Making democracy a living reality

I WOULD like to support the call made by the Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan at a recent function in Kuala Lumpur regarding the decentralisation of federal powers to the states.

In his speech at the book launch to honour Datuk Seri Hishamudin Yunus, the former Appeal Court judge, for his integrity in upholding the independence of the judiciary, His Royal Highness stated that by transferring more powers to the states and giving them more autonomy to run their own administration, this will complement the various measures which the Pakatan Harapan government is introducing to make Malaysia a better and stronger democracy.

In developed countries, regional and local governments have a lot of autonomy in the administration and delivery of public services to meet the daily needs of their population, as they believe that such services can be more efficiently managed at the lower levels of government.

State authorities are closer to the ground compared with the central ministries and departments, and therefore they can respond to community priorities better and faster than the ministers and bureaucrats in the capital.

The fundamental principle is that in a democracy, especially in a nation comprising a federation of states, the responsibility for managing the country should be shared between the centre and the states so that there are checks and balances on the powers of government. A central government that is too powerful can lead to unhealthy and unethical practices in political patronage with state politicians feeling they are obliged to be nice to those who control the purse strings at the centre to get more projects for their states or districts.

Some argue against decentralisation saying that for developing countries trying to catch up for lost time, it’s better for all administrative and financial powers of government to be concentrated at the centre to ease decision making. They also argue that for Malaysia, decentralisation may lead to some states going entirely on a separate journey based on race or religion. There is also the fear that by giving states more powers of autonomy and self-governing, some sultans may revert to feudal ways to interfere in state matters.

Such fears are unfounded because by virtue of the Federal Constitution, all states are bound by federal law on the basic principles of justice and by the constitutional definition of federal and state responsibilities. Thus, no state can have hudud law unless authorised by federal parliamentary legislation. Or no state can raise external loans without federal approval.

All powers of national peace and security, and the defence of the country against external aggression, as well as its foreign policy, are in the hands of the central government in any federal structure.

In every country, the federal government always has the most powers in taxation and the largest control over the country’s revenue.

While it is important to have a strong central government, it is also essential for it to be more democratic to facilitate greater autonomy in the administration of state and local governments.

For this, it should consider revising the formula for the statutory per capita and road maintenance grants to transfer a higher share of the national revenue to the state treasuries.

This will require legislative amendments, which should be done with conditions to ensure state transparency and accountability in exposing abuses such as recalcitrant mentris besar and chief ministers spending the extra revenue on glittering sports stadiums, royal palaces or overseas travel with free passage for wives and children.

State governments should also be forbidden to use the revenue to set up more state-owned enterprises or GLCs as there are statistics from the research done by a University of Malaya professor showing that state-owned GLCs are more political than those at the federal level, especially in the appointment of board chairmen and directors, and in the award of contracts.

State land, mineral, forestry, river and marine resources are also being depleted due to fraud and lack of integrity in the issuance of licences and permits to the privileged class.

A state which allows destructive exploitation of its natural resources at the expense of the future generation should be penalised by cutting off federal funding for its budget.

It should also be made a condition to states that they should produce a road map to show how they are going to reduce their GLCs, many of which are directly interfering in the commercial sector, competing with private businesses and displacing genuine entrepreneurs from the market place.

The public is concerned because at the end of the day, when they make losses, these are covered by fresh injections of capital from Mentri Besar Incorporated, or MB Inc, thus diverting state resources from productive purposes.

State revenue should be used directly for public good on services to enhance the quality of life in the rural and urban communities.

Beside the usual capital expenditures on roads, water supply, drainage, irrigation, flood mitigation, states should also spend more on the environment and on enforcing health regulations to ensure cleanliness in their cities and towns, especially in eating places.

Wet markets, hawker centres, public parks, parking lots, recreational and cultural centres, libraries, museums heritage sites, etc – these kinds of local services can be better planned and implemented at the state and district levels than at far away Putrajaya. State governments can do all this if they have more revenue.
The federal government can help the states become more active partners in the development of the country through decentralisation.

This will ensure stability in the development of the economy and continuity in improving the people’s welfare in that if there is political disfunctioning at the centre, the states and local authorities can still continue to operate because they have the autonomy over resources to carry on as usual whatever the power struggles in Putrajaya.

We should be like the UK or US – whatever happens in No. 10 Downing Street or the White House, the country carries on as usual because their regional and state governments are self-governing in all matters that affect daily life in cities, towns and rural areas.

Malaysia should review our federal-state relations to place more fiscal and administrative responsibility on state and local governments in governing the country. This responsibility will set in motion a process of accountability among the elected officials at the lower levels of government, thus bringing our democracy closer to the grassroots.

Its a process that will create more interest among the public in what their neighbourhood politicians are doing in office, thereby making democracy a living reality for the people who elect them in state and local elections.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

We are heading for another tragedy

WE are now observing the 100th anniversary of World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars. While honouring the 16 million who died in this conflict, we should also condemn the memory of the politicians, officials and incompetent generals who created this horrendous blood bath.

I’ve walked most of the Western Front of the Great War, visited its battlefields and haunted forts, and seen the seas of crosses marking its innumerable cemeteries.

As a former soldier and war correspondent, I’ve always considered WWI as the stupidest, most tragic and catastrophic of all modern wars.

The continuation of this conflict, World War II, killed more people and brought more destruction on civilians in firebombed cities but, at least for me, World War I holds a special horror and poignancy. This war was not only an endless nightmare for the soldiers in their pestilential trenches, it also violently ended the previous 100 years of glorious European civilisation, one of mankind’s most noble achievements.

I’ve explored the killing fields of Verdun many times and feel a visceral connection to this ghastly place where up to 1,000,000 soldiers died. I have even spent the night there, listening to the sirens that wailed without relent, and watching searchlights that pierced the night, looking for the ghosts of the French and German soldiers who died here.

Verdun’s soil was so poisoned by explosives and lethal gas that to this day it produces only withered, stunted scrub and sick trees. Beneath the surface lie the shattered remains of men and a deadly harvest of unexploded shells that still kill scores of intruders each year. The spooky Ossuaire Chapel contains the bone fragments of 130,000 men, blown to bits by the millions of high explosive shells that deluged Verdun.

The town of the same name is utterly bleak, melancholy and cursed. Young French and German officers are brought here to see first-hand the horrors of war and the crime of stupid generalship.

Amid all the usual patriotic cant from politicians, imperialists and churchmen about the glories of this slaughter, remember that World War I was a contrived conflict that was totally avoidable. Contrary to the war propaganda that still clouds and corrupts our historical view, World War I was not started by Imperial Germany.

Professor Christopher Clark in his brilliant book, The Sleepwalkers shows how officials and politicians in Britain and France conspired to transform Serbia’s murder of Austro-Hungary’s crown prince into a continent-wide conflict. France burned for revenge for its defeat in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and loss of Alsace-Lorraine. Britain feared German commercial and naval competition.

At the time, the British Empire controlled one quarter of the world’s surface. Italy longed to conquer Austria-Hungary’s South Tyrol. Turkey feared Russia’s desire for the Straits. Austria-Hungary feared Russian expansion.

Clark clearly shows how the French and British manoeuvred poorly-led Germany into the war. The Germans were petrified of being crushed between two hostile powers, France and Russia. The longer the Germans waited, the more the military odds turned against them. Tragically, Germany was then Europe’s leader in social justice.

Britain kept stirring the pot, determined to defeat commercial and colonial rival, Germany. The rush to war became a gigantic clockwork that no one could stop. All sides believed a war would be short and decisive. Crowds of fools chanted “On to Berlin” or “On to Paris”.

Few at the time understood the impending horrors of modern war or the geopolitical demons one would release. The 1904 Russo-Japanese War offered a sharp foretaste of the 1914 conflict, but Europe’s grandees paid scant attention.

Even fewer grasped how the collapse of the antiquated Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires would send Europe and the Middle East into dangerous turmoil that persists to our day. Or how a little-known revolutionary named Lenin would shatter Imperial Russia.

This demented war in Europe turned into an even greater historic tragedy in 1917 when US President Woodrow Wilson, driven by a lust for power and prestige, entered the totally stalemated war on the Western Front. One million US troops and starvation caused by a crushing British naval blockade turned the tide of battle and led to Germany’s surrender.

Vengeful France and Britain imposed intolerable punishment on Germany, forcing it to accept full guilt for the war, an untruth that persists to this day. The result was Adolf Hitler and his National Socialists. If an honourable peace had been concluded in 1917, neither Hitler nor Stalin might have seized power and millions of lives would have been saved. This is the true tragedy of the Great War.

Let us recall the words of the wise Benjamin Franklin: “No good war, no bad peace”.

Eric S. Margolis is a syndicated columnist. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Trump and Co’s Middle East fiasco

SAUDI Arabia has been shaken to its core by the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Turkish intelligence has leaked that the Saudi journalist, who wrote op-ed pieces for The Washington Post newspaper, was strangled in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, then cut up into pieces for disposal or dissolved in acid. His remains have yet to be found.

Khashoggi’s brazen murder has caused a crisis in US-Saudi relations, an angry confrontation with Turkey, and serious questions about the Saudi war in wretched Yemen, which so far had caused 60,000 deaths and left this remote land facing starvation.

Trump and his allies initially supported the Saudi-Emirati war against Yemen, having fallen for the false claim that great Satan Iran was backing the Yemeni Houthi forces. Britain and Israel strongly supported the Saudi war.

In reality, Saudi Arabia’s headstrong Crown Prince Mohammed, got his nation embroiled in a no-win war against tough Yemeni tribes who refused to accept a Saudi-imposed figurehead ruler. The United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally, also got involved to expand its little country-big ambitions around the Red Sea littoral.

But the Saudis lacked a real army to wage war in Yemen. They feared an army might mount a coup against the royal family as happened in Egypt, Iraq and Libya. In the past, the Saudis had rented crack Pakistani troops to protect their palaces and oil. But Pakistan refused Saudi requests to send troops to subdue Yemen.

As Libya’s late leader, Colonel Muammar Gadaffi told me, “the Saudis are a small bunch of rich people living behind high walls in terror of their poorer neighbours”. The Saudis hated Gadaffi because he kept calling them “traitors to the Arab cause, prostitutes, whore-mongers and crooks”.

Instead, the Saudis relied on their US and British-supplied air force to prosecute the war in Yemen by indiscriminate terror bombing and trying to starve the Yemenis into submission.

Villages and schools were flattened, wedding parties rocketed, school buses attacked.

US and British technicians and military experts kept the Saudi warplanes flying and provided bombs and targeting data from satellites. Western mercenaries fly and service the Saudi and Emirati air force.

No one in the West cared about this massacre until the unfortunate Khashoggi was murdered in Istanbul. This crime allowed disgust with Saudi Arabia over its Yemen war, beheadings and crucifixions to finally take precedence over arms sales and tawdry geopolitics.

The US and Britain finally questioned their billions of arms sales to the Saudis who use these mammoth purchases to buy subservience from the western democracies. France and Germany recoiled from major arms sales. Self-righteous Canada prevaricated, trying to get the Saudi cash while ducking opprobrium for arming a cruel, murderous regime.

Washington’s most ardent Israel supporters – Security Chief Bolton, and Secretary Pompeo – rushed to support the Saudis. They repeated the ludicrous claim that Khashoggi was a Muslim Brotherhood member and thus worthy of execution. In truth, the Muslim Brotherhood is a venerable, moderate organisation composed of Arab professionals that calls for democracy.

But the most interesting development may have been the flight from London to Riyadh by exiled Saudi Prince Ahmad Abdulaziz. This 70-something younger brother of King Salman was reportedly given security guarantees by the US and Britain that he would not be arrested by Crown Prince Mohammed when he returned to Riyadh from a golden exile in London.

You could almost hear them yelling “bad puppets, bad puppets” at the Saudi royals. Only two weeks earlier, an unusually frank President Trump had even observed that the Saudi 7,000-member royal family would not last “more than a week” without US support.

He was quite right. Since the 1930’s, the Saudi dynasty has been defended and supported by first Britain, then the US.

Few questioned the support of the world’s leading democracy for a cruel medieval monarchy. There was too much oil money involved. The British government even quashed criminal charges when huge kickbacks to Saudi royals on aircraft orders were revealed. Washington covered up the Saudi role in the 9/11 attacks and financing of anti-US groups.

Back to Prince Ahmad. Has he been chosen by Washington and London to replace the rash, violent Crown Prince Mohammed?

How worried is the US that the Khashoggi murder could set off a rebellion in Saudi Arabia? Or civil war in the royal family? The aged current king, Salman, is reported to have cognitive problems.

The clumsy, ham-handed meddling of Trump in Saudi dynastic affairs propelled the bull-in-a-china-shop Crown Prince into power. The machinations of Trump’s son-in- law, Jared Kushner, and his Israeli allies have ignited the current crisis.

Trump and Co have very much to learn about the Mideast. So far, their attempt to play colonial viceroys has been a fiasco.

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist, writing mainly about the Middle East and South Asia. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Ratifying ICERD can wait: First things first

THE current discussion on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in the media is yet another example of how politicians and social activists adopt positions on issues of public interest without examining the relevant documents in detail. Those who are for and those who are against Malaysia ratifying the ICERD are equally guilty of this.

Article 1(4) of Part 1 of the ICERD states clearly that, “Special measures taken for the sole purpose of securing adequate advancement of certain racial or ethnic groups or individuals requiring such protection as may be necessary in order to ensure such groups or individuals equal enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms shall not be deemed racial discrimination, provided, however, that such measures do not, as a consequence, lead to the maintenance of separate rights for different racial groups and that they shall not be continued after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved”.

The same point is made in slightly different language in Article 2(2) of Part 1.

This shows that the ICERD, adopted by the UN General Assembly on Dec 21, 1965 and entered into force on Jan 4, 1969, acknowledges that affirmative action is not racial discrimination.

For democracies such as the US, which accorded some emphasis to affirmative action in the sixties, and India, which continues to provide for the protection of segments of its vulnerable population in its national Constitution, rectifying historical injustices was integral to the quest for equality that the ICERD seeks.

Affirmative action articles in the Malaysian Constitution such as Articles 89 and 153, and various institutions and arrangements that have evolved over the decades are also aimed at ensuring justice and equality for the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak.

At the time of Merdeka in 1957, it was estimated that 64% of the Malays lived below the poverty-line, a situation which was exacerbated by the abysmally disadvantaged position of the vast majority of indigenous Sabahans and Sarawakians when they became part of Malaysia in 1963. In 1970, when the new Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced, Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak were grossly under-represented in every profession and in commerce and industry.

These socio-economic realities have to be understood in relation to a critical socio-political circumstance, which is seldom highlighted by most of the individuals involved in the ICERD debate. As a result of the massive conferment of citizenship upon a million Chinese and Indians just before Merdeka, the Malays who were hitherto equated with the land (Tanah Melayu) became a community among communities.

This relegation of status is one of the primary reasons why the community is so concerned about preserving the Malay core in Malaysian politics. It is also why it perceives the civil service, judiciary, police and armed forces, among other such institutions, as critical to the community’s power and strength in a multi-ethnic nation. It has shaped the Malay perspective on Islam, the Sultans, the land, its history and its identity.

The socio-economic issues pertaining to affirmative action that justify ethnic differentiation in some instances require solutions, which the ICERD hints at.
Ethnic differentiation, as it applies to various spheres, should be evaluated in a rational manner. When they are no longer relevant, they should be set aside. In fact, the government has done this in the past.

Rigid employment requirements in the eighties yielded to more flexible approaches from the nineties onwards. For almost two decades now, ethnic quotas are not adhered to in certain faculties in various public universities.

Perhaps the time has come for greater boldness in addressing ethnicity in the socioeconomic sphere.

Many of us have, for a long while, advocated an approach that emphasises needs and excellence in recruiting and rewarding people. Before we ratify the ICERD, we should put such a policy in place.

It would then be seen as our own endeavour to recognise principles, which are fundamental to the success of any society.

Greater emphasis upon needs and excellence rather than ethnicity per se may well be the solution to the abuse in the implementation of affirmative action policies. It is abuse that has alienated not only the non-Malays but also a significant segment of the Malay and indigenous communities. It was one of the factors that eroded trust in the previous Barisan Nasional government leading to its ignominious defeat in the recent general election.

The socio-political dimension of ethnic differentiation in our society is a more complex challenge. The influential elements within all communities should work together in a sincere manner to change attitudes, which prevent us from moving in the right direction.

Non-Malay elites and opinion-makers should demonstrate a deeper understanding of the Malay situation – of the “psychological loss” it sustained when it was relegated to a community among communities.

For such an understanding to emerge, non-Malay leaders should accept a simple historical truth: that contemporary Malaysia has evolved from a Malay Sultanate system. In similar vein, Malay opinion makers and elites should understand that the evolution of the Malaysian nation also demands the genuine accommodation and acceptance of their non-Malay fellow citizens.

They are equal partners in the building of a nation, which will only survive if it is firmly rooted in justice and fairness for all its sons and daughters, transcending ethnicity.

It is educating Malaysians along these lines and initiating changes on our own that are perhaps more important at this juncture than ratifying the ICERD, which, from the ongoing public discourse, threatens to further polarise our society.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the chairman of the board of trustees of Yayasan Perpaduan Malaysia (YPM). Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Time to get your act together, PKR

SINCE elections for party positions in PKR kicked off, it has been riddled with numerous issues – ranging from flaws in the system, phantom voters and now, money politics.

The fight for the number two position between Datuk Seri Mohd Azmin Ali and Rafizi Ramli has been the point of focus as many believe whoever holds this position will be the future kingmaker.

According to party insiders, the entire system has flaws, including the central election committee (JPP) members, whom they claim are not up to mark and also terribly biased towards a particular faction.

A senior party leader said there was no control at polling stations and members from different branches were often seen “where they don’t belong” and this created plenty of problems.

“Also, it has been so easy for certain quarters to sabotage the elections. For example, how come it is so easy to jam telecommunications systems, stir up unnecessary commotions and create a host of other problems?

“The recent incidents in Keningau, Sabah are disgraceful. It is obvious those responsible were from a certain faction, but till not, no action has been taken.

“It seems like the JPP and others concerned are simply turning a blind eye to all the chaos,” said the party leader.

He claims there have been all kinds of excuses given, but no concrete solution to the problem.

“If this is how the party is going to conduct itself, then surely there will be doubts if Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim himself can actually handle the party and also administer the country when he becomes the prime minister.

“The party has a great future in Malaysian politics in years to come, but certainly not like this,” said a party veteran.

The veteran claimed that at present, the greatest threat faced by PKR was not from other parties or even the Barisan Nasional, but from within.

“Even the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has since stepped in, which is an embarrassment to the party. We have been at the forefront to oppose all forms of corruption and the rakyat voted us in because they trusted and believed in us.

“Now, we have totally gone against what we preached and even the MACC is probing us. It is high time the JPP begins flexing it’s muscles and those concerned step in to stop this rot before it worsens,” added the party veteran.

Taiwan eyes Interpol observer role

TAIWAN seeks to work with foreign law enforcement agencies to jointly combat crime, fill gaps in the global security network, and create a safer world.

It has earned widespread acclaim for its public security. The international community should not exclude Taiwan in the fight against transnational crime.

The Republic of China (Taiwan) is the world’s 22nd-largest economy and 17th-largest exporter, occupying a strategic location connecting Northeast and Southeast Asia. It was named the best place in the world for expats to live in a 2016 report by Forbes, and was ranked 34th among 163 countries surveyed for the 2018 Global Peace Index by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace. To preserve its public security in a world challenged by cybercrime and terrorism, Taiwan must cooperate with agencies in other countries.

Taiwan’s exclusion from Interpol creates a gap in intelligence sharing and a loophole for criminal activity.

Due to political factors, Taiwan has been excluded from Interpol for 34 years. It lacks timely access to key intelligence shared via the I-24/7 global police communications system and the database of stolen and lost travel documents. This has hampered Taiwan’s ability to implement security checks at its borders and fight terrorism, human trafficking, and other transnational crimes. Its exclusion from Interpol has led to delays and disparity in the exchange of critical information, and prevented it from taking part in meetings, activities and training, creating a major gap in the global security and counter-terrorism network.

Taiwan applied to attend the 85th Interpol General Assembly as an observer in 2016 and to host an Interpol major event support team in 2017 for security at the Summer Universiade in Taipei. Interpol rejected both applications, citing the 1984 resolution it adopted when China attained membership and suggesting that Taiwan contact the National Central Bureau in China. No resolutions or arrangements by Interpol should override the aim of strengthening police cooperation and the prohibition of political interference clearly expressed in its Constitution.

Through participation in Interpol, Taiwan seeks to share experiences in fighting transnational crime.

Taiwan has spared no effort to combat cross-border crime and has solved many criminal cases working with other countries. Earlier this year, Taiwanese and Thai police conducted a crackdown on economic crime, recovering 120 million baht (US$3.69 million) in illicit funds.

Also this year, Taiwan and Philippines police worked together to arrest a city councillor wanted for drug trafficking who had fled to Taiwan. And following a cyber attack on a local bank in October 2017, Taiwan relied on intelligence provided by the National Central Bureaus of Interpol Member States to intercept stolen funds worth over US$60 million. These achievements have received international acclamation. Taiwan wants to contribute more to global initiatives that help create a safer world. A seamless global security network can be ensured only if Taiwan participates in Interpol.

Nations cannot single-handedly fight terrorism, cybercrime, organised and emerging crime. Taiwan’s police should not be left on the sidelines. It is willing and able to stand on the frontlines to fight cross-border crime.

Global security and social justice should transcend regional, ethnic and political differences. We urge you to support Taiwan’s participation in the Interpol General Assembly this year as an observer, as well as in Interpol meetings, mechanisms and training. By speaking up at international events, you can make a real contribution to promote Taiwan’s participation in Interpol.

Tsai Tsan-Po is Commissioner of Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Budget your expectations

WE are all filled with cautious expectations for the 2019 Budget. It will be announced with the Budget Speech that will be presented in Parliament on Nov 2.

It will be the first Budget of the new Pakatan Government after 61 years of Barisan Government rule. Will there be a difference or will we have more of the same.

As announced in the Mid-Term Review, there will be greater priority given to good governance. This is encouraging but how will we do this? Would we have more integrity, better priority public services for the Bottom 40%, less income disparity and more efficiency and fairness in public spending? Will new taxes be more equitable and caring for the poor?

One thing is for sure, we cannot expect the traditional goodies. We may have to brace ourselves for more taxes and some expenditure cut backs. But please do not hurt the Bottom 80%. I see a gloomy Budget for 2019 and a little beyond. Why is this so?

The international economy is slowing down. The overall global cyclical decline is here. The damaging consequences of Brexit are already present. Now the threatening dampening effects of the possible trade war between the US and China are also going to undermine the global economic outlook. This will take place sooner rather than later, unless these top economies settle their unnecessarily hostile positions soon.

Domestically, the atmosphere has been sluggish too. This is partly due to the international slowdown and the fiscal and financial mismanagement in the recent past.

Budget expenditures were badly eroded by corruption, leakages, wastage and inefficiencies. The true value for our rising expenditures and expanding national debt and our high infrastructure investments, were not fully realised.

This was because of weak and distorted purchasing policies and lack of adherence to proper open tendering and contract management procedures. Perceptions of weak institutions like the huge civil service, low education standards and the relative lack of independence of the judiciary, the election commission and inter alia, the police also added to the economic burdens and economic and financial stress.

What could be our budget strategy?

It has to be consolidated and mildly expansionary. Hopefully it will not be contractional as our slowdown could be aggravated. Neither can the Budget be too expansionary, hence we have to keep it on even keel and that is a very big challenge.

An economic growth rate at about 4.6% for 2019 is acceptable. We can’t expect too much more without facing more strains.

Inflation could be maintained at 2-3%, if we can keep the budget deficit within 3% of the GDP. It’s not a sacrosanct target and we can be a bit more flexible and relaxed.

Income disparity has to be reduced as part of our longer-term strategy. We can aim for this goal by focusing on providing the basic needs of the Bottom 40% (B40) and Middle 40% (M40%) of the population.

What can we expect?

First, don’t expect too much tax cuts or relief, since the Budget cannot afford it.

Hopefully though, it is expected the Budget will impose more new and higher taxes on the wealthy and well to do.

Don’t tax the poor. Give them some tax incentives to be more productive and to save. Please give a higher minimum or living wage.

Provide more tax incentives to corporate foundations to undertake more investments in corporate social responsibilities.

Encourage the private sector to establish more tax-exempt foundations to take part in the education, health, environment protection and tourism sectors. There has to be more attractive policies to get the private sector to more fully participate in the economic growth and income distribution, rather than depending on the government to do so.

The Budget could raise more taxes such as wealth taxes, estate duties, carbon taxes and sin taxes like tobacco and alcohol. We could increase tax charges on public services like road and car taxes to reduce pollution and traffic jams?

Serious limitations to expenditure cuts

How can we cut the salaries of the 1.6 million civil servants, unless we dismiss many more? It’s not easy to reduce their numbers unless they are on short service contracts.

We can, however, reduce the recruitment of civil servants and get those employed to be more productive. But that needs tough leadership from the chief secretary down to secretary and director-generals. Furthermore, many civil servants are now politicised. So it’s not easy to trim the civil service and its salaries which are now relatively comfortable.

Charged expenditure like the constitutionally guaranteed Budget grants to the state government such as capitation grants and road grants cannot be cut.

Federal government debts have to be settled. We have large amounts of guaranteed loans, much of it incurred by government-linked companies and statutory bodies. They are our sovereign debt and must be settled.

Pensioners debt

Pensions have to be settled. But sadly the pensioners have long complained that they have not been paid past revisions as promised.

How can we ignore and neglect the thousands of government pensioners who sacrificed so much to serve the government and society for so long. Unfortunately, there have been those who think that the promise of higher pensions can be delayed further, so that the pensioners will die off in time and the revision promises can also be resolved by the death of these pensioners. Those would be cruel thoughts and not worthy of any government or society. So please settle the debts to the pensioners.

Borrowing much more is out of the question for now, especially after all the protesting against the RM1 trillion national debt.

However, some borrowing can still take place as the debt /GDP ratio is still not unduly high at about 50-80 % of GDP, depending on the definitions of debt.

The IMF, World Bank and rating agencies have not jumped up in protest yet? Hence we should not be over anxious about the serious debt problems around RM1 trillion, as the debt /GDP ratio is not critical as yet.

Restructure the economy?

We expect Budget 2019 to restructure the socio-economic and financial policies. It must be designed to meet the basic needs of our society. Budget policies must be “needs- based” on not “race-based”.

The Council of Eminent Persons’ recommendations will hopefully be made public and be fully incorporated in the 2019 Budget proposals where appropriate.

NEP has served its purpose relatively well but it must be modified into the much more acceptable New Economic Model, which is fairer to all Malaysians. Too much protectionism will reduce national efficiency, promote mediocrity and not meritocracy and competition, and undermine national unity.

Thus, we should not be caught in the middle-income trap and progress only slowly – if at all. We should do much better.

Strengthen the ringgit and balance of payments

The brain drain and capital outflows should be slowed down for us to succeed further and faster.

If the private sector is not treated more equitably and if more preference is shown to the GLCs, then the public sector and the Budget, and the five-year plans will have to bear the brunt of additional necessary and essential investment, which can further strain the Budget.

The private sector role in our economic development will have to be expanded and shared reasonably with both bumi and non-bumi participation to achieve balanced and stable development.

To this end suitable tax incentives can be introduced in the Budget to stimulate better multiracial investment, economic growth and income distribution.

All the new reforms on good governance, better human rights, and especially more pro B40 policies have to be given greater priority in the Budget and in its implementation.

Corruption and Budget expenditure leakages should also be more aggressively tackled to raise confidence in the new government’s capacity to govern effectively.

Malaysia’s economic fundamentals are still quite strong. Hence, the 2019 Budget should not be too tight. But we need to consolidate our Budget to remain strong and sustainable.

We have to use the 2019 Budget to make a difference from the old regime.

We must restructure the economy to make it more competitive and meritocratic and fairer to all Malaysians.

National unity, and racial and religious harmony must be reflected in our Budget and economic planning to move forward with confidence and pride.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam is chairman of the Asli Centre for Public Policy Studies. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Did post-Soviet Russians drink themselves to death?

ALTHOUGH initially obscured by The Economist, among others, the sudden and unprecedented increase in Russian adult male mortality during 1992-1994 is no longer denied. Instead, the debate is now over why?

Having advocated “shock therapy”, a “big bang”, “sudden” or rapid post-Soviet transition, Jeffrey Sachs and others have claimed that the sudden collapse in Russian adult male life expectancy was due to a sudden increase in alcohol consumption, playing into popular foreign images of vodka-binging Russian men.

In fact, the transition to the market economy and democracy in Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics dramatically reduced life expectancy owing to greater stress exacerbated by the nature and impact of the early post-Soviet transition under former president Boris Yeltsin, especially during his first term.

Did post-Soviet Russians drink much more vodka?

While alcohol consumption did increase greatly after Gorbachev’s anti-alcoholism campaign (1985-1987) ended, it never reached the highest Soviet level in 1984.

While there has been a strong correlation between alcohol consumption and the adult male mortality rate, there have been several periods when per capita alcohol consumption levels and death rates moved in opposing directions.

In 2002-2007, for example, death rates from deliberately inflicted (“external”) causes, including murder, suicide and poisoning, fell despite rising alcohol consumption.

Similarly, from 1960 to 1970, alcohol consumption increased from 4.6 to 8.5 litres per capita, according to official statistics (and from 9.8 to 12 litres, according to other estimates), whereas life expectancy did not change much, rising from 69 years in 1960 to 70 in 1965, and then falling back to 69 again in 1970.

How did much poorer Russians afford more vodka?

Not surprisingly, claims of strong correlations between lower alcohol prices, higher alcohol consumption and adult male mortality focus on the price effect without considering the income effect.

While increased alcohol intake has been attributed to the lower relative prices of spirits in the early 1990s, it ignores the fact that real incomes fell even more sharply.

In fact, Russian vodka consumption has fallen sharply by more than half in recent decades, from over 200 billion litres in the early 1980s and 1990s to about 100 billion litres in 2015. Meanwhile, the wine and beer shares of alcohol consumption have increased markedly.

Some studies claim that at least 30% of alcohol consumption in Russia is unrecorded and official figures understate drinking low cost alcohol with high toxicity. But this claim has no empirical support, even if only indirect.

Thus, the impact of increased alcohol intake on cardiovascular diseases remains moot, with per capita alcohol consumption and death rates moving in opposite directions at times. Death rates due to deliberately inflicted (“external”) causes, including murder, suicide and poisoning, fell despite rising alcohol consumption during 2002-2007.

How does vodka kill?

Some Western observers attributed as much as a third of total deaths in Russia to alcohol-related causes. These are the highest estimates available, but are doubted by most other experts.

This very high share is much greater than official statistics, which suggest that less than 4% of deaths were due to alcohol consumption, ie, alcohol poisoning, liver cirrhosis, alcoholism, and alcoholic psychosis. Some independent researchers have an intermediate position, attributing about 12% of all deaths to alcohol-related causes.

Other observers argue that average alcohol consumption levels are not necessarily a good indicator of health risks. One such argument is that not all consumption of alcohol but only of hard spirits, particularly vodka in the case of Russia, is responsible for the increased mortality.

Why did Russian life expectancy fall after Gorbachev?

Russia has long had extensive postmortem causes of death data, having done autopsies for more than 60% of all deaths, ie, more than anywhere else.

Some public health experts argue that while cardiovascular disease was the main cause of death, much of this was due to lethal levels of alcoholism.

Deaths from alcohol poisoning are widely regarded as the better indicator of excessive alcohol consumption compared with official production figures as liquor may be produced illegally within a country or smuggled into it.

Deaths from alcohol poisoning increased from 10 per 100,000 inhabitants in 1990-1991 to nearly 40 in 1994, exceeding the number due to suicide and murder. By 2007, however, such alcohol-related deaths had fallen to late Soviet levels, even though the overall mortality rate remained well above the rate from those times.

Stress kills

There is growing evidence that stress kills, using extensive data on earlier declines in life expectancy among men in all former Soviet republics and East European countries.

In Georgia, Armenia and Eastern Europe, mortality increased, lowering life expectancy, without increased drinking.

Only a few causes of male deaths during 1980-2013 were alcohol-related, eg, accidental poisoning by alcohol, liver cirrhosis, ischemic heart diseases, stroke, travel accidents, and other “external” causes.

The continuous decline in adult male mortality in Belarus and Russia cannot be fully explained by anti-alcohol policies, although such interventions probably contributed to the large mortality falls in both countries during 2005–2006, and in Belarus in 2012. These mortality declines coincided with and probably accelerated to already declining alcohol-related mortality.

All statistics and estimates agree that per capita alcohol consumption in the 1990s was equal to or lower than in the early 1980s, while deaths due to “external” causes doubled, and the total death rate increased by half.

Thus, simultaneous increases in the total death rate, the death rate due to external causes and to alcohol consumption were all probably due to another factor, namely stress. – IPS

Bring impeachment process into our constitution

WITH all the efforts undertaken by the new government led by Pakatan Harapan (PH) in reforming our parliamentary institution and constitution, they can also take into consideration amending our Federal Constitution in order to allow impeachment processes to take place against any corrupt or misbehaving top public officials in the country.

Impeachment is a process by which a legislative body formally levels charges against a top public official. Once an individual is impeached, he or she must then face the possibility of conviction via a legislative vote, which then entails the removal of the individual from public office.

Such a process exists under constitutional law in many states around the world, including Brazil, the Republic of Ireland, India, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea, and the US. Malaysia does not have such specific impeachment proceedings to bring down top public officials suspected of misconduct.

In the US, at their federal level, Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 of the US Constitution grants to the House of Representatives “the sole power of impeachment”.

In considering such impeachment, the country House of Representatives is obligated to base any charges on the constitutional standards specified in Article II, Section 4, which stipulates: “The president, vice-president, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”

It’s interesting to know, that such impeachment power is also provided at the state level whereby each state’s legislature in the US can impeach state officials, including the governor, in accordance with their respective state constitution.

The late president Richard Nixon once faced impeachment proceedings following the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, but chose to resign from office. Another US president, Bill Clinton, was nearly impeached following the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s.

Malaysia follows the Westminster Parliamentary System, courtesy of our former colonial masters, the British.

To remove a top public official in our Parliament we need to prove that such a top public official has lost confidence among the member of Parliaments (MPs) in the Dewan Rakyat.

This is clearly stipulated under Article 43(4) of the Federal Constitution, which stipulates that if the prime minister ceases to command the confidence from the majority of members in the Dewan Rakyat, then, unless at the prime minister’s request, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong dissolves Parliament (and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong may act in his absolute discretion (Art. 40(2)(b)), the prime minister and his Cabinet must resign.

Under Article 71 and the 8th Schedule, all state constitutions are required to have a provision similar to the above in relation to their respective mentris besar and executive councils.

However, the question that needs to be asked, will MPs be brave enough to initiate such a move, especially against their own top officials?

As such, it would better to have an impeachment process in the constitution to safeguard our country from any malpractices from top public officials.

By having specific impeachment process provisions in our constitution, all top public officials will become more serious with their job, aware that they will be held accountable for any misbehaviour or misconduct that they commit.

It will also protect our country’s management from corrupt practices from any top public officials thus bringing back the people’s confidence and trust towards the government.

Dr Muzaffar Syah Mallow is senior lecturer at the faculty of syariah and law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

The Khashoggi murder: Worse than a crime, it’s a mistake

AFTER watching the Saudis behead and even reportedly crucify critics and opponents for decades, suddenly Washington’s great and good are outraged by a single murder.

The victim was a Saudi columnist from that nation’s elite who was noted for his moderate, cautious views, who was also linked to the former Saudi intelligence chief, Turki al-Faisal.

But even gentle criticism of the royal government, and particularly its strongman, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS), caused Jamal Khashoggi to be murdered and cut up into pieces in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, to where he was lured last week and from whence he never emerged alive. Turkish intelligence, secretly monitoring the Saudi consulate picked up the gruesome details as Khashoggi’s fingers were reportedly cut off, followed by his head. Khashoggi wrote for numerous papers, including The Washington Post.

He had become a pesky journalist who irked the headstrong Saudi crown prince who likely cried, like England’s King Henry II, “will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest”?

As a former pesky journalist for newspapers in Qatar and Dubai, and Turkey, I am appalled by this crime.

Crown Prince Mohammed has been arresting, detaining, shaking down and intimidating his subjects, all applauded by US President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner who is deep in bed with the moneybags Saudis.

I’m surprised that the Saudis didn’t ask the Israelis, who are very good at assassination and kidnapping, to go after Khashoggi.

The uproar in Washington and the tame US media contrasted to their silence regarding the fate of other journalists killed or held in prison in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, both US client states.

Al-Jazeera’s Cairo correspondent Mahmoud Hussein has been held in prison for two years without charge because he dared write about Egypt’s former democratic government that was overthrown by a coup mounted by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates and Israel.

The US has been kidnapping, torturing and “disappearing” alleged enemies ever since 9/11.

Back to the Saudis. In the face of their criminal behaviour, Trump sought to wriggle away from the scandal by claiming that the murder might have been done by “rogue” Saudi agents, a claim quickly echoed by the Saudis. But even the usual lap dog Republicans in the US Congress refused to swallow this baloney, calling for sanctions on Saudi Arabia.

Clearly, even the US Congress and media were growing nervous over Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war in Yemen that has killed over 10,000 civilians and provoked widespread famine and disease – all done with US and British weapons, advisers and intelligence support.

Not so fast, retorted Trump, whose business empire greatly benefited from Saudi and Gulf cash. The Saudis have arms orders for US$110 billion (RM457.88 billion) in the hopper and, claimed Trump, US$400 billion in commercial orders pending. We can’t risk Riyadh cancelling this bonanza, said Trump.

Just a week earlier, Trump had sneered that the Saudis could not defend themselves and had to rely on US protection.

Unstated by Trump was the tacit threat that the Saudis might cash in some of their trove of US Treasury bills. How many US legislators and journalists are on the Saudi payroll remains a deep, dark mystery.

Equally important, the Saudis and Emiratis are now closely allied to Israel’s far right government. Israel has been a door-opener for the Saudis and Gulf Emirates in Washington’s political circles. The Israel lobby is riding to the Saudi’s defence.

Meanwhile, we will observe the disgusting spectacle of the Trump administration trying to cover up this crime and protect its thuggish allies in Saudi Arabia while trying to provoke war with Iran.

Americans, who have been gulled by a multi-million-dollar PR blitz over the modernised “new” Saudi Arabia, complete with a handful of female drivers and commercials about “empowered women”, will begin to see what a corrupt, brutal regime they have so long and unquestionably supported.

The question will remain: who in the Saudi leadership was stupid enough to approve the murder of Khashoggi? Could this crime mark the beginning of the downfall of the medieval Saudi regime?

As the wise and cynical Tallyrand said about the murder of the young Duc d’Enghien, “worse than a crime, it was a mistake”.

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist, writing mainly about the Middle East and South Asia. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com