Growth VS distribution in the Malaysian sea of despair

We keep hearing BN politicians harping on about how we should thank BN and be ‘syukur kepada nikmat yang dibina oleh BN’ for having built a great environment for malaysians to get rich. We also hear calls that we should not blame them for the existence of poor people as there are poor people everywhere.

BN Perak Exco for local government is one of those shameless halfwits who quipped, ‘ kita semua pada suatu masa dahulu datang dari kebelakangan miskin’, as justification and nullification for the incidence of poverty in Perak.

Whilst its quite entertaining to see BN embarass themselves through their tendencies to shoot themselves in the foot or the term I used in the state assembly ‘meludah ke langit, muka sendiri yang kena’, it is really quite a cause for grave concern to the people of Perak that those at the helm of government could be so outrageously self-indulgent.

The same environment that they built to enrich is now systematically restricting the poor from getting out of poverty; the same environment that is perpetuating the harsh reality faced by those exhausting themselves in the rat race simply to survive existence; the same environment that imprisons the youth and the middle class within the middle income trap with no prospects of escape; the very system that is enabling the proverbial top 1 percent to amass 99 percent of the wealth whilst the 99percent have to live on 1% of the wealth and whatever crumbs left by the stinking filthy rich.

The statistical truths

The truth of the matter is, what was once the crown jewel of Malaysia in the heyday of the Tin boom, is now a touch’n’go state with people coming here only for cheap food and to laugh at our colloquilism and parochialism. Anecdotal as it may, few would deny the truth of the higher income-bracket-money made in Perak are spent in Selangor, Penang or anywhere but Ipoh. The state government is doing nothing to address that.

We may have had the 3rd highest GDP growth rate amongst all states, but our GDP per-capita is at 11th place out of 15. Our household average income is shockingly at 12th place. We may be growing as a state economy, but that growth is not being translated into income growth for Perakians at large. The connected and the cabled regardless of integrity and merit gets increasingly richer, whilst the poor and the talented either stay to stagnate where they are or, leave for pastures greener.

After having countless occasions during the three day debate, where we invited and extended offers to engage in a proper debate on the state’s income gap, it seemed that none of the other 30 BN state assemblypersons had the facts and the truth on their side, nor did they have the courage to step up to the plate.

As a result, when we raised it during our speeches, they sat quietly, banking on the press not covering due to the technical nature of the subject matter. When one of them tried to score a point by reading off some text, what seems to be a poor excuse of a red herring, he wouldn’t allow us the floor to interject knowing full well his argument will be torn apart. Finally, during the Menteri Besar’s winding up speech we managed to get into a direct exchange on the subject

We told him that the GINI Coefficient and the GDP per capita VS GDP growth comparison both clearly shows that income disparity in Perak is getting out of hand. We asked for their measures to address the appalling income disparity which has seen a slow but sure increase in GINI coefficient since 2004 for the state. We further requested them to state their GINI coefficient target for the short and long term. The answer that we got was a short lecture of what the GINI coefficient is and we shouldn’t use that as an indicator for our economy. They didn’t even try to beat around the bush.

The Opposition have done our part, Government not playing ball.

The budget sitting is arguably the most important sitting of the legislature especially with it being the first year of a new parliamentary cycle. It allows members of the legislature to ‘parlez’ ( where the word Parliament comes from meaning to speak and deliberate) the budget after intense scrutiny, checking, balancing and most importantly debating. In the Perakian context, this was reduced to being purely theoretical. It was a meticulously orchestrated show to rubber stamp the budget.

What are BN’s policies on creating an environment where people can find not just opportunities, but opportunities to succeed?

An environment where the labour market isn’t there solely to serve the government and corporate giants, but is skilled and pluralistic enough to propogate sustainable and creative growth for SME’s?

An environment where the people can not only find jobs created by the government to enslave themselves to, but decent work that will enable them to grow both themselves professionally as well as the prospects of their family?

Why is the state government so single-mindedly focused on growth, when all the figures including the GINI Coefficient and its trend over the last decade suggests that we need much more focus on distribution?

Just on the topic in connection to this, the above were some other questions we asked but got only bush beating and vacuous acronyms and soundbites. In Perak, we in opposition did our part for sure, but as the saying goes, ‘one can’t clap without either one of one’s hands. It begs another pertinent question; When will our ‘minimalistic democracy at best, or ‘electoral autocracy’ at worst, start taking the shape of the ‘thriving democracy’ that the speaker so self-indulgently claim we Malaysians live in?

What with the rising costs of commodities and implementation of GST squeezing consumption down, the several near-saturation bubbles we see all over Asia including ourselves, capital mobility and availability hitting a slump with the US Federal Reserve’s ever delayed but inevitable tapering of QE3 a financial and economic storm is well and truly brewing. All in all, we must but accept, the people of Perak will have to cushion ourselves the inadvertent steep fall our economy will experience at least once over the next four years.

And yes, we did say this is the State Assembly and it is on record. Please don’t ask us if they heard us, because even if they did, it’s unlike that they understood it. After all they were scared to argue just on income disparity.

This year’s budget, especially the state’s is nothing short of a total utter disappointment. It is directly responsible and able to put in social safeguards through proactively pushing more down-to-earth distributive policies, and strengthening the labour market getting the people ready to weather these eventualities. What I see has sent a chilling shiver down my spine as, in terms of achieving this, I see nothing at all. All I see is BN patting themselves in the back.

A glorious tanker heading for oblivion, or a small boat saving lives

One that has a superiority complex or thinks that he/she has done well enough to be praised and thanked, will not seek to better himself. One who rejects critique and criticises his critics for not praising him is beyond salvation.

The picture we see now is a rotting tanker carrying the rich and their gold, sailing in a sea of despair towards oblivion. It is sad enough to be one of those trying to stay afloat in the sea whilst others try to scramble towards the tanker hoping for those onboard will be merciful enough to extend a hand of salvation. The tanker is rotting and is sure to crumble and sink at any given moment.

In this picture, recently emerged a new, smaller yet faster boat. It is imperfect and small but is definitively saving souls and taking lives to a better place. It is helmed by those who have sailed in a different direction and found a better place, and have returned to pick up those who wishes for a future free of the struggles and pains of the now.

The question for those of us who are paddling to stay afloat in that sea of despair, is whether we want to swim towards the rotting tanker filled with gold, or do we want to be saved by the boat of unyielding hope in the other direction?

I’m certainly not going to thank BN for putting me and my fellow Malaysians in this sea of depair , that’s for sure.

Howard Lee Chuan How
SA for Pasir Pinji
Media statement by Howard Lee Chuan How in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, 6th December 2013