The Truth About Pakatan's Much Coveted Buku Jingga
Not all freshly-squeezed orange are good!
Reading the Buku Jingga1, which included a 100-day plan by the opposition party should they win the 13th general election is like reading a fairy tale.
You know, the kind of story which ends with ‘..and they live happily ever after.’
Man, how I hate those tales.
Buku Jingga makes a light reading, particularly if you compare it with the fairly written (as admitted by the opposition) government’s Economic Transformation Program (ETP) document, published as a guideline for the New Economy Model Policy2.
Well firstly, how do you compare a 29-page orange-covered book, which its initial pages are laden with emotional remarks, with a hefty 600-plus pages document filled with economic jargons, figures, graphs and tones of credible sources?
In reference to Buku Jingga, a serious economic plan should be a manifesto of what the opposition plans to do with the country’s economy, not manifesting their anger and animosity towards the government.
Haven’t they had enough ceramah to do the bashing? So at least this formal document of theirs should be a little more professional.
Of course, Buku Jingga touches on all aspects of their planned reform, including institutional reform, education, and social justice.
But it is their 100-day plan, which has to do a lot with reforming the economy, that captures the most interest, and is being compared to the ETP.
Perhaps the only similarity between Buku Jingga and ETP is that both are aiming for a new approach, a new Malaysia, but in a very different manner.
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE?
Buku Jingga offers what every rakyat wants, including minimum household income of RM4,000 in five years time, which they hope to achieve by implementing minimum wage policy and increasing entrepreneurship aid, sans discrimination.
It is a noble offer, but unfortunately, all efforts are too vaguely discussed, it is almost an insult to the readers’ intelligence.
Come to think of it, Buku Jingga actually reminds me of my time in secondary school.
The time I dreamt of buying a luxury condominium with built-in swimming pool (even if I don’t swim), flashy sports car that can reach 100kph in six seconds and lots of travelling around the world’s best spots.
Only a few years later down the road, I was hit with the hard truth. A luxury condominium does require me to have at least RM10,000 monthly salary, which I certainly do not have.
Let’s not talk about the car and the travelling part.
Buku Jingga is everybody’s fantasy, but can they deliver what they promise, without effectively sending the country into default, head first?
And that, is the million-dollar question.
Talking has always been easy but this time, the opposition has successfully made it sound ridiculously simplistic.
Buku Jingga talked about scrapping the RM19 bilion subsidy to the independent power plants. Can they guarantee the electricity bill will not shoot up afterwards? How long will they be able to sustain the subsidy? If they decided one day that the measure is in fact, dragging them down, how are the rakyat going to pay for higher utility bills?
Oh wait, with the RM4,000 minimum income? Which means even if we get more money, we also need to spend more?
A MUCH AWAITED DOCUMENT BUT…
Buku Jingga is arguably a good attempt to outline what the opposition wants to offer; one notch up from their previous rhetoric-fuelled policies but one cannot help but notice that it is not backed up by tangible facts and figures.
For instance, they plan to overtake all highways in order to abolish toll-paying practices. However, they did not state the cost to buy it back from the private highway concessionaire.
Another promise is to increase individual household income to a minimum RM4,000 monthly. It will be done by, among others, offering higher minimum wage. But would not that lead to higher inflation? An already expensive RM1.50 per glass teh tarik will be sold for RM3.00 per glass once everybody is richer. Will that solve poverty problem?
Another lingering question, will we be able to attract foreign investors in the future if even low-skilled workers must be paid with relatively higher salaries?
It seems that all promises made by the Buku Jingga is too good to be true because it does not touch on the economic cost of doing so, only the monetary cost.
Chief Executive of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Datuk Dr Mahani Zainal Abidin had touched on this dreamy plan by the opposition.
She emphasized that the book seems like an illogical plan because it involves huge government expenditure, thus jeopardizing the country’s economy and competitiveness3.
“Economists do plan to generate economic growth and increasing the welfare of the rakyat but we have to take into consideration the country’s financial capability,” she said.
But this does not seem the case with the opposition.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat strategic director, Rafizi Ramli admitted in his comment to a news portal that “GTP, ETP took approach of economic grandstanding, long term plan, whereas Buku Jingga is based on what people on the ground want’.
He continued by saying that the opposition wants to give a quick aid to the public, thus confirming that what they are offering is only a short term solution4.
HUMBLE APPROACH BY THE GOVERNMENT
Meanwhile, it is refreshing to see how honest and blunt the ETP is. Along the way, you could find sentences like ‘despite the development, some challenges exist. For example, seven percent of rural populations live below the poverty line..’ and ‘During the last decade, Malaysia has lost its growth momentum and old measures can no longer be used to develop the economy’.
This humble, reality-based acknowledgement is then followed by detailed efforts to tackle each issue.
Unlike Buku Jingga, the ETP also addressed the risks that and challenges the government may face when carrying out these economic transformation programmes while outlining the measures taken to minimize the risks.
ETP also focuses on the bigger picture. The economy is too integrated and globalised for us to only focus on our country. What about global economic growth? All these should be taken into consideration if the opposition wants to come out with reliable economic plan.
In brief, the ETP has all a good economic plan should have; clearly defined goal; to turn Malaysia into a high income country with per capita income of RM48,000 by 2020, lined with detailed lists of programmes that will be carried out.
But that is exactly the problem.
All the statistics portraying realistic efforts by the government remain buried under those pages.
Only sometimes it surfaces in the form of advertorial in newspapers, aiming to alert the rakyat what the government is currently doing.
Come on! Advertorial? Seriously? Does the government really think people are going to give any attention to the thousands-of-dollars advertorial?
Another problem lies in the part of disseminating information.
The rakyat have to be well-informed about the government’s plan for them to make better judgement.
However, more often than not, government succumbs to lack of or delayed response when any issue or allegation arises.
What hinders the government from tackling endless allegations when they already have all the facts and brains behind them?
Perhaps this is because the very minds behind ETP, one of government’s most impressive plans for the rakyat, are also obstructing its dissemination, due to Medieval-like working culture.
When you talk about transformation, you do not only transform the policy, but most importantly, the policy makers.