• Malaysia safest country in South-East Asia. Really?

    The issue of crime, especially in the urban areas, has once again surfaced as a hot political issue.

    NONEHome Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was quoted as saying that the fear of crime is a result of ‘public perception’ while Pemandu chief executive officer Idris Jala was reported as having asked the media to focus more on the crimes that have been solved, rather than those which have been committed.

    Meanwhile, DAP MP for Petaling Jaya Utara Tony Pua seems to have been given conflicting sets of crime data on Selangor and has called for Pemandu and the Home Ministry to release detailed crime statistics by the type of crime and the places where they were committed.

    It is very difficult to question the validity of the crime statistics since this data is collected, compiled and later disseminated to the various ministries and later the public at large by the police. An in-depth audit is required in order to get a better handle on the veracity of these statistics.

    However, what we can do is to take a closer look at some of the international indexes which the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and various ministers including the prime minister, the home minister and the Pemandu CEO have used as ‘external validation’ that the National Key Results Area (NKRA) on reducing crime is working as planned.

    This ‘evidence’ falls apart upon closer examination.

    1) Global Peace Index

    Take the Global Peace Index (GPI) as an example. The 2011 Government Transformation Programme Annual Report says:

    “In the fifth edition of the Global Peace Index (GPI) released in May 2011, Malaysia was declared the most peaceful country in South-East Asia and the fourth safest in the Asia Pacific region behind New Zealand, Japan and Australia.

    “The country rose three spots to 19th place, supplanting Singapore as the highest-ranked South-East Asian nation.

    “In its GPI rankings, the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace also placed Malaysia as the 19th safest and most peaceful country out of 153 nations worldwide. This is the fifth successive year that Malaysia has improved on its GPI score.”

    None other than Prime Minister Najib Razak has used Malaysia’s ranking on the latest 2012 GPI to argue that “one of our country’s achievements that we should be proud of is our ranking by the Global Peace Index, which ranked Malaysia as the safest country in South-East Asia.”

    NONEBut what should be made clear is that safety and security is only one of the three broad themes which the GPI is concerned about – the other two being ‘the extent of domestic or international conflict’ and ‘the degree of militarisation’.

    This index is made up of 23 sub-indicators out of which only six have direct connection to crime and safety.

    These are: (i) level of perceived criminality in society, (ii) number of internal security officers and police per 100,000, (iii) number of homicides per 100,000, (iv) number of jailed population per 100,000, (v) ease of access to small weapons and light weapons, and (vi) level of violent crimes.

    All the other indicators have to do with military conflicts and military expenditure and political and civil violence. Out of the six sub-indicators which are linked to crime, only one – the number of jailed population per 100,000 – have improved since 2007.

    (We are jailing fewer people as a percentage of the population which doesn’t necessarily mean that crime has fallen. We may be less efficient in catching criminals and putting them behind bars).


    The rest have remained the same. Where we have made improvements is by decreasing military expenditure as a percentage of GDP, the number of armed personnel per 100,000 and in our relations with our neighbours (below). All are laudable achievements but have nothing to do with the state of crime and safety in our country.


    The GPI cannot be used as evidence that Malaysia has become ‘safer’ than Singapore under the GTP.

    Yes, Malaysia became more ‘peaceful’ than Singapore in 2010 according to this index. But this was driven largely by a significant increase in the number of military imports to and exports from Singapore, which obviously has nothing to do with crime and safety.

    In the latest 2012 GPI, Malaysia is ranked 20, three spots ahead of Singapore, which is at 23. It would a very brave (or ignorant) man to say that Malaysia is safer than Singapore from a crime and safety perspective.

    And in fact, this is not what the index is trying to say since crime and safety is less than one third of the total indicators. It is therefore misleading for to use this indicator in the GTP 2011 Annual Report as evidence that the NKRA on reducing crime has been successful.

    It is even more misleading for Najib to equate the Global Peace Index to safety and then make the leap to claim that Malaysia is the safest country in Southeast Asia.

    2) Positive Peace Index

    Sadly, the prime minister forgot to read the second part of the Global Peace Index (GPI) where details of a new index, the Positive Peace Index, were unveiled.

    According to the GPI report, “the Positive Peace Index (PPI) is a measure of the strength of the attitudes, institutions, and structures of 108 nations to determine their capacity to create and maintain a peaceful society.”

    It is important to note that the PPI is not a measure of crime and safety but rather, it describes ‘the optimum environment for peace to flourish’.

    The components of this index include the following domains: (i) well-functioning government, (ii) sound business environment, (iii) equitable distribution of resources, (iv) acceptance of the rights of others, (v) good relations with neighbours, (v) free flow of information, (vi) high levels of education, and (vii) low levels of corruption.

    According to the PPI, Malaysia is ranked at 47 out of 108 countries.

    More worryingly, Malaysia is flagged as one the top 10 countries with the largest positive peace deficit, which is the difference between a country’s GPI and PPI rank.


    These countries with a high positive peace deficit are described as “relatively peaceful but theoretically lack the institutions to adequately deal with external shocks or move closer to peace”. These high deficits also “suggest that while these countries have relatively moderate levels of violence, they comparatively lack positive peace”, meaning that they are “vulnerable to external shock or violence”.

    In the Malaysian context, for example, this deficit, which points to shortcomings in the rule of law and respect for democratic rights and due process, may indicate a future rise in violence in the event that there is a transition in power at the federal level.

    3) World Justice Report’s Rule of Law Index 2011

    According to the GTP Annual Report 2011, “the World Justice Project (WJP)’s Rule of Law Index 2011 too has ranked Malaysia safest among 19 upper-middle income countries and 12th globally.

    “Malaysia’s 12th position out of 66 countries covered under the WJP’s assessment on ‘Order and Security’, has placed the country ahead of the United States (13th position), followed by Britain, Belgium and France.”

    But only one in three of the components of the ‘Order and Security’ factor have to do with crime and safety. The WJP assessment on the extent to which ‘Crime is effectively controlled’ is the most relevant component.

    ‘Civil conflict is effectively limited’ is an assessment of the extent of armed conflict and terrorism in the country, which Malaysia is thankfully free from but is also not directly related to crime and safety. A drug-infested area, for example, may have little civil conflict but would have a high crime rate.

    ‘People do not resort to violence to redress personal grievances’ is the third component of this factor and while we should be thankful that vigilante justice is not practiced in Malaysia, this is not a measure which directly touches on crime and safety. Malaysia’s ranking for these three components are 37, 1 and 6 respectively (out of 66 countries).

    NONEIn other words, Malaysia’s ranking of 12 out of 66 in this index is largely driven by the fact that we do not have any serious civil conflicts and that we do not practice mob or vigilante justice or revenge killing.

    For the one component which actually relates to crime directly, Malaysia did poorly, coming in at 37 out of 66, putting it at sixth position in South-East Asia – behind Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

    The GTP Annual Report also fails to highlight the fact that Malaysia was ranked 33 out of 66 on ‘Effective Criminal Justice’, the other crime and safety-related indicator in the WJP Rule of Law Index 2011.

    NONEWhile Malaysia’s ranking on some of the sub-components are commendable, e.g. 18th for ‘Crimes are effectively investigated’ and 14th for ‘Crimes are effectively and timely adjudicated’, its performance on other components which contribute to the overall crime and safety environment are quite appalling, for example, 49th for ‘The correctional system is effective in reducing criminal behaviour’ and 57th in ‘The criminal justice system is free of improper government influence’.

    4) World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Report

    The GTP Annual Report 2011 says: “In the 2011 Global Competitiveness Report (GCR) conducted by the World Economic Forum in the sub-category of ‘Business Costs of Crime and Violence’, Malaysia’s ranking improved by 30 positions from 93rd in 2010 to 63rd place in 2011.”

    Malaysia’s ranking in the ‘Business Costs of Crime and Violence’ sub-category did improve by 30 places from 93 in 2010-2011 to 63 in 2011-2012. Indeed, Malaysia’s ranking on the ‘Organised Crime’ ranking also improved from a high of 83 in 2009/2010 to 54 in 2011-2012.

    NONEBut if these rankings are to be used as ‘external validation’ for the success of the ‘Reducing Crime’ NKRA, then an explanation also has to be provided as to why Malaysia’s ranking for the reliability of police services, at 39, although an improvement from the 50th ranking in 2010/2011, is still worse than the 2008-2009 ranking of 37.

    ‘Publicity first, deception now’

    It is frankly silly to erroneously quote indexes as ‘evidence’ that Malaysia is safe country from a crime and safety perspective, especially if the index in question – the Global Peace Index – only partly measures crime and safety.

    For indexes such as the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law 2011, an examination of the components of the ‘Order and Security’ factor shows that Malaysia does poorly in the only component which measures crime and safety.

    police crime roadblock frontimageEven for the Global Competitiveness Report sub-category rankings which measure crime and safety, one important measure – ‘the reliability of police services’ – actually shows a result that it is worse than the 2008-2009 figure.

    If street crime has dropped by 40 percent since 2009 as reported in the GTP 2011 Annual Report and if these results are genuine and can be sustained, the public would naturally feel safer and perhaps even have the confidence to terminate the services of the private security companies which patrol most of the middle-class neighborhoods in the Klang Valley.

    If it was truly ‘People First, Performance Now’ rather than ‘Publicity First, Deception Now’, the people will validate the results by voting with their feet by walking on the streets without being scared of snatch thieves and robbers.

    Indeed, there will be no need for ‘external validation’ to tell the people what they are already experiencing for themselves.

    ONG KIAN MING holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University. His house was attacked by three thugs while he was doing research for this article. His account of the attack can be read here.

    This article was published by Malaysiakini.

  • Dissecting the ETP Annual Report (Part 5): The EPPs do not seem to be creating high-income jobs

    Capital intensity is very low in the ETP so far. An increasing level of capital investment per employee (CIPE) is an essential part of economic development. Higher CIPE usually translates into higher salaries due to the higher skills and productivity associated with working with more efficient machines and technology. Therefore, the ETP is expected to have high CIPE.

    PEMANDU is not doing much better than BAU. On the surface, the RM571,000 CIPE of the ETP projects last year is above the average RM554,000 achieved by the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA) in the last five years of business-as-usual (BAU). However, the ETP total includes the MRT and RAPID mega-projects. Stripping these out, the CIPE of the remaining ETP projects is a mere RM305,000 — well below what MIDA has been achieving.

    Electrical & Electronics (E&E) EPPs seem low-end. PEMANDU may say the headline comparisons are unfair as the ETP includes projects that may not be as capital intensive as the manufacturing projects under MIDA’s purview. But then, even in the E&E sector, we find that the ETP projects brought in a mere RM429,000 CIPE last year. MIDA delivered more than that in four out of the previous five years, the 2009 crisis year excluded.

    The ETP will not transform the lives of ordinary Malaysians. Notice that PEMANDU’s communiqués focus on investment numbers and projects. There is hardly any mention of the types of jobs created. That could be because most of the jobs are low-skilled. The bottom 36 per cent of ETP jobs will pay just RM1,122 per month in today’s terms. And as we show in today’s focus paper, the low capital intensity of the ETP projects underlines the lack of real transformation.

    ● The ETP is not doing better than business-as-usual (BAU, as PEMANDU puts it) in attracting high-value investments.

    ● Excluding the MRT and RAPID mega-projects, capital intensity per employee in the ETP projects is a mere RM305,000.

    ● MIDA achieved a much better RM554,000 average capital intensity in the last five years!

    ● Rising capital intensity per employee is an essential part of economic development. In this regard, the ETP is certainly far from transformative.

    Previously, in our dissection of the 2011 Annual Report of the ETP:

    Part 1 (The “D”ata in our DEEDS framework) highlighted how PEMANDU very adroitly masks the fact that real national income growth last year was below its target;

    Part 2 (“E”xecution) unearthed the shocking case of PEMANDU lying and taking “100 per cent” credit in its Annual Report for a RM1.9 billion wafer fab plant that was never built;

    Part 3 (“E”nterprise) uncovered the startling gap between committed and actual investments. The RM12.9 billion of actual investments is a mere 7 per cent of the RM179 billion committed investments that PEMANDU prefers to emphasise;

    Part 4 (“D”iversity) revealed that PEMANDU’s “recalibration” of the ETP figures is better described as a massive collapse. The incremental GNI (Gross National Income) and job creation numbers were slashed by 45 per cent and nearly 20 per cent respectively. Were some EPPs selected based on grossly exaggerated forecasts?

    Socio-economic impact — the ETP is for the elites 

    This week, in our series critiquing PEMANDU and the Economic Transformation Program (ETP) 2011 Annual Report, we tackle the socio-economic impact of the ETP. We had earlier highlighted that:

    1. The ETP will take us further away from sustainable high-income status. Workers’ share of national income under the ETP will be just 21 per cent compared to 28 per cent currently. The share that goes to corporations will be 74 per cent, much higher than the current 67 per cent;

    2. The ETP will perpetuate income inequality. Of the small 21 per cent share of ETP national income going to workers, the top 15 per cent of wage earners will take 40 per cent of all wages. The bottom 36 per cent will have to make do with just 12 per cent of total wages;

    3. A significant number of ETP jobs pay poorly. The average wage of the bottom 36 per cent of ETP jobs is just RM1,122 per month in today’s terms.

    The ETP Roadmap Report was published in October 2010. Now, less than 18 months into this Roadmap that is supposed to take us to high-income nation status, PEMANDU slashed the job creation numbers by nearly 20 per cent in the ETP Annual Report but has not told us which jobs were lost and how this will affect the distribution of income under the ETP.

    Capital intensity is a measure of economic development

    In the absence of information from PEMANDU, we use capital intensity as an indicator of the types of jobs that the ETP created in 2011. An increasing level of capital investment per employee (CIPE) is part and parcel of the economic development process. Developed economies have a higher level of CIPE compared to less developed countries.

    Higher CIPE usually translates into higher salaries due to the higher levels of skills and productivity associated with working with more efficient machines and technology. For example, multinational enterprises in Japan tend to employ a higher amount of capital per worker and this is associated with higher productivity and wages. MIDA, the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority, has this to say in its 2011 report:

    The CIPE ratio of manufacturing projects has registered an increasing trend  … This reflects the general trend towards more capital-intensive, high value-added and high technology projects.

    Given the ETP’s promise of transformation, we would expect the capital investment per employee of its projects to be significantly higher than those of MIDA-approved projects which had been driving business-as-usual (BAU, as PEMANDU puts it) growth before PEMANDU came along.

    Overall investment per job in the ETP is abysmal

    The CIPE ratio is not the only measure of the kinds of jobs which will be created as a result of certain levels of capital investment. But it is an important measure, and on this metric, the latest data from the 2011 ETP Annual Report shows a dismayingly low level of capital intensity.

    The RM571,000 CIPE of the ETP projects is only slightly above the RM554,000 average achieved by MIDA in the last five years between 2006 and 2011. The amount of CIPE in the ETP does not seem to promise transformation or high-income jobs beyond what MIDA has achieved.

    The headline numbers actually flatter the ETP, because the ETP total is boosted by mega-projects. Just two mega-projects — the MRT and the RAPID project — comprised more than 50 per cent of the total committed investment of the ETP as at the end of 2011.

    Stripping these two mega-projects out, the capital investment per employee of the remaining EPPs is a minuscule RM305,000 — which is about half the RM554,000 CIPE that MIDA-approved projects averaged from 2006 to 2011!

    The Electrical & Electronic EPPs seem low-end

    Of course, PEMANDU may say that we are unfairly comparing rambutans to durians, as the nature of the ETP is such that it includes many projects that may not be capital intensive in the same way as the manufacturing projects that are under MIDA’s purview.  Let us then focus on the Electronics and Electrical (E&E) sector. The ETP projects under the E&E NKEA (National Key Economic Area) brought in a mere RM429,000 capital investment per employee in 2011. This pales in comparison to MIDA’s achievements. Excluding the 2009 crisis year, MIDA achieved a CIPE range of RM414,000-RM520,000 in the past five years. In fact, except for 2009, MIDA outstripped the ETP’s RM429,000 in four out of the past five years.

    Anecdotal evidence supports the view that some Entry Point Projects (EPPs) are far from transformative. For example, industry sources tell us that the LFoundry EPP planned to relocate old equipment from its plant in Germany to produce 200mm wafers in Malaysia. State-of-the-art wafer fabs such as in Singapore are already producing more technologically advanced 300mm wafers.

    The ETP will not transform the lives of ordinary Malaysians

    The very low capital investment per employee is one important indicator of the fatal flaw of the ETP — that it will not transform the lives of the vast majority of Malaysians.

    Notice that PEMANDU’s communiqués focus on investment numbers and projects. There is hardly any mention of the soft infrastructure necessary to take us to sustainable high-income status. For example, what skills and job types will be required in the 3.3 million jobs that the ETP promises to create? Accountants? Lawyers? Electrical engineers? Chemical engineers? Tour guides? Plumbers? Plantation workers? Doctors? Nurses? Technicians? Farmers?

    Information on the types of jobs that the ETP will create is crucial to other divisions of the government as well as ordinary Malaysians. For example, surely the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labour would need to tailor their education and human resource policies to dovetail with the ETP. Malaysian youths and adults planning their own education and careers will also find such information very useful.

    PEMANDU’s silence on this matter could be because most of the jobs that the ETP promises to create are low-skilled. That the ETP consists of EPPs that are generally not transformative is not surprising as:

    Many of these EPPs are “recycled” projects using past or existing business models which are far from being game changers;

    These projects were selected in a lab environment where truly innovative ideas are unable to flourish.

    Instead of being transformative, the ETP is, at best, just a very slick repackaging of old ideas. These “recycled” projects cannot be expected to result in transformative change or high-income jobs.

    What should PEMANDU do?

    PEMANDU has shifted goal posts, set low targets and misrepresented data in order to present a rosy picture of how well the economy is doing. This is a disservice to all Malaysians, especially to the poorest and least educated who have been deluded into believing the government can drive the economy.

    Part 6 next week concludes with our recommendations.

    About DEEDS

    Earlier this year, we published a series assessing PEMANDU and the ETP on the goals, plans and targets stated in the ETP Roadmap document. To facilitate constructive discourse and in keeping with the spirit of the alphabet soup of NKEAs, NKRAs, SRIs, EPPs, and GNI surrounding the entire GTP, we evaluated PEMANDU and the ETP on its DEEDS — Data transparency, Execution, Enterprise, Diversity and Socio-Economic Impact. The 8 Focus Papers in this Critique of the ETP Series, together with related infographics and a powerpoint presentation can be found at www.refsa.org. — REFSA (Research for Social Advancement)

    * Dr Ong Kian Ming holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University and Economics degrees from the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics. He is attached to UCSI University, which has been named as the project owner of two entry point projects (EPPs). To avoid any potential conflict of interest, he will not make references to or analyse these two EPPs. 

    * REFSA (Research for Social Advancement) executive director Teh Chi-Chang holds a first-class degree in Accounting & Financial Analysis from the University of Warwick, an MBA from the University of Cambridge and the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) charter. Prior to joining REFSA, he headed highly-regarded investment research teams covering Malaysia, and was himself highly-ranked as an analyst.

    This article was published by The Malaysian Insider.

    Read Dr. Ong’s critiques of the ETP in full here

  • Thugs at my doorstep

    At approx 4.45pm [yesterday] (July 10), three thugs, in their early to late twenties, tried to break into my house in Petaling Jaya.

    Thankfully, they were unsuccessful. Thankfully, I am not hurt. I am immensely grateful at the outpouring of support shown by my friends and family. I am thankful to the police for their quick response in sending three squad cars to my house five minutes after I reported the incident and their follow up on this case.

    Many are probably wondering why I think it was politically motivated rather than just a simple attempted break in. I cannot be 100 per cent sure that it was politically motivated but I’m quite sure of it. And here’s why:

    The thugs came in a car and they parked directly in front of my house, which is about 200m from the community guard house. It is a simple and spartan double story terrace house. It is not a flashy house. I drive a Toyota Vios.

    There are other houses along the same row with Mercedes-Benz and other nicer cars. Some of my neighbours were not at home. It would have been much easier to break into their homes instead of mine (not that I am recommending that they do this). Or a house that is more secluded. Or a house which seems to have more stuff to steal.

    My car was in the driveway. The thugs must have considered the possibility that someone was at home. They broke the automatic gates, which create a huge noise, rather than scaling over the gate, which would have been easy to do and much more discreet.

    I was in the living room when they broke the automatic gate. I got up immediately and shouted at them, screaming “Police! Police!” They didn’t even break their stride after I got up but kept on coming, which indicated to me that they knew I was at home.

    They proceeded to try and kick the door down while I kept on shouting. If it was an opportunistic break in, they would have left knowing that there was someone at home.

    They then left even though they could have kicked the door down. On the way out, one of them pointed his finger at me as if to give me a warning. He then used a screwdriver or some metal instrument to make a puncture in the bonnet of my car. If they had really wanted to break in even knowing that there was someone at home, they could have kicked the door down and easily overpowered me.

    They were in and out of the place in less than three minutes. Not long enough for the police to come and catch them but long enough to send a message.

    I don’t think it is a coincidence this happened a few days before a Bersih event in Malacca on Friday and three Bersih events in Kedah and Penang on Saturday and Sunday, at which I will be speaking. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Ambiga has been targeted as well as Wong Chin Huat.

    I am no Ambiga or Chin Huat but I have been publishing a series of highly damaging articles regarding the many problems in the electoral roll that I know that the Election Commission, National Registration Department and even some members of the Cabinet have read and are aware of.

    Initially, I said to a Malaysiakini reporter that I thought that this attempted break in could be due to my critique against MCA on the Talam issue, the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and other government policies.

    After giving it some thought, I think that it is much more likely that it was due to my Bersih-related activities given the record of how thugs have been deployed to harass and intimidate various people related to the Bersih movement.

    Regardless, I won’t allow this incident (if it was indeed an intimidation tactic) to cow me into fear or submission. I will continue to publish my findings on the problems with the electoral roll and share these findings with members of the public.

    I will continue to write my critiques as a contributor to Refsa on the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). I will continue to write political commentaries. I will continue to play my own very small part in trying to make this country a better place.

    * Ong Kian Ming is an analyst for Research for Social Advancement (Refsa).

    This piece was also published at Dr. Ong’s Facebook page.

  • MCA’s new dilemma – how to work as opposition

    Even though MCA is part of the BN ruling coalition at the federal level, it has many characteristics of an opposition party. A dilemma is having to choose between two options which seem equally unfavourable or mutually exclusive. Politicians and political parties in Malaysia often face such difficult choices.

    For MCA, its ‘old’ dilemma was choosing between working quietly behind the scenes in the ‘shadow’ of its big brother, Umno, and risk being criticised by the community for being a compliant party, or speak out against certain government policies and risk offending big brother.

    mca youth agm 011011 06But since the 2008 general election, a new dilemma for MCA has been introduced into the larger political landscape. And the recent debates between MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng notwithstanding, MCA does not seem to have figured out how to solve this new dilemma.

    What are the components of MCA’s new dilemma?

    Firstly, it must start thinking of and structuring itself as an opposition party but this runs into the problem of admitting that it is, in fact, already an opposition party in many ways.

    Secondly, if it is somewhat effective in its ‘opposition-like’ activities, especially in the Pakatan Rakyat-controlled states, this strategy can potentially backfire if these criticisms are redirected at the federal government, which has more power and resources compared to the state governments.

    Let me elaborate on each component.

    MCA a ‘de facto’ opposition party

    Even though MCA is part of the BN ruling coalition at the federal level, it has many characteristics of an opposition party.

    While MCA is still the second largest party within the BN with 15 parliament and 32 state seats (PBB has 14 parliament and 35 state seats but only has a presence in Sarawak), for the first time in Malaysian history, it has fewer parliament and state seats compared with the main opposition parties.

    Even in the 1969 general elections, where MCA suffered a massive electoral setback, it still managed to win more parliament (13) and state (33) seats compared to its major rivals, DAP with 13 parliament and 31 state seats and Gerakan, 26 state seats.

    azlanIn the 2008 general election, PKR won 31 parliament and 41 state seats while PAS won 23 parliament and 72 state seats. DAP, whom MCA considers its main political rival, especially in battling for Chinese votes, won 28 parliament and 72 state seats.

    After the Perak defections, the Sibu parliamentary by-election and the Sarawak state elections, DAP now controls 29 parliament and 82 state seats, giving it slightly more than twice the number of elected representatives compared to MCA.

    MCA’s representation in three states with a high percentage of Chinese voters – Penang, Perak and Selangor – has been significantly decreased after the 2008 general election. MCA has no elected representatives at the parliamentary and state levels in Penang, three MPs and one Adun (state assemblyperson) in Perak and only one MP and two Aduns in Selangor.

    This drastic reduction in political representation requires an equally drastic shift in political strategy. MCA would be required to play the role of an opposition party in the Pakatan-led states of Penang and Selangor and to a lesser extent, Kedah (and Perak, prior to the change in government).

    At the national level, its politicians needed to not only defend government policies in a more sophisticated manner but also to attack Pakatan on its policy platforms.

    Unfortunately, MCA is structured in such a way that most of its members and leaders are much more used to service-oriented activities and having the resources of the state to carry out such activities.

    It’s old guard, former and currently political representatives know of no other experience than to be part of the ruling coalition in the state and federal level. Hence, it is not that surprising that most of them cannot make that transition to the role of an effective opposition.

    In fact, groups and politicians other than MCA have been more vocal and effective in their role as check and balance on the state governments in Penang and Selangor. The NGOs seem to be leading the charge against hillside development projects in Penang.

    In Selangor, the Select Committee on Competency, Accountability and Transparency (Selcat) has played a more prominent active investigatory role into alleged abuses of power by the state government and agencies within the state government than any MCA politician.

    NONEMCA’s shortcomings in playing the role of an effective opposition was most starkly revealed in the recent allegations by MCA’s Young Professionals Bureau chief Chua Tee Yong (left) of a RM1 billion land ‘scandal’ involving the Selangor state government and Talam Corporation.

    When further details were uncovered, it was shown that this was actually an effort, spearheaded by the Selangor state government, to reclaim back debts owed to various state government agencies by Talam rather than the supposed ‘bailout’ as claimed by Chua.

    Dearth of political talent 

    Refutations against Chua’s allegations came quickly. The response which I found to be the most interesting (and witty) was given by none other than Talam itself (now renamed Trinity).

    Some highlights include:

    “Firstly, we would like to inform the deputy minister that Talam (as we were then) had purchase the said land in question from the state in 2001 at RM115,000 per acre and sold the said land to the state in 2010 at RM80,000 per acre. Common sense would dictate that it was Talam which was at a loss as opposed to the state.

    “Further to the above, Talam had transacted 13 pieces of land as its settlement of debt with the state. The valuation of all 13 pieces of land (vetted and approved by Bursa Malaysia Berhad and Securities Commission) is RM685,230,000, but the transaction for the settlement of debt was only RM676,094,000. We are certain that the deputy minister is able to do elementary arithmetic to decipher if Talam was bona fide in its transaction for the settlement of debt.

    “What the deputy minister failed to understand is the fact that all 13 pieces of land was deemed as one transaction towards the settlement of the debt due to the state. In fact, the deputy minister should applaud our conduct of having to give a discount on the overall value of the land as opposed to implying that we ‘cheated’ the state.

    “In order to eradicate the learned deputy minister’s doubt pertaining to the veracity of the transaction, we are prepared to advertise in the local papers all the disclosures made pertaining to this transaction if the deputy minister is prepared to pay the cost.”

    These erroneous accusations also led many to question Chua’s own capabilities as an accountant and former chief financial officer (CFO) of a government-linked company. The backlash against Tee Yong over this issue has significant repercussions on MCA as a political party.

    Apart from the fact that Tee Yong is a son of the current MCA president, he was also touted as one of the more promising future leaders of the party, a well-spoken young professional that stood out from among the old warlords within his party.

    NONEAlso not lost among some is also the fact that it was Tee Yong who led this attack against the Selangor state government rather than the MCA chairperson of the Selangor state liaison committee – Donald Lim – or another party leader in Selangor.

    This inevitably leads to questions on whether the dearth of political talent in MCA is so severe, especially in an urbanised state like Selangor with politically sophisticated voters, that an ‘outsider’ like Chua had to be ‘imported’ for this mission.

    As it is, MCA is caught in ‘no man’s land’, with a membership and leadership base that is used to being in positions of power with access to state resources but has to contend with an electorate, especially among the Chinese, which is increasingly demanding and to cope with the reality of decreasing power and influence at the federal level and being in the opposition in two economically and politically important states for the party.

    Soi Lek a lone ranger?

    Even if the MCA is somewhat successful in highlighting the inadequacies of the Pakatan-controlled state governments in Penang and Selangor, it can easily run into the problem that some of these criticisms may backfire on the BN federal government.

    Take the issue of education. MCA has tried to blame the Selangor state government for not doing anything for Chinese schools in the state. But when it was shown that the state government has indeed set aside land for the construction of these schools, the tables were turned on the MCA since the building of schools is under federal jurisdiction.

    NONESimilarly, MCA chief Dr Chua Soi Lek’s proposal during the second debate between himself and Lim Guan Eng that the Penang state government build more kindergartens could be easily turned on its head since publicly funded pre-school education is also under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

    Interestingly, Soi Lek is currently occupying an advantageous position with regard to repositioning MCA. He is not a cabinet member or even a member of parliament, which means that he has more room to be ‘critical’ of certain BN politicians and policies.

    He has done this on certain occasions, most recently hitting out at an Umno Johor Adun (Ayub Rahmat of Kemelah) for proposing that hudud be implemented for all Malaysians, not just Muslims.

    The fact that he is not a cabinet minister also means he has more time to dedicate to party-related activities including the settling up of various 1MCA initiatives, such as the 1MCA Medical Fund and the 1MCA Micro Credit Loan Scheme.

    He has also been very vocal in various forums in critiquing Pakatan policies, especially with regard to the policies outlined in the Buku Jingga, the opposition coalition’s common policy framework.

    But he seems like a rather lonely figure among the MCA leadership. None of them, with the exception of his son, Tee Yong, seem to be aggressively supporting his critiques of Pakatan.

    And the actions of certain MCA leaders which seem to grab the headlines are those which have to do with unsubstantiated allegations of extramarital affairs targeted at Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng rather than with more substantive critiques involving important issues of the day.

    This kind of strategy will likely backfire on the MCA, especially given the already proven scandal involving Soi Lek.

    Needed: Tan Keng Liang 2.0

    One person who has been successful in solving this ‘dilemma’ is Gerakan’s Kedah Youth chief Tan Keng Liang (photo below). He is clear on this primary role – which is to be an opposition politician in the Pakatan-controlled state of Kedah.

    NONEHe has exposed various ‘scandals’ associated with the Kedah state government and so far, has not suffered the same kind of backlash as Tee Yong’s Talam ‘revelations’. Sometimes, he makes slight geographical shifts in order to criticise the Penang state government for not having open tender for certain projects, such as the WiFi initiative in the state.

    More importantly, he has been successful in raising both his profile as well as that of the issues which he champions to the national level. And he has done this by employing a variety of channels including via social media so much so that he has been given the tag of a Twitter ‘sensation’ by a member of the media. (He has close to 24,000 followers on Twitter compared to less than 3,000 followers for Tee Yong).

    What MCA needs in order to partly solve its new dilemma is to have more Tan Keng Liangs within the ranks of its younger leaders. Or more specifically, newer versions of Tan Keng Liang, who are equally dogged in their exposes of wrongdoing on the part of Pakatan-led state governments but who are also sophisticated and strategic in their critiques of some of the BN policies at the federal level.

    It needs more people like Eric Choo (who tweets @choows), a Malacca-based lawyer who was the former president of MCA UK and a regular contributor to the Loyarburok blog (www.loyarburok.com) as well as MCA Youth Education Bureau chief Chong Sin Woon (who tweets @chongsinwoon), who has publicly advocated for racial quotas for the matriculation programme to be abolished.

    Of course, MCA is not the only BN component party to face this dilemma. Umno, for example, cannot figure out how to lead an effective opposition coalition in the state of Selangor, partly because of the presence of many factions within the state and partly because of the lack of capacity on the part of some of these state leaders.

    In Penang, it took the BN more than three years to replace Koh Tsu Koon as its leader and even then, there still seems to be a lack of coordination between the BN among the Penang state and federal leaders.

    Ultimately, this new dilemma can only be solved at the structural level when the BN falls out of power at the federal level. When this happens, it will be the turn of the Pakatan parties to face its own sets of dilemmas. But this discussion is for another article at another time.

    Dr ONG KIAN MING holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University. He is a lecturer and political analyst at UCSI University.

    This article was published by Malaysiakini.

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