Courting a national disaster

Najib Razak must display real leadership to tackle the listless economy and the Allah controversy, says Dzulkefly Ahmad.

Where is Najib when you need him? - Photograph: Mohd Yusni Ariffin/NST

Where is Najib when you need him? – Photograph: Mohd Yusni Ariffin/NST

There is a saying, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls, but with good counsellors, there is safety”.

The recent spate of events that have engulfed the nation has amply illustrated that we have neither wise leaders nor good counsellors.

That this fact underscores the current state of affairs of this embattled nation is an understatement. With inept leaders encircled by more-than-happy-to-curry-favour advisers/consultants, we have a recipe for disaster. The nation is in a tail-spin of sorts and courting a national tragedy.

That this is seriously now the case is underpinned by two major arguments.

First, from the way the troubling economy is further mismanaged, and second, the deepening crisis of the racial-religious divide that is almost at a boiling point.

Consequent to the misdirected policies of pursuing and ramping “growth without a socially-just development” end-state on the back of a much abused “interventionist affirmative action of the New Economic Policy”, the nation finds itself strapped in huge debt and 16 years of fiscal deficit which has now become very ‘toxic’.

With the federal debt that has almost reached the statutory limit of 55 per cent of the nation’s GDP, (RM543.3bn to be exact, as of a Ministry of Finance report), even the prime minister-cum-finance minister talks of imminent bankruptcy. Very unfortunately though, debts were conveniently attributed to the “colossal subsidies” (RM46.7bn, according to the MOF) said to have been spent on the rakyat.

Never were Prime Minister Najib and his ministers able to admit that the debts were equally or more likely due to the government mega-spending on big ticket infrastructural items in a “pump-priming” mode in both bullish times and bearish times. The PM was either oblivious and remorseless, or worse still, totally inept and clueless.

Leakages due to stupidity bordering on negligence, as annually reported by the auditor general, and endemic abuses bordering on corruption, epitomised by the PKFZ, NFC and MITP fiascos, are never blamed to be the cause of billions of ringgit being drained or misallocated.

The failure to dismantle monopolies has severely distorted the market, and continuing crony-capitalism resulted in a new rentier-class (the likes of Syed Mokhtar al-Bukhary et al monopolising critical national assets and utilities) and a repeat of Mahathirnomics (privatisation and the creation of a super-rich Bumiputera-Malay elite class).

It has made nonsense of the effort to achieve the high-income target of US$15,000 or RM48,000 per capita, arguably achievable through a hundred of the richest people in the country, while both the income and wealth divide continues to yawn wider by the year.

Let it be known to the PM and his cahoots, lest they are still oblivious, that statistically, welfare states like the Nordic countries, Austria and the Netherlands devoted at least 20 per cent of their national budget to social transfers or subsidies. You were adamant about introducing the GST in 2015, while allowing leaks to go unchecked. The nation is still caught in a “middle-income trap”, which is irresponsible.

More interestingly, higher social transfers (subsidies) in these welfare states have resulted in less poverty, less inequality and longer expectancy, with statistically no net cost in terms of GDP, economic growth or even budget deficits.

Whether we are looking at the social market economy or an Islamic economy, we shall no longer view welfare as a “populist” public policy. Welfare spending, as Keynes argues, has its role in stimulating demand when private investment and expenditure dry up, a part of the package of policy instruments to prevent economic crises and keep the market economy on track.

So Mr PM, your arguments that the rationalisation (aka withdrawal) of subsidies must be put in place or else the nation would go bankrupt, are both pathetic and misguided. Your 11 austerity measures are too little to be of financial significance, though never too late.

Could you promptly revisit your economic measures and take heed of the copious critique, especially from among the economists who are not out there to curry favours?

Their honest assessment that your so-called “rationalisation of subsidies” is triggering more than a ‘double-whammy’ on the rakyat’s well-being particularly on the bottom 40 per cent, especially on their purchasing power to drive domestic demand, is surely noteworthy.

Let us now turn to another critical dimension of your ineptness at running this ailing nation.

As early as the first week of 2014, your deputy’s non-committal statement on the intention of Selangor Umno, together with Muslim NGOs – that they are free to decide on staging a demonstration on 5 January in front of churches – is extremely regrettable.

Rather than dispensing advice and calling for restraint and respect for one another’s religious beliefs and conviction, his response was interpreted as a callous endorsement for such actions that spell doom for this nation.

It heralds the beginning of a troubled year of a deepening religious divide in an already fractious society. The divisive debate and emotive legal issue over the word Allah has been raging unabated and no effective efforts, much less solutions, are in sight.

The unfortunate raid and seizure of copies of the Bible by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) at the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) has added salt to injury. The stage is now set for legal wrangling on this issue, compounding and exacerbating further the ‘Allah’ debate.

Arguably, in 2011, the cabinet had allowed the printing and import of the Bible in any language, and the seizure contravened this decision.

Whether Jais is rightly under the state government, the sultan or the federal government, has now come into the limelight.

Be that as it may, the high-handed actions of Jais have now come under severe condemnation from many quarters. Whether Jais has religious jurisdiction over non-Muslim scriptures, their actions finally underscore the imperative need to address the ‘Allah’ issue.

While Article 11 (4) of the Federal Constitution (FC) allows for state and federal laws to control or restrict propagation of other religions among Muslims, it does not affect one’s right to profess and manage one’s religion under Articles 11 (1) and (3) which includes the use of words, language, worship and other aspects of practising a religion.

Likewise, the unsolicited edict or fatwa by the Mufti of Perak – in condemning the demonstrators (young activists of civil and students’ societies) of the recent Turun campaign on price hikes and in arguing carelessly that their blood was “halal” as they are “traitors of the nation” or bughah, as known in Islamic legal terminology – is both bigoted and smacks of political partisanship.

But where were you again, Mr PM?

This surely is not the way to run this already divided nation. You keep mum and your deafening silence is disquieting at best.

As we get from bad to worse, I must say in all earnestness that the time for a real national reconciliation has finally arrived.

It is not about forging a ‘unity government’ as such – but about implementing critical institutional reforms and structural measures that must be put in place soonest.

Should you shirk your responsibility again, you do it at your own peril.

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad is a member of the Pas central working committee and former MP of Kuala Selangor.

Source: themalaysianinsider.com

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