in rural hospitals and clinics.
What’s the use of 1Malaysia clinics, and a corruption-ridden Flying Doctor Service, when the main root cause of poverty and ill health among the rural poor is corruption, and the theft of their farming lands?
The 10MP goal is for UMNO to stay in power at all costs, through the usual sewer channels of patronage. It is an UMNO plan, and not a Malaysian plan.