Stupidity, dishonesty: Assets in politics, policy-making

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In place of intelligent and honest government, we have stupidity and dishonesty disguised as policy, observes Andrew Aeria. But are we surprised? We get the government we deserve.

 

About two weeks ago, an internet media article insightfully observed that stupidity is not a liability in Malaysian politics.

What the author forgot to mention was that dishonesty is also not a liability.

Indeed, in Malaysian politics and policy-making, stupidity and dishonesty are major assets that often overlap and reinforce each other.

Take the recent policy decision to force retailers of sugar, cooking oil and flour to register with the Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism (DTCC) Ministry by 1 July if they wish to sell these goods. Thousands of retailers are affected by this decision. According to DTCC Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, this move is required to “curb hoarding and abuse”.

So I ask you, do you really think any thinking went into this decision? And is the DTCC Ministry being honest?

After all, had the ministry stopped to think though the implications of this decision, it would have realised that it’s nigh impossible to register, let alone monitor and enforce, compliance of thousands of retailers across the length and breadth of the country in such a short period of time even if the retailers were willing partners in this comedy.

But they are not. Already the 20,000 members of the Federation of Sundry Goods Merchants Associations have threatened to stop selling these items.

No doubt, when they and tens of thousands of other non-affiliated retailers throughout the country deliver on their threat, the government will be forced by the ensuing shortages to do a flip-flop and spin its way out of the situation brought about through sheer stupidity in the first place.

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A little honesty on the part of the DTCC Ministry would have targeted the real big-time hoarders of these essential goods instead of penalising the small fry retailers.

And why does the government not reel in the big hoarders? Is it that difficult for the police and DTCC enforcement officials to identify who they are and to arrest them and put an end to this persistent problem of hoarding once and for all?

Grief, these hoarders have been at this game for years! Any honest person with half a brain who seriously studied the whole commodity supply chain of these goods and did some intelligent detective work would have been able to work out who the hoarders are.

And since when has a silly RM10 licence to retail essential items like sugar, cooking oil and flour stopped hoarding? After all, is not a business/trading licence sufficient to force retailer compliance with the law? Why do we need another licence on top of the numerous others? Licensing the retail sale of sugar, cooking oil and flour does not even begin to address the problem of hoarding shortages. Nor does comic licensing promote market efficiency.

If anything, it only reminds me of how the Soviet Union attempted to control the sale of consumer goods through its state-run shops. Instead of market efficiency, the shops were empty and in its place, a dynamic black market flourished for all those who could pay. Not only did the black marketeers profit but so did the Soviet authorities via corrupt kickbacks.

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Similarly, the Ascot sports betting licence saga is turning out to be another major flip-flop fiasco, also a consequence of stupid and dishonest policy-making.

It’s dishonest since nobody wants to tell the truth about the licence. Berjaya informed Bursa Malaysia that the licence was approved. Our Prime Minister informed parliament that no licence has been awarded. So, who is fibbing? Or are there buckets of spin involved here given over-whelming public criticism of the policy?

To make matters worse, Bursa Malaysia – despite all its rhetoric about market transparency – is playing mum despite the possibility of Berjaya misleading the market while the Securities Commission is urging Bursa to query Berjaya. Big SNAFU, innit?

Whatever happened to full and honest disclosure of information to investors and to Parliament?

And it’s stupid as well since the logic of awarding the licence does not make sense. Both Vincent Tan and government ministers say that the licence is necessary to undercut illegal betting syndicates. In other words, it’s better to have legal instead of illegal betting. Presumably this is also because legal betting allows government to monitor (and tax!) gaming.

The Home Minster goes further and says “the issue is closely related to [the] black economy involving an estimated RM10 billion and related to illegal activities like human trafficking, illegal money laundering or Ah Long”. Ho hum…!

If the government cannot even curb these rampant illegal activities now due to an incompetent and unprofessional police force, what convinces the government that it will be able to undercut the illegal gaming syndicates once football betting goes legal?

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Do we really believe that the illegal syndicates are that uncreative (read: ‘stupid’) to be unable to continue making money despite legal gaming?

Is a mere licence to Ascot/Berjaya going to eradicate illegal football betting? Is a mere retail licence to sell sugar, cooking oil and flour going to eradicate hoarding?

Are we not missing the forest for the trees?

Or is this BN government so desperate financially, given their huge public debt and budget profligacy especially during by-elections and when awarding patronage projects for their corporate cronies, that they are willing to try anything to raise cash for the Treasury?

Hence, in place of intelligent and honest government, we have stupidity and dishonesty disguised as policy.

But are we surprised? We get the government we deserve.

Andrew Aeria is an Aliran exco member.

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