Archive for April 2nd, 2010

A Blueprint for Malaysia

Opinion Asia | The Wall Street Journal
Prime Minister Najib Razak sounds a reform note, but will he follow through?

The times they are a-changin’ in Malaysia. A few years ago it was inconceivable that a Malaysian premier would express dissatisfaction with the “rent-seeking and patronage” inherent in the country’s four-decade-old affirmative action policies and call for a more “transparent” system based on merit and need. Former strongman Mahathir Mohamad used to label people with such ideas “extremists.”

Yet today Dr. Mahathir, who has thrown his lot in with nativist groups like Perkasa, looks extreme. Prime Minister Najib Razak, by contrast, is reflecting the popular will. In announcing what he dubbed a “New Economic Model” Tuesday, Mr. Najib is responding to the obvious: His country’s extensive system of hiring rules, investment quotas and various other perquisites for the majority ethnic Malays drives away capital and labor and entrenches corruption and poverty.

It’s a story investors already understand. For the past few years, foreign direct investment in Malaysia has slowed to a trickle in an economy that used to be one of Southeast Asia’s dynamos. On a net basis, money is flowing out of the country. Part of this trend has to do with state-owned oil behemoth Petronas’s investments abroad. But it also reflects that many Malaysian companies don’t repatriate capital because they see fewer decent investment opportunities at home. The same goes for foreign investors.
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Najib’s first anniversary marked with his 1Malaysia signature theme in complete tatters – will the NEM go the same way as 1Malaysia?

Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s first anniversary as sixth Prime Minister of Malaysia is marked with his 1Malaysia signature theme in complete tatters, raising the question whether the other pillar of his premiership, New Economic Model unveiled three days ago will go the same way as his 1Malaysia slogan.

When Deputy Speaker Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar made an arbitrary last-minute rejection of my amendment to the Motion of Thanks for the Royal Address late last night, provoking a collective protest walk-out of the Chambers by Pakatan Rakyat Members of Parliament from PAS, PKR and DAP, it was not only a black-letter day for parliamentary democracy but also for Najib’s 1Malaysia concept and slogan.

I had moved the amendment motion for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on 1Malaysia Government Transformation Programme Roadmap to monitor and report on its progress and development at the conclusion of my speech in the debate on the Royal Address two weeks ago on March 18, and it was seconded by the PAS MP for Kuala Krai Dr. Mohd Hatta bin Mohd Ramli and had been accepted by the Chair.

It is against all parliamentary precedents and practices for the amendment motion, which had been properly moved, seconded and accepted two weeks ago, to be suddenly rejected at the last-minute just before voting on the specious ground that it had nothing to do with the Royal Address.
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NEM and NEP – Only One Letter Different!

By M. Bakri Musa

With threatening clouds overhead, there are no prizes for predicting the flood, only for designing or building the ark. The recently-released New Economic Model (NEM) Report draws our attention (not that we need it!) to the darkening Malaysian skies, and then goes on advising us to build an ark.

That is as far as the report goes. There are no hints on whether the clouds would bring a tropical drenching or just a midday sprinkle. There are also no suggestions on the type of vessel we should build. A barge, yacht or a sampan will all keep us afloat, but beyond that they serve vastly different purposes, not to mention their enormously varying costs. And if the forecast calls for only a light sprinkle, then a simple umbrella would do; no need to expend scant resources on an unneeded ark.

We are told that following “public input,” another report will be released by June, in time for its recommendations to be incorporated into the Tenth Malaysia Plan and the 2011 Budget. This second report, we are further assured, will contain specific policy prescriptions – the ark design, as it were.

The current report is silent on how this “public input” would come about. Before deluding ourselves that we could participate in robust public debates, let me intrude a cautionary note. Acknowledging that there will be opposition, the report urges the government to take “prompt action when resistance is encountered.”
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Najib Stalls on his New Economic Policy

Asia Sentinel
Fleshing it out is probably impossible

As expected, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak unveiled his New Economic Model in an 8,000 word speech on March 30 to a national investor conference in Kuala Lumpur. And, as expected, despite the hype and favorable news stories in the international press, it contained virtually nothing of substance. The speech can be found here.

Najib remains caught between the need to eliminate costly subsidies enshrined in 40 years of economic policy that benefit ethnic Malays and the fact that eliminating them would alienate a major part of his United Malays Political Organization political base.

His pledge in the speech to eliminate rent-seeking is fraught with political danger, since UMNO has largely been built on party cadres who have made fortunes on government contracts or other arrangements. As Lim Kit Siang, the leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party, pointed out to Asia Sentinel, Najib’s promise to end rent-seeking was almost an exact echo of speeches by his predecessor, former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who was unable to make any progress whatsoever in the face of implacable opposition from UMNO cronies.
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