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Too much is at stake

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There is a growing consensus that we cannot allow things to carry on as they are if we want to prevent the country from plunging into an abyss, writes Anil Netto.

This coming general election promises to be a watershed in our country’s history. There is a growing consensus that we cannot allow things to carry on as they are if we want to prevent the country from plunging into an abyss.

Here’s what is at stake: We all know the record on corruption has been abysmal. That billions of ringgit have been lost is common knowledge in coffee shops the length and breadth of the country.

Thus far we have been saved by our rich natural resources especially oil. But the oil is running out now. Unfortunately, the fat cats have not stopped feeding from the trough.

The opportunity costs have been tremendous. Ours could have been a land of milk and honey but alas, a minority especially the cronies and well-connected politicians have grown fabulously wealthy while the a huge number of workers toil away at low wages. These wages are further suppressed by middlemen importing migrant workers, many of whom are paid even lower wages in return for working even longer hours.

Neo-liberal policies have worsened the situation. Privatisation and corporatisation have forced Malaysians to pay more for services – education, health care, utilities – that had previously been provided free or at little cost. The neglect of food production has led to higher food prices. And after the general election, we can expect GST, an electricity tariff hike and the possibility of national health insurance premiums (while government spending on public health care remains miserly).

Not surprisingly, the gap between the rich and the poor has grown wider over the years, and this may have contributed to all kinds of social problems (Richard Wilkinson, The Spirit Level). The latest round of civil service pay rises, now held back for review, aggravates this trend.

Our economic indicators are worrying. Household debt has soared as ordinary Malaysians struggle to cope with higher prices using easy credit from credit cards, housing loans and car loans. Meanwhile, the country’s external debt stands at RM296bn and the central government debt at RM441bn – and rising. Not only that, we are faced with persistent fiscal deficits.

How long can those entrusted with running the country continue to keep piling on debt? That hasn’t stopped them from dishing out more and more cash ahead of the general election.

Let’s not forget the host of reforms needed in a whole range of institutions that are supposed to be independent and professional but quite frankly are not. We also need to get rid of all oppressive laws and unleash the creative potential of the diverse communities of Malaysians instead of worsening the brain drain through ill-conceived or discriminatory policies.

Too much is at stake. Malaysians must wake up and stop the rot – before it’s too late.

Anil Netto is honorary treasurer of Aliran.

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