We often hear politicians accusing each other of corruption. Those accusations may be genuine, but sometimes they paper over deeper structural problems in the economy which are less sensational but which may have an even greater impact on the poor.
First, let me say that most Malaysians correctly recognise that the billions of ringgit lost through corruption and wastage and rent-seeking could have been used to provide more budget allocations to assist the poor.
But do corruption and wastage alone result in poverty?
It is so easy to talk of good governance alone. What about the impact of privatisation and neo-liberal policies, which favour Big Capital at the expense of the poor? Why don’t more politicians talk about replacing neo-liberal policies with pro-people policies? Why were the Red Shirts really protesting in Thailand?
Economist Walden Bello provides food for thought. He argues that in Thailand and elsewhere, clean-cut technocrats (through their anti-people policies in favour of Big Capital) have probably been responsible for greater poverty than the most corrupt politicians. “The corruption-causes-poverty discourse is no doubt popular with elites and international financial institutions because it serves as a smokescreen for the structural causes of poverty, and stagnation and wrong policy choices of the more transparent technocrats.”
In other words, you can be a clean-cut, corruption-free leader, but your policies could be aimed mainly at helping Big Business – often at the expense of the poor. (Think regressive taxation or lower taxes for the rich and corporations followed by cuts in social spending and the introduction of GST to compensate for the lower tax revenue, and the privatisation of essential services to large corporations). You are a servant of Big Capital rather than the people.
“Bad economic policies create and entrench poverty,” says Bello. “Unless and until we reverse the policies of structural adjustment, trade liberalisation, and conservative macroeconomic management, we will not escape the poverty trap.”
See Bello’s full article here.