Fulfilling a promise of hope?


Rather than stepping out of the way to allow the private sector to do what they do best – create wealth for everyone – BN is embedding government intervention in the private sector to achieve political


Wan Saiful Wan Jan, IDEAS

Barisan Nasional launched their long awaited manifesto on Saturday 6 April. I was in Kuala Terengganu that evening for a meeting. Since I knew that the Barisan Nasional event will be broadcasted live on the taxpayer funded RTM, I decided to head for an ikan bakar dinner near the Kuala Ibai bridge, expecting to watch it while enjoying the food. But someone stood up as soon as the programme started and changed to a football match instead. So I missed the atmosphere of the grand event as it happened.


Luckily there is Youtube. Watching the video recording, I could see that the atmosphere was electric. The Bukit Jalil National Stadium was filled was BN supporters, cheering Dato’ Sri Najib as he attacked Pakatan Rakyat’s record, presented BN’s plans for the next five years, and proudly praising BN’s achievements to date.

Indeed BN deserves to be proud of what they have achieved. There is no doubt that under BN, and its predecessor Alliance, Malaysia has changed tremendously. Particularly during the time of Tun Mahathir, Malaysia was transformed from an agriculture economy into a manufacturing powerhouse. And over the last four years, Najib has worked hard to turn our economy into one that is based more on knowledge and technology.

The New Economic Model (NEM) has become the thrust of BN’s agenda today. It aspires to make Malaysia a high income nation that is both inclusive and sustainable by galvanising the private sector to become our engine of growth. The NEM also aspires to remove the distributive and entitlement culture and rentier behaviour that has become widespread in our society. This is almost the best promise of hope any leader can give.

So when BN launched its first manifesto – the first one after the NEM- I expected the spirit of NEM will envelope all their promises. Surely BN wants to be consistent in their messaging, ensuring people take their promises seriously.

Alas the manifesto confirms that BN too has chosen the populist and welfarist path.

The manifesto contains a deluge of promises on how BN wants to spend our money. The list of welfare programmes is extensive, including committing to more than doubling the amount for BR1M to RM1200 per household and RM600 for singles, increasing the value of 1Malaysia Book Vouchers to RM300, and Schooling Aid to RM150.

If BN wins GE13, we can expect to see more widespread use of the 1Malaysia brand. There will be more clinics, retail outlets, retail items, daycare centres, and housing projects sporting the brand. The implication is that these will all be “affordable”, which should be read as the government actively distorting prices or heavily subsidising them.

When the promises of handouts and subsidies were read out at Bukit Jalil Stadium, the crowd cheered loudly. And with those cheers, the NEM promise to remove the distributive and entitlement culture looks set to be broken.

BN’s manifesto also makes several promises involving the private sector and government-linked companies (GLCs). The production of more 1Malaysia products will be “driven by GLCs and the private sector” The private sector is expected to take part in building 1 million affordable homes, including 500,000 PR1MA houses.

GLCs will be expected to be more active in developing Bumiputra entrepreneurs by increasing outsourcing programmes for Bumiputra companies. And social engineering will be made a norm in GLCs as BN promises to “ensure a fair mix of all races” in these companies.

In other words, this manifesto envisions a Malaysia in which the private sector and GLCs will play the role of political agents tasked with delivering the agenda of a political coalition. This is a worrying future and is at odds with what was envisaged in the NEM. Rather than stepping out of the way to allow the private sector to do what they do best – create wealth for everyone – BN is embedding government intervention in the private sector to achieve political

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