• Why hasn’t Prime Minister Najib spoken up against President Trump’s announcement to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement?

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 3rd of June, 2017

    Why hasn’t Prime Minister Najib spoken up against President Trump’s announcement to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement?

    President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, signed by 195 countries in 2015, on Thursday, 1st of June, 2017. Immediately, a number of world leaders responded by criticizing Trump’s decision as well as to reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron chimed in on the US decision[1] while China[2] and Russia[3] reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement.

    I commend and agree with the statement made by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, when he said that “Malaysia would like to express its profound regret and deep concern at the latest action by the United States of America”.[4]

    But the silence, till now, from our Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, is deafening. While Malaysia was one of 30 countries which was part of the joint communique issued at the end of the Old Belt One Road Conference in China in May this year, where the commitment of the Paris Climate Change Agreement was reaffirmed, the recent declaration from Trump necessitates a response from the leader of our government, who is our Prime Minister.

    Is Prime Minister Najib staying quiet on this issue as part of a larger strategy not to offend President Trump so as to get the Department of Justice to drop the 1MDB kleptocracy case and not to pursue the individuals involved, including Jho Low? Let us wait to see how long Najib maintains his deafening silence on this issue.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/02/world/europe/paris-agreement-merkel-trump-macron.html?_r=0

    [2] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/world/europe/climate-paris-agreement-trump-china.html

    [3] http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/russia-paris-agreement-climate-change-donald-trump-us-decision-global-warming-moscow-putin-a7766481.html

    [4] https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/4203/

  • Is the Election Commission (EC) trying to add voters via the ‘back door’ to help the BN win the next General Election?

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 31st of May, 2017

    Is the Election Commission (EC) trying to add voters via the ‘back door’ to help the BN win the next General Election?

    I was shocked when I received a photo yesterday of the display of new voters for the First Quarter, 2017 at the offices of the Selangor Election Commission in Shah Alam. In the picture, it was stated that the list of voters displayed were “Pameran Senarai Tuntutuan” or Display of List Based on Claims (See Figure 1 below).

    Figure 1: Display of List based on Claims at the Selangor Election Commission office in Shah Alam

    As far as I know, this is the first time where I have seen a display of a list of voters based on ‘tuntutan’ or claims. Unlike the display of the quarterly “Rang Daftar Pemilih Tambahan (RDPT)”, the Election Commission did not make any media statement to notify the public that these additional names to be added into the electoral roll were on display nor did the Election Commission display these names in locations in each of the parliamentary areas in Selangor.

    The EC is making use of a little used and little known section of the Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002 – Section 14 – which states the following:

    Section 14 of the Regulations is supposed to address the problem of genuine mistakes by the Election Commission, for example, in the case where an EC staff forget to input a name into the latest RDPT or for some reason, the information of a voter who registers at a post office fails to be included in the latest RDPT.

    However, according to data collected by PEMUDA AMANAH, a total of 28416 voters were added using Section 14 of the Regulations in this most recent display including 1,170 voters in Selangor (See Figure 2 below). Does the EC expected us to believe that it somehow ‘forgot’ to include over 28,000 voters in the RDPT for Quarter 1, 2017? In addition, why is there a big rush on the part of the EC to add these voters now rather than to wait until the public display of the RDPT for Quarter 2, 2017? Is it because the EC wants to make sure that these voters are on the electoral roll if the General Elections were to be called in September?

    Figure 2: Number of voters added using Section 14 of the Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002
    Source: PEMUDA AMANAH

    An analysis of the voters added in Selangor shows that all of the voters added are based in military camps and / or are military voters and their spouses (See sample in Figure 3 below). Let me clearly state that I am not objecting to the addition of army voters into the electoral roll. Rather, I am questioning the procedure by which they have been added.

    I have written to the Director of the Selangor Election Commission to explain the addition of these voters and why they were not added during the public display of the first quarter, 2017, of the RDPT. The failure of the EC to provide an adequate explanation will jeopardise public trust in the integrity of the electoral roll.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    Figure 3: Sample of Military voters added via Section 14 of the Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002

  • 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

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