Malaysia-North Korea Diplomacy: A Discussion

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North Korea. A country notorious for its dictatorship, nuclear crises, famine, natural disasters and human right violations. Our diplomatic relation with them has recently been brought to the spotlight when Kim Jong-Nam, the elder brother of Kim Jong-Un, was murdered on our nation’s sovereign ground, in Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). His murder puts forth a question on our diplomatic relations with the country – since when have we affiliated ourselves with North Korea? To what extent should we continue this relationship?

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Jong-Nam’s Death

There are conflicting views as to how Jong-Nam died. Ri Tong-Il, the former North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations, claimed that he died from heart attack due to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. However, US and South Korea accused that he was murdered by North Korean agents, and were quick to point out that a poison-pen was used.

Malaysia confirmed a week later that he was poisoned with a chemical known as VX nerve agent. In fact, it is classified by the UN as a weapon of mass destruction and is 100 times deadlier than the infamous sarin gas. Since it was deployed on Malaysian soil, some even go as far as claiming it could lead to a ‘justifiable act of war’.

Malaysian Diplomatic History with North Korea

North Korea, or Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a Communist country, regardless of its self-imposed “Democratic” and “Republic” labels. Since Malaysia has taken anti-communist measures in the past, as evidently, the Internal Security Act (ISA) was formed partly to counter the resurgence of communism. Communism dictatorship rule and several other governing principles are categorically contradicting our nation’s democratic values. Therefore, it begs an important question – why do we have diplomatic ties with a communist nation at all?

The truth is, Malaysia has already established diplomatic ties with them since 1973. Rather surprisingly, Malaysia was the first country whose citizens could travel there without a visa for purposes of tourism and businesses with some sources even claiming that we are the only country with such privilege.

Equally interesting, in an effort to integrate North Koreans into globalization, our very own HELP University awarded an honorary doctorate in Economics to Kim Jong-Un back in 2013. There are even some North Koreans studying at the same university.

All of these point to a pre-existing diplomatic tie with North Korea, which we have recently severed in light of recent events.

Malaysia Cut Ties?

Not long after the horrendous murder in our airport, Malaysia had recalled her ambassador back for “consultations”, and also expelled North Korean’s ambassador deeming him a persona non grata with a 48 hour notice to leave. As of today, he has left the country.

This was amid the claims that Pyongyang had refused an apology for interfering and attacking the investigations, while the North Korean ambassador was also called “diplomatically rude” by our Prime Minister. Some other ministers have also called out North Korea to be a highly unpredictable rogue state.

North Korea had retaliated by prohibiting Malaysians in their country from leaving the country. They claim to be willing to release them when the incident is solved, and the air of uncertainty is keeping Malaysians curious and concerned as negotiations continue.

Recent events show that Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak, our Prime Minister, has condemned the ban as a blatant disregard of international law, and committed to take all measures necessary to protect Malaysian citizens in North Korea. Malaysia has also banned North Koreans from leaving our country.

Malaysia-North Korea Relations Going Forward

The relationship was first formed due to Malaysia’s practice of a neutral non-interventionist policy as our foreign policy. Neutrality has been central in Malaysian foreign policy since the 70s, which made amiable relations with both democratic states such as the United States, and also authoritarian polities such as Iran and China, possible even when conflicts between these states were occurring. Neutrality mainly helped our country through mutual economic benefit. However, embracing neutrality as a foreign policy is not an absolute policy and has its own limits. For instance, Malaysia has always positioned itself condemning Israel for atrocities committed against Palestinians and their illegal settlements in the West Bank.

North Korea has benefited from the diplomatic relationship we have with them especially as we mediate informal peace talks for them and the US in our country. They have also benefitted from our education system as well as provision of job opportunities for some of their people. However, just how much have we benefited from them?

In 2014, Malaysia’s export value to North Korea was merely $2 million. We also import iron and steel from North Korea with a value of US$200,000, and generally, we are not dependent on their supply as our main suppliers (China, Japan and South Korea) are still on good terms with Malaysia. Clearly, we do not lose out on much by cutting ties with them, as reiterated by our Minister of Foreign Affairs in a statement saying the value is “insignificant”.

Tourism and a visa-free travel have be suspended as well as the discontinuation of many tourism packages between the two countries by multiple agencies. The North Korean Tourism office in Kuala Lumpur was also seen to be locked from the outside. 

Going forward, ceasing diplomatic relations with the totalitarian state of North Korea may be better at least symbolically, as it signals Malaysia’s rejection of North Korea’s violations of universal values such as basic human rights. Due to heavy censorship, many of the violations done by the North Korean government has gone unpublicised, which makes them a highly unpredictable state.

Our government’s swift response to the issue should be commended, as it demonstrates that Malaysia will stand up to “bullies” and any party who tries to tarnish our good reputation. Malaysians are left wondering what will happen next, but surely, we are confident that we will do the best that we can to deal with the conflict effectively.

By: Malaysian Progressives United Kingdom (MPUK)

TN50: Time to ask the right questions!

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Transformasi Nasional 50 (TN50) is a new vision advanced by Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak that sets out a long-term plan to transform the country’s economy, citizen well-being, environment, technology, social interaction, governance, and public administration. Dato’ Seri Najib has reserved the process of completing the framework of TN50 for the people — primarily Malaysian youth, and this has presented us an opportunity to get involved.

Some naysayers claim that TN50 is a diversion tactic from corruption scandals involving the top Malaysian officials such as 1MDB, while others say it is to bury Wawasan 2020 which has been deemed unachievable. However, we feel that this initiative (TN50) should be supported for its objectives, and we welcome TN50 with hope. 

Our Participation

MPUK is introducing a Student Discussion Tour around United Kingdom in conjunction with TN50 to collect the voices of Malaysian students and direct these views to the relevant parties. Below is a list of topics to be discussed on the tour:

Our Priority: Corruption Eradication & Institutional and Systemic Reform

Education : Restoring Unity, Eradicating Political Apathy & Creating an Intellectual Society

Economic Inequality

The Myth of Racial Equality

The Malaysian Liberties

The Truth about Gender Equality in Malaysia

The Future of Our Environment

The panelists consist of student leaders, post-graduate students and academicians of local universities. Designed to create active engagement from the audience, these discussions encourage the audience to participate with no holds barred. The discussions will be moderated by MPUK.

Written reports on the tour will be sent to relevant parties such as; the Youth and Sports Ministry (KBS), other Ministries, think tanks, and all 222 Members of Parliament.

The Attitude of Ours

The Minister-in-charge, Khairy Jamaluddin says that the biggest obstacle for TN50 would be the attitude of the people. He says a first world mentality must be adopted among society for us to drive the nation forward. In democracies, the government is part of society, as society makes up the government.

We recognise that it is high time for all of us, top-bottom and bottom-up, to change.

As an organization, MPUK recommends these principles to have better discussions:

Call it what it is – It is time to hear what we do not like to hear. Political correctness is a language for politics, but not a good one for nation building. If it is racist, call it racism and not “strategy”. If it is discriminative, call it discrimination and not “history”. Even if we may not agree on the outcomes, at least, we should be able to have the discussion.

Dare to ask – Do not fear to speak out of turn. Openness is key to political maturity. Being young means bringing new ideas, and being in a brand new environment means building brand new perspectives.

Ask the right questions – and demand for the right answers. Often we address symptoms and not the root cause, so check again to make sure we are always learning something new when we have more discussions. Recycled questions means either we have not found the answer, or we are simply not asking the right questions. 

Make it inclusive not exclusive – Welcome everyone to participate without being selective. If you disagree with someone, debate it, find the common grounds, identify the differences. Be open to change, but also be open to differences.

Taking a side is not definitive — You could be a political leftist when it comes to educational policies, but right-wing when it comes to healthcare policies. You could support the abolishment of fuel subsidies, and oppose the GST implementation. You do not have to always align with any party you support. You are not a political party and a political party is not you. You can change political views, and form new ones. This is normal and healthy.

Let’s be modest in our spending – Whether it is time or money, we should always be maximising output while minimising costs. We spent RM38 million to promote 1Malaysia but just how closer are we to the defined goals? Resources should always be managed prudently, whilst also keeping the environment in check. It is better to save than to waste!

Conclusion

The work for the future needs to start today. Therefore, it is time we focus on what is important. We believe in a culture of working together.

MPUK also recognises that in light of TN50, many are calling for the government to first address the elephant in the room – corruption and institutional failure. We call for the youth to strongly emphasise the need for the government to address these. If these critical issues remain unresolved, we worry that many will remain unconfident that government initiatives under TN50 will be able to reflect high integrity and efficient practices. We stand with the voices and aspirations of students who demand transparent and efficient governance, which go hand in hand with progressive development.

TN50 is for the youth. We can choose to be skeptical or optimistic, but we should start playing an active role in nation building. It is time to work together, and create a new Malaysia.

Written by: Malaysian Progressives United Kingdom (MPUK)

Let’s Have Better Political Conversations – Mas Ary Amri

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In light of MPUK’s exclusions from a series of political discussions in United Kingdom, I feel there is a need to write on political conversations. MPUK is a student-led and self-funded organization formed to encourage active engagement from the youth regarding political issues in Malaysia. We think, and we know that many students too, think that we are more than capable to be involved in discourse on national politics. By being involved, we wish to create a culture of students being more aware and critical of our current political developments, never at all implying that the students should “oppose any governmental policy”, or “start revolting against the government”.

Despite that, certain authorities continue to deny our involvement in certain events because we are deemed to be partisan. At times, although we are more-than-welcomed by our fellow friends from other student bodies, it proves difficult to obtain formal endorsement from the higher-ups for collaborations between MPUK and some student bodies e.g. UKEC and Kelab UMNO. Personally, I think it is baffling how this is a problem. Does voicing out a tad bit liberal opinion equal an opposition to the government? Does inviting representatives from the opposition equate us to being partisan?

It does not have to be that way

I looked into what may cause this conflict, and I came across the concept of ‘political polarisation’. Pew Research Centre views political polarisation as the vast and growing ideological gap between the liberals and conservatives – Republicans and Democrats (in the case of USA). Let’s put this into Malaysian context. I still remember this game that MPUK members played during one of our monthly meet-ups, the game is –  which party do you belong in? The founder of MPUK, James Chai, came up with a matrix to determine your political stance in relation to Malaysian political parties. He made several statements and we needed to choose our agreement on a scale of 1 to 5, based on those statements e.g. welfare benefits make people lazy, I believe that governance and religion are inseparable, etc. At the end of the game, each person finds out the predicted party they should support based on their stance on each individual issue. In general, the more liberal opinions are associated with PKR, DAP, and maybe Amanah, whilst more conservative opinions are associated with UMNO and PAS.

That might be slightly intuitive, but let’s see some evidence in reality. UMNO, since its establishment, has been known to play racial and religion cards to win votes. On top of that, the introduction of National Security Council Act showed us how conservative the ruling party can be at the expense of civil liberties. PAS, on the other hand, has long been pushing for the integration of sharia’ law (read: hudud) and the idea of a religious state, much to the dismay of civil liberties’ defenders. In contrast, DAP, which is deemed to be liberal, has been opposing the hudud law since the very start, whereas PKR has always been fighting for better human rights (besides their long-lasting mission to fight corruption). DAP and PKR both display traits of being liberal, embracing values very different from the more conservative parties.

How to address the moral divide?

Haidt and Graham (2007) denoted that liberals and conservatives tend to endorse different values to different degrees. For instance, the liberals are likely to endorse values like equality and fairness more than the conservatives do. The conservatives, on the other hand, tend to endorse values like loyalty and respect for authority. Hence, as noted by Willer in his TEDx presentation, addressing this moral divide is key in having better political discussions.

How to address the divide? Willer and his buddy, Feinberg, came up with a technique called moral reframing. They found that if we want to move conservatives closer to issues of freedom of speech and meritocracy, it helps to tie the liberal political policies to conservative values like nationalism and individual’s role in society.

Equally, if we intend to move liberals towards conservative policies such as religious law and race-based policies, it will be more persuasive if we tie conservative policies to liberal moral values such as equality and fairness.

This sends a strong moral message. If we want to make a policy convincing, it is better to connect those policies to underlying moral values. For progressive discussions to take place, we must find common ground before we can connect with one another. It sounds incredibly simple and intuitive, but amazingly difficult in practice. Often, debates in the Dewan Rakyat involves MPs trying to bring each other down as opposed to listening and proposing better solutions.

It should not become a norm to start off by identifying differences and not similarities, especially when it comes to student discourse.

Conclusion

Let’s tie this back to MPUK in the UK. I believe that issues may arise due to differences in our embraced values. From where I stand, we mean no harm to any parties in our activities, and by no means are we trying to encourage seditious or illegal acts among our friends in the UK. We are absolutely ready for fair, civil, and mature discussions.

So this is my call to the authority. Let’s put aside any differences in values that we might have and focus on what can be done to improve healthy involvement in politics. Let’s stop putting barriers between one another and start having better political conversations. Hopefully, one day, we can achieve a common goal that has long been desired by every single one of us – healthy and mature politics.

I’ll end this by quoting Willer,

“Empathy and respect. That’s the very least that we owe to our fellow citizens.”

Written by: Mas Ary Amri, BSc Economics, University of Manchester.

Mas is an active member of the Written Discourse portfolio, part of Malaysian Progressives United Kingdom (MPUK).

 

References:

Haidt, J., & Graham, J. (2007). When morality opposes justice: Conservatives have moral intuitions that liberals may not recognize. Social Justice Research, 20, 98 –116

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/opinion/sunday/the-key-to-political-persuasion.html?_r=2

https://www.ted.com/talks/robb_willer_how_to_have_better_political_conversations/ transcript?language=en#t-674180

www.pewresearch.org/packages/political-polarization/

2016: A Reflection

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2016 has closed to an end, and we take a look back on highlight events which coloured the year.

Politics

Enemies Turned into Friends

In March, former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad teamed up with his former political foes i.e Lim Kit Siang (DAP), Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and other civil activists, in the ‘Save Malaysia’ campaign. The group also called for a referendum known as Deklarasi Rakyat (Citizens’ Declaration) to oust Datuk Seri Najib from his office, citing several unexplained allegations and poor performances as the causes of untrustworthiness[i]. However, some remain unconvinced, saying that the removal of DS Najib may not be the magic solution to “save Malaysia”. As it is, the movement remains as a voice rather than an action.

 

Scandals after scandals
TIME produced an article which lists down Malaysia as one of the most corrupt country in the world[ii]. This may not be surprising to some, given 1MDB, but the more alarming fact is that many top government officials were robbing government resources, and got away with it all this while. Governing any country should not be a wealth-making career, but that is clearly not the case with a KBS official arrested, who got away with RM100m and several luxury cars[iii]. Another huge breakthrough by SPRM was the RM112m cash found in relation to a former Jabatan Air Negeri Sabah (JANS) Deputy Director, who is investigated for several corruption cases[iv].

 

Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM)

The party, which was founded on Aug 9, is led by former PM Tun Mahathir Mohamad along with the ousted politicians, TS Muhyiddin Yassin and Mukhriz Mahathir. On 8th September, the Registrar of Societies approved the party’s registration application and registered it under the name PPBM[v]. However, some critics have spoken out against the establishment of the party, among many diatribes likening it to UMNO due to the Malay supremacy principle that the party practices. Yet, this biggest flaw perhaps is where it draws its strength from[vi].

 

Sarawak State Election

The state election, which was held on 7th May, has seen Barisan Nasional winning 87.8% of the house (72 out of 82 available seats)[vii] compared to only 77.5% in the previous election. DAP won seven out of the 31 seats contested whereas PKR managed to defend all three of its previous seats. Some attributed the landslide win to the Sarawak Chief Minister, Tan Sri Adenan Satem, who gained the trust of the voters by pledging that he would not abandon the community and that his beneficial policies for the ethnic group would remain[viii]. Some see this election as proof that DS Najib would give in to a statist sentiment played by the local leaders, over nationalist ideals, in order to stay in power.

 

Economics

Malaysia-China Relationship

Malaysia-China relations reached a new high following DS Najib’s visit to Beijing, where he signed 14 bilateral agreements worth a combined RM144 billion. The main reason being to bring more FDIs (Foreign Direct Investment) into the country, yet critics have been concerned with the growing influence of China in our economy. Early this year, China General Nuclear Power Corp Ltd. (CGN Power) paid RM9.83 bil to purchase the power assets owned by 1MDB. China Railway Engineering Corp Ltd. (CREC) partnered with IWH to take over 60% stake in the Bandar Malaysia project in KL. Plus, the government also awarded RM7.13 bil Gemas-JB electrified tracking project to China Railway Construction Corp (CRCC) without an open tender process. Despite that, optimists like TS Jeffrey Cheah has been supportive of the move, contending that it is needed to encourage more partnerships in the private sectors[ix].

 

Labour Market Scandals

A Guardian investigation on labour rights in Malaysia found out that three companies – Samsung, Panasonic, McDonald – have been affiliated with labour abuse, citing that the workers in their supply chains were being exploited and underpaid. McDonald’s said it has now ended its contract with the labour company it used[x]. Low wages have long been among the woes Malaysians face and this sheds some light on some cases involving Malaysian employers.

 

Central Banking – Governor succession, interest rate and weak currency

Bank Negara Malaysia appointed Deputy Governor, Datuk Muhammad Ibrahim as the successor to TS Zeti Akhtar Aziz after her 16 years as the governor. The ringgit, in respond, reversed a drop after the news of the appointment, relieving pressure on the weakening currency[xi]. Following that, in July, the Central Bank lowered its Overnight Policy Rate (OPR) from 3.25% to 3% for the first time in 2 years to support the growth of domestic economy[xii]. Later this year, the central bank introduced new measures to spur domestic trade of the ringgit by limiting the export proceeds in foreign currencies up to only 25%. The move has been able to curb the local currency’s offshore trade and thus stabilising the rate.

 

Education

UPSR – for better or worse?

On Nov 17, the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) results were announced nationwide. With a new change in format, there was a huge uproar after only 1.1% achieved straight A’s (it was 8.4% in the previous year)[xiii]. Does this mean that the assessment is better at identifying the highly qualified student? Is the inclusion of High Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) questions effective in creating highly skilled citizens in the future? For now, we have to wait and see.

 

IPTA – Of funding cuts and rising performances

The consistent cut in overall public universities funds in recent annual budgets forces the IPTAs to initiate their own endowment funds to cater for the lack of funding. As of now, six universities e.g. UPM, UKM etc. have established their own waqf funds to improve their earnings.

On the flip-side, two IPTAs i.e UPM and UM managed to rank 49th and 27th respectively in the QS Asia University Rankings, both showing improvements compared to previous year.

Students are also making us proud, year by year. This year, four students from the UiTM Law Faculty were the second runner-up in World FDI Moot in Buenos Aires, whilst IIUM debaters championed several world debate competitions which put them up on par with debaters from other world leading universities11.

 

Sports

Olympics and Paralympics performances

This year, Malaysia left Olympics/Paralympics with the best ever haul. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro has seen Malaysia winning four silvers and a bronze; three silvers from badminton, one silver from diving and one bronze from cycling[xiv]. Following that, the Paralympics team achieved three gold medals and a bronze, of which all are contributed by athletics. These achievements are proof that the Malaysian Podium Programme is on the right track to achieve its aim of producing consistent and sustainable finishes for Malaysian athletes.

 

Malaysia On the Globe

World’s Funniest Person of the Year

On 10th December, Malaysia stand-up comedian Harith Iskander was crowned as the World’s Funniest Person in a competition held in Levi, Finland[xv]. He beat four finalists from the Philippines, Greece, India, and Israel in the final performance. We are proud of and continue to support Malaysian talent.

 

Puskas Award Candidate

A Malaysian footballer, Faiz Subri beaten off the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar to make the top three shortlist for the Puskas Award, given to a person who is deemed to score the most beautiful goal of the year. The award ceremony will be held in Switzerland on 9th January 2017[xvi].

 

International

Israel-Palestine

On 23rd December, The UN Security Council approves a resolution which calls on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” Interestingly, the resolution was made possible after 4 countries i.e New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal co-sponsored the draft a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and President-elect Donald Trump, who pushed for a veto. Even more surprising, the United States, abstained from voting, contrary to the past practices of defending Israel in similar occurrences previously[xvii]. A bittersweet farewell from Obama administration perhaps.

 

Donald Trump IS the President

Donald J. Trump, won the Electoral College against Hillary Clinton. Furthermore, the Republicans also won the Senate by 52 seats to 48 for Democrats, thus retaining the chamber. Both candidates had their fair shares of controversies prior to the election; e.g. Trump’s racist campaign on Mexican immigrants and hateful comments towards a Muslim family as well as his negative view on environmental policies. On the other hand, Clinton’s leaked private email that may have violated federal requirements and suspicions on her foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation[xviii]. President-elect Trump will be inaugurated on 20 January 2017.

 

Brexit

A referendum, which was held on 23 June, to decide whether or not UK leaves the EU, has seen the Leave won by 52% to 48%. Following that, David Cameron, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain who promised the referendum as a part of his election manifesto, left the helm and succeeded by Theresa May. Economically, the pound had a tremendous slide to near its 30-year low while Britain lost its top AAA credit rating. Currently, a legal procedure is in process to challenge the government’s right to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The challenge succeeded in High Court, but the government is due to appeal in the Supreme Court. A judgement is expected in January[xix].

 

Conclusion

The year was filled with joyful moments and valuable lessons. We only move forward when we decide which memories to bring with us, which lessons to learn from, and which mistakes to leave behind.

2017 is rumoured to see the 14th General Election happening. With Brexit and Trump’s win in the background, would GE14 be a huge surprise for us too? A large portion of young voters will be voting for the first time. Will politicians start to appease the youth and will youth claim a larger political space?

Across the globe, many find the stagnating economic growth worrying. Outlooks for 2017 are mostly gloomy, given the many political uncertainties around the world.

However, a new year is welcomed with renewed hope as long as we continue to strive for what is best. We wish you a happy and blessed new year.

 

  

Endnotes

[i] http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/save-malaysia-campaign-to/2608760.html

[ii] http://time.com/4262897/five-facts-globa-corruption/

[iii] http://www.themalaymailonline.com/projekmmo/berita/article/pegawai-kbs-songlap-rm100j-beli-kereta-audi-beg-hermes-cincin-cartier

[iv] http://www.astroawani.com/berita-malaysia/rasuah-jabatan-air-negeri-sabah-bekas-timbalan-pengarah-ditahan-sprm-119334

[v] http://english.astroawani.com/politics-news/parti-pribumi-bersatu-malaysia-receives-certification-ros-116344

[vi] http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/351935

[vii] http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/340682

[viii] http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2112124

[ix] http://www.theedgemarkets.com/en/node/322391

[x] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/nov/21/samsung-panasonic-accused-over-supply-chain-labour-abuses-malaysia

[xi] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-27/malaysia-names-zeti-s-deputy-as-new-central-bank-governor

[xii]http://www.bnm.gov.my/index.php?ch=en_press&pg=en_press&ac=4213&lang=en

[xiii] http://www.bharian.com.my/node/228109

[xiv] http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/no-gold-but-malaysia-leaves-olympics-with-best-ever-haul

[xv] http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2016/12/10/harith-is-funniest-person-in-the-world/

[xvi] http://www.fifa.com/the-best-fifa-football-awards/puskas-award/

[xvii] http://edition.cnn.com/2016/12/23/politics/israel-official-rips-obama-un-settlements/

[xviii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-35356941

[xix] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32810887

Students Demand Transparency and Accountability in Budget 2017

By | Opinion, Uncategorized | One Comment

Introduction

Our Prime Minister, Dato’ Sri Najib Razak confidently presented the 2017 Federal Budget announcing a total allocation of RM 260.8 billion. The budget covers an increase in BR1M, new infrastructure and railway projects, upgrade on internet connectivity nationwide, education, health care and welfare programmes. While the budget may seemingly be promising, there is still a need to examine and inspect. This article will include our commentary on a selective part of the budget in order to determine the potential outcomes.

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Education Cuts

Access to quality education depends largely on government investments, and in the 2017 Budget, a significant amount is allocated for schools. More specifically, 120 destitute schools and 1800 science laboratories nationwide will be the recipients of these fund. This is welcoming news as some students in the interiors of Sabah and Sarawak are forced to learn in dilapidated buildings suffering from lack of basic necessities such as a constant electricity supply.

However, the treatment of tertiary education may not be as equal. Although RM 4.3 billion would be allocated for scholarships, there is no guarantee that the incident of revoking JPA scholarship contracts earlier this year would not repeat itself if and when the 2017 budget is revised. Furthermore, it seems that public universities will suffer a 19%, or RM1.5 billion, operating budget cuts for 2017. Just last year, our Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, was reported saying that public universities were not allowed to cite education cut as an excuse to raise tuitions fees.  If the same sentiments are applied this year, it is difficult to imagine how these institutions would survive, especially since the majority of a university’s revenue originates from tuition fees. University managements would be forced to cut expenses elsewhere, potentially decreasing the quality of education delivered.

BR1M Hikes Yet Again

There was an RM100 increase, and an astounding 7.4 million people were announced to be eligible to collect Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M), a cash handout scheme introduced by the government several years back. Despite BR1M being an important financial assistance to households, and could act as an effective economic catalyst to induce domestic spending and growth; there is a larger problem to address.

BR1M is viewed as a “free pass” for the ruling party to generate political votes as voters who are dependent on BR1M would be induced to vote for one political party. Additionally, we cannot ignore the fact that this encompasses 25% or a quarter of the population who are dependent on these handouts to survive. The budget should have included more sustainable measures for a better well being, increased work productivity and improved life prospects for Malaysians. If the long term solution is to increase BR1M yearly, we ought to be very concerned.

Property

The exceedingly unaffordable housing prices is another issue concerning the youth. With an average starting salary of RM 2,500, hardly any fresh graduate could afford housing due to high prices. The budget has acknowledged this and introduced schemes which seeks to expand the limits of borrowing, and increase the supply of housing priced below market levels.

This was met by some complaints that not enough has been done to address the recent slowdowns in property prices, but we would like to commend the government for providing incentives for first time home buyers and the lower-income. We hope to see these proposals go through.

Race-based Allocations

Among the features of the budget were the allocations provided for spendings on bumiputera, Chinese and Indian communities. While this is commended for being inclusive, there is a big question mark on whether there is a necessity for fiscal allocations to be race-based. Funds, when racialized, puts us on a trajectory where we will always be measured economically according to race, disregarding interconnectedness between other factors with economic well-being.

TN50

Transformasi Nasional 50 (TN50) was introduced as part of efforts to chart a new direction on a “new canvas”. Many view this as “buying time” against the unfulfilled dreams of Wawasan 2020. Some are skeptical of this renewed vision and suspect it as another front for another series of fund mismanagement. It is promoted to be youth-centric as the discourse series will be under the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The idea is still vague and we can only adopt a wait-and-see approach.

Encouraging businesses and corporation

The government continues to enforce a business-friendly policy in the current less-than-positive economic conditions, with government-linked investment companies (GLICs) to set aside up to RM 3 billion to fund managers to invest in potential small and mid-cap firms. It has also proposed to reduce the corporate tax between 1-4 percentage points for companies with significant increase in taxable income and the tax rate from 19% to 18% for SMEs with taxable income up to RM 500,000. There are also further allocations made to the Malaysian Chinese Women Entrepreneurs Foundation, 1Malaysia Hawkers and Petty Traders Foundation and other business-related institutions.

This could work out well since it encourages greater investments in businesses and possibly expand the tax base of businesses and corporations. However, the companies might save the funds invested in them and not utilize them for growth. The overall impact is ambiguous.

Transportation

For the first time ever, the government through the budget has encouraged and virtually endorsed ride sharing services. BR1M recipients can attain RM4,000 rebates to purchase Proton Iriz for the purpose of being part-time ride-sharing drivers. The purpose is more towards getting more Malaysians to earn extra-income but this will come as a boost to Uber, who said that this budget incentive is the first of its kind in the world. It would also generate greater interest and purchases of the Proton Iriz, a boost for Proton which is currently struggling in the car manufacturing industry.

However, this may enrage taxi drivers who have been protesting continuously against ride-sharing services. There also needs to be proper regulation for ride-sharing services to ensure safety and consumer rights, to encourage the public to use the services.

Conclusion

The budget must be viewed in relation to previous budgets, and the auditing of these allocations. In a recent government wastage index produced based on an empirical analysis of past spendings done by National Oversights and Whistleblowers (NOW), they found an average of 15.5% wastage of resources, taken at a conservative estimate. This is worrying because out of a RM260.9 billion budget, 15.5% would amount to RM40 Billion, going to waste. In the UK, according to a study by TaxPayers’ Alliance, the waste amounts to only about 2% of the GDP.

Another glaring issue would definitely be the credibility of the officials spending this budget. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib, a largely unpopular figure, heads the cabinet, had his popularity declining due to an ongoing scandal involving a government investment fund 1MDB. The continuance of control over the nation’s funding resources is alarming to many Malaysians. Also, reading between the lines on the budget might reveal more than what has been told to the general public and in the budget speech by the Prime Minister. Transparency and larger checks and balances must be in place over the implementation of this budget.

A pragmatic re-think of Tengku Adnan’s Mat Rempit proposal

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If you were Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan, would you allow Mat Rempits to race in Kuala Lumpur? The Federal Territory Minister’s statement on 22 February 2016 that he would do so has attracted heavy condemnation from Malaysians online. Even Bukit Aman and the JKJR have been hesitant to accept it.

Tengku Adnan’s rationale can be summarised as follows: as more youths are becoming Mat Rempits, there is no point pretending that we can control them; we should instead make it safer for them by controlling the conditions that they race in.

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MPUK TOUR SERIES 2016: KEADILAN LEADERS – FINDINGS

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Wednesday, 3rd February 2016, marked the final day of the MPUK Tour Series 2016: KeAdilan Leaders of Rafizi Ramli, Wong Chen and Nik Nazmi. We are happy to report that a total number of 655 participants – including 80 from the private sessions – attended the event over the course of 5 days. This attendance in London, Manchester, Bristol and Warwick, consisting overwhelmingly of students, has far exceeded our wildest expectations.

Moving forward, we would like to share with you a few findings on this new wave of student activism:

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Keep your head straight about JPA scholarship – Mohd Fahrulradzi

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If there is a day that best portrays how group size means nothing, it’s the day when the government announced the suspension of the JPA scholarship and the Education Ministry Bursary. With a non-existent political capital – by design, and not choice – students as a group, although large in size is easily the lowest hanging fruit that is ripe for the taking in order to bail the government and keep its wallet in check. Keep in mind that only days ago, the nation caught up with the news that some students in IPTAs can’t afford proper nourishment, only to be ridiculed by a few ministers.

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mvm_info

Adakah mahasiswa kita kelaparan?

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Baru-baru ini sebuah organisasi bukan kerajaan (NGO), Muslim Volunteer Malaysia (MVM) mengeluarkan hasil kaji selidik mereka bertajuk “Mahasiswa & Cabaran Ekonomi”. Infografik daripada laman Facebook MVM. Mereka mendapati hakikatnya, mahasiswa menghadapi kesukaran menampung kos sara hidup yang tinggi, terutamanya mereka yang menuntut di sekitar Lembah Klang.

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Apa anda perlu tahu mengenai krisis bauksit

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Apa yang berlaku?

Perlombongan bauksit antara sektor ekonomi negara yang giat diusahakan.Pada 2014, Malaysia mengeksport hampir sejuta tan bauksit dan jumlah ini meningkat secara drastik kepada 20 juta tan untuk tahun 2015.

Baru-baru ini, Suruhanjaya Pencegah Rasuah Malaysia (SPRM) mengesahkan kewujudan unsur rasuah apabila didapati terdapat kekurangan dalam bayaran royalti kepada kerajaan negeri sebanyak RM187 juta.

Seawal bulan Mei 2015, amaran keras dikeluarkan pihak berkuasa kepada pelombong agar mematuhi peraturan yang tertera dalam permit mereka. Namun, amaran ini tidak diendahkan dan masalah ini menjadi serius apabila rakyat akhirnya sepakat bertindak meluahkan kemarahan mereka pada bulan Disember 2015.

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