Building a new Malaysia should go much deeper

The dust is still settling after the watershed general election of May 9 and a sense of euphoria is still in the air.

Jun 01, 2018

By Anil Netto
The dust is still settling after the watershed general election of May 9 and a sense of euphoria is still in the air. The other day as the entrance hymn was being played, the guy next to me whispered in my ear, “I am so happy we finally got rid of those (censored!)”
Most people are still delighted with the new Malaysia that has been born — an outcome beyond the wildest expectations of many.

The signs are that people seem more upbeat, optimistic and hopeful for the future, more caring about their country and their fellow Malaysians and their surroundings. This is a remarkable turnaround.

Only last year, many seemed to have all but given up on the country. If parents had children studying overseas, more than likely, they would have encouraged them not to return home after graduating — and indeed, only a small minority of these graduates did actually return to Malaysia.

People were also ethnically and religiously polarised. Although those barriers will take a while longer to dismantle, the first signs in the wake of the election are promising.

During the election, most people voted for change and a new Malaysia — and their collective victory in dislodging a six-decade old regime-turned-kleptocracy, has given the people a newfound awareness of their collective strength arising from a unity of purpose.
People now seem a bit more courteous, more willing to reach out and speak to strangers they meet, as if they were long-lost comrades in a common cause.

Much will depend on how the new government fares in delivering on its pledges. No doubt, the new government realises the huge expectations placed on it by the Rakyat. It will be given a generous honeymoon period as it goes about clearing up the mess and huge debts left behind by the old order.

The blistering pace of reforms announced has delighted many. For a start, the newfound freedom of the press and for websites and blogs has been refreshing. The removal of all those familiar oppressive laws cannot come a moment too soon. Already many are looking forward to the abolition of the GST in the hope that will give everyone and the economy something of a lift.

But there are some things that could prove tougher to undo: the excesses of capitalism, along with neoliberal economic policies that have mainly benefitted the wealthy and Big Business.

The whole taxation system needs to be reformed to promote solidarity and the common good. Those who earn more should pay more in taxes.

The GST is just one example of a regressive tax that has shifted the burden of tax away from the wealthy/Big Business to the ordinary people, many of whom did not earn enough previously to be eligible to pay tax.

Other reforms need to be introduced such an inheritance tax, a more effective capital gains tax (to prevent property speculation) and higher rates of taxation for the super wealthy and companies earning large profits.

Why tax ‘super profits’ at higher rates? In most cases, such super profits are not earned in a vacuum. They often extract a heavy social and environmental toll — whether through the depletion of natural resources (that future generations have a right to enjoy), exploitation of labour (through low wages and suppression of trade unions), degradation of the environment (eg through polluting industry use; land reclamation that undermines fisheries, resulting in higher fish prices), and the conversion of farming land to industrial use (thus driving up the cost of even local fruit and vegetables for the public).

Such super profits are often re-invested (to earn even more profits) in socially damaging speculative activity — such as ‘investing’ in high-end property, which in turn drives up the rest of the property market, making new homes even more unaffordable to the rest of the population.

Neo-liberal capitalism also tends to concentrate profits in fewer and fewer hands — and this is something of a global phenomenon.

Meanwhile, national governments are often tempted to hand too many concessions to powerful and influential multinational corporations in the name of attracting foreign direct investment. This is not just confined to tax incentives; it sometimes extends to turning a blind eye to the exploitation of workers and the environment.

Look at how the foreign business media reacted in horror to an attempt to go against conventional neoliberal corporate wisdom when the new government announced it was going ahead to abolish the GST, as pledged. Shock! Horror! Followed by veiled threats about how the country’s credit ratings etc could be ‘downgraded.’

What most people don’t realise is that these credit or investment ratings are not based on the public interest. Instead, they are based on the interests of Big Capital. Now Big Capital would like lower taxes on the wealthy and companies; they would like the burden of tax shifted to ordinary people including the poor. So that is why Big Capital wants to maintain the GST in the hope that the tax burden will be shifted to ordinary consumers, like poor you and me.

The side effect of the neoliberal capitalist model is a society driven by materialism and greed (whether corporate or private) and relentless exploitation of workers and the environment — rather than solidarity and the common good and care for our common home (the environment).

Unfortunately, there are no elections to choose what kind of values our nation should be built on. Noble universal values are harder to instil, when all around us corporate media propaganda bombards us with messages urging go forth and buy and consume and express a self-centred from of individualism, never mind the impact on workers and the environment and the erosion of community solidarity.

So while we celebrate a new Malaysia, let us go even further and create a deeper reformation of our entire value system that is currently based on greed, materialism and exploitation. Let us nurture a value system built on love for neighbour (including the poor and marginalised), human rights and dignity, compassion, solidarity, the common good, socio-economic and environmental justice, and care for our common home.

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