Friday, January 25, 2013

PR WASN'T DREAMING: Free education is possible - economists

KUALA LUMPUR - Free tertiary education is possible if we cut down on "unproductive" spending, Malaysian economists have suggested.
Their comments were solicited by theSun in the wake of national debate on the issue that has been stirred by an exchange between undergraduate K.S. Bawani, and Suara Wanita 1Malaysia (SW1M) president Sharifah Zohra Jabeen, at a forum in Universiti Utara Malaysia. The video of the exchange has gone viral on the internet.
Chief Executive of Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), Wan Saiful Wan Jan said the current government is capable of reducing the cost of tertiary education.
"If the government wants to do it, they just need to stop wasting money on things like BR1M, free tyres, RM100 for school children, petrol subsidy, and divert the money to tertiary education," he said.
He noted that the recent "free tyres and cash rewards" seemed to take precedence above cushioning the cost of tertiary education.
It is only a matter of re-juggling priorities and putting tertiary education as priority above other "unproductive" spending, he said.
"The cost will be removal of the wasteful spending and we will not receive the cash handouts and subsidies anymore," he added.
The national education budget has been slashed from RM50 billion in 2012 to RM37 billion in 2013, which is a drop from 20% of the total national budget to 15%.
Economist, Khoo Kay Peng, speculated that this is largely associated with government cash handout programmes such as BR1M and BR1M 2.0, and the RM200 rebate for smartphones.
"The cut is unnecessary. Funds spent on one-time cash handouts and rebates do not create a lasting impact on the economy," he said.
Ideally, Khoo sees that education funding should occupy 20% to 22% of the GDP.
Another suggestion by economists to fund free tertiary education is to cut the defence budget.
The director of Centre for Policy Initiatives, Dr Lim Teck Ghee, said the expenditure used in defence can be cut back to cushion the cost of tertiary education.
"If we cut back expenditure in sectors such as the defence sector where the rationale for large budgets is not sustainable and reduce the cost of doing business due to rent seeking, patronage and opaque government procurement, it can generate tens of billions annually," he said.
While it woud be great to have blanket tertiary education, economists argue that it is not a civic obligation to provide free tertiary education for all, neither is it economically-wise in the long run.
Wan Saiful pointed out that we already have a deficit budget and blanket free tertiary education will increase the deficit.
"I must add at this point that making tertiary, or any other level of education free, is not a good move in the long term. It may not have a disastrous adverse impact now, but in the longer term the country will not be able to afford it.
"The deficit spending incurred by the Najib administration will be a burden on society long after Datuk Sri Najib (Abdul Razak) and his ministers have left us," he argued.
On civic-responsibility, he said education is ultimately the responsibility of parents and individuals.
"It is immoral to pass that responsibility to others through the machinery of government and taxation. If we want society to help each other, than we must encourage voluntary help, not coerce people through taxation.
"Our society today has become overly reliant on government so that voluntary help is diminishing," he said.
Dr Lim does not favour blanket tertiary education as he said not everyone cannot afford university fees.
"Students from rich families can afford to pay a portion of the tuition fees and they should be made to do so," he said.
Along with easing tertiary education fees, Lim also suggested reform of the higher education sector.
He noted that 10% of government expenditure is presently allocated to higher education. "We have to ask if we are getting value for our tax money being spent on higher education," he said.
He highlighted large numbers of unemployable graduates, the low academic standards, and the poor quality of research especially in public colleges.
Instead of free tertiary education for all, funds can be used to enhance the quality of public tertiary education system.
"Free tertiary education should be for those whose parents earn a low income," said Khoo Kay Peng, who is also a political commentator.
He highlighted that the government allocates RM200 million annually to retrain unemployed graduates.
"It speaks volumes of a need to revamp the tertiary education system if an undergraduate has to be retrained after just spending four years on his education," he said.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

'BN won't get two-thirds majority in polls'

'BN won't get two-thirds majority in polls'
2:17PM Jan 21, 2013 
It will be "impossible" for the BN to get a two-thirds parliamentary majority in the next general election - and this could lead to BN head and prime minister Najib Abdul Razak’s resignation, to a study says.

NONEThe Universiti Malaya Centre for Democracy and Elections (Umcedel) cited previous electoral records and current developments in arriving at this conclusion in its study.

Umcedel director Mohammad Redzuan Othman (left) told Malay daily Sinar Harianthat the BN would only maintain the status quo in the 13th general election “unless there are extraordinary things that we don't see such - as phantom voters - which we as researchers cannot study” 

“In the past general election, BN only garnered 47 percent of the popular vote in the peninsula, while Pakatan Rakyat won 49 percent. Nationwide, the BN only received 50.2 percent support,” Redzuan is quoted as saying.

pak lah istana negara meet agung on final day 020409 01“Former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's(right) popularity was over 70 percent when he entered the (2008) general election but Najib's popularity now is only 58 percent. So, it will be impossible for Najib to do better than Abdullah.”

Another factor is that Najib is the only premier who will be calling a general election without a redelineation exercise.

“Umno obtained the majority of its seats due to redelineation, not votes. This was proven when Abdullah obtained 64 percent of the popular vote but won 90 percent of the parliamentary seats (in 2004),” Redzuan said.

He noted that the convention in Umno is for a prime minister to resign should he fail to lead the BN to a two-thirds majority in the general election.

“It had happened to the first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, and to Abdullah. The same thing will happen to Najib...”

Merdeka Centre executive director Ibrahim Suffian, who shared this view, revealed that a survey by the independent pollster has similarly shown that it would be an uphill battle for BN to get a two-thirds majority this time around.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Listen, listen, listen! Have we gone overboard? — Douglas Tan

JAN 18 — In this day and age, there are YouTube sensations which catapult little known individuals to fame. The K-Pop star, Psy, went from a virtual unknown outside Korea into an international sensation, with his music video “Gangnam Style”, garnering 1.2 billion views on YouTube and setting a Guinness world record and spawning masses of parodies including local favourites such as “Oppa KL Style” and “Georgetown Gangnam style”.

On the local scene, 2012 was the year of cows in condos, with Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil being lambasted by political leaders and online media, and most prominently being featured in yet another “Gangnam Style” parody, “Ubah Rocket Style” released by the DAP. In 2013, the word of the month seems to be “Listen”.


For those who are unaware or oblivious of the background, a little known leader of an NGO called Suara Wanita 1 Malaysia or SW1M was propelled to fame when a YouTube video of a woman berating a student went viral on social media circles.

 Sharifah Zohra Jabeen reached notoriety, which is almost unparalleled in local politics in terms of ridicule and attention, from a video made at Universiti Utara Malaysia entitled “Forum Suara Mahasiswa Part 4” (translated into “Voice of the Students Forum Part 4”). This virtually happened overnight when she cut off second-year law student Bawani KS mid-way through her question by saying “Listen” 10 times and “Let me speak” seven times despite Bawani’s protests.

The crux of Bawani’s question was whether Malaysia would be able to move towards a system where university education could be provided for free. This is reflective of a promise being made by Pakatan Rakyat leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, to abolish PTPTN and provide free tertiary education to Malaysians. What proceeded from Sharifah Zohra’s interruption was ludicrous.

She then thanked Bawani for “having the guts” to ask the question, before turning to ask the students whether she had accorded “respect” to Bawani. At this point in the video, I began to feel sick inside because what she proceeded to do was nothing short of humiliating. She mocked Bawani’s attitude, said she is less “pendidikan” compared to her, asked her to leave the country if she is unhappy with the government’s policies, and then proceeded to say the now famous “even animals have problems”.

If there was anyone who was being disrespectful, it was Sharifah Zohra. Her reply was not only “kurang ajar”, it was a classic red herring. For many online netizens who vented their frustrations, she epitomised the Barisan Nasional government: arrogant, out of touch, emotionally cold and vindictive. Bawani, on the other hand, achieved hero status by being the underdog, standing up for her beliefs and daring to question the authorities.

Neitzen’s revenge

Although the forum itself took place on December 8 last year, the outpouring of wrath and ridicule only culminated in the past week. The parodies, Photoshopped pictures and even music “re-mixes” have all gone viral, especially on Facebook, with countless “likes” and “shares”. There has also been a Facebook page opened dedicated to asking Sharifah Zohra to apologise to Bawani.

Eventually this was highlighted on Yahoo! News and then the mainstream media just a couple of days ago. The controversy has also given birth to a slew of marketing opportunities. Yes 4G, DiGi and Nandos came out with their own “Listen” campaigns to great effect, catching the wave of emotion crashing against Sharifah Zohra. I admit that I also got caught up in all of this, going so far as to order a “Listen, Listen” T-shirt!

There seems to be no end to the scorn poured on Sharifah Zohra and Barisan Nasional from this sordid episode. What is apparent is that there is a lot of pent-up rage which is being poured out, which is far larger than Sharifah Zohra herself.

There is the anger at the BN for attempting to brainwash university students. There is also the arrogance and oppressiveness of the party which is personified in how Sharifah Zohra attacked Bawani. Subsequent to all of this, there is also the unrepentant recalcitrance by Sharifah Zohra not issuing an apology and with the SW1M Facebook page posting updates defending their president.

It may be an understatement to say that this may be worrying to Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his colleagues with the general election looming.

Gone too far?

However, in the midst of all this emotion, there were two of my friends who kept their heads to ask some very logical questions about the situation. Kelvin Yii posted a very meaningful video blog, providing a logical commentary and asking crucial questions as to the state of affairs transpiring from the event.

Another friend, Tai Zee Kin, proceeded to ask a very honest question, as to whether all the persistent mocking, joking and parodies would make us any better than Sharifah Zohra herself? Have we gone too far?

Politics, it appears, finds its basis on emotional hyperbole rather than constructive, rational discussion. Taking a step back, are we being excessively harsh on Sharifah Zohra? Perhaps so, especially where there are individuals in high political positions who had made blatantly racist or arrogant statements in the media in the past.

Sharifah Zohra perhaps is a victim of circumstances. Was what she did acceptable then? No it was not. Shall we feel too sorry for her then? Maybe not. But then again, have we as netizens allowed for emotion to usurp logical and pragmatic discussion? Yes, but I believe that it mostly down to the fact that we are guilty of jumping on the “bash Sharifah Zohra” bandwagon.

An omen for Barisan Nasional

 For the past half year I have been on the ground as a political worker, listening to the voices of the grassroots. The grumblings seem to grow louder as the election approaches and the discontent is reaching boiling point. Last week’s Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat’s tremendous success did not just add confidence to the opposition parties and pro-opposition NGOs, but it has also galvanised many supporters and fence sitters to firmly believe that a change of government is possible.

Part of this group is an increasingly vocal Netizen community, which continues to aggressively pounce on any kind of anti-BN fodder it can devour. Poor national policies, immigration issues, institutional corruption and incompetence all become secondary issues. Rational discussion goes out the window as raw emotion takes over, and the objective is clear: take down Barisan Nasional at any cost. Sharifah Zohra, despite all her shortfalls, has fallen victim to this sentiment.

I am reminded of a scene in the film “Les Misérables”, when the young revolutionaries whisper the lyrics “do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men? It’s the music of a people who will not be slaves again!” Though there will not be a revolution as our country is already a democracy, finally being free after 56 years of a BN government is now the idea of a people’s victory in Malaysia.

With unresolved scandals, the Selangor water issue and additional government handouts going into Chinese New Year, it has been a tumultuous start to 2013 for the BN. Brace yourselves ladies and gentlemen as “Listen-gate” is just the beginning.

With the election date edging closer and closer, do not expect the return of reason. I believe that the 13th general election will be the most emotionally-charged election in our nation’s history.

 * Douglas Tan is an active DAP grassroots worker. *

This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Channel News Asia: Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat

500,000 turn up at KL122 Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat

An aerial shot of the mammoth crowd outside and inside Stadium Merdeka.

SOME 500,000 people took to the streets of the federal capital Kuala Lumpur to make a clarion call for change and, a clean and fair 13th General Election.
With the 222-seat Parliament due for automatic dissolution on April 28, the country’s largest ever display of the Peoples’ Power is sending the shivers down the spine of the Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders who have ruled Malaysia for 55 uninterrupted years.
Corruption, racism and exploitation of religious sentiments have been the hallmark of BN (previously Alliance Party)’s rule till today.
The March 2008 political tsunami was the rakyat(people)’s wake-up call to the Umno-led BN to buck up on its governance.
The rakyat had in 2008, for the first time in Malaysia’s electoral history denied the BN its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament.
They also opted for the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to rule four states – Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor. PR retained its grip on a fifth state - Kelantan - through PAS.
Fortunately for the Anwar Ibrahim-led Opposition PR, BN-Umno remained arrogant and refused to reform and renew its political relevance to the people.
Here’s a first person account of what happened today:

500,000-people assembly for Change!
By Chua Jui Meng

IT WOULD have required a venue at least five times the size of Merdeka Stadium and its surroundings to accommodate the sea of people who turned up in droves for theHimpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat Kuala Lumpur (Kuala Lumpur Peoples’ Uprising Assembly) or KL112 today (Jan 12, 2013).
Some 500,000 Malaysians had started marching to the stadium as early as 8am for the historic KL112 that was scheduled to start at 2pm.
It was the peoples’ clarion call for a change in the federal government in the coming 13th General Election. In short, dump the super corrupt and evil racist Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) on polling day.
However, by noon the stadium was packed to the brim with no more standing space on the field. The crowd is estimated at 100,000 inside the stadium.

By 2pm, even the stadium car park and its surroundings were inaccessible, locking out some 400,000 disappointed multi-racial multi-religious Malaysians.
They had marched towards the stadium from seven popular gathering points that include the Petronas twin towers, Jalan Tun Perak, Brickfields and the National Mosque.
All three roads leading to the stadium were inaccessible to the marchers by 2pm.
We started marching towards the stadium from the National Mosque at 1.30pm.
The turnout was electrifying, taking us almost an hour to inch our way to the stadium. This assembly by the people, for the country, is such a huge success and incident-free.
The atmosphere was carnival-like with constant chants of Change! We must also give due credit to the police who performed professionally this time.
There were no intimidations, only smiles and excellent traffic control. The absence of roadblocks that saw the federal capital locked down previously ensured smoother traffic flows in and out of the city.
The intimidating armed Federal Reserve Unit force and its armoury of water cannons and tear gas canisters were also absent.
This shows the police can discharge their duty professionally to serve the rakyat when they remain apolitical or when there is no pressure from the ruling coalition to clamp down on the rakyatSyabas, Polis di-Raja Malaysia! (Congratulations to the Royal Malaysian Police Force!).
It also proves that Malaysians are very mature in public gatherings and they are peaceful when there is no agitation or physical force used to cow them.
Today’s peaceful and successful KL112 augurs well for Malaysian unity and a progressive Malaysia.
Here’s a pictorial blow to blow account of the march from the National Mosque to Merdeka Stadium:
Chua, former deputy minister Tan Yee Kew (in cowboy hat) and PKR supporters in pirits at the National Mosque.
A section of the crowd at the National Mosque.
AA section of the The march from the National Mosque to Merdeka Stadium begins … With little standing room, they inch towards the stadium, chanting all the way …
Slowly and peacefully, the thousands head for the stadium for their clarion call for Change!
On top of an elevated section of Jalan Kinabalu, they see thousands of others emerging from below near the Jalan Bandar traffic police station.
They are locked down near the Chinese temple at Petaling Street because there is no more room for the people to go uphill to the stadium.
Unable to proceed to the stadium, the marchers loiter around with some taking a rest on the Petaling Street foot path.
These Chinese youths are sending a message to MCA … we have no fear for PAS or hudud.
Two foreign journalists seized the opportunity to interview the iconic Aunty Bersih.