- In Putrajaya’s budget trim, a story of too little, too late
- Putrajaya’s cuts a knee-jerk reaction to public anger, says PKR
- PISA results and stark reality of Muslim countries
Posted: 30 Dec 2013 10:36 PM PST
After weeks of complaints about subsidy cuts in the face of higher government expenditure, Putrajaya finally conceded to an afterthought and decided to trim some allowances for ministers and government servants – a small sum that would be an insult to the rest of Malaysia.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced yesterday the 11 measures to curb government spending will start from tomorrow, ranging from trimming their entertainment budgets and travel allowances to catering expenses and electricity budgets. They will also freeze applications to renovate offices.
That’s about it.
Putrajaya’s back-of-napkin list to trim the fat is, to put it charitably, a shocking knee-jerk reaction to the angry voices that have filled his Facebook page, his twitter account and columns in online news portals.
Is this the best his pricey consultant can come up with after working out that the government needs to cut more subsidies to improve its finances and avert a credit-rating downgrade?
At the onset of the Asian currency crisis in 1997, the Mahathir administration took austerity measures and had a plan of action to balance subsidies and government spending.
The message was clear then: government ministers and civil servants will lead the way in cutting expenditure and be an example for the rest of the county to take the pain.
There was no preaching that people should learn to earn more and cut costs while government fat cats go about in motorcade convoys or foreign holiday trips, or have extravagant launches and events.
There was no talk that a lack of complaints in the official channels meant that people supported or understood the price hikes, which were delayed until after the general election.
The thing is, Barisan Nasional’s election manifesto promising, among others, efforts to reduce intra-city toll rates has gone the same way as its election campaign “Promises Fulfilled” tour – the dustbin of history.
The Najib administration’s move now is an afterthought: a concession to criticism that ordinary Malaysians have been asked to accept price increase and cuts in subsidy while ministers have been sheltered from any hardship.
It is shocking that any government did not think that the first step would be to cut costs and for leaders to set the example, rather than vice versa. Even Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been moved to say the same.
Putrajaya should have detailed an austerity drive to show how much fat can be trimmed and then ask the people to help take the pain and ride through the economic storm that no one talked about before the polls.
But Malaysians should not be surprised at the ineptitude of this government.
It seems so out of touch with the common people that it thinks cutting down on teatime curry puffs is a better solution than watching its budget on big-ticket items.
Posted: 30 Dec 2013 10:33 PM PST
Putrajaya’s austerity measures is simply a knee-jerk reaction to the rakyat’s anger and does not actually touch on the major issues, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) said today.
PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli (pic) said if Datuk Seri Najib Razak was serious about cutting costs, there were four simple measures which could be implemented that will help Putrajaya save billions of ringgit in taxpayer funds.
“Reducing the vehicle excise duty by 30% with the ultimate aim of doing away with the excise charges will help the rakyat… Hire purchase loans are one of the main burdens shouldered by the public and the reduction of excise duty will result in lower monthly repayments,” Rafizi said.
“Another simple way of cutting cost is to renegotiate the toll concession agreement with the concessionaires. They have already recouped the cost of building the expressway and there is no reason to increase toll rates.”
Rafizi said allocations for projects which gave ministers the room to spend without a clear objective should be cancelled. The same goes for the National Blue Ocean Strategy, which has an allocation of RM278 million in the 2014 Budget.
“Putrajaya should also freeze plans to privatise University Technology Mara (UiTM) campuses nationwide. The privatisation exercise will burden the public and the government as billions of ringgit will have to be paid in rent to the concession holders in the future.”
Rafizi said the four measures he had proposed were good examples of simple actions which Putrajaya could carry out if Najib really empathised and sympathised with the rakyat’s predicament.
Najib’s announcement yesterday was a knee-jerk reaction to the rakyat’s anger and not really an effective solution, he said.
“Reducing the entertainment allowance of ministers and deputy ministers by 10%, and that of senior government officers on the Jusa C Grade between 5% and 10% ,does not actually help plug the already existent wastage and leakages.”
Even if the cuts were carried out as Najib announced, Rafizi provided a calculation of the estimated savings, which amounted to RM600,000 annually. He said Najib only cut RM1,698 from his own entertainment allowance when his own allocation was RM6.8 billion.
“Najib was allocated RM6.8 billion for various projects and not a single cent has been reduced from that figure. It is this type of spending which has incurred the rakyat’s wrath as this is public funds which is going down the drain.”
Rafizi also said Najib's austerity measures such as reducing electricity usage gave the impression that Najib blamed government servants for his own failure in financial administration.
“The main reason for Malaysia’s financial woes is that Najib’s administration has not been serious in battling corruption. In fact, it seems to be involved in graft. Because of corrupt practices, many projects funded by Putrajaya cost more than double the original amount or does not actually benefit the rakyat.”
If Najib was serious about standing together with the rakyat to resolve the cost of living crisis, he must take immediate action to stop agreements which are unfair, those that shift a heavy burden onto the public, said Rafizi.
Malaysians struggling to cope with the hike in prices of goods and services on Monday vented their anger and frustrations by posting their complaints on Najib’s Facebook page.
Netizens remain unconvinced about Putrajaya’s attempt to justify price hikes and subsidy rationalisations. One user went as far as saying Najib and his entire Cabinet should step down if they could not resolve the issues plaguing the rakyat since they were useless and inefficient.
(The public had already been incensed by the wastage and leakages revealed in the 2012 Auditor General Report.)
Following the various postings, Najib later told Bernama that Putrajaya would be implementing 11 measures to slash public sector expenditure beginning January 1 next year.
The measures include reducing electricity utility cost, amending the eligibility of civil servants for domestic and international flight tickets and reducing the toll facility for senior government officers.
The Malaysian Insider described Najib’s actions as an afterthought as the small sum saved by trimming allowances of ministers and government servants was an insult to the rest of Malaysia.
Posted: 30 Dec 2013 09:52 PM PST
The results for the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that were presented in early December showed that of the 10 countries that topped the performance, not one of them is a Muslim country. As a matter of fact, of the final results tabled, not one Muslim country was placed in the top 40.
Half a million pupils in 65 countries and local administrations were tested in the three core areas of mathematics, science and reading. Shanghai scored the best result with 613, followed by Singapore and Japan.
With the exception of Turkey which took the 43rd spot scoring the highest among the Muslim countries followed by UAE, of the rest of the Muslim countries that took part such as Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Qatar, Jordan, Tunisia and Indonesia, suffice to say that they were placed within the bottom 50 and 60 jostling with Columbia, Peru and Albania for the award of worst performer!
Before anyone jumps the gun by blaming this OECD study as essentially biased and Eurocentric, let us be reminded the top three performers are Asian. It is indeed noteworthy that the results for 2012, 2010, and the 2009 Assessment showed that Shanghai students scored the highest in all categories.
According to the OECD, this study considers Shanghai a pioneer of educational reform, having transformed their approach to education. Instead of focusing merely on the elite, it appears they have adopted a more inclusive system. In other words, the democratization of access to quality education is a key factor.
Below is the table for the 2012 results:
If we take ourselves off the intellectual pedestal, let us ask what lessons we can take home from this study, apart from other indicators in different studies.
Firstly, there is no basis for the conventional argument that because Muslim students have to attend extra classes for religious studies over and above the routine academic lessons in the schools, they have less time to study and prepare for exams and hence perform not as well as non-Muslim students. In Malaysia, for example, Chinese students who also attend extra classes for Chinese-based subjects over and above the national-type syllabus do just as well in both.
Pedagogy and quality of teaching
Finland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland were among the best of the European nations. Studies have shown that students from Finland produced very good results in various subjects when compared to students from the United States and other countries. This was attributed mainly to the fact that in Finland, the very best graduates were recruited to become teachers.
Also important is the question of content and curriculum, including pedagogy. The quality of teachers is a matter of concern. The teaching profession needs to be given greater priority by the state. A proper incentive scheme must be introduced and to restore the profession to its earlier recognition. As it stands, apart from infrastructure constraints, Muslim countries suffer from a shortage of good teachers. But the issues should be more than that just a question of material resources.
Spending on education
The conventional belief that greater spending on education would yield better performance was also shown to be not always true. Thus, the analysis of the 2003 results showed that Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Japan and South Korea, which had spent less on education than the United States actually did better. While this should not be taken as an excuse to spend less on education, allocation of such funds for Muslim countries must be beefed up with the rider that the resources are to be spent effectively.
The issue of governance remains a serious problem in Muslim countries. For example, cases of misappropriation of funds allocated for poorer students continue to be a source of embarrassment. Poor governance also breeds corruption which then leads to wastages and leakages. Where financial resources get mis-channelled or misused, schools suffer and students become victims.
Bad governance in the running of schools also impacts on the quality of teaching when for example school authorities haphazardly transfer teachers to other areas without considering the effect on both the teaching and the teachers themselves.
Yet another lesson is probably the obvious one considering that the top three performances are connected one way or the other to the Confucian model of learning. Surely, Muslim countries should be able to draw some lessons from this phenomenon. Muslim intellectuals worth their salt must get off their high horse and study the Confucian model, adapt it according to Muslim requirements, if need be, and start preaching a culture of diligence in the pursuit of knowledge. The defensive response about reminding people of Islam's glorious history of learning and advancements in science serves no purpose if all it does is encourage us to rest on past laurels.
While it is known that Muslim countries are facing a crisis in higher education, this study is significant in showing that even in the formative mid-secondary school stage, we are seeing a crisis of alarming proportions. The fact of the matter is that Muslim countries are occupying the bottom rungs in higher education and advancement in science and technology. The PISA results are therefore a precursor to worse things to come.
Failure to take immediate remedial action may lead to a deeper crisis. In this regard, we call on the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to take the lead in addressing this problem.
27th December, 2013
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