• Malaysians are voting with their feet by moving to Selangor and Penang

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 30th of May, 2017

    Malaysians are voting with their feet by moving to Selangor and Penang

    In the Migration Report 2016, which was released on the 26th of May, 2017, it was reported that the two states with the highest net migration was Selangor followed by Penang. In the period of 2015-2016, Selangor experienced a net migration of 19,400 persons while Penang experienced a net migration of 12,000 persons (See Chart 4 below).
    Source: Migration Report 2016

    The willingness of people to move to Selangor and Penang is not a short-term phenomenon. According to the data from the 2011 to the 2016 Migration Reports, the net migration for Selangor and Penang were 125,400 and 49,800 respectively making Selangor and Penang the top two states in terms of net migration (See Chart below)

    Source: Migration Reports 2011 to 2016

    The figures from the Migration Reports clearly shows that Malaysians are voting with their feet by moving in large numbers to Selangor and Penang. This is a clear indication that Malaysians have confidence in the state governments of Selangor and Penang under Pakatan Harapan (PH).

    The achievement of Penang is even more remarkable when one considers that it is only the 8th most populous state in Malaysia and yet, it is able to attract the 2nd highest number of net migrants in the entire Malaysia. According to the 2016 Migration Report, “for the period of 2015-2016, Pulau Pinang registered the highest positive effectiveness ratio of migration at 58.4 per cent. This means that the people of Pulau Pinang will be increased by 58 persons for every 100 of inter-state migrants that migrate in and out of the state”.

    On the other hand, the two states with the largest outflow of population are Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur and Perak with a net outflow of 163,400 and 40,000 respectively from 2009 to 2016. The reasons for these migration patterns were not given in the Migration Report. But it is likely that the state of Perak is losing population because of better job prospects in places like Selangor and Penang. For Kuala Lumpur, it is likely that it is losing population because of high housing prices and possibly, the more attractive policies offered by the Selangor state government.

    According to the 2016 Migration Report, 61% of out-migrants from Kuala Lumpur moved to Selangor in the period from 2015-2016 while 62% of out-migrants from KL moved to Selangor in the period from 2014-2015 (See Chart 6 below).

    If these trends continue, Kuala Lumpur will soon be a city comprising of mostly rich Malaysians and expatriates and also poor migrant workers.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

  • Will the Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme address current health care gaps?

    (This article can also be read at the Penang Institute in KL Column in the Malaysian Insight, 21nd May 2017)

    Both my parents are over 70 years of age. My father is a retired architect who had his own private practice. My mother is a housewife. As far as I know, there are no private medical insurance providers who offer medical insurance plans for people their age.

    My father had to undergo a heart bypass last year at a private hospital and he paid the expenses out of his own pocket. My mother had to go for a spinal procedure recently for which she had three options: a costly private hospital option, a heavily subsidised option at Universiti Hospital but with a longer waiting time period, and an in-between option with the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC). In the end, she chose the in-between option.

    The husband of a retired civil servant came to my service centre last month to seek financial assistance to purchase his cancer drugs. Even though he is eligible for the government pensioner’s medical plan as a spouse of a retired civil servant, he was told that he had to pay for the drugs he needed to take as part of his cancer treatment which costs thousands of ringgit per treatment.

    The problems faced by my elderly parents and the spouse of the retired civil servant illustrate one of the major health care challenges in this country. Many people are caught between the public healthcare sector which is either rationing its services through time i.e. longer wait times or the supplies i.e. limiting the amount of subsidised medicines, and the private sector which is already expensive and likely to become even more so over time.

    Of course, if my parents had access to a health insurance scheme, that would have significantly decreased their medical expenses even if they chose the private hospital option. Similarly, if the spouse of the retired civil servant had a health insurance scheme, that would cover at least part of his very expensive cancer medicines.

    The question then is this: will the Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme announced by the Minister of Health to be rolled out next year, be able to “solve” the health care challenges illustrated above? The answer, for now, is that we simply do not know for the simple reason that very little of the details of this insurance scheme have been made public.

    Of course, we can read between the lines and try to guess the motives for the rolling out of such an insurance scheme. The putative reason is to decrease the cost of private health care, which almost everyone acknowledges is very costly for the average Malaysian.

    But if this new health insurance scheme is totally voluntary, partly to avoid any possible backlash from the previous experience of trying to introduce the mandatory 1Care health insurance programme, the Ministry faces another cost related challenge.

    Any voluntary health insurance scheme must somehow avoid the problem of attracting mostly-unhealthy people from enrolling in such a scheme. For example, if only the elderly who currently cannot buy any private sector health insurance and others with pre-existing congenital health problems such as asthma or cancer buy into such a scheme, the premiums would have to be very high or the government subsidy for such a scheme would have to be very high.

    Most health insurance schemes, especially those in developed countries, work on a risk pooling basis. With a large pool of people from all backgrounds, ages and health conditions enrolled in a health insurance scheme, those who are healthy and who do not use much health services are effectively subsidising the insurance cost for the elderly and those with congenital diseases who are high users of health services. If the proposed health insurance scheme is voluntary, the risk pooling benefits may disappear if the majority of those who enrol in it are old and / or already sick.

    One way which the government can overcome this problem is to attract the young and the healthy to buy into this health insurance scheme. For example, medical insurance cards are increasingly popular among the younger generation these days, especially those who do not have employers who provide healthcare benefits, those who are freelancers or part-timers and those who switch jobs very often. If the government can provide a lower-cost option to existing private health insurance schemes, these lower risk individuals may be tempted to switch to this new option.

    The government can also provide other incentives such as tweaking the tax system to make this new health insurance scheme tax deductible and at the same time, force employers to count the health benefits enjoyed by their employees as income (and hence taxable) so that some employees may want to switch to this new and cheaper insurance scheme.

    The sustainability of such a voluntary insurance scheme, apart from risk pooling, also depends on the entity which is in charge of running this scheme. If it is a private company that prioritises profit maximisation, then we face the danger of ever increasing insurance premiums, higher deductibles and other forms of health care rationing.

    But if it is a government run scheme, with the ability to put pressure and negotiate hard with private hospitals to control costs and charges to patients, the long terms prospects will be much better, for the insured as well as for the government. So far, the Minister has said that it will be run by an NGO but has not disclosed the identity of this NGO yet.

    In the long run, it is very likely that the government wants to expand this health insurance scheme to more and more people, including those who are currently using government hospitals. If such a move can control healthcare costs, increase accessibility and protect Malaysians from catastrophic health events, then we should welcome it. But because of the paucity of details and the lack of transparency and trust in the motives of the government, it makes is much harder to have an honest and rational debate on a complicated but very important part of public policy that impacts millions of people in the country.

    Dr Ong Kian Ming is the Member of Parliament for Serdang, Selangor and is also the General Manager of Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University, an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.

  • Feedback and Clarification on the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL)

    CEO of SPAD
    Encik Mohd Azharuddin bin Mat Sah
    Block D, Platinum Sentral, Jalan Stesen Sentral 2,
    Kuala Lumpur Sentral, 50470 Kuala Lumpur

    Yang Berusaha Encik Mohd Azharuddin,

    RE: Feedback and Clarification on the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL)

    Based on Section 84 of the Land Transport Act 2010, SPAD began the 3-month process of public consultation and seeking public feedback on the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) on the 8th of March 2017.[1] As a Member of Parliament and a concerned citizen, I hope that SPAD can provide clarification and information on the following points raised below.

    1. Provide detailed breakdown of the cost of the ECRL

    In a report by the Edge in November 2016, Transport Minister Dato Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the following to explain the increase in the estimated cost of the East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) from RM29 billion to RM55 billion. “Previously, the length [of the rail link] was 545km; now it is 600km and this does not include the part from Gombak to Port Klang”[2] But on the 13th of May, 2017, during the signing ceremony of Phase Two of the ECRL project, which covers the track from the Integrated Transport Terminal (ITT) Gombak to Port Klang, the Treasury Secretary General, Tan Sri Irwan Serigar was reported to have said that the construction costs for this section for this section of the ECRL was RM9 billion, which, combined with the RM46 billion cost for Phase One for Wakaf Bahru in Kelantan to ITT Gombak in Selangor, would bring the total cost of the ECRL to RM55 billion.[3] This contradicts what was said by Liow Tiong Lai. In the interest of transparency, the government should publish a detailed breakdown of the estimated cost of the entire ECRL including the cost of the 7 segments of the ECRL and the 6 Spur Lines:

    The government should also provide an estimated breakdown of the land acquisition costs which will involve the government buying 8699 lots of private land covering 8376.88 acres or 3390 hectares.

    2. Clarify if the cost of the project only involves a SINGLE TRACK railway line as it is described in the EIA report

    In the Executive Summary of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on the ECRL, it is stated that ‘the ECRL will be an electrified single track railway line built on a double track formation, approximately 532.3km for the main line with another 65.9km of spur lines.”  Does this mean that only a single track will be built for the ECRL even though a railway base that is wide enough for two tracks will be built? If this is the case, then the government needs to explain why a project which costs an estimated RM55 billion will only pay for ONE TRACK.

    I would like to point that the promotional video and materials shown in the public display, on the MRL website and in the youtube videos all indicate that the ECRL has two tracks, not one.

    3. Clarify the total length of bridges and viaducts for the ECRL

    In a statement on the 9th of November, 2016 by Minister in charge of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), Datuk Rahman Dahlan, he said that the ECRL will involve building 110km of bridges.[4] Based on the SPAD public display drawings, a section by section calculation showed 69 bridges with a combined length of 17.7km and 33 viaducts with a combined length of 74.6km. Therefore, the total length of bridges and viaducts (assuming that viaducts are also bridges) is 92.3km. There is a difference of 17.7km between Rahman Dahlan’s statement and our calculations based on the SPAD public display drawings. A difference of 17.7km can translate into billions of ringgit of construction costs. This needs to be clarified by the government.

    4. Explain the rush to sign the agreement for Phase 2 of the ECRL connecting ITT Gombak with Port Klang

    My colleague, ADUN for Damansara Utama, Yeo Bee Yin, had earlier raised the issue of the missing link from ITT Gombak to Klang in the current EIA report available for public display.[5] SPAD responded by saying that there was no missing link and that the link from ITT Gombak to Klang is part of Phase 2 of the ECRL project. SPAD also said that “when the due processes are completed and the extension is ready for execution, SPAD will hold a public display of the conditionally approved railway scheme for this alignment prior to execution”[6] If the due processes have not been completed, why did the government sign a supplementary agreement with the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) during Najib’s visit to Beijing recently for Phase 2 of the ECRL Project?[7]

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament, Serdang

    [1] http://www.spad.gov.my/media-centre/media-releases/2017/public-inspection-railway-scheme-east-coast-rail-link-ecrl-opens
    [2] http://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/liow-explains-big-jump-ecrl-cost
    [3] https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/05/238867/najib-witnesses-signing-ecrl-phase-two-construction-agreement
    [4] https://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/11/187009/statement-ecrl-project-not-hastily-decided-proposed-2007
    [5] http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/379638
    [6] http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/379772
    [7] https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/05/238867/najib-witnesses-signing-ecrl-phase-two-construction-agreement

  • Pakatan Harapan will terminate PEMANDU and conduct a forensic audit of all of its activities

    Media Statement by Pakatan Harapan Manifesto and Policy Committee issued on the 5th of May, 2017

    Pakatan Harapan will terminate PEMANDU and conduct a forensic audit of all of its activities

    The Performance and Management Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) in the Prime Minister’s Department was launched by the Prime Minister with much hype in 2010. Since its creation, PEMANDU has commandeered much power and resources, spent a lot of money on publicity seeking events and took the lead in ‘spin doctoring’ many of the supposed achievements by the BN government. In reality, it has failed to deliver on its main KPI, failed to be accountable to parliament and the public and most recently, ensnared itself in possible conflict of interest situations. Upon winning GE14, Pakatan Harapan will abolish all government contracts with the newly formed PEMANDU Associates Sdn Bhd and initiate an extensive forensic audit into all of the activities of PEMANDU Corporation including disclosing the salaries of the directors of PEMANDU and all the salient financial terms payable to this private company. Instead of engaging expensive external consultants to direct the civil service, Pakatan Harapan will channel resources directly to the civil service to empower them to do their jobs professionally and to introduce reforms that will make the civil service more independent, transparent and effective.

    (i) Failure to meet its GNI per capita target for a high-income nation

    The key target outlined in the Economic Transformation Program (ETP) 2010 Roadmap Report was for Malaysia to reach a high income nation status of US$15,000 GNI per capita by 2020 (See Exhibit 1 below).


    Source: ETP Roadmap 2010, pg.9

    This target has been referred to in each of the ETP Annual Reports from 2011 to 2014 and also in the 2015 National Transformation Program Annual Report. But what is clear is that we are still very far from the US$15,000 GNI per capita target as show in Chart 1 below. In fact, Malaysia’s GNI per capita has increased by a mere US$490, from US$8636 in 2010 to US$9057 per capita in 2016, or a 4.9% in 6 years. (See Chart 1 below) Based on this statistic alone, PEMANDU has failed.

    Chart 1: GNI per capita current prices (US$) 2010 to 2016

    Source: GNI statistics are from the Department of Statistics, Exchange rate data is the World Bank data showing the average US$ to RM exchange rate for that year (Figures differ slightly from the World Bank GNI data calculated using the Atlas method)

    The issue has been previously highlighted by IDEAS Head of Research Ali Salman and raises questions as to whether Malaysia can reach the high-income nation target by 2020.[1]

    (ii)                Failure of Accountability

    In a piece in The Malaysian Insight, a PEMANDU executive stated the following: PEMANDU also reported to the EPU, the Prime Minister’s Department and was accountable to Parliament.[2] We are unsure as to what the executive’s understanding of parliamentary accountability is, but in his 6 years as a member of the cabinet, the CEO of PEMANDU, Idris Jala, never once appeared in parliament to answer any single parliamentary question that concerned PEMANDU. In fact, he never answered anything or said anything in parliament. Given that he was heading two programs – the ETP and the Government Transformation Program (GTP) – that is supposed to bring about transformational changes in the country, it is disgraceful that he found it unnecessary to answer any questions in the most important elected institution in the country. This is a massive failure from an accountability standpoint.

    In addition, even though PEMANDU published annual reports for the ETP and GTP and starting from 2015, the National Transformation Program (NTP), it di not table any of its reports in parliament nor distribute them to Members of Parliament. It does not table its own financial accounts in parliament nor tell parliament how much PEMANDU has spent for its various activities. And despite many public criticisms, it has not made known how much its staff gets paid, which according to some reports, is higher than the Prime Minister’s salary.[3]

    Furthermore, PEMANDU has the audacity to ask for RM10 million and RM15 million from the government to organize the Global Transformation Forum 2015 and 2017 respectively at the same time as it is preaching values of fiscal prudence on the part of the federal government.[4]

    While it uses the language of good corporate governance and transparency, PEMANDU does not apply any of these standards to itself.

    (iii)              Conflicts of Interest

    All of the staff of PEMANDU Corp, a 100% Ministry of Finance owned entity, has now been transferred to PEMANDU Associates Sdn Bhd, a private entity that is 50% owned by Idris Jala. Starting from 2017, PEMANDU Associates will sell its services to the government by placing its staff in key ministries to continue the NTP. At the same time, this new private entity will be free to sell its services to other government ministries, at home and abroad. Furthermore, since the beginning of 2017, Idris Jala has been occupying the position of the Chairman of Heineken Malaysia, a public listed company.

    The position of Idris Jala as the chairman of a publicly listed company and the president of a private company which is deeply embedded into the inner workings of the federal government via its work in the NTP, raises serious questions with regards to possible conflicts of interest.[5] Until today, he has not even attempted to explain these conflicts of interest.

    For these reasons and immediately upon winning GE14, Pakatan Harapan will terminate all existing contracts with PEMANDU Associates Sdn Bhd. We will initiate a forensic accounting investigation into all of the expenditure undertaken by PEMANDU Corp and BFR Institute, both of which are 100% MOF owned entities, including how much was paid to each and every celebrity speaker for the 2015 and 2017 Global Transformation Program. We will publicly disclose the salaries received by PEMANDU directors.

    Finally, rather than spending obscenely on external consultants, Pakatan Harapan will channel resources directly to the civil service to empower them to carry out its functions more independently and and professionally. Pakatan Harapan will also call upon respected retired civil servants to help us reform the civil service to its former glory days of integrity, transparency and effectiveness.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming (DAP)

    Wong Chen (PKR)

    Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (AMANAH)

    Dr Rais Hussin (PPBM)

    [1] http://www.ideas.org.my/news/press-statements/government-intervention-causing-malaysia-to-lose-competitive-edge-as-average-income-of-malaysians-drops-by-15-according-%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8B-to-latest-epu-figures/

    [2] https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/2430/

    [3] http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/149861

    [4] http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/377108

    [5] http://www.beritadaily.com/idris-position-in-pemandu-and-heineken-questionable-says-dap-man/

  • 10 questions on the Employment Insurance Scheme (EIS)

    Statement by Pakatan Harapan on the Employment Insurance Scheme (EIS) on the 28th of April, 2017

    10 questions on the Employment Insurance Scheme (EIS)

    As we approach Labour Day on the 1st of May, we acknowledge the contributions which the workers in Malaysia have made to the country. The proposed Employment Insurance Scheme (EIS) by the Prime Minister, which is expected to be tabled in parliament in the July / August 2017 sitting, has the potential to help Malaysian workers through a transition process when they have lost their jobs. But given that the details of this scheme have not been disclosed and there is no parliamentary committee set up on look at the issue of jobs, employment and the economy, there remains many questions to be asked about the EIS.

    Here, we pose the following 10 questions to be answered so that there can be greater confidence that the EIS will be an effective program to help the workers in our country.

    1)                  Retrenchment compensation is currently spelled out in the Employment Act 1955 and the Employment Termination and Lay-Off Benefits (ETLB) Regulations 1980. Will the retrenchment compensation continue to be paid out by the employer after the introduction of the EIS? Will workers be worse off in the long run if retrenchment benefits are cut / abolished as part of a package deal for introducing the EIS?

    2)                  The estimated amount collected will be between RM700m to RM800m a year (based on 0.25% Employers and Employees contribution, 6.5m workers, RM2000 salary). How much will the administrative costs be? Will it be as high as 25% of the amount collected as some reports have indicated?

    3)                  Since the EIS is an insurance scheme like SOCSO, does this mean that employees won’t be able to get back these funds if they don’t get retrenched in their lifetime? How much disposable income will the EIS scheme take away from the regular worker over their lifetimes?

    4)                  How with the EIS funds be managed? Will it be managed in the same manner as the SOCSO funds which has delivered returns that, on average, are lower than EPF’s returns?

    5)                  One of the purpose of the EIS is to help retrain and reskill workers who have lost their jobs. How will these retraining and reskilling programs be different from existing programs which are being implemented by the government such as Skim Latihan 1 Malaysia (SKIM) and others? The government must provide a convincing case that the provision of retraining schemes under EIS will be more effective than current programs.

    6)                  There are already existing training schemes provided and paid for by the sums collected from employers and managed by the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF). There have been numerous reports that more than RM100m of this fund has not been used by employers for retraining purposes. Can existing HRDF scheme be utilised better for retraining purposes? What is to say that the proposed EIS scheme will not end up like the HRDF scheme i.e. lots of unused funds that are not put into retraining schemes?

    7)                  Initial reports indicate that only those workers who are currently being covered by SOSCO i.e. those earning less than RM4000 a month will be eligible for the EIS scheme. But many middle-income workers are also being retrenched these days including those in the financial industry and the oil and gas industry. What kinds of plans and programs does the government have to help these workers who are in the M40 category?

    8)                  Estimates by Malaysian trade unions show that workers lose between RM50 million to RM100 million a year from lost compensation as a result of companies going bankrupt but RM700 million to RM800 million will be collected from the EIS scheme, half of which are coming from workers. Is this an effective approach to solving the non-compensation issue?

    9)                  One of the main reasons why workers at the lower end of the economic spectrum are losing their jobs is because of employer preference for foreign workers. If the government does not have a comprehensive plan to reduce our reliance on foreign workers, how effective will the EIS scheme be? How easy will it be for the workers who have lost their jobs to find new jobs, especially when they have to compete with lower paid foreign workers?

    10)               Some countries in Asia which have employment insurance schemes also feature government contributions to these schemes (Thailand – 0.25%, Taiwan – 0.1%, Vietnam – 1%). Has the government considered having its own contribution to this scheme to decrease the financial burden on employers and employees alike?

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming, DAP
    Sim Tze Sin, PKR
    Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad, AMANAH
    Dr Rais Hussin, BERSATU

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