KUALA LUMPUR: The G25 group of former senior civil servants, in welcoming the establishment of the Economic Action Council (EAC), called on it to boldly tackle politically sensitive structural issues.
It said in a statement today that if the EAC could “make progress on the politically sensitive structural issues affecting the economy, labour market, and education, it will have made a great difference.
“Progress in these major policy areas will strengthen national confidence and trigger a positive mood, which will in turn be a catalyst for a better economy. For example, the ringgit will strengthen and enable a reduction of imported inflationary pressures to help improve the life of the ordinary people. Any improvements that are made in the economy will benefit the poor and as the Malays are the majority, they will be the main beneficiaries of the reforms.”
It noted a few areas where, due to a lack of political will, structural reforms were dropped in the past. For instance, it said, the previous New Economic Model and other reports had recommended that the affirmative action policy should be restructured to make it needs based, instead of race based, so that in continuing to help Malays and other Bumiputera communities to increase their participation in the economy, the deserving poor among other races would not be ignored.
But, it said, the previous government had to “quietly bury the NEM report under the carpet as the structural economic reforms were considered too politically sensitive for comfort”.
“Similarly, past governments had agreed to measures to reduce the excessive dependence on cheap foreign labour and plug the loopholes on the entry of immigrant workers. But due to lobbying from vested interests, and the corruption that went with it, no progress was made. Instead, we are seeing an increase in illegal immigration of foreign workers.”
The G25 acknowledged that Malaysia would continue to need foreign labour to propel its growth but called for better control on illegal immigration as this had a negative impact on wage levels among the working class and was a major obstacle for wages to rise in tandem with productivity growth.
“The EAC must address this labour and human resource issue urgently to facilitate wages to increase with growth and productivity improvements. Currently the share of wage income in Malaysia’s GDP is just over 30% which is low relative to the developed Asian countries, over 40%.
“If we want to see our working class earning the ‘living wages’ like what is recommended by Bank Negara Malaysia and the Khazanah Research Institute, measures should be taken to rationalise the inflows of foreign labour and punish employers who are exploiting their foreign workers with slavery wages, because such irresponsible actions are pushing down wage levels across all occupations in the economy.”
On education, G25 agreed with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad that the education curriculum had an excessive amount of Islamic subjects which made national schools look like tahfiz schools.
It said the “zealousness on religion” resulted in less time for the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. .
It supported the proposal by Perlis mufti Asri Zainul Abidin that “religious education should be taught in the afternoon so that there is no racial segregation of students in the morning session”.
Asri, in an open letter to the prime minister and the education minister, had said, among other things, that during periods when Islam was taught to Muslim-Malay pupils, those of the other races were separated and moved to other classes and that this was not conducive for national unity.
“By devoting the morning session entirely to the secular subjects, there will be longer teaching and mentoring hours for English, science and maths, and more contact time between teachers and their pupils. This will facilitate productive teaching and make school life more rewarding for both teachers and students. It will create a positive environment for quality education and thereby attract all races to send their children to national schools.”
The G25 also called for efforts to increase wages in the private sector to attract talented Malaysians who now looked for better opportunities abroad.
“Malaysia is subjected to the same global inflationary pressures as other countries. While this saw a rise in cost of living, stagnant wages added to the financial stress felt by all, especially those in B40. Most of the wage increases have been in the public sector, not in the private sector. Talented Malaysians looking for better pay go abroad, mostly to Singapore, thus causing a brain drain.”
On Feb 11, the Prime Minister’s Office announced the formation of the EAC which it said would examine and make decisions on economic and financial matters and look into problems faced by the public.
“The council will also look into issues related to the cost of living, employment, poverty and homeownership,” it said.