Posted: 07 Oct 2010 12:50 AM PDT
You might have watched the video excerpt of my little speech at the University of Melbourne forum organised by the Malaysia Australia Students Council Association (MASCA) of Victoria. Here's someone else who blogged on the event. ;-)
Are we there yet?
C K Chin
I attended the Malaysian Aspiration Programme (MAP) organised by MASCA Victoria yesterday. The fact that Tony Pua was among the speakers (the other two being Tunku Zain Al'Abidin Muhriz, prince of Negeri Sembilan, and Assoc. Prof Abdul Razak Ahmad, a professor from UM) gave me the motivation to attend the event.
So it was important Tony Pua did not disappoint. I can see why this Oxford PPE-ist is making such rapid progress in his political career. He was earnest in his arguments and backed them all up with simple logic and mathematics. I was really impressed with the way he summoned the audience to read up about the newly-proposed ETP. He criticised it (he is from the opposition), but showed great bi-partisanship to acknowledge the idea, if not the feasibility, of the ETP. Questions to him were returned with answers that were critical, structured, and most of the time with humour and wit - a reflection of his PPE education.
The prince, Tunku Zain, was for me, a surprise bonus to the forum. I am not surprised by his privileged education background (Alice Smith, Marlborough College, LSE), but more so with his achievements at such a young age. He worked in the House of Lords in the UK, in the UN in New York, and is now the chairman of IDEAS, a think tank in Malaysia. Again, he demonstrated what a difference education can make of a person. He spoke with a confidence and a sense of credibility that we lack as youths. He criticised the government over issues regarding concerts and alcohol. It is encouraging to see this influential Malay youth talking with common sense.
The same cannot be said of Assoc Prof Abdul Razak though. Although he attempts to distance himself with the old-thinkers, his examples of himself being supportive of change were poor and acted more as excuses rather than reasons. Although he was in general denouncing the NEP policies, he still maintained that a compromise should be struck between Malays and non-Malays. Why can't we just have an NEP that helps the poor, no matter what race? This may not be his fault. This just shows the difficulty of taking the issue of race out of the equation. However, I acknowledge his intentions of having change in Malaysia, and his rejections of the old ways.
All in all, the event was a good injection of encouragement and inspiration. If the speakers represent the general makeup of our society, we may not be far from a true 1Malaysia. Yet, the general trait of the three speakers - an accountable politician, an inspiring youth leader and a pragmatic educator - is that they are all extremely well-educated, a fact that cannot be applied to the general public of Malaysia. Therefore, education plays an important role, if not the key role, of us reaching our goal to be a successful nation.
Finally, the conversation between an immigrant from Malaysia who currently lives here and Tony Pua struck me most.
"I have been here for 24 years. Back in Malaysia, there is no acknowledgment of my value to the country. Now that I am settled here, the government is asking me to go back. Shouldn't we be asking what the country can do for us, rather than what we can do for the country?"
In which Tony replied, "I see Malaysia as my home. So when it has termites, or when its roof is leaking, or when it is in need of repainting, I make sure I'm the one who gets rid of the termites, that I repair the leak, that i coat the place with new paint."
I cannot agree more.
Posted: 06 Oct 2010 10:04 AM PDT
The "New Economic Model" and "Economic Transformation Programme" will fail if Government assets and projects continue to be awarded without open competitive tenders
In the midst of strong "New Economic Model (NEM)" and "Economic Transformation Programme (ETP)" rhetoric by the Government, there is a worrying trend that mega-projects under the guise of "private finance initiatives" or "public-private partnerships" as well as privatisation of government assets will be awarded directly without any form of open or competitive tenders.
The Deputy Prime Minister admitted that the Cabinet is mulling over the RM50 billion proposal by a little-known company, Asas Serba whose only claim to fame is its connection to Tan Sri Halim Saad, a well-known proxy for those in power when he led the now defunct Renong Bhd. The proposal was to take over all highway concessions in Malaysia. It should have been rejected outright for it was proposed completely without basis, merit and it was completely unsolicited.
More recently, MMC Berhad, owned by another beneficiary of many privatisation projects in Malaysia in the 1990s, Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary has confirmed that it has submitted a bid to acquire UEM Group Bhd from Khazanah Nasional for the amount of RM15.6 billion. UEM have substantial stakes in 8 public listed companies, and is prized for its 38.5% ownership of PLUS Expressways Bhd, 28.7% of Time dotCom Bhd, 32.0% of Faber Group Bhd and 77.1% of UEM Land Bhd. It also owns the Penang Bridge Sdn Bhd as well as Cement Industries Malaysia Bhd. As at the end of 2009, the net assets of UEM Group Bhd amounted to RM12.3 billion.
At the same time, the government is weighing the award of Malaysia's largest infrastructure project to date, that is the Greater KL Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system which is expected to cost up to RM46 billion with a Gamuda Bhd and MMC Bhd joint venture being touted as the "winners" of the project. In fact Gamuda has already told equity analysts that it is 80% certain of being awarded the bulk of the project, and this would be because they are the only commercial party who have been in consultation with the Government as well as Pemandu to develop the entire plan for the project. Similarly, YTL Corporation Bhd is expected to "win" the project to develop the high-speed train service between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore due to its involvement with Pemandu at the "laboratory" stage of the ETP.
These developments are of great concern because they have failed to demonstrate that the government is committed to competition and transparency in order to achieve the highest quality outcome at the lowest possible cost to the government. Should the Government decide to "dispose" of UEM Group Bhd, then bids must be solicited from all investors to ensure that the Government receives the highest possible value for its assets. At the same time, are Gamuda, MMC and YTL the only parties who are able to deliver MRTs or high-speed trains in this country?
The Prime Minister had in his speech espousing the NEM had emphasized that "competition should be promoted to allow dynamic and efficient markets". He had admitted that it "is imperative to set the economy right – to remove distortions, barriers and impediments that hinder our economy from progressing up the value chain and to promote healthy competition. Implementing these policies is a pre-condition to successfully tapping new sources of growth."
Hence should the Government decides to proceed with any of the above projects or privatisation of assets without any form of open competition, it will not only reflect the fact that the NEM is nothing but rhetoric, and it has no sincerity in wanting to promote "dynamic and efficient markets" or isn't serious about "tapping new sources of growth".
What's more, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak had emphasized that "we can no longer tolerate practices that support the behavior of rent-seeking and patronage", calling for "inclusiveness, where all Malaysians contribute and benefit from economic growth". The direct and opaque award of these contracts to these connected parties flies in the face of the Prime Minister's call for "inclusiveness" and to eradicate "rent-seeking and patronage".
Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak must ensure and reiterate in the upcoming 2011 Budget announcement that all government projects, large and small as well as all government owned assets which are to be privatised will be tendered openly and competitively instead of being awarded on a directly negotiated basis which will only perpetuate the "behaviour of rent-seeking and patronage" in his government ending all hopes of a successful economic transformation through the much-touted NEM.
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