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Friday, December 19, 2008

> So what exactly does the government do?

by Brian Yap, The Malaysian Insider.

As if many Malaysians weren't already concerned about the lack of competent leadership, or any leadership for that matter, a recent statement by the designated future Prime Minister made me wonder if anything will change in his administration.

In the wake of the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide tragedy, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak called on developers not to lobby or pressure the Government for any building permits for hillside development.

In one simple statement, it became clear to me why Malaysia is in trouble.

If the second highest-ranking individual in the executive branch doesn't realise that it is the government that has the authority to decide on the building permits it chooses to grant, then something is clearly wrong. To put it simply, corporations have become more powerful than our government.

This failure to understand the role of a government might explain why the current administration is so bad at governing.

Here's a simple breakdown on what governments are supposed to do, since it's obvious so many remain unclear of the concept.

Developers are obviously going to lobby and pressure to get their way. Corporations are definitely going to do whatever it takes to maximise their profits. That's what they do.

That in itself isn't a bad thing. It is why we have laws and public institutions regulating the private sector. The government's role then, is to protect the interests of the people who gave it the privilege to serve, the Malaysian public.

There, not so hard to understand, is it?

The reckless wave of privatisation in the '80s, however, has created a government that is largely disinterested in governance. Virtually everything is outsourced to the private sector or government-linked corporations that are not accountable to the people.

If PLUS wants to raise its toll rates, and the poorly negotiated contract allows it to, then all Malaysians can really do is reload their Touch 'N' Go more frequently. If Tourism Ministry "subsidiary" Pempena takes public funds and uses it to invest it in luxury taxis, we cannot vote for a different CEO in an election.

In many ways, the government, be it federal, state or local, has auctioned off much of our country to the highest bidder. It is why Petaling Jaya has become one big advertising space, subject to the whims of billboard companies.

It is why the federal government is threatening a 37% increase in water tariff if the Selangor government doesn't hand over the public's water service assets, worth RM5.5 billion to a private corporation.

And it is why Tenaga Nasional has to pay RM1 billion a year to the Jimah IPP for power it does not need, indirectly raising the cost of electricity to Malaysians.

The examples of corporate interests superseding public benefit are endless. When the most powerful telco in the country gets the contract to build a high-speed broadband network, despite its embarrassingly poor record of providing Internet service, it is clear that the government is more eager serve corporate interests than the greater Malaysian good.

Given the right conditions and regulations, there is no doubt that certain sectors do benefit from privatisation. The competitive mobile telephony industry, for instance, has made cell phones affordable to most Malaysians.

There is also an argument that the private sector often does a better job than the government. To me, however, it isn't so much a positive argument for indiscriminate privatisation, but rather, a sign of gross incompetence on the part of the government.

So now, this trend of privatising everything but sunlight and air has left us with a government that struggles with basic administration and has essentially ceded its power and authority to govern to big business. A government that has to plead with developers not to risk people's lives by building on hillsides, instead of exercising its authority to pass laws and enforce them.

Where is our pride, our maruah? Being washed away by the rain like so many homes in Bukit Antarabangsa - The Malaysian Insider.