MovingForward: Deliver The Manifesto Promises And Invest In People

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on October 21, 2019 – October 27, 2019.

Budget 2020 — Pakatan Harapan’s second — has been tabled and in many ways, the stakes are higher this time.

As we enter greater global economic and geopolitical turmoil, there is an urgent need for Malaysia to ensure future growth that is both sustainable and equitable. The best way to do this is to deliver on our manifesto promises and invest in the people.

The latest budget tabled by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng is a step in this direction. It is something we can build on for a better and fairer future for all Malaysians.

Jobs and wages

It is good that Budget 2020 focuses on my mantra, as PH Youth Leader, when we campaigned for the 14th general election: jobs, jobs, jobs.

The provisions in the budget to increase high-quality employment opportunities for locals (particularly graduates, women and apprentices) as well as to reduce our dependency on foreign labour are most welcome.

I also welcome plans to review the Employment Act 1955, including to increase maternity leave and extend overtime eligibility. The government must also take heed of gender discrimination as well as the research of scholars like Lee Hwok Aun and Muhammed Abdul Khalid, who found evidence of racial discrimination in private sector hiring.

Reform of labour laws should not be done piecemeal but holistically through an employment laws reform commission involving the government, the Malaysian Employers Federation and the Malaysian Trades Union Congress.

Separately, the proposed increase in the monthly minimum wage to RM1,200 in urban areas is positive. This proves that PH is on track to deliver its pledge to increase the minimum wage to RM1,500 by 2023.

Still, it is very far from the “living wage” concept proposed by Bank Negara Malaysia in 2016, including RM2,700 for individuals living in Kuala Lumpur.

Everyone should get behind this. IDEAS Malaysia (a pro-market think tank) has called for a tax credit scheme to encourage companies to increase the salaries of their lowest-earning employees — there is definitely merit in this. Government procurement can also be designed to favour companies that are committed to achieving a living wage.

A fairer gig economy

Lately, there has been great controversy over the so-called gig economy, including how to protect its workers.

California recently passed landmark legislation requiring ride-hailing companies to hire drivers as employees rather than independent contractors.

This will mean that such workers will receive labour protection and benefits like unemployment insurance, overtime, minimum wage and the right to unionise. It is perhaps time Malaysia considered passing a similar law.

It is worth noting that the salary of Malaysian workers lags behind that of their peers in benchmark economies. The low-wage growth model is archaic and no longer works. It does nobody any good in the long run. The quality and productivity of our workers will increase if they are paid better.

It is true that businesses should not be strangled by red tape. But workers should not be left to fend for themselves. Dealing with IR4.0 does not require a return to the exploitative practices of the First Industrial Revolution.

PH’s challenge is to create opportunities and safeguard the interests of job seekers, job holders and job creators in Malaysia — it can be done.

Sustainable public transport

The move towards targeted fuel subsidies also means that efforts to ramp up public transport must go into overdrive.

The revival of major infrastructure projects like MRT3 in a transparent and more cost-efficient manner will help close the MRT system’s loop in the Klang Valley.

I welcome the provision of 500 electric buses. Indeed, we ought to prioritise “green” public transport solutions to address pollution and climate change, the impact of which we in Malaysia know only too well.

A reasonable housing policy

The government has decided to lower the foreign ownership threshold for residential properties to RM600,000. In my constituency of Setiawangsa, a house of that value is not luxurious but the mainstay of the M40 group, including young professionals.

Indeed, as Chang Kim Loong of the National House Buyers Association has argued, this proposal will likely not encourage developers to build affordable housing.

The government should refocus on encouraging the building of affordable housing in the RM300,000 ceiling bracket in the urban areas.

Innovative ideas that can lower building costs, especially those that are environmentally sustainable, should also be incentivised.

Intra-ethnic inequality

There is also a need for the government to address not only inter-ethnic but also intra-ethnic inequality in Malaysia, especially in the Malay and bumiputera community.

The anomalies in Amanah Saham Bumiputera (ASB) and Tabung Haji are proof that there is a growing gap between the rich and poor bumiputeras.

Based on ASB’s 2018 annual report, a total of 7.4 million (or 76.92%) hold unit sizes of below RM5,000. Only 0.24% hold unit sizes of RM500,001 and above.

However, 9.15% of the unit holders have subscribed for 81.83% of total units or more than RM127.5 billion.

If we were to apply the Gini coefficient — a gauge of economic inequality where the lower the score the better — to ASB, the score would be 0.84, in sharp contrast to Malaysia’s, whose score fell from 0.513 in 1970 to 0.399 in 2016.

Similarly, 50% of the funds in Tabung Haji’s savings accounts come from only 1.3% of its contributors. According to media reports, a single individual contributed a staggering RM190 million!

The government could thus consider measures like prioritising the reinvestment of ASB dividends for accounts that are below the investment limit of RM200,000 because these make up the majority. Currently, accounts are still permitted to collect dividends that can be reinvested on top of the RM200,000 cap.

Tabung Haji should also return to its roots as a savings fund for the haj at a reasonable rate. This year, the cost of a basic haj package was around RM22,900 while the subsidy given by Tabung Haji was RM12,920. So, those who wish to perform the haj would only need to save RM9,980. Priority should be given to those saving to perform the haj, not to the elite for cosy investment.

Our conception of the New Economic Policy and, indeed, the bumiputera agenda, should shift towards a needs-based paradigm.

Nobody denies the good both have done. But indiscriminately handing out benefits based on race will not move the community forward. Indeed, it will simply exacerbate the socioeconomic divide within our ranks, to the detriment of the entire country.

T20 Malays must be trained and prepared to compete with the other races and globally. In the meantime, support must be provided to Malaysia’s urban poor, farmers and workers, most of whom are Malays and bumiputeras.

Doing this will be crucial to the government realising its vision of creating “shared prosperity”. The latter will not happen without the former.

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad is Keadilan member of parliament for Setiawangsa and was a member of the parliamentary special select committee for the budget. He has written several books in Malay and in English.

‘What’s Brewing’ Forum Panelist

During the 14th General Election, Pakatan Harapan (PH) won in an unprecedented outcome which saw them take over the reins from Barisan National.

PH provided a beacon of hope for equality, unity, and transparency – aspects that the previous government struggled with in recent history. Yet, there are worrying trends that threaten its actualisation.
Join us as we discuss this issue with YB Nik Nazmi (Member Parliament for Setiawangsa, Kuala Lumpur) and Professor Dr. Mohd. Tajuddin Bin Mohd. Rasdi on ‘What’s Brewing with Dr Rozhan’ on FB Live

Wednesday, 23 October 2019 at 8.30pm

The FoodPanda Issue: The Plight Of ‘Gig Economy’ Workers Must Be Given Attention

The decision by Foodpanda to maintain its new wage mechanism despite the government’s call for them to reinstate the previous scheme is unfortunate.

As noted in media reports, significant segments of its riders have expressed concern and unhappiness over the new scheme. Members of the public have also come out in support of them.

It is hence regrettable that a solution for this issue agreeable to all parties could not be found.

It is important—and possible—for workers in the so-called “gig economy” to be paid living wages while such firms to continue to thrive.

Tech companies in Malaysia should hence not be impervious to the needs of its riders—or public opinion.

I hope that all parties concerned will continue to communicate frankly and openly on this matter to ensure that fairness prevails.

On a wider scale, this incident reveals that Malaysia needs to do more to prepare itself for the rise of the gig-economy.

We must be equally concerned with ensuring that talent at all levels in this sector are properly compensated as with how to stimulate and incentivise its development.

The US state of California has recently passed landmark legislation to require businesses—including ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft—to hire drivers as employees rather than independent contractors in most circumstances.

This will mean that such workers will receive labour protections and benefits like unemployment insurance, overtime, minimum wages and the right to unionise, among other things.

It is perhaps time for Malaysia to consider passing similar legislation; although the views of both labour and employers should of course be considered.

Indeed, I understand that the Human Resources Ministry is considering amending laws to include who can be defined as an employee—this can certainly be looked into.

Other possible measures that could be adopted include the introduction of an hourly minimum wage, which would be of great help to gig workers, provided they meet certain standards of productivity.

All parties should realise that keeping wages low does nobody any good in the long-run. Malaysia have suppressed wages for far too long. The 2018 Bank Negara found that Malaysian workers pay still lag behind other benchmark economies, even after taking into account productivity.

Rather, what is needed are wise policies as well as cooperation on all sides to ensure that working Malaysians are both properly paid and productive. This is something the government must take into account moving forward.

Meanwhile, efforts must be continued to ensure a just resolution to the Foodpanda rider issue.

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD
KEADILAN CHIEF ORGANISING SECRETARY
KEADILAN CENTRAL LEADERSHIP COUNCIL MEMBER
SETIAWANGSA MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT

The Global ‘Climate Strike’ And Haze Must Be A Wake-Up Call

During a recent interview with Bloomberg, KEADILAN president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim described Malaysia’s latest bout with the haze as a form of “ecological warfare”.

He also called for outrage on the part of Malaysians, for the companies that were allegedly responsible for the forest fires in Indonesia which caused it to be held accountable – regardless of whether they are from Malaysia, Indonesia or other countries.

At the same time, youth all over the world—including in Malaysia—have taken to the streets as part of the “Global Climate Strike” inspired by the teenage activist Greta Thunberg.

Anwar’s comments and the youthful climate strikers share a common thread.

They are both telling us the same thing: protecting the environment and addressing climate change have become existential, mainstream political issues.

Anyone who still feels that this is an elite, fringe or Western-driven phenomenon is courting disaster. Neither can it be the flavour of the month.

We only need to look at the real suffering that the weeks of haze have caused Malaysians regardless of race, religion or socio-economic status to see how this affects us all.

Let us also not forget the UKM study which showed that the 2013 haze caused our country RM1.57bil in healthcare and loss of income opportunities. We can only imagine what the bill in 2019 will be like.

Sustainability is inextricably linked with economic progress: we cannot have one without the other.

There have been many suggestions of how ordinary Malaysians can do their part to reduce climate change, including everything from using less single-use plastic to taking public transportation more.

These are all worthy ideas that we ought to adopt if we can.

But ultimately, what is needed is for governments to lead the way by their policies and actions.

Malaysian leaders and their counterparts elsewhere cannot demand that their people change their lifestyles without first taking a good, hard look at their own.

There are some things that the Pakatan Harapan administration can consider towards greater sustainability, such as making government buildings energy efficient, whether federal, state or local government.

Malaysia has a decade-old Green Building Index (GBI). All government-owned buildings should strive to be on it by a certain deadline – say end-2024.

Measures to prevent wastage of resources like water and electricity in such facilities should be enforced and stepped up. Rainwater harvesting must be expanded extensively.

The government’s fleet of vehicles – including those used by Ministers should move to energy-efficient vehicles (EEVs). More needs to be done to facilitate the use of electric vehicles.

The Cabinet has reportedly approved an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act (EECA) to be tabled at Parliament later this year. This should be done: my Dewan Rakyat colleagues and I look forward to debating and passing it.

Encouraging recycling is also a good measure but we must realise that many people find the process confusing and opaque.

When I was a student in London, households are simply required to sort their waste into recyclables and non-recyclables. But in some local councils in Malaysia, waste separation is complicated and as a result ineffective. Hence, simplifying recycling practices is something authorities should look into.

Next, law enforcement is key. As per Anwar’s call, those who damage our environment must be brought to justice without fear or favour.

Cooperation with our neighbours to fight forest fires and other climate change phenomena must increase. Nations must be willing to coordinate with each other for the common good. We may find arguing about where did rendang originate from to be funny, but the debate about who is responsible for the haze actually cost lives.

Sustainability has to be at the core of Malaysia’s agriculture. But it must be adopted at all levels.

For instance, the bulk of oil palm, not only in our country but globally, is grown by smallholders – some 40% according to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Both the public and private sector as well as civil society must work together to ensure that smallholders can adopt sustainable agrarian practices that are both effective as well as affordable. There’s no way we can make our food and basic goods sustainable without this happening.

Also, 20% of Malaysia’s energy mix still comes from coal. An IDEAS Malaysia report has argued that this figure actually grew from 5% in 1996. It’s 2019, and more needs to be done to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels in favour of renewables. That will also help to increase usage of electric vehicles and public transport, resulting in a cleaner environment.

There has been talk of the need to introduce a carbon tax and reduce fuel subsidies.

This is admittedly a contentious issue. The key is to ensure justice prevails.

What is needed is comprehensive and accurate data, so that the implementation of both initiatives when they happen can be properly targeted.

There is also a big difference between Klang Valley which has a fast improving public transportation system and the rest of Malaysia where people still depend on private vehicles.

Care must be taken that the changes do not become a burden on the B40s in our society. It can be done.

Indeed, a carbon tax and cutting fuel subsidies will be of little use to the environment if the burden falls disproportionately on the poor and underprivileged.

Anwar and the climate strikers are both calling for not only individuals and companies, but also nation-states, to act for the future.

Their voices must be heard as the future of our planet is at stake.

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD is the Chief Organising Secretary of KEADILAN and MP for Setiawangsa. He has written several books in Malay and English. His latest books are a new edition of Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st Century and 9 May 2019: Notes from the Frontline.

Moving Forward Together Progressively

A decade ago, PKR politician Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad wrote his book, Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st, because he felt his community’s future was best assured with progressive politics.

He alIso believed that the fate of such progressive politics in Malaysia was in the hands of the Malays.

At that time, Nik Nazmi was (and is still) pushing for a more progressive paradigm where Malaysians would be at ease with their country’s diversity.

His book, Moving Forward, argued that the state of mind of the Malays was crucial if any change in Malaysia is to be sustainable.

Malays are by sheer number the biggest community in the country; we are also the fastest growing. Constitutionally, historically and culturally, we occupy a special position in Malaysia, ” he wrote in the preface of the updated edition of Moving Forward published this year.

Ten years after the publication of the book, the author observed on WhatsApp groups, Facebook page and mamak shops that the Malay community across all segments have become more worried.

“The issues of LGBT rights and child marriage exposed the deep divide in Malaysian society. This came to a head when the government spoke of ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) – a convention ratified by all Muslim majority countries except for Malaysia and Brunei – resulting in a massive rally combining PAS, Umno and right-wing NGOs, ” he wrote.

“In light of these events, Moving Forward is just as relevant today as it was in 2009. While the content remains largely the same as it was when it was first published.”

On Thursday, I interviewed the Setiawangsa MP at his service centre in Kuala Lumpur to get his insight on his community, their challenges and political future:

> How should the Malays move forward?

We are talking Malay equity being little. The New Economic Policy (NEP) has succeeded in creating a Malay middle class. There’s no question about that.

But if you look at the numbers deeper – there are books like Muhammed Abdul Khalid’s The Colour of Inequality: Ethnicity, Class, Income and Wealth in Malaysia – the NEP has created a gap which it can’t overcome. We see a large gap between rich Malays and poor Malays.

What we need to look at is how to solve the issue. But we need to address the problems that are affecting the B40 (bottom 40% households) which is mostly Malay Bumiputra.

But if we purely apply a race orientated approach, which many of our policies are based on today, the ones who benefit will be rich Malays – the Taman Tun Malays, the Damansara Malays. Whereas the Felda planters, paddy farmers, fishermen, the urban poor will not get the benefit.

What I’m saying is that it creates a gap between the rich and poor Malays. It also creates other issues – the poor Malays have been given this illusion that their problems happen because of the non-Malays. I accept that there are problems with private sector discrimination and all that because our system is a zero-sum game.

But at the end of the day, they will look for a bogeyman to blame. These issues are played up by the elites in a way for them to continue to get the power and to continue to get this preferential treatment.

> What’s the difference between 2009 when your book was published and 2019?

What happened in GE14 is historic. But there is a great sense of insecurity. Malay political identity has various parties representing the community. You have Umno practically splitting up into Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, and you have PAS splitting into Amanah.

But at the same time, you see PAS and Umno – the original Malay parties – getting closer and closer. So, in the short term, it makes sense for them. They look at what’s happening on WhatsApp, the likes they get on Facebook, and it’s easy to be carried away with that.

But for the future of this country, where do the non-Malays, which still consists of a huge proportion of the country, stand?

Umno’s strength has always been traditionally with Barisan National. PAS’ biggest gain was when it joined Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (which had a loose coalition with Gagasan Rakyat), Barisan Alternatif and Pakatan Rakyat.

The implication is when Umno and PAS get closer whether it can win power, and if it wins power, at what cost?

Now Umno has nothing to lose, in a sense for them, they can try to win power at all cost. Previously, they were leading the government. They were very reliant on the (non-Malays) at a certain extent. Now they feel that it doesn’t matter.

This is bad for the country as a whole.

> Why is the Khat, Zakir Naik and boycott non-Muslim products controversy happening now?

It is the result of political insecurity. As I said, the strategy that Umno and PAS are choosing now is to play up race and religion. This is not the PAS of (party spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat). This is not the 1Malaysia which (former Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak) used to talk about. In a way, you can understand where they are coming from. They need to think we need to win first, and if the nation burns, then the nation burns.

With Zakir Naik, some Malays think that they are giving up their identity because it is a DAP-dominated government. That is the narrative created. It stems from their insecurity… this cultural insecurity that religion and race are under threat.

Plus, as I said, fundamentally it is from economic insecurity, so they are looking for who to blame – Chinese bosses or the Pakatan government? And Pakatan government and Chinese bosses tend to overlap.

> Pakatan is getting an average of 30% of the total Malay votes, how can the coalition go beyond that?

We did well in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka and Johor. We did badly in Perak, Kedah and we lost Perlis and Pahang. We didn’t win a single seat in Terengganu and Kelantan.

My take is Umno and PAS are always traditionally present in Malay society. From birth to marriage to death, their interactions are with the ketua kampung who is usually appointed by Umno and the imam who is generally from PAS.

But on the flip side, the society is changing. There are more Malays in urban areas, and Umno and PAS do not influence their life.

Umno represents race and royalty while PAS represents religion. Between the two parties they already got the 3Rs which are traditional in Malay politics. It is something comforting and easier to stomach compared to complex ideals like multiracialism and all that.

And simply because they have been there forever. Umno has been around since the 1940s and PAS since the 1950s whereas the Pakatan parties are new.

> In GE15, how can Pakatan maintain the Malay seats it won or win more seats from the community?

How far Umno and PAS unity will take place is also a question. A marriage is always nice at the dating period, which is where they are now. And then who pays how much of the bills – which means who gets the seat and all that?

Najib tried to do it before GE14 but there was a revolt in Umno in Kelantan.

I agree we cannot look at it lightly. If it doesn’t happen, it’s a bonus. But if it happens, how do we face it?

We have to work harder. And I think all efforts should be on the economy. It doesn’t have to be race-oriented. The moment we are talking about helping people at the bottom and the middle of society, the bulk would be the Malays, without leaving behind the Indians, the non-Muslim Bumiputra and some Chinese who were in that category.

I don’t think a Malay who can afford (to buy) a bungalow for RM5mil should get a discount whatsoever. But a working-class Malaysian, who is predominantly Malay, earning RM2,000 to RM3000, should be assisted to afford a house.

Ultimately, we need to address economic issues – bread and butter.

I think GST had a bigger role in Najib’s defeat than 1MDB. 1MDB, of course, provided a nice narrative – ‘Where did our money go? To the super yacht? To the young, pudgy boy? To the diamond?’

But do you think people would care if the economy was doing well?