I've been off only for a few days from blogging and I'm getting complaints already ;-)
Well, besides a day which I took off to quietly enjoy my 36th birthday (and to remind myself that age is certainly catching on...), there just wasn't time to sit down and blog properly despite having at least 7 posts in draft mode(!).
But skipping the drafts and coming to the most recent event yesterday when I had a "face-off" with the honourable Member of Parliament from Rembau, Khairy Jamaluddin as well as the Selangor state assemblyman for Seri Setia, Nik Nazmi. Nik is also the youngest candidate in the last general elections, and is now doubling up as the political secretary to the Selangor Menteri Besar. The forum was held at the Malaysian Student Leaders' Summit, hosted by the UK and Eire Council for Malaysian Students (UKEC).
I won't go into the details of the session which lasted some one and a half hour long, which was certainly lively on the issue of subsidies and the tongkat mentality in Malaysia. Nik has blogged it here, with the Star headlining Rembau here and Malaysian Insider terming the debate as a "stalemate".
(Heh, Nik and I must have done a real crappy job of it if it was 2 against 1 and still ended stalemate ;-))
foreign labour and low wages, and Shannon Shah, who will be writing for the soon-to-be-launched "The Nut Graph", was happy to see a democratic debate alive in Malaysia. I'm sure there'll be other sites which I've missed who have blogged the event.
Firstly, possibly the only bit which I thought I could have answered better when pressed by the moderator with regards to the issue of forcing the hands of the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to renegotiate the purchasing power agreements (PPAs) versus the concern of upholding the sanctity of contracts.
I had ended the line of argument by saying that the Government must have the political will to act in the interest of the public. I could probably have better express my point by making the Government weigh the cost (if any) of the grossly unfair PPA contracts which benefits very very few, versus the cost to the public and the overall Malaysian economy in the years to come. In my opinion, a mistake has been made by the government, and a responsible government will have to take the side of the people it serves.
Secondly, it was a rebuttal which I had wanted to make while debating a point with Khairy, but I didn't, so that the debate can move on to subsequent points. But I thought, definitely worth putting in the rebuttal here at the very least.
In a gist, Nik and I have argued that gradual reductions in subsidies should be done only after 2 key issues, a comprehensive social safety net as well as a efficient public transport system has been put in place.
Khairy had argued that funds were diverted to other important functions such as the RM4 billion food security fund, hence the savings from the "reduction" in subsidies could not be sufficiently allocated to public transport.
I, in return argued that the overall government budget has increased by some RM40 billion since 2004, hence there is no excuse for the lack of expenditure in essential projects like public transport. This increase was largely contributed by payments by Petronas to the government which increased in tandem with the rise in oil prices.
Khairy then argued that while there was an increase in government budget, the funds were utilised for development projects in the interest of the people, hence it was a question of priorities.
I then replied that the priorities were obviously wrong because over the past 10 years since 1998, the government has increased development expenditure from approximately RM20 billion to RM42 billion (2008), while, operational expenditure which comprises rental, wages, pens and paper, maintenance etc., ballooned from about RM40 billion to RM129 billion (2008)! Hence most of the increase in expenditure, financed by our Petronas money was not going to development.
Khairy responded that I have underestimated the importance of maintenance, as it was certainly critical to upkeep our infrastructure, for there is no point building new schools if we don't maintain them.
I let the argument rest there because I thought my point has been made and the audience should be able to judge it accordingly. But I was certainly eager to add on that the reason why our maintenance cost is so darn high is simply because it costs so much more to maintain our infrastructure than to actual build them! The case in point was the RM120 million MRR 2 flyover, which had cost RM70 million to repair in 2004, and now the pillars are cracking again! Or the countless other examples of bailouts - LRTs, MAS, MATRADE etc. Or the schools maintenance scandal, where RM30,000 was paid for RM3,000 worth of renovations. Not to mention of course, our Proton Perdana repair bills!
Well, the debate wasn't ever going to have any clear cut winners or losers. Such debate rarely does, unless one party is completely doofuss. What was important was the fact that a meaningful debate was carried out and the panelist has the opportunity to present their views and the audience gets to make (hopefully), a more informed opinion.
I hope that the 500+ audience who attended the forum yesterday had a good time and as I mentioned during the forum, I certainly hope that more will be inspired to join us in playing our part of change and make Malaysia a more progressive nation, whether with the government or the opposition (DAP preferred of course! ;-)) at some point in their lives.