Egypt, Tunisia, Malaysia: A quick comparison

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What are the similarities and differences among Egypt, Tunisia and Malaysia. Philip Khoo takes a quick look at some of the socio-economic data, focusing also on illicit financial outflows.

Photo credit: able2know.org

Malaysia is obviously not Tunisia nor Egypt. For one thing, it started off with a better economic situation and it has been a pretty successful developmentalist state.

In current terms, Malaysia’s per capita GDP is over 1.5 times higher than Tunisia’s and 4 times that of Egypt’s. Thus, the middle class, with all of its contradictory desires, make up a much larger proportion of Malaysia’s population than in Tunisia or Egypt.

Moreover, Malaysia’s unemployment, including hidden unemployment, is nowhere near that of either Tunisia’s nor Egypt’s, although the youth (15-24) unemployment rate is 3-4 times that of the overall unemployment rate and the youth unemployed now make up almost 80 per cent of the total unemployed. However, the youth unemployed only make up just over 2 per cent of the labour force.

But, in so far as one of the major issues driving the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt is inequality and corruption, and the perceived monopoly by a handful of the well-connected politically, then Malaysia, or rather, the ruling party, has much to be concerned about. Allied with this is the desire for dignity. Finally, unlike Egypt, but like Tunisia, about two thirds of Malaysia’s population is urban. But the difference — the existence of a, however deformed, electoral democracy — cannot be brushed aside.

Let’s just take the issue of corruption, using the latest Global Financial Integrity report. Using its conservative estimates for illicit financial outflows, Malaysia looks horrendously shocking. I think a better way to look at it is to normalise it to population and to per capita GDP. This is shown in the table below. Taking the annual average outflow for the period 2000-2008, Malaysia’s outflow dwarfs Egypt’s and Tunisia’s.

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Illicit financial outflows (2000-2008)

CountryAverage annual illicit financial outflow (US$)Per capita annual illicit financial outflow (US$)Per capita illicit outflow compared to per capita GDP (%)Income inequality (Gini coefficient)
Egypt6.4 billion79< 134.4 (2004)
Tunisia1.0 billion97< 140.6 (2000)
Malaysia32.4 billion1,2001740.3 (2004)

The difference is more stark on a per capita basis. While the illicit financial outflows cost Egypt and Tunisia less than US$100 per person, for Malaysia, it amounted to USD1,200 per person.

Most shocking of all, the illicit outflow from Malaysia cost the rakyat 17 per cent of per capita GDP, but less than 1 per cent in Egypt and Tunisia. In other words, that outflow could have potentially added up to 17 per cent of GDP, or made available up to US$1,200 for the betterment of every man, woman and child in the country, including non-citizens. At an average household size of 4.1 persons, it would have amounted to almost US$5,000 per year per household, or around RM15,000!

Regarding inequality, it appears that Malaysia is at least as unequal as Tunisia, and more unequal than Egypt, restricting comparisons to expenditure.

Philip Khoo is an independent observer

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