Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Three Scenarios On Future of PM
A Kadir Jasin
THE Kedai Kopi Assembly (KKA) continues to sit at several coffee shops with different sets of members. A few were planned but most were impromptu.
Two planned sessions took place. One involved a minister and the other an adviser with ministerial status to the Prime Minister.
I am not sure if this sudden interest by the government people to join the KKA has anything to do with my posting entitled “Tangani Berita Bukan Bunuh Pembawanya” (baca di sini) on Jan 14.
Since I have not updated the KKA for a while, this posting will be somewhat long. Please bear with me.
Let me begin by recalling who attended these sessions and where they were held. A lunch session at Raju involved a public sector economist who helped me create the Kangkung Index and a Malay executive with a listed non-Khazanah GLC.
They were both concerned about the economy and politics of the country. They better be. They are young and their children are still small. If we mess up, they and their children will suffer. Even though they are middle class, still they feel the pinch of government-mandated price increases.
We were later joined by a former Umno MB who voiced his concern over the likely negative impact on Umno of the growing “independence” of some Malay rulers. Their involvement outside the purview of the royal duties and privileges are already affecting relations with Umno.
I am told by a member of the Umno Supreme Council at one of the KKA sessions that, at a recent meeting of the Umno Political Bureau, chaired by its President (Mohd Najib), this concern was raised.
Another lunch session, an impromptu one, was held at Seri Kembangan. An irate private sector Malay executive told me that the newspapers – Malays and English – are becoming more communal and sectarian in their contents.
He said, being a Penang born, he was introduced early to The Star. He now feels that many Chinese writers of the MCA-controlled newspaper are anti-Malays. I told him that I know one or two of them because they once worked with me in the New Straits Times.
He said he feels the growing Chinese communalism on a daily basis because he was one of a handful of Malays in an otherwise Chinese-dominated European packaging company.
He may not be wrong. Number one, since the MCA’s dismal performance in the last May general election and its non-participation in the government, The Star has become bolder and less pro-government. Also the paper, like most mainstream newspapers, is fighting to stop readership decline.
Number two, not only Chinese-educated Chinese have become more strident in their political views, as manifested by their wholesale shift to the Pakatan Rakyat/DAP in the last GE, the English-educated, liberal-minded Chinese have also become more communal in their views.
Then again, why should a Penang Malay like him be surprised and upset with the views and actions of the Chinese, when there are liberal Malays who are siding with the church in the ongoing debate and action concerning the exclusive use of Allah by the Muslims in the Peninsula?
On this issue, all KKA sessions were unanimous that the apparent inaction of the Prime Minister and his rather inelegant silence are a cause for concern.
If he believes that his inaction and silence (except to appeal for calm and wait for court decision) will make the issue go away, he is dead wrong.
He cannot “main selamat” (play safe) forever. He has been PM for more than four years and his “main selamat” trademark does not serve him anymore. He should abandon it and start taking position in order to serve the people.
One delegate at a meeting at Killiney Kopitiam in Damansara Utama quipped: “Did the TV not show the PM giving away flat screen TVs to flood victims in Pahang?”
Hmm…., flat screen TV sets to flood victims? What I read in the paper is TV sets were sent to evacuation centres to allow flood victims to follow flood development and get some entertainment.
As for other issues, I impressed upon the PM’s adviser that in today’s day and age of instantaneous communication and of citizen journalism, leaders must be careful and thoughtful about what they say.
The “kangkung price has fallen but why don’t they praise the government” statement is certainly way out of sync. Not the mark of a thoughtful and concerned leader. Similarly a minister telling consumers to change their taste by eating fish or beef if chicken is expensive or an Umno leader telling Malaysians to migrate if they are not thankful to the BN for bringing peace and progress to the country. Daft.
The kaki lawak quipped: “Depa mabuk ketum kot.” (High on the sedative effect of the ketum (Mitragyna speciosa) leaf. It seems ketum is good for treatment of anxiety.)
The session with the adviser also agreed that the PM’s plan to empower the Bumiputera economy might not work unless done inclusively within the larger national economy. After all inclusiveness is his clarion call under the New Economic Model.
The Bumiputera portion of the economy is too small to support the Bumiputeras who make up over 60% of the population and who are also the poorest. The GLCs and GLICs are not big enough to support the Bumiputera population.
I repeated my statement to the adviser that the PM should summon all the tycoons – Malays, Chinese and Indians – who had and are still receiving billion-ringgit contracts, concessions, franchises, licences, subsidies and cheap loans from the government to a big meeting akin the disbanded Malaysian Business Council (MBC) of the Mahathir era.
There he tells them that he knows the Chinese did not support the BN in last year’s GE and that they caused the "Tsunami Cina". Unfortunately for them, the BN won thanks to the rural Melayu and the natives of Sarawak and Sabah. Tell them too that he knows some of them have been helping the opposition, unless of course he is ignorant of that fact.
Ask for their help to enhance not only the Bumiputera economy, but also the economy of all poor Malaysians – the bottom 40%. Ask them about the racial composition of their staffing, their supply chain and their CSR activities. Ask them for their plans to make their employment and supply chain truly 1Malaysia instead of communal.
As for the meeting with the menteri, I told him that even the subsidy withdrawal and reduction could be defended and their effects on the rakyat minimised had that been done thoughtfully and in a staggered manner.
The PM should be listening more to crying pain of the people than the market-driven advisers who are spooking him with rating downgrades. An executive of a domestic rating agency told me at one of the KKA sessions that rating agencies are often wrong in their predictions.
The government and its mainstream media have failed to explain to the people that subsidy is not sustainable and has to be done away with gradually, giving the market and the consumers the time to adjust.
We had done this in the past and the people understood. But lumping them together at the end and the beginning of the year, when the rakyat needed money for their children’s schooling, is an insensitive.
The meeting with the menteri discussed issues faced by the people and the future of Umno. He said he visited several pasar malam and pasar tani and found that prices were generally stable but the price of kangkung had risen since the PM said its price had fallen by 50%. Maybe traders think its price is too low.
He asked me what I think of the PM’s leadership and his future. I told him, my observation suggests that there are three sets of scenarios. One is for the PM to change and do the right thing to ease the hardship of the people. Two, for him to be removed if he does not change and three, he remains, nothing changes and the BN faces the risk of being thrown out at the next GE.
Finally, a nasi padang lunch in Kampung Baru with two clever Melayu (both economists). One, as I said before, is French-trained. His buddy is LSE-trained. They were the authors of my Kangkung Index.
I asked them if the PM is on the right track in managing the economy and what will his deficit reducing and debt curbing policy do to the economy?
They both proclaimed themselves Keynesians and said at the current 4% to 5% per annum GDP growth, the economy is on autopilot. It does not require a lot of government interference.
As Keynesians, they told me the role of the government is to take care of the welfare of the people via economic growth, employment and wealth creation.
Constricting government expenditure and at the same time limiting private consumption via higher consumer prices will not contribute towards higher growth, more jobs and greater wealth.
What will then happen to the jobseekers and the people who survive on the fringes of the economy?
It is understood that unemployed Bumiputera graduates alone now stands at around 51,000 representing an increase of 30% since 2009 – the year Mohd Najib became PM.
So should we not be worried? As for me, I am totally disgusted that almost half of cabinet members were abroad during the year-end, when thousands were flooded out of their homes?
I was told that those ministers who stayed back had to become caretakers to multiple portfolios. One had to be answerable to more than 10 ministries at a time. No wonder the PMO was so secretive about the PM’s whereabouts.
Can they PLEASE not do this ever again? Or they just don't care.
POST SCRIPT: A million apologies for neglecting to mention that the KKA also held a session at the upmarket Royal Selangor Golf Club (RSGC) attended by two irate seventy something private sector Tan Sris and a younger, defensive Tan Sri. The older Tan Sris had some pointed messages they wanted the younger Tan Sri to bring to the attention of the PM because the latter is said to have the ears of the big man. Like the younger KKA delegates, they too are worried about the future of the country. All the three Tan Sris had served under the PM’s father.
- A KADIR JASIN
- I was born in 1947 in Kedah. I came from a rice farming family. I have been a journalist since 1969. I am the Editor-in-Chief of magazine publishing company, Berita Publishing Sdn Bhd. I was Group Editor NST Sdn Bhd and Group Editor-in-Chief of NSTP Bhd between 1988 and 2000. I write fortnightly column “Other Thots” in the Malaysian Business magazine, Kunta Kinte Original in Berita Harian and A Kadir Jasin Bercerita in Dewan Masyarakat. Books: Biar Putih Tulang (1998), Other Thots – Opinions & Observations 1992-2001 (2001), The Wings of an Eagle (2003), Mencari Dugalia Huso (2006), Damned That Thots (2006), Blogger (2006), PRU 2008-Rakyat Sahut Cabaran (2008), Komedi & Tragedi-Latest in Contemporary Malaysian Politics (2009) and Membangun Bangsa dengan Pena (2009).