• The Prime Minister must instruct Ismail Sabri to retract his statement and to apologize for his baseless accusations

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 3rd of February 2015

    The Prime Minister must instruct Ismail Sabri to retract his statement and to apologize for his baseless accusations

    Article 3 (1) e of the Sedition Act states that “A ‘seditious tendency’ is a tendency—to promote feelings of ill will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia.”

    The Facebook statement by the Minister of Agriculture and Agro Industry, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri, which called for Malays to boycott Chinese traders, has undoubtedly raised feelings of ill will and hatred among Malays towards not just Chinese traders but the Chinese community in general.

    This is evident by some of the comments on Ismail Sabri’s Facebook page, a few of which are featured below:

    There is a comment which characterizes Chinese traders as leeches and calls for the Malays to declare war on this group of people. There is a comment which accuses the Chinese of insulting the Malays. There is a comment which says that the Chinese are ‘bangsat’, an insulting and vulgar term. There is a comment which uses this example as ‘proof’ that the Malays are being victimized by the Chinese.

    Ismail Sabri’s statement is baseless, irresponsible and has heightened feelings of hatred and ill will towards the Chinese in general.

    There are many reasons why traders, regardless of race, have not decreased their prices even though the price of petrol has dropped. The price of petrol comprises a small component of the cost of goods. Even though the price of petrol has dropped, the wages of workers have not dropped, the price of electricity has not dropped, the price of cooking gas has not dropped, and the price of cars have not dropped, just to give a few examples. In addition, because of the depreciation of the ringgit, the price of imported goods have not only not dropped but have increased!

    I call upon the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, as a Prime Minister who is tasked with the responsibility of safeguarding ethnic relations between the races in our country, to instruct Ismail Sabri to apologize for his statement and to retract his baseless accusations against the Chinese traders. If the Prime Minister fails to do so, he should take his 1 Malaysia slogan and throw it in the dustbin.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

  • Restore Local Elections to increase accountability, to better reflect local representation and to increase transparency

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, 25th of January, 2015

    Restore Local Elections to increase accountability, to better reflect local representation and to increase transparency

    PAS President Tuan Guru Hadi Awang, in a statement on the 23rd of January, rejected the need for local elections on the basis that it would promote instability, increase the gap between rural and urban development and could lead to another May 13th in the country.[1]

    Rather than respond to these baseless assertions, I would like to make the case for why we need local elections, more than ever. Bringing back local elections will increase the level of local accountability, will better reflect political representation at the local level and will increase transparency in local council and district spending decisions.

    Increase Local Accountability

    Having served as an MP for one and a half years and having worked with councillors in the Subang Jaya and Kajang local councils (MPSj and MPKj respectively), I understand and appreciate the role of local councillors much more than before. Local councillors, in many ways, represent the first responders to the problems faced by residents be it the illegal dumping of rubbish, clogged drains or potholes. In a mature democracy, elected representatives at the national and state levels should focus on legislative matters while local councillors should focus on matters to do with the local council.

    In Malaysia, local councillors are appointed by the state government. Many of them are unknown to local residents, even in the areas which they are supposed to take care of. One of the main reasons behind the relative anonymity of the local councillors is because they are not elected. I can assure you that any elected representative in Malaysia would have gotten telephone calls asking for us to take care of their rubbish problems because “we elected you”. They cannot say the same of the local councillors.

    In the current set-up, local councillors are beholden to the parties which appoint them rather than to the residents whom they are supposed to service. While a non-performing councillor may not continue to receive the recommendation from the elected MP or ADUN to continue his term as a councillor, the question of accountability still remains. A poorly performing councillor can remain in his position as long as he is ‘protected’ by the party. In areas where the elected representative is from a different party from the councillor, the line of reporting and accountability becomes even less clear.

    Hence, local elections are the most effective way to restore the link between residents and their local councillor. Local councillors will have to campaign in order to be elected. They will have to make election pledges and produce election manifestos. Their profile among residents will be raised. Their accountability to the residents who voted them into office will also increase. This is arguably the most important reasons for the restoration of local elections.

    Better reflection of local political representation

    As it stands, it is a zero sum game at the local council level for political parties. Whoever controls the state government, controls the appointment of ALL councillors regardless of political support of the respective parties at the local level.

    For example, PAS may have won all four state seats and the parliaments seat of Kuala Terengganu but they have no representation whatsoever in the Kuala Terengganu City Council. Similarly, UMNO won 7 out of the 21 state seats in Seberang Prai but they have zero representation in the Seberang Perai Municipal Council. Pakatan Rakyat won 9 out of 11 parliament seats in KL but have no representation whatsoever in Kuala Lumpur City Council.

    Restoring local elections would better reflect the local political representation for all sides be it Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat.

    Local elections will not necessarily result in DAP dominating the contests in urban areas for two reasons. Firstly, the emergence of other parties and political forces will likely be the strongest in the urban areas. It will not be surprisingly for candidates representing green interests or even a green party to win representative in local council elections. Single issue candidates such as an anti-KIDEX or a pro-animal position are much more likely to win local council elections in Petaling Jaya compared to non-urban districts where mobilization based on a single issue is much more challenging.

    Secondly, the ethnic composition of many of the urban councils have changed significantly since the May 13th incident in 1969. The large migration of Malays from the rural to the urban areas have made areas like Kuala Lumpur very different from today from what it was in 1969. According to the 2010 census data, the Malay population in Wilayah Persekutuan KL (45.9%) outnumber the Chinese population (43.2%). In fact, out of the 3 city halls, 9 city councils and 37 municipal councils in Malaysia, only 6 have populations where the Chinese outnumber the Malays – Ipoh, Kuching Selantan, Johor Bahru Tengah, Pulau Pinang, Sibu and Subang Jaya![2] In other words, 88% of these large urban areas have a plurality and in most cases, a majority, of Malay residents. Even in a place like Petaling Jaya, the Malay population (46.2%) outnumber the Chinese population (39.6%)! (See Appendix 1 below)

    While the Malays may be slightly under represented in the voting population in some of these urban areas because of their younger demographic profile, it is clearly wrong to say that the DAP will dominate local elections on the basis that urban areas are largely Chinese dominated.

    More transparency in the budgetary process

    My final argument as to why local elections need to be restored is in term of budgetary transparency and oversight. Currently, there is very little debate or deliberation as to how a local council’s budget is allocated. This matters since it determines how many playgrounds get upgraded, how many overhead bridges get built, how much is spend on rubbish collection and public cleansing, how much is used for landscaping, just to give a few examples.

    With a more accountable elected local council coupled with a more politically accurate representation of local councillors, there will be a better check and balance over how the local council budget will be spent. Similar to how the opposition at the federal and state levels are supposed to scrutinize the government budgets of the federal and state governments, a more representative council should also do the same for the local council budget.

    Conclusion

    While there may be some legitimate concerns over having local elections e.g. the kind of electoral system to use, the specific powers of the local councillors, who can vote in these elections, just to mention a few, the possibility of a May 13th like event happening as a result of local elections is not one of them.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    Appendix 1: Ethnic Composition of the 3 City Halls, 9 City Councils and 37 Municipal Councils in Malaysia according to the 2010 Census Data

    [1] http://m.harakahdaily.net/index.php/presiden/33425-pembangunan-bandar-bermasyarakat-madani

    [2] Some of these places have since been upgraded to city councils e.g. Petaling Jaya

  • Will the operating expenditure of our public universities be cut in the latest budget revision?

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 23rd of January 2015

    Will the operating expenditure of our public universities be cut in the latest budget revision?

    In PM Najib’s recent announcement on the revision to the 2015 Budget, the largest expenditure rationalisation item was an RM3.2 billion review of transfers and grants to statutory bodies, GLCs and Government Trust Funds, particularly those with a steady revenue stream and high reserves. This is a significant expenditure review and the institutions involved need to know how much of their operational budget will be cut. Of interest to the public is whether and how much funding to the public universities will be affected as a result of this expenditure review.

    According to the Economic Report 2014-2015, grants to statutory bodies from the operation expenditure was an estimated RM16.7 billion. A large proportion of these grants are allocated to public institutions of higher learning i.e. our public universities. All of our public universities, with the exception of the International Islamic University, are statutory bodies.

    According to the 2015 Budget Expenditure Estimates, RM7.4 billion was allocated for the operational expenditure of 20 public universities. This represents 44% of the total RM16.7 billion allocated to statutory bodies. It seems unlikely that our public universities will not suffer budget cuts as a result of the RM3.2 billion expenditure review for the allocation to statutory bodies, GLCs and Government Trust Funds. The question is, by how much?

    There are more than 120 statutory bodies at the federal level, at least 10 Government Trust Funds and numerous GLCs, most of which receive at least some funding from the federal government.

    But because of PM Najib’s failure to table the breakdown of his budget revisions in Parliament, Members of Parliament and I suspect that the affected statutory bodies, GLCs and Government Trust Funds themselves do not know whether or not they have been affected by these expenditure reviews.

    It would be unfair for our public universities to suffer major budget cuts when other programs and expenditure items such as the RM30.7 million allocated to PERMATA under the Prime Minister’s Department go unscathed.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    Appendix 1: Allocation to the 20 public universities from the 2015 Budget Expenditure Estimates

  • How can PM Najib convince sceptics about his budget revisions when he himself can’t get the figures right?

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 22nd of January, 2015

    How can PM Najib convince sceptics about his budget revisions when he himself can’t get the figures right?

    On the 21st of January, 2015, the day after PM Najib made his announcement on revisions to the 2015 budget, the Edge carried a story entitled “Market seems sceptical about revised Budget 2015”. Some of the scepticism revolves around over-optimistic projects about the average oil price in 2015 as well as the government’s ability to keep to its projected revenue and expenditure promises.

    But PM Najib’s own inconsistent budget figures probably made it more difficult to sceptics to believe the accuracy of the revised numbers.

    Firstly, PM Najib announced that the “Development Expenditure of RM48.5 billion for 2015 will be maintained and spent.”[1] This statement by PM Najib is highly confusing since in his 2015 Budget Speech, the development expenditure was announced to be RM50.5 for 2015.

    Just to make sure, I checked the Budget Estimates and the latest circular from the Treasury and both of these documents confirm that the development expenditure set aside for 2015 is indeed RM50.5 billion.[2]

    While a difference of RM2.0 billion may not seem like a lot to PM Najib given than it represents less than 1% of the overall budget, this kind of discrepancy calls into question whether or not he has a good grasp of the exact estimates of the revised budget deficit in absolute terms.

    In his speech on Tuesday, 20th of January, he also stated that the “Consensus among economists is that the forecast price of USD100 per barrel used in the 2015 Budget is no longer realistic. They now estimate the average oil price in 2015 to range from USD40 to USD70 per barrel.”

    But according to the Treasury’s Estimates of Government Revenue 2015, the oil price used to calculate the 2015 budget was USD105 per barrel and not the USD100 stated by PM Najib in his speech on Tuesday. A difference of USD5 per barrel is not a small amount. A change in the estimate for the price of oil from USD110 per barrel in 2014 to USD105 per barrel in 2015 resulted in an estimated decrease of RM2.675 billion in the Petroleum Income tax from RM28.275 billion in 2014 to RM25.6 billion in 2015 representing a 9.5% decrease.

    While PM Najib and those in the Ministry of Finance may argue that the difference of USD5 per barrel is as a result of using the price of the Tapis blend of crude oil which is found in Malaysian waters and sells at a premium to Crude Oil Brent [3], these seeming discrepancies raises doubts as to the accuracy of the revised budget figures presented by Najib.

    It was telling that PM Najib choose not to present a revised estimated budget deficit figure but instead presented the revised budget deficit as a % of GDP, in this case 3.2% versus 3.0% for the originally announced budget. The estimated budget deficit for 2015 was RM38.7 billion according to Najib’s 2015 budget speech last year but no new figure was given during the revised budget speech. Could it be that Najib himself is unsure of what the estimated budget deficit is in absolute terms, after the most recent budget revisions?

    These discrepancies and many other related questions pertaining to the revised budget is why we feel it is absolutely necessary for Najib to table the revised budget in parliament so that Members of Parliament can seek greater clarification during the ensuing budget debate and the two Finance Ministers as well as the two Deputy Finance Ministers can illuminate us and the larger public regarding these revised budget figures.

    As it is, PM Najib, with his inconsistent figures, have not convinced his sceptics in the market nor many of his fellow MPs in the Dewan Rakyat.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] http://www.pmo.gov.my/home.php?menu=speech&page=1676&news_id=749&speech_cat=2# (English version) The BM version gives the same figure of RM48.5 billion in development expenditure: http://www.pmo.gov.my/home.php?menu=speech&page=1676&news_id=748&speech_cat=2#

    [2] http://www.treasury.gov.my/pekeliling/topik/PB1.2.pdf

    [3] http://www.petronas.com.my/media-relations/media-releases/Pages/article/RELATIONSHIP-BETWEEN-CRUDE-OIL-AND-PETROLEUM-PRODUCT-PRICES.aspx

  • Did the Election Commission choose not to increase parliament seats in the Sarawak delimitation to bulldoze the exercise in time for the next Sarawak state elections?

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 8th of January 2015

    Did the Election Commission choose not to increase parliament seats in the Sarawak delimitation to bulldoze the exercise in time for the next Sarawak state elections?

    The recent Sarawak delimitation exercise, which officially began on Monday, 5th of January, 2015, with a public display of the maps in Sarawak was shocking because for the first time in Sarawak’s history, state seats were added without a single increase in the number of parliament seats.

    Table 1 below shows the number of parliament and state seats added in each of the 5 delimitation exercises since 1968. With the exception of the 1968 and 1977 delimitation exercises where no parliament and state seats were added in Sarawak, in each of the past three delimitation exercises in 1986, 1996 and 2005, both parliament and state seats were added in Sarawak.

    In the recently revealed Sarawak delimitation exercise, a record number of new state seats – 11 – have been proposed by the Election Commission. This would increase the number of state seats in Sarawak from the current 71 to a proposed 82 state seats.

    What is the rationale for increasing the number of state seats by 11 but not adding a single parliament seat? If an increase in the voting population is used to justify the increase in state seats, why should that rationale not apply to parliament seats as well?

    One cannot help but suspect that the real reason why there were no parliament seats added is because this would require a constitutional amendment at the parliamentary level where the BN does not possess a two-thirds majority. If new parliament seats were proposed, then the whole Sarawak delimitation exercise may be delayed because it may get stuck at the parliamentary level.

    The non-increase in the number of parliament seats while at the same time increase in state seats is a clear indication that the Election Commission is not complying with democratic principles but is bowing down to political expediency in wanting to bulldoze the new Sarawak delimitation exercise in time for the Sarawak state elections, due by 2016. Once again, this shows the non-independence of the Election Commission and its failure to produce an independent, fair and transparent delimitation exercise. Political parties, civil society organizations and members of the public who are concerned about upholding free and fair elections must join together to reject this unfair and undemocratic Sarawak delimitation exercise.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

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