BUDGET 2009, and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s declarations that it would form the next government was examined and discussed by the Chinese media during the week between 30 Aug and 5 Sept 2008.
Liew Ching Wen, in his Oriental Daily column on 3 Sept titled Reduce Employees’ EPF Contribution, said the country has a working population of 10.5 million, of which 1.2 million are income taxpayers. Of these, only 38,000 persons are subjected to the highest 28% income tax rate.
He said by using these figures to evaluate how much taxpayers would benefit from this move, it can be concluded that the government’s “caring budget” only looks good on paper.
Liew wrote that the proposal to increase tax rebates for wage earners who earn less than RM35,000 per year from RM350 to RM400 only benefits 100,000 people.
He also estimated that for those who earn between RM35,000 and RM250,000 per year, the reduction in marginal tax from 13% to 12% only results in them paying RM150 less per year.
He argued that if the government cared about the rakyat and wanted to ease the pressure on lower-income groups, the most comprehensive way was to decrease payments to the Employees Provident Fund (EPF).
For example, if the percentage of payment to EPF is reduced from 9% to 5%, a worker who earns RM2,000 per month would have RM80 to spend per month or about RM1,000 per year. This was considered better than the RM150 tax rebate per year for workers who are burdened by inflation.
Doing so will release the consuming power of 10.5 million workers, and the impact would be more significant than just giving 120,000 taxpayers more purchasing power, said Liew, who also asked how the 9.3 million people who are not taxpayers and not civil servants would increase their disposable income, apart from working part-time.
“Reducing EPF payments has at least two advantages. First, it would not add to employers’ human resource cost; and second, it would not reduce the government’s income from taxes,” he wrote.
However, the reduction in EPF payments should not be a long-term measure but a short-term contingency plan to counter food inflation, he added.
PKR lacks real policies
On 3 Sept, Malaysiakini columnist Er Hock Chiye, in his column titled Avoid Competition in Populist Policies and Push for Reforms, described PKR’s political rhetoric about a change of government as merely a way to canvass for votes, without being backed by policies.
He pointed out that PKR does not seem to have two important criteria to form government: they have not set up a shadow cabinet that formulates policies, and they don’t have a specific political manifesto that plans, governs and develops various sectors of the country.
“I know that PKR has distributed many pamphlets and banners, issued many press statements, and made headlines in the local and foreign media. But the content is all about photos of Anwar, his plans to seize power, and his promises to cut petrol prices.
“This is in addition to the slogans and rhetoric condemning Pak Lah (Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi)’s incompetence, implicating [Datuk Seri] Najib [Abdul Razak] in corruption and sex scandal, and accusing the Barisan Nasional of corruption.
“But in all of the coverage, there is no specific policy offered and no administrative team line-up.”
Er said in order to prevent Anwar’s grab of power and Najib’s pressure on him to retire, politically hamstrung Abdullah presented a Budget to curry favour from civil servants, lower-income Malay families, and East Malaysian “frog” politicians.
Civil society and public intellectuals should also be critical of Anwar and PKR, Er wrote.
He asked whether Anwar would reform oppressive legislation such as the Internal Security Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Police Act, and the Universities and University Colleges Act.
If Anwar came into power, Er also wondered if he would formulate a freedom of information act and an anti-monopoly act; revive local council elections; and set up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) and the Judicial Appointments Commission.
Would Anwar propose a roadmap for good governance or just compete with Umno in populist policies to earn public support?
The charge of sedition
Merdekareview’s columnist Alex Koo said in his 3 Sept column that he was the first person charged by the government under the Sedition Act.
In the column titled after a Chinese proverb, ‘Bean stems and beans are born of the same root, why the rush to cook the bean?’, he wrote: “In 1972, I was speaking to a 10,000-strong public gathering at the Ipoh Chinese Assembly Hall, criticising Malay special rights as an illusion, like ‘drawing cakes to allay hunger’ for the Malays. And I was charged for touching on sensitive issues.
“I pointed out then, if an acre of land is offered to a non-Malay for RM10,000 but to Malays for RM1,000 only, only 10% of the Malay bourgeoisie will benefit from it as 90% of the proletariat do not even have RM100.
“While the bourgeoisie will benefit handsomely from these special rights, the majority of Malays will still live in poverty, and the gap between rich and poor will continue to widen.
“That is why after more than 30 years, PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim strongly condemns Malay special rights as a policy that ‘cheats Malays’.” Koo added that after him, many non-Malay political activists and commentators were charged and jailed under the Act, including current Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng.
Koo said he could not understand why the authorities have not charged opportunistic politicians who issue public statements such as “balik Cina”, “bathe the keris in Chinese blood” and “as the Chinese are only immigrants, it is impossible to achieve equal rights among races”, when these statements are clearly seditious.