Thursday, May 28, 2009

Shrinking Economy: What can we do about it?

The national economy is said to have shrunk by 6.2% in the first quarter of 2009. The manufacturing sector went down by 17.6%. export oriented industries by 23.1%. electrical and electronic products by 41.4%, and domestic oriented industries by 15.9%. We, however. still have a healthy trade surplus of RM32.7 billion since export continues to exceed import.

What is immediately reflected by the statistics is that our manufacturing sector is cutting down production due to decreasing demand from oversea and locally. This is as a result of the economic recession or downturn ( some say 'crisis'}, effecting the what is usually known as the affluent countries. The developing economies cannot but suffer as well from their constipation.

So what can we do? Tighten our belts and hope for the best? The PM seems to say that whether the negative growth of -1% to
-4% in the second, third and fourth quarter of 2009 can be arrested or not, depends on the recovery made by the richer countries. Our richer trading partners wil, of course,l do everything to protect their own trade and industries by reducing import.

We must, therefore, look at all possible ways of revving up our internal economic engine. If the public have more money to spend and prices of consumer goods are reduced, domestic trade and business will certainly gain greater momentum, driving our economy into higher gear. Demand for consumer goods will rise and the factories ( at least the domestic oriented ones) will roar into full capacity again. This is indeed a good opportunity for our industries to examine their cost of production, improve the quality of their products to match the goods that are imported . and offer them at lower prices. Government can look at all possible ways to stimulate local business and industries, providing incentives and tax reduction to let the engine of growth within the country go into top gear.

This will certainly reduce the recession virus from 'eating up' our internal economy.

Allow industries providing goods for domestic consumption to cut down production, allow costs to escalate (inflation), and let more people become jobless, and we will have a real economic crisis on hand. Put more money in peoples' pocket, have more and cheaper goods on the shelves, and reduce the cost of services due to excessive mark-ups, and the economy will remain healthy. In simple terms, let people be able to buy more with the money that they have in this country and everyone will be happy. Don't shrink the value of the ringgit through ecessive taxation and allowing the prices of goods and services to go sky high.

Now, let the economists think of how those things can be done.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Key Performance Index (KPI)

Reading TS Koh Tsu Koon's progress report on the KPI in the NST ( Mei 23), I've a feeling that no real performance evaluation can be done even towards the end of the year. Any instrument that will actually place the Ministers and Wakil Rakyat under pressure to perform will certainly be thrown out. The tentative KPIs can certainly be blamed for any poor reflection of the YB's and YAB's
performance and more research be carried out to develop more reliable and valid indices.

Why not aim for a simple assessment in the first instance? What do we hope for a Federal Minister to do? Carry out the set objectives of a Ministry, formulate new measures or policy guidelines to deal with pressing issues which come under the Ministry's portfolio, improve on the facilities and services provided to the rakyat in specific areas of life falling under the Ministry's concern ( eg. education and training, health. consumers' welfare, public safety, transport facilities, community services and relations, housing standards etc.), maintain a close contact with the communities in his or her constituency, understand and indefatigably help to solve their problems, and fight for their rights.

That is already a high order. Ten indices measuring performance in pursuing those matters would be good enough to begin with. The more complicated the instrument, the more difficult to use, the more aguable the result. Use the 'kiss' formula ( keep it simple, stupid) so long as it can show the difference between a Minister (or a Wakil Rakyat for that matter) who is a 'deliverer' and a 'falter'. More importantly, a Minister or a senior public official who stumbles on his or her own faults or failures as shown by the KPI ( proven wrong by facts on the ground). should be taken to task, not just be kicked upstairs.

We wait to see the outcome of this daring exercise.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Stop Rising Cost - A good Key Indicator of Govt Effectiveness.

Since govt is working on the KPI for evaluating the performance of Ministers and all high-level public officials, we must indicate what are the primary concern of the rakyat which the govt must look into with all urgency. The ability of the officials to deal with such concern would then become a good basis for evaluating their effectiveness and efficiency.

In the context of current economic crunch, one of the basic concerns of the rakyat certainly has to do with the rising cost of living. Every effort should be made to reduce the rising cost of living by arresting the increase in prices of various consumer items.

Yet the CPI has gone up for the month of April by 3.5 % while the price index for food and drinks (not including alcohol) went up by 7.5%. And there's talk about fare hikes in public transportation while the rates for utilities have been trying to push up. Even the price of gas might have to be increased soon. What about the prices of books and clothings? Has the govet checked these to see if they can be brought down because the public is now more careful with their money.

Efforts by relevant Ministers and public officials in this direction should be given prominence in the KPI. Let's hope that the KPI will not revolve around improving the image of the party, promoting high-visibility projects with dubious returns and delivering blistering salvos on the opposition. What's most important now is to check rising prices of goods and services, and ensure that peoples' income will not suddenly take a dip or disappearly entirely due to retrenchment.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stalemate Again.

Yesterday the High Court ruled who the rightful MB of Perak is and today the Court of Appeal approved a stay of execution until the appeal is heard. Yesterday the rightful MB moved in and the contender moved out of the State Secretariat building, today or tomorrow the reverse movemnet will take place.

When is this political game going to end? Till the next GE is perhaps what Barisan wants while Pakatan Rakyat wants a quick by-election since it knows that the PR led govt will face a no confidence vote at the next essembly. The Appeal at its worst will give time for Barisan to rally its forces. Going to the poll now might be suicidal.

So many parties involving the political system and its bigwigs, the judiaciary, the royalties, the police and, of course, the rakyat are dragged into shame, confusion and distress by this political fiasco. Must Barisan drag it on with the appeal and later, a counter appeal perhaps? Will the delay tactic gain for them any advantage in facing the next GE?

There seems to be no way out except through a by-election. If BN can show that the 'transformation' it has been talking about has been undertaken and a new wisdom is being exercised in selecting its candidates this time around, there shouldn't be any worry about being defeated. Any fear to face a by-election can be interpreted to mean that all the changes the BN leadership has promised is only a ....promise. The longer it holds on to power in Perak against the wishes of the rakyat, the more 'unfair' and'desperate' measures will be necessary to keep things in order. It's the "damned if you do and damned if you don't" curse at work.


After following so many discussions and views on this subject with the resounding conclusion that Perak State Legislative Assembly should be dissolved and a fresh State-wide election be called, it is clear that
the BN does not want this to happen. If it does, even allowing Nizar to remain as the MB and allowing him to call for a meeting would enable BN to table a vote of no confidence and throw him out, since BN has the majority. Even Nizar does not want to continue as MB for he immediately arranged for an audience with the Sultan to dissolve the State Assembly.

It's very clear now that BN wants the stalemate to remain with Zambry as MB,since it's not ready to go to the poll and losing a state-wide election now would be catastrophic.. Nizar, on the other hand, does not want to go back to the Assembly with a minority support and face the ignominy of receiving a no confidence vote, though this is a sure way of forcing the dissolution of the Assembly and requiring a by-election to be held.

How can we prevent both parties from facing disaster and embarrassment ( jatuh air muka) seems, therefore, to be the real question. BN has now even blocked Nizar's choice to call for a meeting of the Assembly and face a no confidence vote to force a re-election, since BN does NOT want it. He might have to appeal, just to face the Assembly and the inevitable no confidence vote.

Perhaps BN should allow Nizar to continue being MB and face the Assembly with minority support. Withholding a vote of no confidence on him would turn him into a joker MB. Otherwise, Zambry assumes that role.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Religion and Politics.

Pope Benedict XVI in a speech to Muslim leaders in Amman said that "tensions and divisions, between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly cannot be is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tensions and divisions, and at times even violence in society." (STP 10/5 p.34 World).

How true. What would happen if a Muslim religious head were to say this in Malaysia? There'd perhaps be a hue and cry from the politicians and the religious head could find himself in hot (nay, scalding) soup. He said further that "some maintain that religion fails in its claim to be, by nature, a builder of unity and harmony, an expression of communion between persons and with God."

The Pope also underlines his 'deep respect' for Islam.

This should be an eye-opener to the politicians and religious leaders in Malaysia. We all search for God and seek His blerssings in different ways, calling him by different names. Why should, therefore, be any suspicion, distrust and disrespect for each others faith and religion. Those who use religion for other than seeking the benigh grace of God, would be untrue to their own belief.

President Obama will also deliver a speech to the Muslim world in Egypt on June 4, " seeking to repair ties that were severely damaged under ..George Bush." Here's another indication that the Muslim world is ready to rectify spoilt relations based on 'mutual respect and understanding'. The example which Obama will set should prompt other western countries to review any misgivings they may have on Islam and the Muslims.

While these developments are most encouraging, the Muslim world itself should reexamine its own internal differences and belligerence towards each other. Especially the Muslim within the same country. Let Islam be 'the builder of unity and harmony'
as intended by the teachings of Allah and the al-Quran. When there's conflict and tension, examine whether it's the Islamic faith that creates it or motives other than religious.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Review of the Education System

The govt seems set to review our education system as suggested by the new education minister and DPM. We certainly have hundreds ( if not more than a thousand) of experts on education in Malaysia today, many with PHDs. There'll be reviews and more reviews yet the sucess stories of outstanding students are based on hard work and perseverence, irrespective of the what or 'whose' education policy we're following (Rahman Yaakub, Rahman Talib, Tun Razak. Khir Johari, Mahathir etc.)

What remains unclear now is with regard to the criteria for evaluating a good policy. What are the current goals and emphasis of such a policy? What kind of a future citizen or intellectual do we want? We hear frantic cries that he/she must be well disciplined, with a sound work-related knowledge, of sound moral values, computer literate, civic-minded, humane ( perihatin), motivated, patriotic etc. etc. How can all those be translated into educational goals that are most desirable and attainable? Surely the education experts and the public at large must be consulted to frame the policy objectives, in line with the paradigm shift that is designed for the country and nation as a whole.

Have the old objectives of creating an integrated Malaysian society through Bahasa Malaysia, inculcating a firm belief in Rukun Negara, moving Malaysians towards a restructured society without racial cleavages threatening to distrupt our unity etc. been accomplished in the 53+ years of independence? Have we produced big-hearted Malaysians who're progressive, responsible and
morally upright or greedy ones with self-interest becoming the prime motif of all actions? The foundation of an integrated and united society is laid down in the schools, colleges and universities. Is that fact appreciated and being emphasized in promoting and developing our institutions of learning or is the development of skill to compete and outdo each other being made the focus of concern?

Let's hear from the experts, not just the politicians with a string of titles ( including honarary Ph Ds) before and after their names.