ISSN 2330-717X

Getting A New Deal For Malaysians: Plenty Of New Parties But No New Ideas – Analysis

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There is an emergence of a host of new political parties at a time Malaysia is in crisis. This is been caused by political infighting, party splits, and the pursuit of political power as the end. 

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Getting elected to a state assembly or the federal parliament shouldn’t be an end in itself. The objective should be serving the people and trying to make Malaysia a better place to live. As we saw with the short stint of the so-called reform government, Pakatan Harapan did nothing new, and many MPs seemed to enjoy the trappings of power, rather than serving the people. 

Where does public policy actually come from?

The reality is that very little policy actually comes from the governing political parties. Policy has actually changed very little from administration to administration. 

Government public policy largely comes from within the Malaysian civil service. Ministries and states have committees and working groups which submit ideas and plans to the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) within the Prime Ministers’ Department (PMO). The EPU is the coordinating body for most of Malaysia’s policy making. In addition, highly paid consultants are employed from time to time, to coordinate and develop specific policy packages, such as the 12th Malaysian Plan. 

Although, the directors of the EPU and ministries are highly educated, they live and work within a bubble that has protected them from the hardships caused by the restrictions during the Covid pandemic. Most have not felt the hardships and have tended to become oblivious to growing poverty, unemployment, and food security issues challenging the vibrancy of the nation today. 

Consequently, public policy has become insular and inward looking, and desperately requires new ideas. This is what the opposition and new political parties should be doing, advocating new ideas and solutions to the national issues.  

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Important concerns for Malaysians

Relative poverty has grown over the last two years. Statistics are lagging behind the actualities on the ground. If we calculated the actual relative poverty figure on the basis of what most are advocating as a minimum wage, then the figure would be over 10%. 

Rising inflation is widening the wealth gap even further. Malaysia is ranked the 3rd highest nation in terms of income inequality within the wider Asian region. In Malaysia’s race to become a high-technology economy, a low technology, labour intensive informal sector, made up of almost 2 million people and their dependents, have been left behind.

Movement Control Orders (MCOs) and other restrictions have increased unemployment within the professional classes, eating well into Malaysia’s middle class income earners. Official unemployment figures don’t accurately reflect this, as many sink into the informal sector, upon becoming unemployed. 

The 12th Malaysian Plan and last federal budget almost completely ignored these problems, let alone came up with any solutions to these urgent issues. 

The pandemic highlighted deficiencies within the nation’s health system. There needs to be a review in regards to improving capacity and quality of care nation-wide. Malaysians, no matter where they are within the nation, should be guaranteed access to quality health care. The means discussion about concepts of a universal health care system for all Malaysians. 

The discussion of social issues has been monopolised by gender issues and unilateral religious conversions, when suicide rates, drug dependence, incest, and crime are all on the rise. These are all issues hurting the nation’s youth who need to be protected. The police force on the front line is massively over-stretched to deal with these issues. 

There has been widespread and long running criticism of the education system, from primarily to post graduate. The Malaysian education system is extremely complex with a wide spectrum of ideas about the way it should go forward. 

The cost of residential properties is out of the reach of many within the B40 group. New government built residential infrastructure is urgently needed to assist this group to acquire adequate housing. 

The ability of people to securely retire through pensions and EPF is diminishing. This is going to grow to a crisis point within the decade and needs new solutions. 

Corruption is epidemic in Malaysia. Corruption has seeped through government, the banking sector, local government, and even into private enterprise. Malaysia is now reaching the point where little can be done without the need to resort to some form of corruption. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is not independent, as it requires permission from the AG to make any prosecutions. This is a conflict of interest that must be eliminated, if the country is to get serious about the eradication of corruption.

Government, wastage, duplication, and misappropriation of funds could be as high as 30% of total government expenditure. Freeing that much of aggregate government spending would finance solutions to many of the problems mentioned above. 

Advocate the easy reforms first

When Pakatan Harapan came to power back in 2018, it was found that many reforms were difficult to implement. Some needed new legislation, some needed a change to the constitution, some met fierce opposition from important stakeholders, and some needed a will the government just didn’t have.

It’s the political parties themselves that need to be reformed first. They need to be decentralised, where party branches have the sovereignty within the party. Constituency branches should select their own political candidates, and members of state assemblies should select their leaders. Party memberships must control the parties, not leaders who have created a patronage system, greased by money. 

Political parties need to be freed up so they can bring new leaders to the front. If political parties are not themselves clean and healthy, how can any government they form be clean and healthy?

Looking for creative new ideas and solutions

It’s time for Malaysia to stop taking ‘off the rack’ solutions, or rely on the complacent civil service to guide the nation ahead. Malaysians have to find new ideas and develop them into crafted solutions to handle the nation’s problems.

The concept of equality of opportunity needs to be placed at the top of the nation’s economic policy. Second issue must be a net to protect those in need. 

This will mean a massive reorientation away from supporting GLCs and promoting monopolies within the economy, to nurturing an SME based economy as a major driver of future growth. Such an emphasis will gradually shift income towards lower income groups.

This is where imagination can be used to reshape the rural heartlands as culturally sustainable enterprise communities that create value and economic activity in places it now doesn’t exist. Similar concepts can be utilized to create urban villages that grow on local economic activities. This is what Malaysia once was in the towns and their immediate hinterlands.

The covid pandemic and current international political situation shows that communities must once again become self-sufficient, rediscover craft industries, food production, trade locally, and take on practical, rather than academic education where jobs no longer exist. 

This is the complete opposite to Industry 4.0 concepts that have never been proven to work within the Malaysian context. This Malaysian reset would be very compatible across the whole country, where this regional community MSME micro-economies, would in sum produce local wealth, value, and equity. 

This is just one idea. There are many other imaginative ideas that Malaysia’s new parties can visualize, develop and espouse to their fellow Malaysians. 

However, one must make sure they don’t go to the other extreme like Pakatan Harapan did in the 2018 general election and promise too much. This had fatal consequences which PKR are still suffering from today. 

Murray Hunter’s blog can be accessed here 

Murray Hunter

Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 30 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, and researcher. As an entrepreneur he was involved in numerous start-ups, developing a lot of patented technology, where one of his enterprises was listed in 1992 as the 5th fastest going company on the BRW/Price Waterhouse Fast100 list in Australia. Murray is now an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis, spending a lot of time consulting to Asian governments on community development and village biotechnology, both at the strategic level and “on the ground”. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and regular speaker at conferences and workshops in the region. Murray is the author of a number of books, numerous research and conceptual papers in referred journals, and commentator on the issues of entrepreneurship, development, and politics in a number of magazines and online news sites around the world. Murray takes a trans-disciplinary view of issues and events, trying to relate this to the enrichment and empowerment of people in the region.

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