I read on BBC News Online that Europe fuel protests have spread wider. Trade unions have been saying that the oil price rises are seriously affecting the livelihood of whoever they represent; in this particular article it's fishermen. So they are calling for a protest.
And everyday in Malaysia we seem to be closer to hearing similar such news. The government has said that oil subsidies will remain for the next few months, but may be reviewed as early as September. Anyway, just imagine if the government cuts subsidies in half, say. The country will probably go into riot.
The thing I want to ask is ...
Did anyone gather from all this that oil subsidies MUST go? Or, at the very least, be severely, if gradually, reduced?
Obviously, the problem is that more and more of the poorer percentiles of the country will find themselves unable to afford anything, including the basic necessities of food and rent, since petroleum is the basis of pretty much everything in the economy, from planting rice fields to banking.
It's nobody's fault that oil supplies are falling and prices are rising – heck, we've been saying it for years, mostly just to appear sophisticated. You know, like telling everyone you know that global warming is most definitely happening and how you know that ... while sipping Starbucks latte, unaware of the irony. But I guess when it's really beginning to hit, that's when the population goes into mass denial.
If there is someone to blame though, it'd be the government. Sorry guys, I don't want to blame the government too much as you guys are already suffering low self-esteem, but there it is. You see, with all the money we have generated from our oil alone, it could have gone into equalising the income distribution of our country, which according to the Anwar's speech I read last week, is one of the worst in Asia. (Meaning rich people are stupendously rich and few, while the poor are quite poor and there are a lot of them.) You know, like offering scholarships properly to students who deserve it so that the best students actually do come back and contribute to the country (including its economy). Like not channeling the money into such dubious projects as building a friggin' mansion for your own family, or going on and on and after we're tired of hearing it, going on AGAIN about that stupid sports complex in London idea just so a few can have a nicely paid 'business trip' to England (or so I hear). Like, actually giving Terengganu their royalty and using it on the people rather than doing whatever so-and-so did with that money to get himself expelled from Chief Ministership.
Basically, whatever BN and UMNO has done, no matter how derided it is by the majority of the public at the moment and how good a job they think they've done, in the end, the facts, the results matter.
And the result is that we have become an unequal society, whatever the race.
Under such circumstances, it is very hard to ask the poorer people to swallow the bitter pill and suffer the rise in the price of oil. (Or rice for that matter. God knows which one's next. Water, possibly.*) You might as well ask them all to go jump off a cliff – death would at least be instantaneous (as opposed to prolonged) and possibly painless, what with all those corpses to cushion their fall.
All I'm saying is, if we had a more equal society – just think of a country that consists of, say, 90% middle class – it would've been easier to reduce oil subsidies to as low as possible, and have the country come out unscathed. THAT would have been the right circumstances to say things along the lines of 'we must change our lifestyles for the greater good'. As it is I'm not sure the country can survive it when oil depletion becomes a real problem in a decade or two.
As for the Europeans who are protesting, shame on them, and they should ALL enrol at a university to study economics.
* By the way, the Earth's population may run out of drinkable water before oil runs out completely. WWIII may be fought for over rights of water. Battle grounds will include Antarctica and Greenland. Think I'm kidding? Why, you have that incredulous look on your face.
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My goodness, the bloody things are everywhere. Annoying the hell out of us on TV, and then on the cinema screens. It's perhaps more tolerable on radio – no one's really listening to radio in a concentrated manner anyway, most people use it for background noise. Billboards. Walls along the corridors under KLCC Suria or London Tube connecting tunnels. (Okay, I have to admit some of the ads in the latter case work ... I DO want to watch those musicals, and the other ads are catchy.) On the bloody computer screen ... and Google Ads, or, in Malaysia, Nuffnang ads (sorry Ewe Tiam, nothing against your company at all ... just making a point, OK?).
Let's talk about TV commercials. In recent times, they have sometimes gone the absurd or risque route. I was discussing one with Arivind Abraham (director of S'kali) the other day, whom I was sound-recording for in his latest shoot, about a particular UK ad a few years back featuring thousands of coloured balls running down the slope of a San Francisco street. We were arguing about which company the ad belongs to - he insisted it was Sony, whereas I was so sure it's HP. (I just checked, Arivind's right.)
Now, I shall inform you of how many times I've seen this ad.
Close to a hundred times.
It was played at the Coventry Odeon for some time, which I went to catch the latest blockbusters back during my Warwick days. It was also played at the Warwick Student Cinema, which I frequent even more than the Odeon, coz I was the one-time Films and Admin Officer – meaning I get free films. And ads on the WSC screens can sometimes last two terms.
I saw it that many times, and I couldn't for the life of me remember what the hell it was promoting.
Great for the director. He won some prestigious advertising award, according to Arivind.
Now, here's the thing. Commercial productions are paid bucketfuls of money for something that lasts on average 30 secs. That more often than not ANNOY the viewers. Viewers who are potential customers. Who end up half the time not even knowing what product they're supposed to buy from looking at the ad.
An extension on the coloured balls ad. An article on The Guardian's blog section talked about advertising. Now scroll down and read the bottom two comments.
Perhaps it's just me. One individual. An outlier.
Anyway, I'm talking about this coz I'm currently reading a book (50 pages in) titled "Grapevine", which talks about word-of-mouth. Which, the authors insisted, is NOT buzz marketing nor viral marketing. Those of you interested in marketing and business should definitely get it, as it's quite interesting and may prove useful to your understanding of how the everyday consumer thinks and communicates about products.
It talks about how word-of-mouth can fail the advertising companies' objectives even when they pursue aggressive buzz or viral marketing. One example of buzz was Richard Branson jumping off nude high in the sky above Times Square in NYC. According to the book, studies indicate that while that move did generate lots of buzz, in terms of word-of-mouth (that is, ordinary people talking about it): they were spreading the buzz about Richard Branson probably just wearing a nude suit ... but is he? Wait a sec – so what was the product? Do you remember?
Another example given was Oprah Winfrey giving away nearly 300 Pontiac G6s to her entire audience. That thing with her screaming 'YOU get a car! YOU get a car! YOU get a car! EVERYBODY GETS A CAR! EVERYBODY GETS A CAR!'. In fact, lemme just show you ...
(Actually, my first thought was: that happened that long ago? I could have sworn it was last year.)
Obviously it was a gimmick on Pontiac's side to promote their car. It was immensely successful in building buzz.
Here's the problem. The people who got the car for free didn't like the car. It was faulty in many respects. Actually, the buzz did help in getting people to log on to Pontiac's website, or to search out the car in dealerships. Problem is, after test-driving the car, they didn't like it either. So the word-of-mouth was "how cool it would be to win a free car – but not THAT car".
I'm still 150 pages or so from finishing the book, but already there is one big conclusion I can gather from it so far.
You want people to spread the word about your product and buy it in mass numbers? Design a great product. Good is not enough.
If you were wondering why I was reading a book about marketing and advertising, well, I am attempting to find a way to market a hypothetical Malaysian independently-produced mainstream movie successfully.
On a side note, I found this parody by Tyra Banks absolutely funny. Best thing was that it shocked some of her fans who thought she had gone deranged, or so the grapevine on the internet goes.
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Hmm, what to say about this? It is entirely not unusual that many critics who saw it at Cannes simply stated that it wasn't better or worst than the previous ones, just consistently good, that if you enjoyed the previous Indiana Jones films you would enjoy this one too. Of course, it's Spielberg and team. Spielberg emphasised that this film was made for the younger generation who would've only seen Indiana Jones on TV or DVD - for them to watch at the cinema. (In less subtle terms, "please don't pirate the film".)
Interestingly, Spielberg decided to make the film as old school as possible. For example, he insisted on using traditional special effects (to George Lucas' dismay, or so I heard), meaning backdrops and miniatures and stunts rather than CGI (also called visual effects ... yes, there IS a difference). Still, the film contains a sizeable amount of CGI - there are REALLY odd things that Indy and co have to go through here. More amusingly, however, he kept the old school titles and credits in the beginning, which is crude and unclassy - going so far as to use the old Paramount opening logo.
I do think, as a whole, the film is a drop in quality compared to The Last Crusade though. Many scenes in the film felt a bit off, most glaringly in its pacing of dialogue and action. More than once characters would repeat a fact from before no matter how recently said, or there is an odd timing of dialogue lines which didn't exactly flow with the scene. It's really hard to describe, I'm struggling a bit here - for example, characters talk a little while they are searching around a tomb, and then there's this pause, and then they jump into another line of conversation without rhyme or reason. The action sequences too sometimes have this choppy feel to it, and score-wise it's as if John Williams was struggling to comment here and there without being able to stretch or bridge the melody across the scene completely.
Perhaps the film was rushed. I don't know.
Obviously there would be lots of references to the previous films - Henry Sr, Marcus, and as you know Karen Allen makes a reappearance as Marion Ravenwood. Indy's fear of snakes is made fun yet again - in fact, the whole scene seemed to exist purely for that, and would have had no reason to exist otherwise.
For me, I was quite amused to hear Dr Jones lecture about Skara Brae, which is this Neolithic village settlement in the Orkney Islands in far north Scotland, known for being the most well preserved in Europe – and I happened to have been there when I did my two-week solo cycling trip. An odd moment was when I was hearing John Williams plugging a motif from his score for Spielberg's War Of The Worlds over a scene here. Another sign of a rush job? And oh yeah, the villains are the Russians this time – and guess what, I get to practice my stale Russian by catching a word here and there. You'll hear a lot of "давай! давай!" which means "Let's go!", usually uttered by Cate Blanchett's character (I dare you to say you will, even once, think of her as Bob Dylan or Queen Elizabeth I or Katherine Hepburn while watching the film. It's hard, she's so good.)
You can probably tell I'm trying to avoid saying anything about what this film is about. If the first and third films were about religious myths and the second about secret cults, this one deals with a subject matter that Spielberg is extremely familiar with and very much interested in. All I'll say is that I should have known from the titular reference to the crystal skulls - I once read about it when I was reading about the paranormal and the strange. Wikipedia it, it's one of the odd ancient mysteries, on the level of such myths as how the Harappan Mohenjo-Daro civilisation might've been destroyed by an ancient atomic bomb, or how batteries have existed in Mesopotamia (today's Iraq).
Ultimately, I have to say this feels a bit different from the other Indiana Jones films, as much as Spielberg tries to preserve it with the old school filmmaking style. A fun film, but not one that I'm anxious to revisit any time soon.
How Good I Think The Film Is: 7.5/10
How Much I Liked It: 7/10
PS - Why won't Spielberg move to 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio? Stubborn old mule ...
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(1995) APOLLO 13
Films about historical events don't get more faithful than this, yet Ron Howard manages to maintain, uncertainty, thrills, fear, excitement, drama. A roller coaster ride of emotions, from the awe of being in space, the pain of not reaching such an ambitious target, to resolution, to elation. Always inspiring in the end, no matter how many times it was played. No other film has managed this thus far.
(1996) INDEPENDENCE DAY
Highly destructive film, this one launched me into film mania, and can explain why I love films with scenes of epic scale destruction. Storyline was pretty engaging. Large cast but all of them fit. A fun film, though I never saw it that way. The sequence of the cities being destroyed is classic - watched it over 100 times.
The best example of perfect filmmaking. Every element of film production came together to create a sumptuous (yet never distracting) feast for the eyes and ears and heart. The romance is not everything, nor is it the point of the film. The first half of the film brings to life early 20th century high society life, while the second half sucks in the audience as they live through the most surreal experience to ever occur during the entire 20th century. That was the point.
(1998) EVER AFTER
I loved the film mostly because of the witty dialogue, but also for the exceptional plotting. Cinderella is one of the more oft-used tale for film and TV adaptations, but this one managed to emerge fresh and unpredictable. Another thing I absolutely love was how writer-director Andy Tennant playfully injects lots of historical references (both real and made-up) like the allusion that the tale of the cinder girl was told to the Grimm Brothers by an old French dame, or that Da Vinci designed wings for our heroine. And come on, a 14th century young woman who quotes from Thomas More's Utopia? What's not to love?
(1999) FORCES OF NATURE
Rom-coms aren't usually remembered. This one is, due to brilliant direction from Bronwen Hughes, as obscure as she is. There is great chemistry between pre-Armageddon Ben Affleck and the always bubbly Sandra Bullock. As unreal as these characters are, they are liked. Score was surprisingly emotional - and the ending was simply unpredictable yet inevitable.
Mesmerising. Completely sucked into the world of the Roman Empire. At the same time, the story is extremely well written, the direction was masterful, the actors all up to the job, the score was powerful and soulful, the fight sequences great. Favourite film for a long time.
(2001) BLACK HAWK DOWN
Extremely intense portrayal of urban warfare. Gritty, visceral - common adjectives used to describe the film. It's not a film about entertainment, it's not about good action scenes. It's about living in a war, in an extraordinary situation - and not having to die at the end of it.
One of the most joyous, fun, cheeky, sly films. Songs are great - deliciously black and sexy. Casting was incredible. The dance moves were mesmerising - can't stop watching the Cell Block Tango sequence. Best musical film made thus far. Rob Marshall is a genius.
(2003) THE LAST SAMURAI
All historical epics should be like this. Tom Cruise perfectly personifies the story of a character that undergoes psychological and emotional and cultural changes. For once, Eastern values are valued higher than Western values. Edward Zwick is now in my favourite directors list. Maintains a tight, effective balance between plot and action. Great storytelling.
(2004) THE BOURNE SUPREMACY
All action thrillers should be like this. (Except that they aren't.) The story is compelling, the twist in the beginning is heart-wrenching, the jerky cam surprisingly apt, the action consequently intense, the hero's motivations plausible, and the score is just mindblowingly awesome.
(2005) CINDERELLA MAN
I really don't know how Ron Howard does it, but he has done it again. Russell Crowe is once again great here. And Howard's first collaboration with Thomas Newman turned up the most heartbreakingly poignant score in years. I teared up for the first time in a long time at the cinema when Mae says to Jimmy, "I'll see you at home, please, Jimmy? ... I'll see you at home." I couldn't stop thinking about the movie, and the music. I couldn't. Damn the Academy for not recognising this.
(2006) HAPPY FEET
So, the first animated feature to hit this list. Surprisingly strong story that is inventive without ever becoming cheesy or corny, combined with highly expressive percussionistic music from John Powell. What especially surprised me is the sense of heroism imbued on Mumble Happyfeet with the story and the music (see the scene where he dives off the cliff).
(2007) THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
I had really high expectations with this one, and it managed the near-impossible by surpassing it, so even though I felt a little unfair including it on the best of the year list, it does deserve it. It continues the style from Supremacy, and storywise manages to pare down the plot and pile up the action set pieces (which were more tense in effect of desperation rather than exhilarating).
(2008 - tentative) THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN
Some will think it unfair that I didn't give chance to upcoming summer films and the end of the year Oscar films. But already I couldn't stop thinking about this film. The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe was my no. 3 film in 2005, and even I was surprised about that. This film, however, is better because it matures over the first in every way - the film even begins with a political coup d'etat. The Pevensie children are older and united and more battle-savvy now. It is through their eyes that I see the story (rather than Prince Caspian), and I feel every emotion the film wants us to feel, the sense of loss when things change and what was once can never be gotten back.
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As an economist, the part that touches me most is his revelation about the degree of inequity of our income distribution, which basically says that the rich people are very rich and few while poor people are very, very far poorer and many. Such conditions create, among others, a delusional government. My economics mind has shrunk since university, unfortunately, so I'm not the best person to verify it but as far as I can see, the economics analysis Anwar Ibrahim spells out in his speech makes sense to me. And it does not paint a pretty picture.
So here goes. The speech is copied from the new Malaysian news website Malaysian Insider.
Keynote address by Anwar Ibrahim on 20th May 2008 at the CLSA Corporate Access Forum in Singapore, a high-profile gathering of corporate decision makers of the region’s most interesting companies and investment bodies.
Ladies and Gentleman.
On the eighth of March, with fortitude and conviction the people of Malaysia sent a clear message to the powers that be they would not continue to tolerate a corrupt and incompetent government. With resoluteness hitherto unseen they voted the Barisan Nasional out of office in four states and terminated their stranglehold two-third majority in Parliament. In the final toll, the Pakatan Rakyat, that is, the People’s Alliance, now controls five states accounting for about 60% of the nation’s GDP. Additionally, the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur is almost entirely represented by Pakatan representatives in Parliament. After being in power for five decades, the Barisan Nasional meanwhile is still in comatose under this knockout defeat while its dominant and dominating anchor party Umno is in utter turmoil.
In this defining moment of Malaysia’s history, the courage and singularity of purpose of the people has been extraordinary. Having suffered the slings and arrows of an outrageous regime that had become very cozy with the culture of corruption, wastage and misuse of power, the people marched headlong into the battlefield and took the bull by the horns.
To my mind, the eighth of March, 2008 is the metaphor for the birth of a new era where the mill stone of race and religion which had been our burden to bear for the last fifty years has finally been shattered. With one stroke of the mighty pen, notwithstanding the overwhelming forces of electoral fraud and collusion of the organs of state, the people transformed the political landscape of the nation.
This will be a new chapter indeed for Malaysia indeed as it was for Indonesia not too long ago when the waves of reformasi swept the country taking it out of dictatorship to democracy. In a way, it was also for Myanmar though tragically the iron hand of military oppression proved far stronger than the earnest cries for justice and liberty.
A New Economic Agenda has been crafted borne of a long-term strategic vision to develop Malaysia into a prosperous and dynamic society competitive not just in the region, but in the world. We are not talking about knee-jerk reactions or strategies calculated to gain political mileage. This Agenda is a comprehensive programme that we earnestly believe is sustainable in the long run.
According to a recent survey, young Malaysians are now open to more multi-racial socio-economic policies as opposed to race-based ones. The general consensus is that affirmative action should be given to the poor and the marginalised regardless of race or religion. Notions of social dominance and racial superiority find no resonance among the people except for those diehards still bigoted over ancient and archaic forms of political ideology.
That is why our New Agenda is not purely economic. Its viability depends very much on observing the principles of democracy, socio-economic justice, equal economic opportunities and religious freedom. There is no contradiction in talking about affirmative action while waving the banner of equal opportunity because a level playing field can never be level unless and until the poor and the marginalised are taken out of the vicious cycle.
THE FAILURE OF THE NEW ECONOMIC POLICY
The broadest platform that forms the bedrock of this New Malaysian Agenda rests on policies formulated to bring maximum benefit to the people across as broad a spectrum as possible in order to uplift the living standards of the ordinary Malaysian. Ostentatious projects will be shelved. Public expenditure will be focused on infrastructure such as transportation, health and education. There is no doubt that we will be pro-business but the New Agenda will redress the social inequities unleashed by the forces of the free market. Rent-seeking activities, for example, must be kept at bay. Predatory marketing will be outlawed. A more comprehensive regulatory structure will be crafted with the bulk of the input from people actually in the business. All this may raise the alarm that this is populist agenda which encroaches upon free market principles. On the contrary, the New Agenda aims at taking Malaysia to the status of a developed nation that is built on the people’s trust with accountability, transparency and good governance.
Let us first of all answer the question: What is Malaysia’s status today? We hear for example politicians talking about how rich Malaysia is compared to some of her neighbours and how we have recovered so well since the Asian financial crisis of 1997. The truth, however, says otherwise: South Korea and Taiwan were much poorer than us in the 1970s but today their per capita income is US$19,200 and US$15,270 respectively. Our per capita income is only US$6,240. And we haven’t begun to talk about Singapore, a city-state of four million inhabitants. At US$30,810, it is five times that of Malaysia’s. The enormous difference becomes all the more glaring if we consider that just 30 years ago, Malaysia was neck-and-neck with Singapore.
If we analyse deeper we will realise how even more troubling the numbers are. The per capita income scenario paints only a partial picture. What we don’t see is the gross inequality in income distribution. In 2005, Malaysia registered the most glaring GINI coefficient in Southeast Asia, worse than Indonesia and Thailand. As you know, being the most effective measure of income disparity, at 0.47, Malaysia was number two in Asia losing only to Papua New Guinea.
This is a devastating indictment of the failure of the New Economic Policy, crafted almost four decades ago. In the area of the urban-rural gap, this policy has also been a complete fiasco. In 1999, income in rural homes was 55% that of urban homes with the highest poverty in mostly Bumiputera majority states such as Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, Perlis, Sabah and Sarawak.
Of course there has been some development in the country but we do not see anything impressive in the numbers unless we still want to compare ourselves with African countries. Incidentally, Malaysia’s poverty reduction statistics are unreliable because our base rate is unrealistic.
By far the most damning case against the NEP is that it has been hijacked by the ruling elite to satisfy their lust for wealth and power. No doubt this was a multi-racial rip-off of the most systematic kind: the leaders of the component parties of the ruling coalition working hand in glove with Umno to deprive the deserving Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans and Kadazans of the benefits that were to be derived from the NEP.
THE DECLINE IN FDI (Foreign Direct Investment)
Tender procedures, transparency and independent evaluation in privatisation issues, equity distribution, all these were swept aside in the name of the NEP on the sacred ground that this was all for the benefit of the Bumiputeras. But the numbers stack hard against the hype. Just compare the money spent on scholarships with say the tens of billions expropriated by the select few in equity awards, Approved Permits, contracts to companies controlled by families and cronies, and the billions in profit reaped on account of privatisation projects and schemes. There is also a high economic cost to this gross abuse of the policy. The people have to pay higher costs for energy, water, highway tolls. The people’s protest falls on deaf ears.
The decline in FDI as well as private domestic investment is serious. This collapse has led to serious underperforming by Malaysia in the region. India in the last five years saw its investment/GDP ratio rise from 22% to 34% and Brazil’s ratio shot up from 15% to 27%. Malaysia’s ratio, on the other hand, plunged to 9% last year from 30% in 1996. In terms of FDI over GDP, Malaysia plummeted from 8% to 4% for the same period. This is one of the steepest declines anywhere in the world. What these numbers signify is the plunge in the level of competitiveness and the degree of profitability of companies and there is no reason to imagine things will improve for the better barring a drastic change in circumstances. As a matter of fact, for the World Competitiveness Index for 2007/08, Malaysia dropped two notches from last year’s standing.
Yet the authorities are touting Malaysia’s so-called impressive current account surplus which increased from 8% in 2002 to 14% in 2007. But what it means really is that investments have fallen and hence a decline in the import of capital goods. Even Malaysia’s growth rates for the last five years will show that private consumption is the main driver for the increase. What has not been highlighted, however, is the fact that our economic growth is essentially fuelled by borrowings to such an extent that individual indebtedness is now the highest in the region. Just last year, I spoke about the lessons of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Once again, the question is: have the Malaysian authorities learned anything?
Malaysia lags behind other emerging economies in spite of a diversified economy with commodities and manufacturing and a relatively good physical infrastructure. Our competitiveness suffers because of the failure to develop and keep innovative human capital. Our brain drain problem is legendary. This reflects foundational weaknesses in our educational infrastructure as well as a policy of mismanaging the vast human resources. The traditional mindset of bolstering the manufacturing sector as a key driver for economic growth must also be changed in an age where information and knowledge provide the bedrock for growth and competitiveness. We suffer also because of the high cost of doing business, a cost which is reflective of the failure to observe the basic standards of good governance and to fulfill the demands of accountability. At the end of the day, these principles will continue to be compromised when those who hold the trust of the people succumb to the temptations of power and fall victim to the cancer of corruption.
The report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the V.K. Lingam scandal has fully vindicated our earnest efforts to expose the corruption that has beset the highest institutions of power. The Malaysian judiciary once touted as one of the best in the world has been severely compromised. Judge fixing, ghost written judgments, horse trading in judicial appointments, these are the symptoms of a judiciary ravaged by executive influence and interference and corruption by the rich and the powerful. We cannot overemphasise the importance of an independent and competent judiciary to realise the objectives of the New Agenda because bereft of such an institution, the rule of law itself hangs in the balance. When justice can be bought and sold, the economic implications are extremely far reaching. Foreign investors want impartial and fair hearings in trade and commercial disputes. The fact that most international contracts executed in the region choose Hong Kong or Singapore rather than Kuala Lumpur as the forum for arbitration speaks volumes about the level of confidence of the international business community in Malaysia’s judiciary.
THE NEW ECONOMIC AGENDA
From one corridor to another, with pledges of billions of ringgit to be poured into infrastructure and other projects, the Federal government is still trying to foist on the people undertakings of such a gargantuan scale that make the mega projects of the previous administration look rather tame. This lavishness in spending is symptomatic of the Barisan’s conventional responses to the economic woes of the nation. They have given supply-side economics a new meaning, predicated on the assumption that the supply of money has no limits.
History has already shown what dire consequences such a philosophy can bring. Forged on the anvil of greed and self-interest, these projects can only see the light of day if and only if the main beneficiaries are cronies, family members and conglomerates connected with the ruling elite. Hence, projects which were in the pipeline before the elections suddenly become unviable now that they would be in the States governed by the Pakatan. Perhaps this is the silver lining to the clouds that hang over the Pakatan-controlled states because we want no part in the plundering of the people’s wealth by the Umno-controlled Federal government. They must be held accountable.
In spite of these concerns we will honour commitments already made, excepting for gross abuse and corruption, and will seek new ways of engaging with the international investor community under the principle of responsible competitiveness that would encompass conservation, sustainability and fair labour practices.
The New Economic Agenda recognises the multi-ethnic composition of Malaysia and therefore is fortified with a policy to foster and nurture a plural and tolerant society. After all, that was the catalyst for the formation of our nation pursuant to a social contract to build a nation that is harmonious, just and fair. That cannot be realised without a New Agenda relevant and just to all. The Bumiputera community is ready for this change because it will continue to be firmly grounded on affirmative action to help the poor and the marginalised.
The fear that such an agenda will erode the rights of the Bumiputera is but the consequence of the racist chanting of some Umno leaders who will stand to be the biggest losers in the new agenda. So, fearing the prospect of their corrupt sources of income being reduced if not altogether eliminated they resort to stoking the fires of racist sentiments through the mainstream media controlled by them.
Our policy is simple and straightforward enough. We do not intend to do away with the affirmative action principles outlined in the NEP, but we will apply them across the board making them available for all races on a needs basis.
The question is: Should we condone the abuses of a policy which make the rich richer and the poor poorer or should we not support a policy that provides equitable assistance to all needy Malaysians?
Again, to the detractors who will continue to distort the new agenda as an anti-Bumiputera policy, let me reiterate that the interests of the Bumiputeras will never be compromised because we are committed to building a new system that is just and fair. In this new order, no one will be left behind on account of race or religion. Unlike the current scheme of things, the New Agenda will put in place mechanisms to ensure that economic aid goes to those who most need it. For example, small traders who form the bulk of the Bumiputera community in business enterprises will therefore be better off than they ever were under the NEP.
FULFILLING OUR ELECTORAL PROMISES
Certain detractors have pointed out the road to a more deregulated free market economy will lead to the abandonment of social instruments. We would answer this by saying that we have no intention of abandoning of our electoral promises among which is the promotion of social justice. We advocate no doubt Hayekian free enterprise but we don’t think Adam Smith’s invisible hand will be that responsive to the changing times. Hence, whenever necessary, to paraphrase John Kenneth Galbraith, we temper free market with an appropriate dose of state intervention to rectify the social inequities attendant on the interplay of pure market forces. We don’t think that we need to apologise for advocating a policy on fuel, health care and education which is calculated to ease the burden of the rising cost of living. We call this humane economics.
Bearing in mind our diagnosis of the Malaysian economy and the state of our nation, the New Agenda will set in place the drivers that will take the country out of the doldrums to greater heights.
In other words, measures will be in place to ensure that private investment as well as FDI will return with a vengeance. The conditions precedent for Malaysia to regain its status as an attractive destination for investors must include the rule of law, a regulatory framework, and incentives to develop our human capital. At the same time, with the implementation of more prudent macroeconomic management, growth will be stimulated without getting out of hand. The State economies under the control of Pakatan Rakyat will become more robust and vibrant. In spite of the efforts of the Federal government to derail development projects, we are confident that these state economies will be able to forge ahead. The SMEs too will benefit from a policy that recognises the role that they play in an economy that will be increasingly more globalised. Take care of the head and the tail will take care of itself. With transparency and accountability in place, cronyism and corruption will die a natural death thus immediately lowering transaction costs while enhancing improvements in service delivery.
If I may conclude with an apology to Shakespeare: Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by the sun of Pakatan’s New Economic Agenda. Victory lies in courage and conviction to replace the old with the new, the obsolete with the functional. Without this paradigm change, Malaysia will be adrift in an ocean of uncertainty at the risk of being marooned on the island of oblivion. We must take the current when it serves or forever lose our venture.
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Students need better role models to steer them away from unhealthy activities.
I'm the least ambitious of any politician that you know.
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