WE, the national delegates of the Democratic Action Party, assembled here at the National Conference in Shah Alam, Selangor, on 8th January 2012, hereby reaffirm the principles of the DAP and so duly commit to lead the way in effecting much-needed change in the form of democratisation and economic well being in order to achieve the Malaysian Dream of a more prosperous, democratic and dignified Malaysia.
We convey our highest salutations and heartiest congratulations to the Duli Yang Maha Mulia Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah on his proclamation as the 14th Yang di-Pertuan Agong of the Malaysian Federation. May his sovereign reign encourage and foster the spirit of democracy and human rights amongst his loyal subjects. Daulat Tuanku!
On the cusp of change
All around the world, change is happening with a ferocity unseen since the end of the Cold War. People in every corner of the globe, from Tahrir Square to Wall Street, are rising in unprecedented numbers. Formerly passive societies have suddenly discovered newfound courage to stand up and reclaim their dignity.
Dignity is the new keyword that has catalysed the global movement for change. Social and economic inequality, spiralling debt and unemployment, elites enriching themselves at the expense of the ordinary citizen, these are all common pictures across the world today.
Malaysia experienced a watershed moment of her own, when on the 9th of July 2011, Malaysians from all walks of life rose in unison to demand their rights for clean, free and fair elections. Young and old, from various parts of the country, tens of thousands of Malaysians flooded the streets of Kuala Lumpur in spite of the heavy-handed tactics of the authorities.
Like their counterparts in the Middle East, North Africa, America and Europe, Malaysians stood up because they could no longer accept having their dignity robbed day in and day out by leaders that sought only to enrich themselves.
As a nation blessed with natural resources, adequate infrastructure, a relatively young population and respectable levels of literacy and education, Malaysia has so much potential. Yet we are saddened each day to hear stories of corruption, outflow of illicit funds, a stagnating economy and a general decline in quality of life.
Today, Malaysia is on the cusp of change. In partnership with our friends in Pakatan Rakyat, DAP humbly offers itself as the agent of change for all Malaysians in an agenda that will place us on the path to achieving the Malaysian Dream.
In a global environment of rising inflation, high unemployment and spiralling indebtedness, the situation in Malaysia is not getting any better. To put matters into perspective, the bottom 60% of our population have an average household income of less than RM3,000 a month, while the bottom 40% live on less than RM1,500 a month.
More worryingly, Bank Negara’s Annual Report 2010 revealed that Malaysia’s household debt at the end of 2010 was RM 581 billion or 76 per cent of GDP, thus giving us the dubious honour of having the second-highest level of household debt in Asia, after South Korea.
In addition, the Malaysian household debt service ratio stood at 47.8 per cent in 2010, meaning that nearly half of the average family’s income goes to repaying debts. As a rule, banks would not lend money to those whose total servicing of interest exceeded one third of their income. In other words, we are spiralling into an indebted nation.
There does not seem to be a way out as income has also stagnated in the last 10 years. This has resulted in a dire situation whereby the bottom 40 per cent of our population earns only 14.3 per cent of the total income while the top 20 per cent shares 50 per cent of the total income.
To make matters worse, federal debt has now touched RM456 billion as at the end of last year while our debt-to-GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio has nearly reached the national debt ceiling of 55%.
In this context, we must look towards a new paradigm. The Barisan Nasional Government’s attempts at addressing this economic imbalance through pump-priming economics and acronym-filled programmes such as the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), Government Transformation Programme (GTP), National Key Economic Areas (NKEA) and so on unfortunately does not make any significant difference.
It is therefore time to introduce the concept of economic solidarity. By this we mean solidarity between the rich and the poor, between the urban and the rural, between the strong and the weak. Ultimately, our aim must be to build a society that empowers its people, especially the bottom 60% that really need it.
More than anything, we need to ensure economic survival and create economic solidarity through:
We also need to address the weaknesses inherent in the current system that is characterised by corruption, crony capitalism and monopolies. As the situation stands, Malaysia is the only rice-producing country that has privatised rice production and worse, consolidated it into a monopoly under a single crony capitalist company. As a result, while Thailand and Indonesia are self-sufficient, we are dependent on imported rice for one third of our consumption. And because of the monopoly, we are paying more for imported rice than even Singapore.
Another example of crony capitalism is the lop-sided Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) signed between Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) and the politically-linked Independent Power Producers (IPP). As a result, we have amassed high levels of electricity reserve margins because TNB is forced to buy electricity it doesn’t need. This extra burden on TNB is then passed on to the people in the form of electricity tariff increases.
The consistent pattern of our crony economy is the fact that well-connected cronies are fast enriching themselves at the expense of the people. This is also evident in the highway toll concession agreements that have been made between the Government and politically-connected toll operators, which allow them to increase their toll periodically over extended concession periods, despite the fact that most of them have already recouped vast profits far surpassing their investment outlays.
It is time that we replace this crony capitalistic economy with a “People’s Economy” that will focus on increasing disposable income and improving the basic foundations of skills, technology and productivity.
More than forty years ago, Malaysia was regarded as a wealthy country, what with all the natural resources we have been blessed with. Then, our GDP per capita was USD350 while South Korea trailed at USD130. Today, South Korea’s GDP per capita stands at around USD20,000 while we are languishing behind at around USD7,000. Forty years ago, the average Malaysian was three times richer than the average South Korean. Today, they are three times richer than us.
What happened in the last four decades? Why have we stagnated while countries that were previously inferior economically have now overtaken and far surpassed us? This has happened because human talent was not valued and maximised, freedom of opportunity was not encouraged and a system was fostered that rewards know-who rather than know-how. Merit and excellence became secondary to political connections.
Hence, we now need to rebuild our economy to achieve prosperity based on innovation and the ability to create and adapt to new and relevant ecosystems. For example, today is the age of the information superhighway. In order for us to prosper we will need to build internet-related industries and skills that are relevant to these industries.
We also need to build a new generation of entrepreneurs imbued with energy and expertise. However, entrepreneurship must necessarily be driven by the innovation, creativity and drive of the private sector. In this regard, we believe that the business of government is to get out of business. It is sufficient to plant the foundational seeds, but business must then be let to grow and thrive and do what they do best.
The Government’s role in cultivating economic prosperity is to invest in the future by concentrating on its social functions. Focus should be given to the areas of infrastructure, housing, education, transportation and healthcare, whereby a strong government role will ultimately result in improving the economic well-being of the people. For example, better public transportation will reduce the necessity to buy cars and thus immediately increase disposable income in place of car loans. The same applies with government intervention in affordable housing, education subsidies and healthcare.
In Penang, we have embarked on a series of social programmes that have lessened the burdens of the people. Besides hand-outs to target groups, we have also provided subsidies in kidney dialysis and free buses for commuters along certain routes. We have also managed to abolish hardcore poverty a year after taking over. Now, we are aiming to eliminate poverty altogether by 2015. If we can do this in Penang, we can do this for the rest of Malaysia.
Besides correcting economic injustices, there is also an urgent need to restore democracy. The most basic aspect of democracy is freedom, and thus we need to restore the dignity and freedom of the Rakyat through:
A country is only as good as its basic institutions. In Malaysia, there is a great crisis of confidence in the very institutions meant to protect us. DAP promises to make institutional reform a critical priority, starting with the Election Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Police Force, the Judiciary and Parliament.
Institutional reform also encompasses the revitalisation of our once proud and respected Civil Service. We will embark on a programme to restore the professionalism and efficiency of civil servants by improving their skills, environment and productivity. We will also ensure that salaries of civil servants are adequate and competitive, especially those at the support and administrative grades and not just those at the professional and upper management levels.
The Civil Service needs to be refined and respected and not reduced.
We also recognise the many sacrifices made by both our police and armed forces who work day in and day out to ensure our peace and security. We therefore seek to ensure that they are protected from predatory rentiers that abuse the system to enrich themselves at the expense of the rank and file.
Malaysians also demand the right to clean, free and fair elections. It is for this reason that Malaysians marched on 9th July 2011. The power to vote is a sacrosanct right, and any disenfranchisement of that right needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Democratisation also necessarily entails decentralisation or devolvement of powers. This was a pivotal aspect of the democratisation processes that took place in South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia. Yet in Malaysia, despite being a federation of states, power and authority has been increasingly centralised at the national level. As an example, in 1990, the combined total of all the state budgets made up 25 per cent of the federal budget. Today, it is less than 9 per cent. Clearly, there is a need for greater fiscal decentralisation in order to create greater empowerment at the local level.
The time of Federal Government knows best is over. Housing, transportation, garbage collection, sewerage, health and even education services should be devolved to the state government. How can someone sitting in Putrajaya be expected to make decisions on public transportation or garbage collection in Taiping or even Johor Bahru? How can the Federal Government meet the housing needs of the people when land is a state matter?
Malaysians yearn for their voices to be heard. A society that stifles free thought will suppress creativity and the cultivation of new ideas. Democratic space is therefore key to progress and competitiveness.
A culture of freedom must therefore be created, and what better way than to benchmark ourselves against the “Four Freedoms” as expounded by the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union address. These are:
Malaysia will never be able to move forward towards a high-income economy and developed-nation status until and unless we are able to provide our people with strong public institutions, restore their right to clean, free and fair elections, empower them with fiscal and political decentralisation and provide an environment that respects and encourages a culture of freedom.
The Malaysian Dream
The impetus is upon us now to forge a better future for Malaysia, one that is truly Malaysian, where no dream is impossible, where everyone can express their thoughts in peace, where justice and security is guaranteed and where prosperity and dignity is assured.
This is the Malaysian Dream. A new national landscape built upon the foundational ideals of a Malaysian Malaysia where every citizen is Malaysian First and where moderation and cooperation is celebrated through the Middle Malaysia ideal and where there is no room for extremism and bigotry.
We aspire for the Malaysian Dream, and in the pursut of this dream, we would like to reafirm our commitments as thus:
Malaysia is a rich country blessed with every resource imaginable. It is unfathomable that today, 55 years after Merdeka and 49 years since the formation of Malaysia, our social, political and economic institutions have degenerated into a quagmire of greed, cronyism and corruption.
Not only is our country now politically and economically impaired, the systematic and extremist machinations of the Barisan Nasional Government has also left our society treading on thin ice. The future of our country is at stake unless we act collectively and immediately.
Four years ago, we were entrusted with an opportunity to prove that we can institute change. In that time, we have shown that we are able to punch above our weight. We have shown that with a clear agenda of economic solidarity and democracy, we can make a difference. Now, we seek to bring this agenda to the national level.
And there is no more opportune time than now. Today, the opportunity to transform our country is real and before us. Today, the vindication of right over might is at hand. Our party has persevered for 46 years for this very moment. Let us now stand together, united in diversity and committed to our ideals.
Today, we dream the Malaysian Dream.