PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad seems to be a little deluded these days, making statements that don't seem all that, well, logical. Starting off with saying poor people are lazy, the old man has also gone on a bender against those not 100% happy with his gomen. In other news, it's back to school (well, sorta) for ministers as they present report cards on their performance; and, the government is looking to protect Bangladeshi workers, but not quite doing enough to help Malaysians.

Why you so unhappy, ah?

La La Land: The Malaysian Edition

Age must be catching up with Dr Mahathir. That’s the only way we can explain two mystifying statements he’s made in as many days.

Two days ago, Maddey took potshots at the poor in the country, saying they were envious of the rich. What’s worse is he also basically called them lazy, saying they should uplift themselves.

“Why are they poor? Because they are unproductive and do not contribute to society in a way where society would repay them.”

Yup, you read that right. A general, sweeping – one could say Trump-ian – statement completely lacking in empathy and nuance, and absolutely unbecoming of a PM.

Maddey’s statement, made in a speech, drew ire from, among others, Parti Sosialis Malaysia deputy chairman S. Arutchelvan, one of the nation’s few truly beloved politicians and a man well known for his work in championing the rights of the poor.

Arutchelvan slammed Mads, saying his speech was an insult to the millions of workers who worked hard every day “just to live on” and asked why Maddey didn’t question the huge allowances paid to his cabinet (MPs’ entertainment allowances alone are RM2,500, more than double the minimum wage), the tax rates for the rich and corporations, or the huge salaries drawn by GLC CEOs. 

He also quoted Deputy Defence Minister Liew Chin Tong, who in an earlier article in Malaysiakini, said it was not only the B20 group which were suffering, but the middle income group. These days, when a kilo of onions, which used to cost RM2/kg, is now going for RM24/kg, it’s not hard to believe that even the middle class is feeling the squeeze.

Arutchelvan has a point. A recent study, called ‘Are Malaysian Workers Paid Fairly‘, concluded that:

  • Malaysians are paid a lower wage compared to benchmark countries, even after taking into account productivity differences. Basically a Malaysian is paid US$340 to produce US$1,000 worth of output, compared to benchmark countries, where people are paid US$510 for a similar output.
     
  • Malaysia has a lower labour share of income despite its labour-intensive nature.

Saying Malaysian workers receive lower compensations relative to their contribution to national income from productivity and equity perspectives, the study begged the question of why the share of compensation accrued to employers instead of employees was higher relative to other countries benchmarked in the study.

But, back to Maddey. It isn’t just the poor he trained his guns on this week. He also attacked people unhappy with the government. Asked about the government’s falling approval rating, Maddey complained that people were dissatisfied despite the government doing relatively well compared to the rest of the world in turmoil.

Malaysia is stable, peaceful and law-abiding. We are not killing each other, he says, so why are these ungrateful wretches (our words, his sentiment) complaining? If not killing each other is the benchmark for what Maddey considers good governance, then we’re really in deeper trouble than we thought. 

The fact is the regular Malaysian is feeling the pinch of financial hard times, while many Malaysians worry about the racial/religious animosity that seems to be bubbling underneath the veneer of Malaysian unity.

But instead of displaying the political – or even personal – willpower to do something about this, Mahathir instead seems happier to mock, scold and belittle those who aren’t singing from his songbook. And he wonders why his approval rating is falling?

YB, it's report card day

Credit where credit is due – the Pakatan government is doing things right in some ways.

One thing in particular a thumbs up should be given is the introduction of a “report card day” for ministries. Apparently, each minister has been told to prepare a report card on his or her ministry’s achievements for 2019.

And today, the ministers will present their report cards to the PM. Some, such as the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry; the Human Resource Ministry and the Entrepreneur Development Ministry have already made public their report cards, and the rest should follow suit soon.

Will a Cabinet reshuffle follow suit? Will Maddey Mohamad use these report cards to identify those ministers simply not doing enough (or rather, confirm whatever suspicions he might have) and send them packing?

We have some questions of our own for the ministers. Where is that flying car we’ve been promised? How come palm oil prices continue to drop? Why is a certain boy wonder minister whining and dining instead of focusing on his ministry?

Apparently, the Education Ministry was the first to publicly release its report, in the middle of December. Was this the reason Maszlee Malik was told to resign? Probably not, but wouldn’t it be ironic if being so efficient in releasing his report card got him the old heave-ho?

One rumour which apparently has been making the rounds is that Maszlee was given his pink slip because he tried to have the King Salman Centre for International Peace reopened. Both the former minister and his former boss have both denied this.

As to who will replace Maszlee, well Mahathir is keeping things close to his chest, only saying that he would be the one who picks the new minister. Will it be Favourite Son Mukhriz Mahathir? We don’t know, but sonny-boy himself has come out to deny this – and picking Mukhriz would possibly be the most politically disastrous decision of them all. 

Let’s face it, the best candidate for the education minister portfolio is Anwar Ibrahim. He’s got the experience, both from an administrative as well as a political perspective. And he needs the responsibility, as the PM-in-waiting. But will Mahathir do the logical thing, or will he just look for another proxy as he continues to keep Anwar away from the corridors of power?

Free workers from Bangladesh? Well, not quite

The government, apparently, is looking at making recruitment of Bangladeshi workers a “zero-cost” thing.

No. That doesn’t mean our South Asian friends will be coming here for free or will work for free. What it means is that expenses for bringing in workers from Bangladesh will have to be borne by employers. Not agents. Employers.

Human Resources Minister M. Kula Segaran didn’t reveal the minutiae of the matter, but said this was one of the ways the gomen is trying to get itself out of the US Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Tier 2 Watchlist. Meaning, this is one of the ways to combat human trafficking.

Kudos, we say, cos human trafficking is a big problem. And, as a country, we should definitely be doing something to combat this dastardly phenomenon.

But we gotta ask if doing this is really the right thing to do. Shouldn’t the government focus more on weaning ourselves off foreign labour?

It was only in October that we were reportedly trying to cut foreign labour, of which we had 1.99 million – and that’s just the legal ones. Of course, cutting foreign labour will likely lead to shortages in several industries. But surely we can find a way of limiting the fallout, or ways to slowly lessen the need for foreign workers.

A study released by Bank Negara Malaysia in 2018 concluded that a high dependence on foreign workers, if left unabated, would “weaken the case for automation, suppress overall wages and deter adoption of productivity-enhancing efforts”. Worse still, it would also hinder the creation of high-skilled jobs.

The study said all of these issues would trap Malaysia in a low-wage and low-productivity bind.

So, we have to ask this question: Shouldn’t Kula, as the Human Resources Minister, be looking more into how to institute better minimum wage policies and better working conditions so that local job seekers are given options, and look to prepare the country for Industry 4.0 by reskilling and upskilling the nation’s workforce instead of continuing to rely on cheap, foreign labour.

We cannot deny, of course, that foreign workers’ needs and rights are under his ministry’s purview and should be protected. But his main focus should be on how to uplift Malaysian workers.

Cos hey, contrary to popular belief, we aren’t lazy!

Odds and ends and bits and bobs

Here are a few other things which came out yesterday which we thought should be included in brief for you, dear readers:

  • The government is mulling the creation of a body to monitor and receive complaints against 20 enforcement agencies other than the police force should the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission be “upgraded” to the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission. Errr… why not just keep the EAIC and have the IPCMC separate for the police force? Duh!
     
  • It really is silly season, and it’s only a by-election. BN is claiming Warisan had blocked its candidate for the Kimanis by-election from campaigning in a kampung, though the latter has denied it completely. Meanwhile, Warisan supremo Shafie Apdal is threatening legal action against Umno deputy prez Mohamad Hasan for saying the BN-Warisan fight was a “Malaysia vs the Philippines” kinda thing.
     
  • The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry will continue to collaborate with NGOs to produce more videos on sexual awareness for children. Five previous vids have garnered more than four million views so far. We can’t back this move enough.
     
  • A lawyer has threatened a school in Puchong to remove Chinese New Year decorations as these were deemed “religious” in nature, distressing to Muslim students and against Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution. Dude! First of all, Article 3(1) merely states that Islam is the official religion of Malaysia. All other religions are recognised and people are free to practice them. More importantly in this case, “Chinese” is not a religion. And CNY is also called the Lunar New Year, and for good reason. As we used to say in school – ini bodoh tahap gaban lah!

“When all else fails there's always delusion.”

- Conan O'Brien -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The fallout from the US air strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani is still dominating news everywhere. The Pentagon says America should expect some form of retaliation from Tehran, even as the elite 82nd Airborne is deployed to the Middle East. President Donald Trump says the US killed a “monster” but has backed down from threats to attack Iranian cultural sites, while Malaysia has criticised the US for the attack. Meanwhile, at least 56 people died in a stampede at Soleimani’s funeral.
     
  • Saibun Sinaga, the father of Britain’s worst serial rapist, 36-year-old Indonesian PhD student Reynhard Sinaga, says his son deserves the life imprisonment handed down to him.
     
  • 6.4 magnitude earthquake has hit Puerto Rico, killing at least one person so far and leaving more than 300,000 homes and businesses without water.
     
  • Facebook will remove deepfake and other manipulated videos in a move to curb misinformation ahead of the US Presidential election this year. This is yet more BS from the tech giant, as the ban won’t cover stuff like this. Nor will Facebook fact-check or ban political advertising in the run up to the elections. So yeah, the almighty bottomline still matters more than democracy to Zuck and co.
     
  • Sony is venturing into the car-making business. The consumer electronics giant unveiled a prototype electric car called the Vision-S at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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