With GE13 around the corner on 5 May, there are a number of issues that affects voters across Malaysia. This election is no longer the same old traditional styles but is seeing Pakatan Rakyat mounting the strongest challenge ever against the BN. Amidst the ceramahs around the country and regardless of how pundits will forecast the wins, there are still key issues that voters are grappling with.
This posting attempts to allow readers who are voters to voice out their concerns and opinions on such issues.
Here is a list of issues that many Malaysians are seeking some answers to and will be updated regularly to reflect readers comments. Please share your thoughts before 5 May. Thank you.
- Fair Press
- Water Crisis in Selangor
- Vernacular Schools
- National Debt
- Lower Petrol Price
- Lower Car Price
- Free Education
- Abolishing BTN
- Fighting for All Malaysians
- Communal Politics and Society
- Lower Food Prices
1. Fair Press
The Main Stream Media (MSM) has been accused by Pakatan Rakyat for being totally biased for BN news and reports very little and skews the news to BN’s advantage. Hence, MSM has been called an unfair press. There were a number of law suits brought against Utusan Malaysia and the press agency has lost all of them. In one forum, they even tried to justify inaccurate reporting. Bernama pictures have been shown to be doctored.
Can press actually be fair in their reporting? As long as the owners are partisan, it is highly unlikely. Even if Pakatan Rakyat have their own media, they will pay most attention to bring out their messaging and BN will be nominally reported or portrayed to be incompetent.
However, if the owners are independent and inculcate policies for fair journalism, only then can fair media happen. Perhaps, the first place to do this is the public TV stations of TV1 and TV2 that are publicly funded but BN controlled to make fair press to happen. If BN wants to control TV1 and TV2, they should buy it over and not use public funds to pay for BN propaganda. Same goes for PR if they ever run the Federal Govt.
There is a place for independent media in Malaysia and it should make money too since they will revert to true investigative journalism and non-partisan. It should be a media for the people and they must filter party propaganda. For now, since the Govt still holds the power in granting media license, it will probably not happen under a BN rule.
2. Water Crisis in Selangor
Malaysians have been duped that water crisis only happened in Selangor and accusation of the Selangor Govt not supporting Langat 2 Project is putting the people of the state in serious jeopardy.
Back to Selangor, the issue must be separated into raw water and treated water. There is more than enough raw water and Langat 2 is about raw water. Treated water, on the other hand, depends a lot on SYABAS to ensure the treatment plants and distribution of water equipment like pumps and pipes are well maintained else there will be treated water loss to the environment.
All the water problems to the affected Selangor residents rose from broken pumps and broken pipes or allegations of pipes being turned off to simulate a pump problem equated to political sabotage if true. Especially since the CEO of Syabas is a State Umno leader and earning millions a year.
The only way to ensure a no repeat of the fiasco is to take over all the water assets of Selangor to be run by the state rather than a private company who can work against the state. It was OK previously when Syabas, being an Umno friendly company, to work with a BN State Govt in Selangor. Since 2008, water “problems” kept popping up. Now, if the Selangor State Govt takes back control of the water assets and manage the water distribution, it would not matter who runs the State Govt but the people will no longer be held ransom in the future.
Langat 2 is a billion ringgit type project and appears not appropriate when a much smaller sum can fix the water distribution problem and keep the Selangorians happy.
3. Vernacular School
Some have argued that the fight for vernacular school is bigotry when one calls for a Malaysian Malaysia. Why fight for Chinese or Tamil schools when there is no Kadazan language schools?
Firstly, Chinese and Tamil as well as missionary schools are protected by the Constitution. It is structured under the Education policies as well. Although there is not a fair treatment but nevertheless they remain in existence.
Secondly, there is a market for other types of private schools. They exist for profit and judging by their number, they are flourishing. People are willing to pay a lot to put their children through what they perceive as a better education system.
The argument is that as long as there is vernacular schools, there will always be obstacles to national unity. One must remember that national type schools were not always having instruction in Malay. It was originally in English and was changed in 1970. Then Tun M changed it back to English and Pak Lah changed it back to Malay. This ding dong of a policy have messed up a generation of children.
There is some truth about vernacular schools being a challenge to national unity in that students should not be segregated by race. They should all study together, play together, compete together. This is idealistic. Language pride prohibits this ideal in Malaysia.
Perhaps, when the standard of education in the national type school is raised to international standards, higher than the Chinese School systems, it will be a natural for parents to send their children to the best and free system. From then on, when there is lesser to no demand for vernacular schools, they too will be changed to the higher standard national type school.
This, unfortunately, cannot be forced. And they will continue to exist in the forseeable future until the standard of education of national type schools surpasses the vernacular schools. And parents will continue to send their children also to International schools.
As for mission schools, they are actually national type schools system but managed by various church groups and largely funded by them.
So, raise the standard of teaching, the education system, the policies as well as the medium of instruction. That should be the focus and not fight about vernacular schools.
4. National Debt
We are now staring at over RM500 billion national debt and growing. Najib alone doubled the national debt over the past 5 PMs put together in the past 4 years. Where specifically did he spend the money? That amounts to over RM240 billion. That is a lot of money indeed.
The concern of Malaysians is whether the Govt can ever repay the debt or even service the debt into the coming years. They feel that the future generation is already committed to the debt generated today. Is this fear real?
In reality, Govt have a few instruments to manage debt but when income cannot be sustained to service the debt, the Govt will be in trouble as they cannot afford to borrow money to repay debts. Hence, any Govt must continue to find ways to derive more income. Sometimes, they do print money, introduce new tax measures, increase economic activities and foreign direct investments to spur companies to make more money, hence, pay more taxes.
When is the national debt too much to bear? When the Govt cannot find enough income to service the debt. So it is incumbent upon the Govt to manage the economy well and introduce policies to spur growth. We can also expect the Govt to introduce GST, a broad base tax to increase income from all consumers. We also expect the Govt to curb losses to uncompetitive bids, unfavorable contracts, and any other form of corruption which leaks money out of the system. Even subsidies and to do so in innovative ways without hurting the people.
5. Lower Petrol Price
BN has kept the pump prices up by reducing subsidies. This started during Pak Lah’s days and continued with Najib until he pull the brakes to wait until after the GE13.
Then Anwar turns around with the PR manifesto to offer to reduce petrol prices if PR comes to power in Putrajaya. In fact, he declared to do so the next day on 6 June. This is a good political rhetoric but such implementation may be more difficult than it looks. PR may not be sworn in yet by 6 June. That will be a serious challenge. We shall see.
But is it feasible to lower petrol price? It was recently argued that a 20 sen reduction may not have a significant impact across the board. Food prices may not come down immediately but if there are signals of further cuts, the prices may well be trimmed. It must be seen how a 20 sen reduction or even a 40 sen reduction will do to inflation in the country. It is hopeful of PR policy makers to force inflation to come down by this means as fuel affects the broadest base of consumer produce.
Lowering petrol price will mean an increase in subsidy. But this subsidy may not be totally
an outflow of cash but a reduction in profit contribution by various petrol companies. Although it does have an opportunity cost, if the reduction can lower consumer product prices, it is worth the while until wages increase as well.
It is better to save the money from BR1M to lower consumer prices than to give handouts that has no economic effect.
6. Lower Car Price
The argument that this is silly because it posits that it will hurt the used car market. When AFTA takes place in 2015 to remove import duty to all vehicles assembled in ASEAN, how will it affect the used car market? This reduction is a given since we are signatories to AFTA.
Further reduction to Excise Duties and also APs can affect the overall price of cars. PR has proposed to reduce Excise Duties by 20% every year to cushion the shock of the market. We believe there needs to be more thought to it to balance the negative effects. Also there must a mechanism to consider the owners of vehicles that had a higher Excise Duty and Import Duty paid and are now carrying a higher repayment of loans.
This is a very attractive proposition. More people will be able to afford new cars and used cars will have lesser value. Ultimately, it will become a buyers market and hopefully not drive people to own more than 1 car because they are cheaper then.
7. Free Education
The PR proposes to give free education all the way to University level. This is targeted at Uni level students who are borrowing money to pay for their passage through higher education. It was a result of fixing the student loan problem which is the PTPTN with tens of billions of ringgit of unpaid student loans.
Free education is actually not a good idea for University level as such students are at the maturity to appreciate that good things are never free. Loans are important for them to take and mechanisms must be in place to ensure repayment. That is a much better scheme. Make sure that the loans are used properly and their new jobs are not unduly burdened to repaying the loans that they cannot make ends meet.
Using the money to improve the standard of Uni level education and research will be a better way to spend the money. Certainly, Malaysian Uni standards have dropped out of the world 400 rankings but serious actions must be taken to arrest the drop in standards, otherwise, students are not going to be properly trained in our Unis.
8. Abolish PTPTN
PTPTN stands to lose tens of billions of dollars if this is done. It is not a good thing to teach Uni level students that they do not have to repay loans. The better way is to extend the loan in a manner that it is properly used and also a mechanism in place to ensure they are repaid.
Our problem today with PTPTN is that nobody ever chases the loan repayments. Why can’t the PTPTN behave like a bank in the administration to ensure the disbursement and the collection is properly done?
Also, PTPTN has been used to channel to select number of education institutions rather than all accredited institutions. It must be opened to all Malaysians for all Govt accredited institutions.
Perhaps, if PTPTN works behind the banks and leverage their expertise in loaning out monies and recovering them as well will make PTPTN more successful. After all, who does not have to pay for good education? It is an investment to gain a recognized degree or diploma to earn a decent living.
Do not abolish PTPTN but make it work the way it should. Kick out the heads who abuse it and censure the institutions that monopolized it. But recover the money immediately.
9. Fighting for all Malaysians
This is an ideal that the Govt and political parties fight for all Malaysians regardless of their ethnic or political background. They must impose the same set of rules for all Malaysians and execute their policies with the broader Malaysian mentality.
Will this work in Malaysia? Certainly. Will the current Govt want to make it work? So far, not so. The PR position is that they will fight for every Malaysian even if they have a different political leaning. Idealistic and wonderful if this can be made real.
Malaysians must come to the position that we fight for the needy Malaysians regardless of race, creed and political leanings. Parties must come together in a bi-partisan manner to ensure that issues like poverty, education, citizenship, etc must be fairly applied to all Malaysians.
10. Communal Politics and Society
It has been said that the political parties are shaped like how society forms itself. Today, it has been largely communal because of the BN politics. Although PR is not that far down the road, they have started to infuse the Malaysian mentality to their memberships.
PAS has taken in non-muslims and even fielding them as candidates.
PKR has taken in more non-Malays and fielding them as candidates.
DAP has taken in more non-Chinese and fielding them as candidates.
BN component parties remain largely how they have always been.
Can our society be like how we were from the days of independence? That all the ethnic groups do not see themselves as more important than others? That we all live in peace and harmony without fighting for superiority? The answer is a resounding YES but it will take some time.
In East Malaysia, the people live together, eat together and play together. The local councils do not impose the Malay superiority. All races can eat together in the same coffee shop with no problems. Shopfront billboards can be anything they want to be with no restrictions. Street names are multi-lingual. Worship places of all religions are all over the place. They are more 1Malaysia than the Peninsula Malaysians can ever be.
The Biro Tatatertib Negara (BTN) must cease its role of being the most divisive instrument of the Govt. In its place, a more muhibbah curriculum can be put in place to encourage Malaysians to stand up to be counted in the global challenges.
Once Malaysians see that competition is not between the people but against nations and markets, the ethnic barrier will begin to fall. All Malaysians are equal and there are no Malaysians more equal than others. Can this be attained? Hopefully so.
11. Lower Food Prices
This is a very serious concern for all Malaysians. While wages have almost stagnated because the Government keeps showing very low inflation rate, food prices have gone up considerably over the last 5 years. The concern is that basic food is rising beyond the ordinary rakyat’s capability to cope.
The Govt must seriously look into managing the prices of chicken, meats, rice, oil, sugar, flour, vegetables, fish and the critical basic food elements. Unfortunately, each of these items must be dealt with differently. One fundamental cause is that Malaysia imports most of these items and we are subjected to external price influence. Then, there is the monopolistic middleman. Perhaps, the Govt feels that it is easier to provide “subsidy” if there is one party but any monopolistic practice is bad if it affects the general food produce.
Case in point is why is sugar prices so high now when it has been so low for so long. Rice is imported by Bernas only and we do not grow enough for our consumption. Who owns the sugar, flour and rice import and production rights? Not the Govt but Syed Mokhtar. We import most of our meats of beef and lamb. Our chicken industry is not very productive. Our vegetable farming is heavily reliant on Cameron Highlands and we import most of others. Our fishing industry is severely hampered by the cost of deep sea fishing, a major element being diesel fuel and the vessel itself. In fact, none of our basic food elements are self sufficient.
The Govt must work to improve self sufficiency, productivity of existing industries and utilize as much unused land we can to maximize our national ability to stand on our own without subjecting ourselves to external price influence. Train, support and develop our farmers, fishermen to think big, grow more, and work on larger areas. Break apart any monopoly of such industries.
And most of all, do we really need monopolistic middleman? Are they making outrageous profits at the peril of the rakyat?
– to be continued –