Excuse me, Idris! Just who is addicted to subsidies?

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Certainly remove wasteful subsidies, Abang Benet tells Idris Jala. But please ensure that the poor and the marginalised continue receiving subsidies; after all, why penalise them for the excesses of Umno/BN?

 

So, it finally took an outsider to tell Umno and the BN that it is addicted to subsidies and that they are going to bleed the country dry within nine years if nothing drastic is done to stem our ballooning national debt.

Of course, coming from a Sarawak-born outsider – and a non-elected one at that – the statement by Idris Jala, the Prime Minister’s personal point-man in charge of the Government Transformation Plan (GTP), was made to sound as if it was the Malaysian people who were being admonished; the Malaysian people who were the culprits, who have “been living beyond our means”!

No doubt, this is Idris Jala’s political survival strategy since he – as an Umno/BN outsider – is quite incapable of pointing the finger at Umno/BN! Had he done so, his head would have been chopped off faster than a speeding bullet – metaphorically speaking, of course!

But since I don’t have to operate under the hypocritical constraints that are imposed upon Idris Jala by Umno/BN, I shall do Idris a small favour and reinterpret his recent statements by calling a spade a spade and finger Umno and BN politicians (and their greedy, blood-sucking corporate hanger-ons) as the real culprits who should heed Idris Jala’s message.

After all, who is responsible for enacting all the subsidies this country has seen except Umno and its parasite partners within the BN under the auspices of the NEP? And further, just who exactly has benefited most from all these subsidies and other economic abuses and excesses if not the Umnoputras and BN-putras of the land along with their greedy corporate cronies?

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Certainly, the majority of Malays, Indians and other non-Muslim Bumiputeras (in Sabah and Sarawak) have not benefited as much.Truth be told, our efforts to reduce national income/wealth and expenditure inequalities have been moribund – and that too despite an economic redistribution policy platform (i.e. the NEP) of 40 years!

The UNDP’s 2009 Human Development Report website provides a comparative Gini Index table that measures income/wealth and expenditure inequality where 0 measures absolute equality and 100 absolute inequality.

Malaysia’s Gini is 37.9; ahead of the Philippines (44), Singapore and Thailand (42.5), Cambodia (40.7), Indonesia (39.4) but behind Vietnam (37.8) and Laos (32.6).

Malaysia’s economic achievements over the last 40 years have been impressive. But considering the amount of NEP resources we have expended and the huge financial leakages that we have incurred over the years to achieve these results (“Just think of submarines that cannot dive; IPPs with preferential tariffs; Bakun Dam and numerous bailouts for starters!”), our accomplishments in restructuring society have been mediocre.

Worse still, if Idris Jala is to be believed, such mediocre accomplishments in wealth restructuring have been achieved via an addiction to subsidies; the removal of which is going to cause Malaysians generally a lot of pain and more inequality of income/wealth and expenditure.

But will Umno/BN allow an outsider like Idris Jala to push through this programme to dismantle subsidies? After all, it is the Umno/BN “subsidy addicts” who are going to hurt the most since they are all so uncompetitive and all so used to leeching off our public resources via subsidies (like APs, educational scholarships), rentier patronage (e.g. contracts to cronies and family companies), and outright corruption.

Do we really believe that Umno/BN politicians along with the likes of Ibrahim Ali’s racist Perkasa goons and Malay Consultative Council buddies are going to embrace Idris Jala’s GTP and subsidy restructuring plan with love and affection?

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Heck, is Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud even going to buy into Idris Jala’s rhetoric? God knows, Taib and his family have benefited most from the pillage of Sarawak’s resources via the NEP. And what about Sabah CM Musa Aman and his coterie of greedy hanger-ons? Why should they stop living it up just because Idris Jala said so and just because the country risks tipping into bankruptcy?

Since when has it been generally acknowledged that Umno/BN politicians have a moral conscience to do what is right for the country and its entire peoples?

Do Umno/BN cabinet ministers and politicians pay taxes? Ooops, I forgot, they all take home tax-free salaries and all sorts of perks and allowances. Not to mention the millions their cronies rake in via subsidies, rentier contracts and kickbacks.

Indeed, who really has been “living beyond our means”? Have ordinary Malaysians “been living beyond our means”? Have poor Chinese, rural Malay farmers and Indian plantation workers “been living beyond our means”? Have the Penans “been living beyond their means”?

Hence, even if Idris Jala does succeed in getting his subsidy restructuring plan through cabinet, should we Malaysians accept this “one-size fits-all” bitter pill? Pray, why should we when we dutifully pay our taxes every year but have never enjoyed the full benefits of any genuine public commitment to our common welfare and security?

So, Idris, a little bit of honesty please with regard to your GTP and subsidy restructuring rhetoric. Please direct it towards your own cabinet colleagues and the rest of Umno/BN. Unless they end their profligate lifestyles and cease plundering the public coffer, we, the rakyat, should not be asked to tighten our belts. In other words, if you are going ahead with this plan, please ensure that your GTP and subsidy restructuring programme reins in ALL the financial leakages, the economic excesses and the policy abuses of your Umno/BN pals even as we, the rakyat, are asked to tighten our belts.

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After which, consider a little more targeting please in terms of your subsidy restructuring plans. Certainly remove wasteful subsidies. You are spot on to say that Malaysia cannot go on piling up our public debt to finance subsidies.

But please ensure that the poor and the most marginalised groups continue receiving subsidies since they need it most. After all, why penalise the poor and the most marginalised for the subsidy excesses of Umno/BN? Why penalise those who have been left out of the benefits of the NEP for the past 40 years?

Think back to your days as a student of Development Studies in USM. You are certainly aware of what I am talking about.

Abang Benet is a regular Aliran correspondent.

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