“Business-friendly” or people-friendly state govts?

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There’s been a lot of reaction over the selection of the Perak Mentri Besar, which has gone to a Pas candidate. Kit Siang should not have asked his DAP state assembly members to boycott the swearing in. After all, there was an agreement among the DAP, PKR and Pas at the state level that they would respect the Perak Sultan’s choice.

And if party leaders believe in democracy, then they should understand their roles in the party. Lim, is just an adviser to the party, though he played a significant role in contributing to the Opposition’s good showing. It should be borne in mind that many Malaysians voted across ethnic and religious lines. By asking DAP assembly members to stay away, how different is that from the BN assembly members staying from Guan Eng’s swearing in ceremony in Penang? Really, Kit Siang should respect the wishes of a large number of Malaysians for these parties to work together.

In any case, the Perak DAP, one would think, would have a better feel of the local situation, along with its realities, and the need to cooperate with PKR and Pas.

In all the excitement about the ethnic composition (I thought we were going beyond racial politics – or are we still trapped in that old mentality) of the state governments, not enough people have inquired deeply into why the stock market plunged on Monday after the election results.

Some say it was the economic uncertainties in the United State, where a major financial meltdown could be on the cards. Then there are those who say that it was the political uncertainty in the aftermath of the shock opposition inroads in Malaysia. But another factor that has not been adequately discussed in the local media is the uncertaintly about the economic policies of the five new state governments.

I am sure the huge corporations in Malaysia would have been jittery with the prospect of an opposition victory in the industrial heartland of Malaysia. For one thing, controversial mega contracts might be reviewed. There might be added calls for a minimum wage in Malaysia. Cronyism involving top tycoons might be revealed. The policy of suppressing local wages by importing cheap migrant labour might be reviewed. The new state governments might impose stiff new environmental and planning regulations that would not go down well. There might be calls for a strengthening of the trade union movement and greater respect for labour rights. All this would have been a nightmare for Big Business.

bouquet

A bouquet from the PGCC developer: “Business friendly” or “people friendly”?

So what did the opposition leaders do when they walked into the corridors of power in the states? Among the first things they did was to reassure the business community that they would be “business-friendly”. We have heard calls from both the BN and opposition leaders in Malaysia that they would uphold a “free market economy” (whatever that means) and “business-friendly” policies. There were pledges that all contracts signed would be respected (but what if they were signed in dubious circumstances, in bad faith and are against the public interest?).

No wonder the Malaysian stock exchange perked up after that. But did those assurances amount to a betrayal of the people’s aspirations for more people-friendly economic policies?

In a way, it reminded me of the general election outcome in India in 2004, when the BJP suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Congress. The Stock Exchange plunged too.

Listen to Arundhati Roy:

In its election campaign, the Congress party indicated that it was prepared to rethink some of its earlier economic policies. Millions of India’s poorest people came out in strength to vote in the elections. The spectacle of the great Indian democracy was telecast live – the poor farmers, the old and infirm, the veiled women with their beautiful silver jewellery, making quaint journeys to election booths on elephants and camels and bullock carts. Contrary to the predictions of all India’s experts and pollsters, the Congress won more votes than any other party. India’s Communist parties won the largest share of the vote in their history. India’s poor had clearly voted against neoliberalism’s economic “reforms” and growing fascism. As soon as the votes were counted, the corporate media dispatched them like badly paid extras on a film set. Television channels featured split screens. Half the screen showed the chaos outside the home of Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress party, as the coalition government was cobbled together. The other half showed frenzied stockbrokers outside the Bombay Stock Exchange, panicking at the thought that the Congress party might actually honour its promises and implement its electoral mandate. We saw the Sensex stock index move up and down and sideways. The media, whose own publicly listed stocks were plummeting, reported the stock market crash as though Pakistan had launched ICBMs on New Delhi.

Even before the new government was formally sworn in, senior Congress politicians made public statements reassuring investors and the media that privatisation of public utilities would continue. Meanwhile the BJP, now in Opposition, has cynically, and comically, begun to oppose foreign direct investment and the further opening of Indian markets.

This is the spurious, evolving dialectic of electoral democracy.

As for the Indian poor, once they’ve provided the votes, they are expected to bugger off home. Policy will be decided despite them.

Similarly, did the millions of low-income Malaysians vote for business-friendly policies or people-friendly policies? Did they vote for a free-market economy with lots of tax incentives for the big corporations or did they vote for greater subsidies and more assistance for the poor and those struggling to make ends meet?

Remember the election promises? To lower the price of oil (more subsidies presumably – though this would be unsustainable in the long run). To provide free education from primary to university level (more social spending). To do something about higher food prices – presumably caused by “free-market” economic policies that promote cash crops and biofuel ahead of food security. To tackle the growing gap between the rich and the poor – also the result of neo-liberal “free-market” policies and massive corporate projects tied in with cronyism. To protect the environment from the ravages of a rampant corporatocracy. To protect the rights of the working class. At least those were the promises I heard at the ceramah. Of course, there was much talk about Malaysia losing out in terms of “competitiveness” and “foreign investment” due to corruption etc, but for the most part, the promises were about more subsidies and policies to protect the people’s interest.

Neo-liberal “free-market” policies are hardly the solution. In fact, they are the cause of much of our misery. The “trickle down” approach has not worked either; instead, it has widened the chasm between the rich and the poor so that today Malaysia has among the largest income disparities in the region.

In a sense, the BN’s loss amounts to the people’s rejection of “business-friendly” neoliberal economic policies that have added to the people’s burden: think of the spiralling costs for the rakyat following the privatisation or corporatisation of utilities, education, water, and health care.

The opposition leaders should do well to remember that the people voted for people- and worker-friendly policies and not “business-friendly” policies. They should think twice and three times before they capitulate to powerful business interests

From the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching, the economy should serve the people and not people serve the economy and workers should take precedence over capital and not vice versa.

For a start, the Penang state government must call for wide-ranging public consultation on all these mega projects. A thorough cost-benefit analysis – which would take into account traffic and environmental impact – must be carried out.

high profile projects
Source: The Edge Daily

If they are not feasible or if they are environmentally damaging, they must be scrapped in favour of more cost-efficient, sustainable, people-friendly alternatives.

For example, would a cheaper tram service be more cost-efficient than a monorail system? Would it enhance the heritage value of George Town?

How about improving the bus service and poor ferry service for a start? That won’t cost a bomb.

Scrap the PGCC project and turn the land into a People’s Park.

And look into the sale of the huge plot of land on Penang Hill formerly used by the La Salle Brothers’ bungalow to a tycoon or his son. The state government must look into zoning and bulding plans as this plot lies in an eco-sensitive area. We don’t want to have another Disneyland or huge high-rise buildings on the side of the hill. The new state government must exercise greater control over Penang Hill compared to the previous administration.

And while we on the subject of “development” projects, look again at the “Gurney Paragon” project on the 10-acre St Joseph’s Novitiate (former Uplands School) site. As a friend of mine observed, this should be a prime candidate for a thorough review of land conversion/alienation deals. People want to know how it was possible for a property provided for educational/religious purposes to be converted to mixed/commercial development.

Do remember who voted for you: the people, including millions of workers. And they want people-friendly, worker-friendly policies – ahead of business-friendly policies.

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eway

Actually the opposition needs to balance both sides. They cannot be anti business. After all, people still needs certain development to provide them jobs. The economy does not lie in a vacuum. They must make sure that such development projects must provide jobs for the local population and such, with jobs, the people will have more money to spend in the midst of rising prices. It is the balance that you want from the government. I think for the PGCC, the government def. need to review it again, probably scale it down and get the total number of job opp.… Read more »

Woody

Anil~ Ha ha, you hit the nail right at the head. Yes ,Biz friendly or people friendly are heaven and hell. Many electronics giants are in Malaysia because there is no trade union for the workers. Question now, how can government make a biz friendly eco system and yet beneficial to the people working there ? Maybe unrelated to typical labor forces, a friend from Taiwan told me this scenario. I’d wish Malaysian government knew about this and probably implement it. The industry needed expertise in various field, to invest in running R & Ds would have been very expensive… Read more »

Sean E

If you want to have a better future for our children in Malaysia, do your part by signing the on-line petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/RCER2008/petition.html This is one of the way (non-violence) to bring our message to the Government. Don’t just sit there, stand up and be counted! Why do we need to reform the Election Commission? 1) Gerrymandering. The discrepancy between number of voters in voting areas is too great. The smallest parliamentary seat (Federal Territory, Putrajaya) has only 6,608 voters while the parliamentary seat for Kapar in Selangor has 112,224 voters. What this means is that one vote in the… Read more »

Dr. Gwynn Jenkins

The public’s attachment to Penang Hill was one of the first things that struck me when I arrived on this island 12 years ago. It seemed everyone (rich of poor) at some time in their schooldays had enjoyed an adventure holiday in one of the bungalows, with fellow pupils and some still regularly hiked up and down. Then I heard of the massive campaign to stop the mega development project which lost the then incumbent chief minister his seat. All this confirmed the place these hills held and still hold in people’s hearts. The hills are there for everybody, what… Read more »

anilnetto

Hi Eway
Don’t get me wrong… I have nothing against development, but it should be sustainable, people-centred development in the interests of the people, while protecting the environment – and not the kind of top-down mega development projects that result in super profits for private shareholders at the expense of the people/workers/environment.

Fed Up Cha Joe

Anil – Can you propose to the States ruled by the New (ex-Opposition) Govt to have their own Newspapers for us.. A paper that reports the truth..??

How do we go about it ?? And to whom do we direct our request ?? Need your help, Bro..