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How the NEP equity targets miss the point

So is the bumi share of corporate equity 18.9 per cent? Or 45 per cent?

Here’s something to think about this weekend.

In many ways, the NEP 30 per cent target has become almost sacrosanct. On it hinges much of the political legitimacy of a party like Umno – for persistent underachievement can be used as a clarion call to mobilise support along racial lines

But is share ownership a really meaningful indicator of economic well-being for most ordinary Malaysians?

This is an extract from a piece I wrote for the Malaysian Herald last October.

To measure economic justice by looking merely at equity ownership – i.e. the ownership of shares – among the various communities is misleading

Whether we use the par (nominal) value or market value of shares in our calculations, whether we use only listed firms or all firms, whether we include government-linked companies in the bumiputra share – all of this misses the point.

The truth is only a tiny percentage of Malaysians actually own shares. And among those who do hold shares, a small group of them control the bulk of the shares, while the rest are just small-time investors.

What about the vast majority who do not own shares or unit trusts? Where do they fit in?

In truth, the gap between the rich and the poor in Malaysia – like in the United States and many other countries in the world – has been widening. Even among the bumiputras, the gap between the rich and poor has grown larger.

According to the UNDP Human Development Report 2005, only nine countries have reduced the gap between rich and poor. On the other hand, 80 per cent of the world’s population have experienced an increase in income inequality.

Could this be the result of the headlong rush into full-blown market capitalism and corporate-led globalisation?

This is what we should be looking at.

So we need to look at how we can empower our own marginalized communities and other people displaced by ‘development’ – through education, through skills training, by creating the means for economic self-sufficiency.

At the same time, we need to develop our rooted-ness in our ancient cultures and spiritual traditions and not succumb to the overwhelming culture and materialistic values of the global market. We need to promote food security through organic, sustainable traditional farming – not through large-scale cash crops using pesticides and low-wage plantation labour. (I see the government has ‘temporarily’ lifted its ban on the toxic herbicide, paraquat.)

At the end of the day, full-blown market capitalism of the neo-liberal variety is deeply flawed and leads to wide income disparities. It focuses excessively on material development – to the detriment of the environment, the ancient cultures we share, the traditional wisdom and our rich knowledge-base in farming, in healing, in the spirituality found around Nature (see how Jesus often went to the hills to meditate), which are all sidelined.

We should go beyond statistics and look at the authentic development of the human person and create a climate that empowers communities by providing them the means to become self-sufficient.

The Top Five Ways They Block the Real News from Reaching You

Ever get the feeling that what you read in the newspapers is not really journalism. Well, you wouldn’t be far wrong. Much of what passes itself off as journalism today is actually slick public relations disguised as journalism, or more accurately, Corporate Media Propaganda.

It was the Australian social scientist Alex Carey who observed that there were three developments of major significance in the last century: “the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”

This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for the Malaysian Herald last October:

Power is now moving into the hands of the transnational corporations – and the structures that support them. The corporate media’s role is to condition the public into blindly accepting such a fundamental shift in the way our economies are controlled and managed.

Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky introduced their ‘propaganda model’ of the media in their book ‘Manufacturing Consent’ in 1988. Basically, they said the media have five types of filters that determine what gets presented as news and what does not. They also showed how dissenting views get very little space – in stark contrast to the political-corporate powers-that-be who have easy access to the media (and the public).

Some of these state-corporate hidden messages include the notion that economic growth is the best way forward, that the neo-liberal corporate-led model of globalisation is the best thing since sliced bread, and that corporations are essentially benevolent.

The first filter that determines what is reported is of course the corporate ownership of the media, which heavily influences what is transmitted to the public.

The second is massive advertising revenue which again conditions a newspaper to be “friendly” to business interests for fear that firms may withdraw their advertising spending and go elsewhere.

The third filter is the sourcing of news. Ever notice how the media often quote speeches and statements from the centres of power – whether it is the White House or Putrajaya or economic interests – that are closely linked with the promotion of business interests? And notice the scarcity of interviews with the poor and the marginalised.

The fourth filter comes in the form of negative responses to a media statement or programme – that is public complaints, threats of lawsuits or punitive action or official warnings – all of which can put fear in media owners.

The fifth filter is the demonisation of enemies – whether they are communists, dictators, activists protesting against corporate-led globalisation, environmentalists, or anyone who has a different view about how the economy should be run. These dissidents are often portrayed as crazies, mavericks, ‘radicals’, and fringe groups.

Makeover for predatory IMF and World Bank

While attending the Annual Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Singapore, I soon realised that a slick makeover job, a real PR job, was underway.

In recent years, these two global financial institutions have received some bad press for the tremendous damage their policies have had on developing nations.

The PR job required a range of sweeping cosmetic measures. But could such measures really save the Bank and the IMF from their serious image and credibility crisis? No way.

This is the review I wrote for Inter Press Service after the Annual Meetings were over.

‘There’s no doubt in my mind that the Fund and Bank cannot be reconstructed,” said Glasgow-based political scientist and author John Hilley, who has written about neo-liberal militarism, the Fund and the Bank, in e-mailed comments to IPS. ‘‘Both need to be replaced by bodies concerned with people and planet rather than austerity prescriptions and business values.”

Critics said the elite closure and containment of dissident voices in Singapore should serve as a reminder that these bodies cannot be ‘constructively engaged’.

Hundreds of civil society activists were forced to divide their numbers between Singapore, where accredited activists were ‘constructively engaged’ inside the convention centre, and neighbouring Batam in Indonesia, where others held protests and parallel meetings. This divide-and-rule tactic may have weakened the overall impact of the usual civil society protests surrounding such meetings.

‘‘The Singapore meetings really showed how undemocratic the Bank and the Fund were,” said Achmad Ya’kub of the Indonesian Federation of Peasant Unions (FSPI), who was deported after being interrogated for 14 hours in Singapore. ‘‘They lost the very little credibility that they still had.”

The sentiment in some activist circles is that civil society organisations should boycott all future meetings with the Bank. Civil society ‘engagement’ in the consultative process, it is argued, indirectly helps to legitimise the WB-IMF annual proceedings..

Hilley warned that no one should be taken in by the supposedly more benign face of the Bank. ‘‘The Wolfowitz presidency, the IFC’s business agenda and the resolute adherence to growth-based policies are all testament to the Bank’s real priorities,” he said. The IFC (International Finance Corporation) is the private sector arm of the Bank, whose president, Paul Wolfowitz, is widely seen as an architect of aggressive U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and the Middle-East. Full article

Economic growth or economic sufficiency?

With global warming creeping up on us, it is clearly time to take stock of the way we do things. Few people would dispute that our pattern of unbridled economic growth is contributing to climate change as never before. Factories spew toxic emissions into the murky skies, lorry and car exhaust pipes belch fumes into the air while bulldozers mow down pristine rain-forests.

And yet there is a reluctance to point fingers at the corporate culprits and our unsustainable model of economic growth. We cannot aspire to higher and higher levels of consumption without harming the ecological balance and depriving others of a decent standard of living.

Let’s take a look at the choices that Thailand is coming to grips with. It has put its negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with the United States on hold. Certainly, we could learn a thing or two about what a “sufficiency economy” is all about from our northern neighbour.

This is an article I wrote for Inter Press Service last September:

The king, who has travelled extensively in remote areas of the country to see firsthand the impact of policies on the poor, is hugely revered in Thailand. His vision of self-sufficiency based on the eradication of greed is rooted in Buddhism and Thai culture. The sight of the king sitting down on the ground, chatting with villagers about their livelihood is familiar among many Thais, winning him many admirers. Guided by a philosophy of economic self-reliance, and emphasising agrarian reform, the king has a famous line: ‘‘pho gin pho yu’’ (literally ‘‘enough to eat, enough to live on’’).

‘‘It is not important to be an economic tiger,” said the king a year after the Thai economy crashed in 1997. “What matters is that we have enough to eat and to live. A self-sufficient economy will provide us just that. It helps us to stand on our own and produce enough for our consumption.” He constantly reminds Thais that while pursuing material security, they should not forget to strive for inner peace of mind through spiritual purification.

Not surprisingly, this ideal of self-sufficiency backed by the royalty and grounded in Buddhist ethics is heady stuff in Thailand. ‘‘It has been a powerful counterweight, at least ideologically, to the big growth, big exports, big corporation and big corruption, CEO-style of Thaksin,’’ observed the social anthropologist. Full article

The 400-lb gorilla vs the skinny global justice movement

The real war in our world today is not “the war on terror” but a larger, more critical struggle for the soul of our world.

A monumental battle is taking place between those who want to ram through neo-liberal economic policies that favour the large multinationals and those trying to formulate more enlightened pro-people economic policies that promote social justice and harmony with Nature and the spiritual realm.

It is a struggle that is manifested in most countries around the world in different ways. Think about it.

The following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for the Malaysian Herald last August:

In one corner of the ring, sits a 400-pound gorilla, the United States surrounded by its elite network power brokers, promoting a neo-liberal globalisation that largely benefits transnational corporations, widens income disparities and harms the environment.

In the other corner of the ring, you have the skinny global justice movement, surrounded by activists and boosted by the support of people like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia who want to provide a real alternative to the neo-liberal order.

These countries have been investing heavily in health care and education and using oil revenues to empower the rural poor. Such pro-people policies have put neo-liberal pro-corporate policies in a very bad light.

No wonder George Bush hates Hugo Chavez’s guts – and Chavez calls Bush a ‘devil’. But it goes well beyond name-calling. Behind it lies a struggle for the very soul of the world. In essence, it is a struggle between the corporate-led model of globalisation (favouring the elites and transnational corporations) and pro-people economic policies that favour the vast majority of people who are poor.