July 23, 2008

Resource Curse leads to Wastage

Posted in Economics, Malaysia at 3:18 pm by egalitaria

Star Biz did a feature of a commentary I had sent in. Would have been good to have the commentary published in full, but it’s good to have it covered here.

   Wednesday July 23, 2008, Star Biz

‘Resource curse’ leads to wastage

PETALING JAYA: Responsible management of resources has not always taken place around the world, says Centre for Public Policy Studies director Tricia Yeoh.

The “resource curse” or “paradox of plenty”, which refers to the phenomenon by which countries take for granted their natural resources, eventually led to wastage and corruption, she said.

“The paradox is that natural resources do not necessarily bring greater growth and development to a country, and in fact the reverse may be true,” she said in a comment paper titled Promoting Revenue Transparency in Malaysia.

Yeoh said: “For example, between 1960 and 1990, per capita incomes in resource-deficient countries grew two to three times faster than resource-reliant export-driven countries.

“Based on the International Monetary Fund’s definition, a country is considered resource-reliant if at least 26% of its national revenues come from the extractive industry (oil, gas, minerals, etc).

To this end, Malaysia is a resource-reliant country with 44% of its national budget derived from revenues from the oil and gas (O&G) industry.

“Have these massive revenues been collected, managed and distributed responsibly?” she asked.

To “clarify” monetary matters in the local oil industry, “some organised analysis” could be helpful to track money streams, she said.

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Recruitment of Foreign Workers – change the system!

Posted in Malaysia at 12:51 am by egalitaria

Here’s another press statement released by the CPPS today… on foreign workers and how the Immigration Department needs to revamp its policy.

Recruitment System of Foreign Workers needs to be Urgently Revamped

The Centre for Public Policy Studies welcomes the statement made by the Immigration Department director-general Datuk Mahmood Adam that the department will be made a more efficient and transparent organization. In line with enhancing the Department’s effectiveness and integrity, there should be an immediate revamping of the system that manages the recruitment of foreign workers. Outsourcing companies presently get their licenses from the Immigration Department to recruit workers. The current arrangement is unsatisfactory because the system of appointing agents is subject to and a major source of abuse and corruption. Instead, it is proposed that companies should seek their own foreign employees, subject to pre-determined guidelines set by the Ministry of Human Resources and the Immigration Department.

The Centre for Public Policy Studies also calls for a reasonable wage scheme for workers. Low-income workers are currently subject to exploitation due to the poor employment conditions they undergo and are unable to afford decent living, especially with rising rates of inflation and an overall increase in the costs of living. Secondly, there would be natural preference for employment of locals who are presently unprepared to work for unreasonably low wages that are paid to foreign workers. In order for Malaysia to advance up the ladder of capital-intensive production and technology, it is necessary for the government to realize that companies now rely upon experienced staff with high productivity as opposed to cheap labour. The government has consistently emphasized the need for the economy to move up the value chain. Raising wages to reasonable levels according to respective industries would ensure the country is investing into human capital for the benefit of the economy in the long run as promulgated by the Prime Minister in his announcement that “quality opportunities” should be made available to all.

There is a great deal of confusion presently about the management of foreign workers, the appointment of agents, renewal of permits and licenses and role of enforcement agencies. This is a poor reflection of a country intending to achieve developed-nation status. The Centre calls for a thorough and intensive revamping of the present system that would clarify matters for employers (both local and foreign) and instill greater public and investor confidence. The need to address this problem is important, as it would counter the perception as indicated by the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) that the government is against unionization of foreign workers. A more transparently efficient system is urgently needed to enhance the integrity of the Immigration Department and various government agencies in managing foreign labour in the country.

Roadblocks undermine National Productivity!

Posted in Malaysia at 12:46 am by egalitaria

This is a recent press statement that the CPPS released…

CENTRE FOR PUBLIC POLICY STUDIES

PRESS STATEMENT FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Centre for Public Policy Studies disagrees with the set-up of Police roadblocks in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor as a method of preventing peaceful public gatherings. Although the Police have every right to fulfill their mandate to protect law and order, peaceful demonstrations do not pose a threat to the security of the public. Public safety is of little use if the people cannot enjoy it; the role of the Police is to ensure peaceful demonstrations remain peaceful and safe, not to obstruct them and prevent the expression of public sentiment.

Under the law, public gatherings require a permit. However, there is no reason for the Police to obstruct the issuance of a permit unless they have reason to believe the gathering is meant to foment violence and public disorder. The issuance of permits for public gatherings should be a simple and straightforward matter, as it is in countries such as the United Kingdom. Under the Federal Constitution, every Malaysian has the right to freedom of expression, and as long as the Police have no reason to believe a particular citizen or group of citizens is acting with intent to undermine the security of the country, they must allow those citizens their right of self-expression.

The Police decision to continue the erection of roadblocks in and around the Klang Valley is counterproductive, undermining not only basic civil rights, but economic rights as well. The vast majority of Malaysians affected by this decision are not potential rioters or even peaceful demonstrators. They are men and women on their way to work and school. By creating unnecessary traffic jams, the Police significantly reduce productivity in one of the most economically productive regions of the country, for no apparent reason.

The Centre for Public Policy Studies calls on the Police to make use of pre-set guidelines for public gatherings, and to only erect such obstructions where there is proof of an imminent threat to public safety and security. It is entirely possible for the Police to conclude civil agreements with the organizers of public gatherings in a way mutually beneficial to all. Peaceful demonstrations are not harmful to public order, and when properly protected, represent the exercise of a basic civil liberty of freedom of expression all Malaysians are entitled to. The Centre also reiterates its support for the recommendation of SUHAKAM in its report on the public inquiry into the KLCC demonstrations that Parliament amend the Police Act to repeal the requirement of a permit for peaceful public gatherings.

July 22, 2008

Can Anwar Change the NEP?

Posted in Malaysia at 5:36 pm by egalitaria

This came out in a book on the Elections, “Tipping Points”, published by the Edge. I distributed it to some contacts recently but forgot to post it here (due to my irresponsible management of my Egalitaria blog, shame on me!)..

Can Anwar Replace the NEP?
Tricia Yeoh
 
So deep-rooted is the consciousness of the Malay identity that it has been nearly impossible to critically examine its role in shaping the socio-political landscape of Malaysia. So entrenched is the expectation that being Malay will automatically qualify one for preferential economic policies in the form of the NEP – the New Economic Policy, an affirmative action plan largely favouring the majority Malay community – that imagining an alternative has been for many years just that: plain imagination. Recent events, however, have reversed the trend.
 
This has taken place in the shape of Anwar Ibrahim, ex-Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. Hailing from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the political party formed to promote justice against his arrest in 1998, Anwar has actively campaigned despite not qualifying to contest in the elections. The de-facto party leader has been extremely vocal in calling for an end to the NEP (in the form of the National Vision Policy today); replacing it with a “Malaysian Economic Agenda”. Despite this, it is argued that Malays were still willing to vote for PKR against Barisan Nasional. Was the Malay swing significant enough to show support for NEP abolishment? This is difficult to determine since there were a multitude of other factors working against the BN, so that isolating the NEP itself as a deciding factor is erroneous.
 
More importantly, even if this were true, can Anwar really replace the NEP given the present Malaysian socio-cultural context?
 
First and central to the discourse is that many Malays cling onto a highly romanticised ideal of their special position in society. “Ketuanan Melayu”, or Malay supremacy, is a social construct brought up time and again in public discussion on inter-ethnic relationships. That identity, in turn, finds its origins in what is now commonly referred to as the “social contract” between Malays and non-Malays, in reality a politicised term introduced in Parliament in the 1980s. Believed to be the “exchange of citizenship for special rights”, this agreement is considered to be enshrined in the law.

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“Govern”ments in our country

Posted in Malaysia at 5:28 pm by egalitaria

This is the second piece I wrote for Malaysian Today – again, that free paper distributed around town. Mainly I write this because it’s probably the thing closest to politics that the young readers picking up this entertainment paper would be exposed to. And perhaps if it strikes a chord in them, I’d have done my bit.

Are our Governments “Governing” Well? How Can We Tell?

Tricia Yeoh 

There has been an overdose of politics in the Malaysian air recently, although most political talk has been reduced to stories akin to murder, sexual and spy stories, gruesome as they may sound. Whilst the newspapers are plastered with story after story on personality battles, Malaysians are actually eager to observe better governance from both state and federal levels.  

The reason we call our governments “ ‘govern’ ments” is precisely because there is an inherent expectation that they are to govern, given the mandate bestowed upon them when citizens elect their representatives. The result of the recent March 2008 Elections, for example, is not just that there has been an increase in democratic space for varied representation between the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat.  

More importantly, the 2008 Elections spelled out an opportunity for the fellow member on the street – you and I – to be fully cognizant of representatives’ actions and inactions, holding them accountable to their word. Beyond just governance, the emerging trendy term that is used amongst developmental economists and social activists is “good governance”.  

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Review of “Lost in Transition”

Posted in Malaysia at 5:26 pm by egalitaria

This review came out a bit late, but nevertheless documents my reflections of Ooi Kee Beng’s latest book…

The makings of political Malaysia
Tricia Yeoh


LOST
in Transition: Malaysia under Abdullah by Ooi Kee Beng is a rich addition to the growing number of books documenting contemporary Malaysian affairs. And it emerges at no better time than this – as the man himself comes under severe fire on many fronts, despite recent efforts.This collection of columns written throughout the period for which society has been most critical of the Barisan Nasional-led government epitomises a prime minister struggling to maintain order amid downward spiralling public appeal. Through his succinct analyses, Ooi marks in chronological order key events and factors that have led to this complicated political knot.

Several themes are consistently focused upon, which shed interesting light on the position BN is in today, four months or so after March 8, 2008.

First, the title’s play on the phrase “lost in translation” is amusing, where coupled with the front cover’s picture reflects perfectly Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s infamous silences on key issues throughout his tenure. This stubborn characteristic was highlighted as early as June 2006 in the piece “Silence is No Longer an Option” where his early refusal to respond to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s scathing criticisms showed initial signs of weakness. These impressions no doubt contributed to public perception of his inability to make firm decisions. The recent attempt at a no-confidence motion by the Opposition in Parliament did not succeed, but did send psychological shockwaves to the public nevertheless.

In fact, the Mahathir-Abdullah war raging on over consequent months resulted in two things: Mahathir grassroots loyalist supporters casting doubt on Abdullah, and increasing fractions within Umno, (showcasing its) “internal tension and hubris”, both leading to where Abdullah stands today.

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Idealism

Posted in Malaysia at 5:18 pm by egalitaria

A piece I wrote for Malaysian Today, (not Malaysia Today) a free newspaper that is distributed in universities and fastfood chains around.

Idealism
by Tricia Yeoh

Young people have always been the most idealistic group in any society – and
rightly so. At which other time in one’s life could someone have the time
and space to dream big, and desire the best things for one’s world?

Indeed, many great political leaders of today in numerous countries were
active student leaders in their university years, where they had the
opportunity of being exposed to principles of justice, democracy, electoral
procedures and political issues.

Think of our own home-bred Penny Wong, who was originally from East Malaysia
and is now the first Chinese-Australian in Cabinet. She was appointed as the
new Minister of Climate Change and Water in November 2007, and has been
heralded as a heroine of women politicians.

Her journey started early, as she was an extremely active young university
student, campaigning on issues of human rights and social justice from a
young age. Her experience at university level, as with many others, provided
her with the skills, confidence and leadership qualities that led her to
where she is today. She now champions the popular climate change and global
warming debate that is increasingly reaching each person’s doorstep.

Nevertheless, we might ask the question of why Malaysian tertiary institutes
are not equally full of such activity and rigour? Is it possible to imagine
college campuses that cultivate intellectual rigour through enlightened
political theories, and then encouraging advocacy of important current
issues?

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Analysis of the MidTerm Review of the 9MP

Posted in Malaysia at 5:16 pm by egalitaria

I do such a crappy job of upkeeping my blog, sometimes I wonder if it’s worth having at all! Anyway, it’ll just be an avenue to store all my various writings elsewhere I suppose. Here goes…

More info needed on mid-term review of 9MP

By TRICIA YEOH

A brief analysis of the Mid-Term Review of the 9th Malaysia Plan.

THE Mid-Term Review (MTR) of the Ninth Malaysia Plan (2006-2010) was tabled in Parliament last Thursday and will be hotly debated this week.

It paints a glossy picture of sound macroeconomic fundamentals over the past two years and credit must be given to the focus on eradicating poverty, providing affordable housing, water, electricity, healthcare, and improving the standard of living of marginalised groups.

It also acknowledges the impact of the slowing global economy on Malaysia and the need to respond accordingly.

Upon closer perusal, however, the MTR lacks the pizzazz that many were looking forward to.

While the MTR provides a progress report, it seems to be an academic exercise and fails to introduce any new measures to address increasingly crucial issues. The MTR fails to impress on three main counts.

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