Good morning from Thailand. It is raining a lot and I have decided to cancel my outdoors walk this morning. It is the monsoon season here, and it rains in many short bursts.
The human rights conference is progressing well and the networking is slightly different this year. This year, we have seen an increase in younger ASEAN MPs participating, and they bring a different buzz to the conference.
It is a sight to have the younger generation MPs (below 35) having tea breaks, lunches and dinners with older political doyens (above 60). Being 50, going 51 next month, I suppose I fall into the middle to older category, somewhat bridging the two groups.
Overall, I am somewhat amused by how the next generation MPs measure their political contributions by clicks. There is a substance deficit, an addiction to form, a disdain of experience and a fixation to please the public. I understand why the next generation, who feels deeply let down (inequality, climate change), half listens to the doyens. Doyens in turn, are alarmed by the frenetic search for populism with the fickleness of policy positions.
Anyhow, the conference is expected to end this late evening. I will catch a flight back to KL tomorrow morning and be in Parliament around lunch noon.
Greetings from Thailand. We had a productive first day of meetings, three more days to go. Good to catch up with my old friends Khun Kasit, Kwankwa and Khun Chaturon. Also good to meet other friends from ASEAN. These meetings are important as ASEAN needs to reassert its centrality and unity in the coming decades, in face of the immense challenges from the geo-political quarrel of US and China.
News are coming in that my friend Mu Sochua, Cambodian MP in exile, has been detained by the Malaysian government. She was stopping by Malaysia, en route to Cambodia. I have known Mu for some 5 years now, a soft spoken yet tough and consistent advocate of human rights.
I call upon my own government to release her immediately and that she be given the right to choose her next destination.
I woke up an hour ago. I was woken up by a cacophony of roosters crowing; the hotel is located near a village. It is 6.40 am in Phuket, Thailand. We will start our human rights conference at 8.30 am. Breakfast starts at 6.30 am and I will go and makan shortly.
The PM economic advisor has unequivocally said it, that our poverty level is close to 20% and that our measure of poverty is just wrong. How can we continue to delude ourselves with claims that the poverty rate in Malaysia is 0.4%?
When I first ran in 2013, I campaigned in Desa Mentari, Kelana Jaya and saw the urban slums for the first time in my life. For the next five years as MP for Kelana Jaya, I channelled 80% of my miserably small RM250,000 per year community allocation to help the poor in Desa Mentari and Desa Ria. Of course, my middle class Subang Jaya communities were not too happy to receive the balance 20%. I gave most of my SJ community associations a token RM500 per year from my office, then saved most of the money for Welfare Month in June for the poor in Desa Mentari and Desa Ria. Over time, the grumblings from my Subang Jaya communities died down but the fact is many good, caring middle class people are just not fully aware of the real crisis we have in our urban poverty areas.
So when the government denies we have a problem by using skewed stats, then we are basically denying the existence of desperation in the urban slums and rural poor in Malaysia. Denial leads to no serious actions taken to address this massive inequality issue.
The poor need help, but they do not need more unconditional cash handout which robs them of dignity and makes them “thankful” to politicians. Cash handouts are truly useful if they are conditional and serves as a temporary stop gap measure. What the poor fundamentally need to better their lives, is fair living wages. What the Malaysian economy also needs is better domestic consumption, so if you pay your workers fairly, they in turn consume more domestically. This then helps the bottomline of business owners and employers. A virtuous economic cycle is then created and social economic desperation is eliminated. In short, the country becomes more equal, more prosperous and happier.
If we continue to game our economy to help only the elites and billionaires, whose main preoccupation now, seems to be to buy PLUS for a song, then we are not much better than previous administrations in dealing with the issues of inequality and poverty. So kudos to Dr. Muhammed Khalid for continuing to say it, as it is.
I am at KLIA, waiting to catch the 5pm flight to Thailand. I had more fiscal policy meetings this morning. After all this is the budget session. My officer Dhinaa and intern Eun met Anwar at the MP lounge. They had been reading up on the history of Anwar, about the trauma he had to go through in 1998 and also his last incarceration in 2015. They had wanted to meet him and ask about the courage and perseverance needed to continue to fight for reforms.
Then I had a lunch meeting with Deputy Speaker Nga to discuss Parliamentary reforms. This is a follow up to my meeting with Tan Sri Speaker yesterday on the same topic. Then I had a post lunch meeting with some corporate people, all concerned about the lack of political direction. There is a sense that we are stuck in a time warp. I will be mostly offline in Thailand but will post from time to time, when free.