Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Report card: Excellence, glory, distinction

Report card: Excellence, glory, distinction
Feb 26, 08 4:06pm
On the eve of the 2004 general election, the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition unveiled an impressive manifesto under the slogan of ‘Excellence, Glory, Distinction’. It contains a slew of breathtaking promises involving the economy, education and religion, among others.

Four years later, with another election in two weeks, how did the BN fare in fulfilling its promises? Here’s our verdict.


In order to face future economic challenges, BN will:
  • Pursue economic growth strategies to achieve Vision 2020.
  • Enhance competitiveness in order to build a resilient and performance-based economy.
  • Develop rural areas as new centres for economic growth.
  • Exercise prudent and responsible fiscal management.

Four economic growth corridors were introduced during this period; Iskandar Development Region (IDR), Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER), Eastern Corridor Economic Region (ECER) and Sabah Development Corridor (SDC).

IDR, created in July, 2006, is expected to lead the way in helping different regions in Malaysia. Being the first among the four to be mooted by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s government, IDR’s progress will be a good indicator for the other three’s success.

However, IDR is currently is still in its infancy and it is still too early to gauge its success. Nevertheless, property developers such as Eastern & Oriental Bhd and UEM World continue to invest in this region.

Growth was kept between 5.2 percent and 7.2 percent from 2004-2007, in line with Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. Compared with other developing countries Malaysia is on par with Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. Only China and India posted much higher figures, averaging 9.7 percent for the same period.

However, while the GDP growth is maintained and even matches and surpasses other developing countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan, the GDP per capita continues to lag far behind them.

Hong Kong’s (population: 7 million) GDP per capita income is estimated to hit US$30,448 while Singapore (population: 4.5 million) and South Korea (population: 49 million) are expected to reach US$34,461 and US$20,634 respectively.

Malaysia’s GDP per capita income continues to trail 3-5 times below the above countries. In the latest Economic Report 2006-7, it is expected to touch US$7,098 if it achieves its target of 6-6.5 percent growth in 2008.

Another issue affecting BN’s claims to economic success pertains to corruption. Although, corruption in itself is not included directly in economic considerations, a high level results in unnecessary wastage of funds and a drop in investor confidence.

In an annual survey of expatriate business executives in 13 countries conducted by Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), Malaysia came in seventh behind Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau and Taiwan.

Malaysia scored 6.25 in a grading system with zero as the best possible score and 10 as the worst.


Money flows freely again after the economy almost grinded to a halt soon after Abdullah took power. Major question marks - will there be open tenders for government procurements and what will happen when we become a net oil importer in five years?

Balanced development

Ensuring balanced socioeconomic development is an ongoing effort. BN will:

  • Fully eradicate poverty and reduce income disparity.
  • Ensure balanced regional development in all states throughout Malaysia.
  • Improve the effectiveness of social programmes to help marginalised groups such as Orang Asli, the disabled and elderly.
  • Enhance measures to protect our heritage and environment.
Chief among the problems plaguing the current administration continues to be the income disparity between urban and rural inhabitants. According to a United Nations Human Development Report in 2004, Malaysia has the highest disparity between the rich and the poor in Southeast Asia.

The report states that the richest 10 percent controls 38.4 percent of the economic income compared to the poorest 10 percent who control only 1.7 percent. As a result of this, Kuala Lumpur has seen increasing numbers of squatters and slums and an increase in petty crime such as snatch theft and robberies.

BN also did poorly on the protection of the environment. Here are some examples:

Currently there are several law suits in Sarawak where natives are suing timber giants for logging and having presence on native customary rights (NCR) land. Most natives have accused the state government to be in cahoots with the logging giants.

The government officially scrapped the Broga mega-incinerator in 2007 after dogged protests mounted by residents against the incinerator. Since 2002, villagers from Broga have protested against the 1,500-tonne incinerator plant on grounds that it posed a serious threat to public health, the environment and their livelihood.

The Save Bukit Gasing movement began after the land owner, Gasing Meridian Sdn Bhd, has applied to build 142 bungalows on the 15-hectare land in 2006.

Bukit Gasing - considered the green lunch of Petaling Jaya - is highly susceptible to land erosion due to its soil composition and have gotten residents worried that development on the hill would cause landslides.

The movement recently filed for a judicial review by the High Court to compel DBKL to hold a public hearing on the proposed development application on Feb 11, 2008 after the city hall denied residents access to their meeting with the developers.


While the government appears to make headway in the fight against poverty, it doesn’t look like it has the political will to bridge the income inequality gap. More so, when it ignores intra-ethnic disparities in its bid to strengthen the New Economic Policy.


BN will advance our present education system as follows:
  • Ensure quality teaching and learning at all levels of education.
  • Enhance teaching of communication skills including English, ICT skills, problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
  • Foster student interaction to enhance national unity.
  • Enhance higher education institutions to produce high-calibre graduates.
In Nov 2005, a government survey revealed that nearly 60,000 Malaysian graduates were unemployed because of their lack of experience and poor English and communication skills. The study by the country's Economic Planning Unit in September said the typical unemployed graduate was female, from the majority ethnic Malay race and lower income groups.

In July 3, 2006, Deputy Human Resources Minister Abdul Rahman Bakar revealed that some 70% of public universities and institutes of higher learning graduates in the country are unemployed. UiTM (Mara Technology University) showed as having the highest number with 3,278 unemployed graduates. This is in contrast with 26% for private institutions of higher learning and 34% for foreign graduates.

At the same time, Human Resource Minister Fong Chan Onn disclosed that his ministry has spent a whopping RM82 million from RM100 million allocated to run a graduate retraining programme to sharpen the skills of unemployed graduates.

Local universities continue to perform poorly according to influential Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) on world university rankings.

Universiti Malaya (UM) plunged from its 89th place in 2004 to 192 in 2006. Last year it fell out of the top 200 rankings altogether. Meanwhile, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) rose by 105 places to break into the top 200 ranked universities for the first time, climbing from 289 last year to 185 in 2006. It did not make the top 200 cut a year later either.


Meritocracy in education is still a pipedream. Meanwhile, expect our top educational institutions to continue to slide downwards.


BN will:
  • Continue to build a progressive and modern Islam Hadhari.
  • Improve the application of syariah law in the country, and ensure Muslim women have recourse to a fair and just legal system.
  • Upgrade Islamic education through syllabus improvements, compulsory Arabic language courses for Muslim students and completion of Quran recital during primary school.
  • Enhance the welfare of imams and other religious officers.

Muslim-born Indian who was raised as a Hindu M Revathi was detained at the Malacca Syariah High Court in January last year when she attended a hearing over her application to have her official religious status be recognised as a Hindu. She was detained at the court and subsequently held at the Ulu Yam religious rehabilitation camp in Selangor for six months until she was freed in July 2007.

Born Siti Fatimah Abdul Karim to Muslim convert parents, Revathi said was subjected to ‘mental torture’ and was forces to pray, eat beef and wear a headscarf. It is part of Hindu tradition to avoid the consumption of beef. Her story sparked a row on Muslim conversion drawing vociferous views from proponents of religious freedom and Islamic commentators.

The issue of body snatching also raised religious tensions in December 2005 when Syariah Court ruled that Mount Everest hero M Moorthy was a Muslim on an application by the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council despite his family’s insistence that the former army commander had died a practicing Hindu.

In Nov 30, 2006, Selangor Islamic Council (Mais) and the Selangor Islamic Department (Jais) tried to claim Anthony Rayappan’s body from Hospital Kuala Lumpur morgue to bury him as a Muslim.

Rayappan, who was born a Roman Catholic, but converted to Islam in 1990 when he took a Muslim woman as his second wife. However, he had renounced Islam in 1996 and went back to his first wife Lourdes Mary and their six children. After a legal battle, Mais released the body back to Lourdes. She has sued the religious authorities for general, aggravated and exemplary damages.

There has also been demolition of Hindu temples which sparked activism by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf). According to the movement, 79 temples have been demolished nationwide since 2006. The height of these tensions reached its peak when the 100-year-old Sri Maha Mariaman temple located in Klang was demolished by Shah Alam City Council without a valid court order.

The controversy over the use of the word ‘Allah’ began when the Catholic Church’s weekly organ Herald was facing problems in renewing its yearly publishing permit allegedly over the use of the word ‘Allah’ in its Bahasa Malaysia section.

Although the Internal Security Ministry backed down and granted the weekly paper an unconditional permit, more disputes over religious materials soon surfaced.

This included Customs Department officials confiscating English language Christian children’s books said to contain offensive caricatures of prophets and English bibles thought to be for commercial use.

Sabah Sidang Injil Borneo Church president pastor Jerry Dusing has also filed a suit against Abdullah in his capacity as internal security minister over after six titles of children Christian literature from Indonesia containing the word ‘Allah’ for their Sunday school education were banned from being imported.

On Jan 29 this year, a teacher in Perak has been reprimanded for forcing six Hindu schoolboys to shave their mustaches and beards, which they were growing for Thaipusam. The teacher also forced the students to remove religious wristbands to enforce a rule that no ornaments be worn in school. The teacher has since apologised.


Islam Hadhari has appeared to fail miserably.

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