New PPBM recruit Wan Saiful says incorrectly labelled ‘liberal’

New PPBM recruit Wan Saiful says incorrectly labelled ‘liberal’

PETALING JAYA, March 1 ― Political analyst Wan Saiful Wan Jan officially joined Opposition party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s (PPBM), in an event attended by its president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin today.

Wan Saiful, who is the founder and former chief executive of libertarian think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), said some in the public tend to project their own definition of “liberalism” when they label him.

 “People tend to label me with their definition of liberalism, which tend to be associated with LGBT rights, or their sense of civil liberties.

“However their definition of liberalism is often misinterpreted,” he told Malay Mail.

Liberalism encompasses a wide array of ideas, but its supporters usually push for civil rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, free trade, private property, and free and fair elections.

Malaysia’s religious authorities regularly demonises “liberalism” along with secularism and pluralism, claiming they are opposed to Islamic teachings.

In March last year, Wan Saiful had presented an IDEAS survey on Malaysians’ understanding of liberalism, and the think-tank highlighted that only 29 per cent of Muslims polled thought the ideology is a bad concept.

In his speech today, the 43-year-old Wan Saiful said he felt “ashamed” that it took him this long to actively join politics.

“The founding of this country is based on liberty and justice. What they describe as liberalism being associated with LGBT rights or running around naked in the streets, this is not what it means.

“For them to twist the meaning in a negative way is also wrong,’’ he added.

According to Wan Saiful, the definition of liberalism is the rule of law, defining the rules of the government, open economy and respect to individual responsibility.

“Take individual responsibility, for example, if you believe in a particular religion you have a responsibility to fulfill the obligations of that religion, which means if you are a Muslim you need to be a real Muslim as a liberal.

“The meaning of liberalism they describe here is that you are hedonistic and reject a religion that is also completely wrong,’’ he said.

When asked about his stance on liberalism despite being a former member of the United Kingdom Conservative Party and Islamist party PAS, Saiful said being liberal in a conservative party was not an issue.

“Being a conservative is okay as it is part of being a liberal. I don’t see a problem there.

“Conservatism is part of the bigger liberal family as well,’’ he said while adding it is the same for PPBM.

“I have often been labelled as a prominent intellectual and an influential thinker. Yet with such age and labels why am I late to come forward to fight for change which is sorely needed for our country?”

PPBM policy and strategy bureau chairman Rais Hussin, who was also present at the press conference, stated that Saiful would be the new deputy chairman of his bureau.

First published for Free Malaysia Today, 1 March 2018
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Big dreams? Time to wake up!

Big dreams? Time to wake up!

This will be my last column in this newspaper. On Thursday, 1 March, I will announce my entry into party politics.

In the last column two weeks ago, I said hypocrisy is rampant in our politics. Each side claims they monopolise the truth, and accuse their opponents as the root of all evil.

In the same week that column was published, several unexpected conversations took place with leaders of different political parties. These eventually led to my decision of formally switching from my current membership in PAS to another party. Things moved very quickly over just a few days.

My intention with this switch is pretty straightforward. For many years I have been saying that our politicians must up their game and improve the quality of our political debate. Yet as we get closer to GE14, things show no signs of improving.

PAS has warped into their 1980s thinking. Identity politics still dominate. We are overly fixated with the past. And we are not sufficiently debating the future.

I intend to at least try to change that trajectory. Perhaps I am being naïve. But I will never forgive myself if I decline the invitation to enter the fray and help push the quality of the debate upwards. At the very least, I want to be able to hold my head up and say that I am trying to reduce the hypocrisy.

As someone who have been going down to the ground, interviewing and talking to people from across the country, I know that the new path will not be easy. But, as I said, I want to at least try.

I have learnt a lot from the last nine years that I have been back in Malaysia, after 18 years of living in the United Kingdom.

I learnt that there are many people who want to do the right thing for the country. They exist in all layers of society, in both the private and the public sectors. I hope in my next step I will have the privilege to continue engaging with these amazing people.

I learnt that there are good individuals in all political parties. But our political environment is so antagonistic, we too often miss the fact that there many sincere politicians out there who may not be getting enough airtime. While too many clowns get unnecessary amount of coverage.

I also learnt that there are some really crooked individuals out there, in various parts of society. But our political system is so vindictive, such that people are often afraid to speak up against them.

These are the reality of life in Malaysia. I will need to face these challenges as I step into the new path. I will have to adjust quickly, but I am sure there are many readers here who will help hold me to account if I do the very things that I complained about in my past writings.

The biggest privilege is of course the opportunity to lead IDEAS. I am lucky to have had such a passionate and talented team at IDEAS. They grew IDEAS into a relatively recognised brand that it is today, regularly producing cutting edge research outputs.

Some friends from England were a bit baffled that I have to resign. They told me that people from think tanks take part in active politics every day. That is true, but not in Malaysia. Stepping down is of course not easy, but necessary.

One person, however, asked me a question that left me a bit stumped. He said that it is public knowledge that I am a member of PAS. So, if I am simply switching to another party, why is it so different such that I must leave?

I don’t have an answer to that. But such is the environment we are in today. And this is also why I think I need to at least try to do something to change it.

Lastly, let me say thank you very much to this newspaper for giving me the space to air my views. I have been writing for The Star, irregularly at first, since 2009. But this fortnightly Thinking Liberally column started on 9 July 2013. So it has been just under five years.

If you visit The Star online and go to my very first article, you will see that I started this regular column after a banter with the newspaper’s supremo Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai. Late evening last Sunday I told Chun Wai that it looks like this arrangement will have to end. I am grateful to Chun Wai and everyone at The Star. I have benefitted a lot from their invaluable advice and generous support.

I am sure we all have a dream. I pray that we will all wake up and act on that dream, sooner rather than later.

First published for Thinking Liberally, The Star, 27 February 2018
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Wan Saiful : Water Provision in Malaysia: Privatise or Nationalise?

Wan Saiful : Water Provision in Malaysia: Privatise or Nationalise?

Kuala Lumpur: The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) today released a briefing paper entitled “Water Provision in Malaysia: Privatise or Nationalise?”. IDEAS CEO Wan Saiful Wan Jan delivered a speech at the Water Conference 2017 that was held in Kuala Lumpur today to announce the release of the briefing paper.

The briefing paper contains case studies of how citizens can benefit from reforms that are driven by the desire to serve the people, rather than blind ideology. The paper explains that debates around the provision of water services have frequently been shaped by those who are anti-privatisation for ideological reasons rather than because of facts and data. But real improvements can be achieved only if analysts and policymakers avoid falling into the ideological debate and focus instead on pragmatically choosing the best way to serve consumers, including by getting the private sector involved.

The briefing paper also discusses the widespread Malaysian scepticism against privatisation. It argues that the scepticism is understandable, but it is caused by a mistake that we committed in the 1980s.

IDEAS CEO Wan Saiful Wan Jan presented the paper today at the Water Conference 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, organised by the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM). In his speech, he commented that the problematic 1980s privatisation exercise may have contributed to the opposition against privatisation of water services. Wan Saiful explains:

“The so-called privatisation of state agencies that began in the 1980s, more often than not, turned politically-connected individuals or groups into corporate directors and business tycoons. The privatised entities were often granted complete or near-complete monopoly on their various industries or sectors, precluding or shutting out any competition. I believe what we saw in the 1980s was not real privatization. What we saw was merely corporatization, not privatization. It was a transfer of government monopoly to monopoly by the corporatized entity.”

“True privatization should introduce competition in the supply market, and choice for consumers. But the Malaysian privatization did not create competition or consumer choice. If we have true privatization, we would see choice and competition in the market place. Competition is important because it will force providers to improve services and lower prices.”

“Our primary focus must be allowing people the freedom to choose their water providers, so that they can choose the best value for their money. We have to be more pragmatic and more mature in dealing with this important topic. Ideological opposition to privatization denies us of a possible improvement in our water services. Objecting to the privatization of water management simply because one believes private and corporate interests are inherently bad does not make sense and ends up hurting the very people in society who need help the most.”

First published for IDEAS , 16 November 2017

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Wan Saiful: Should We Decentralise PDRM?

Wan Saiful: Should We Decentralise PDRM?

OVER the years, several organisations and analysts, especially those from civil society, have argued that our Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) has too much power with very little check and balance.

Some of these comments are simply attempts to politicise the situation. They complain when the police act against them, but are silent when the actions are against those on the opposite side.

For example, when the police take action under the Sedition Act on those who are on their side, then the police are accused of being unfair. But when the same Act is used by the police against those whose views they disagree with, their reaction would be different.

As the body is tasked with implementing the law, these criticisms are unavoidable. The police force is bound to be criticised, or praised, by one side or the other. It is a reality of life that no one can please everyone all the time.

But we should not ignore opportunities to improve. There is usually a silver lining behind most criticisms. And that silver lining can be found if we were to take a non-emotional view when looking at almost all agencies, including our PDRM.

The PDRM is a body that is not yet sufficiently studied. We believe there is a need to look further into how to enhance public trust in this important law enforcement agency.

Last year, IDEAS commissioned a study on how to improve the accountability of the PDRM. From this project, we published a paper that compares the experiences of other countries in establishing police oversight agencies to handle police complaints and launch independent investigations.

We argued that the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), as proposed by the Tun Dzaiddin Royal Commission, should be set up immediately. We also suggested that the Government should reform the PDRM’s structure to avoid excessive concentration of power within the hands of the IGP.

Last week we produced the second paper from the same project. This time we looked specifically at how to make the office of the IGP more accountable.

The author, Nicholas Chan, further studied the concentration of power in the office of the IGP and how this may affect the equal application of the rule of law and the protection of human rights in Malaysia. This centralisation of power is a systemic issue that is at the heart of the accountability challenges when it comes to the IGP and the police force as a whole.

The reality is, despite Malaysia being a country that practises federalism, we still have many institutions that are heavily centralised. They are not decentralised, which is what one would normally expect from a federation.

The PDRM is a good example of that. Sitting at the top of a very hierarchical bureaucracy, the IGP as head of the country’s police force wields an enormous amount of power. He is in charge of 10 departments and all 148 police districts in the country.

Other countries that practise federalism such as India and the United States delegate many policing duties to subnational units so that the powers are devolved. This makes their police force, and the heads of such forces, more accountable to the local people they serve.

While having a centralised system does come with advantages, in Malaysia this has led to several concerns such as the lack of check and balance mechanisms on the IGP’s power. Independent oversight bodies are also absent in our country, thus resulting in the IGP acting with almost absolute power that is not properly checked.

It would be better if these powers were decentralised.

This new paper advocates two forms of decentralisation of the police force.

First is a horizontal decentralisation. This can be done by separating the Special Branch from the PDRM. This is a normal practice in countries such as the US and their Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as well as Indonesia and their Badan Intelijen Negara (BIN). By doing this, the IGP will no longer hold unfettered powers and the Special Branch can function better and be accountable for their own actions.

Second, there should be a vertical decentralisation whereby the national, state and even municipal police forces are separated. By doing this, the accountability of the whole police force will be greatly improved as there are more points for checks and balances.

I believe both steps will help strengthen public trust in our police force. I fully accept that these ideas will take time to come to fruition, but it is worth considering them from now.

First published for The Star , 24 October 2017
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Wan Saiful: Think quality first, unity will come

Wan Saiful: Think quality first, unity will come

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of think-tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), also said having schools of various streams is not a hindrance to unity.

“If we want to force students to go into one stream, we need to abolish all Islamic religious schools, MRSM, boarding schools, pondok schools, international schools, Christian missionary schools, together with the vernacular schools.

“Then only you can create a true one stream system. Can you imagine how chaotic and divisive it will be if we pursue that path? It will make things much worse than now,” he told Malay Mail Online when asked to weigh in on calls for single-stream schools.

He said those pushing the agenda of single-stream schools are actually causing division, adding that they are happy to push for it as they will be unaffected if such a policy is adopted..

“Their children are either already in a school dominated by one ethnicity, or they can afford to send their children to private schools or even abroad,” he said.

Ordinary folks who are already struggling to make a living do not have the luxury of thinking about the majority ethnicity of a particular school, and merely want a “good quality school” that will give their children better opportunities than themselves, he said.

“We will go to wherever the quality is better. So instead of diverting attention from the quality weaknesses in our national schools, and instead of harping on this issue to gain votes in the upcoming general elections, let’s focus on the issue of quality.

“Everyone regardless of race and religion will unite around a good quality school,” he said.

First published for The Malaymail Online , 4 July 2017

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State more dominant in business

State more dominant in business

The Government has a stronger grip on the largest companies in Malaysia, owning about 47% of the KLCI.

THE New Economic Model (NEM) was among the important documents published in the early years of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s premiership.

It was produced by the National Economic Advisory Council (NEAC), which was set up to formulate a plan to drive Malaysia’s transformation into an advanced nation by 2020.

The two-part document is specific when it comes to the role of Government in business. Let me quote directly from the documents.

“Private investors have taken a back seat. In some industries, heavy Government and government-­linked company (GLC) presence has discouraged private investment.”

It then says that one of the “old” approaches that is still prevalent in the economy is “Dominant state participation in the economy, large direct public investment (including through GLCs) in selected economic sectors” and hints that the NEM will change this.

The NEM adds, “While this ap­proach may have served the country well in the past, it is unlikely to provide the dynamism needed to spur the country to developed country status.”

It goes on to say, “The Government as both business owner and regulator of industries faces conflicts of interest that can give GLCs an unfair advantage over private firms.”

To spur private sector investments, the NEM says we will “divest GLCs in industries where the private sector is operating effectively.”

And further, “In sectors where the private sector is operating effectively, GLCs will be privatised. Remaining GLCs will be required to operate on a commercial basis without Government preferential treatment.”

I could go on and quote much more from the two NEM documents, but I think the above is sufficient to illustrate how the Govern­ment knows that GLC dominance in the economy is bad for our future.

In 2011, the Performance Manage­ment and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) included in their Eco-no­mic Transformation Pro­gramme a Strategic Reform Ini­tiative (SRI) called “Reducing Govern­ment’s Role in Businesses.”

In their 2014 Annual report, Pemandu said that the Government is committed to shifting the Government’s role in business from investor to facilitator.

They also said that they want to do three things, namely “clearly establish the Government’s role in business, develop a clear divestment plan, and establish clear governance guidelines for Government and state-owned companies.”

However, in Pemandu’s 2015 Annual Report that was released last month, the whole target of reducing the Government’s role in business was reduced to just a small footnote on page 10 of their annual report, which reads “divestment had been completed by the 33 companies that had committed to do so at the launch of the SRIs in 2011.”

There was no mention of the three things they wanted to do, but they implied complete success in achieving this SRI.

I checked what actually happened in the markets. Unsur­prisingly, I found that the commitment to reduce the Government’s role in business remains unfulfilled and the Government has in fact gone the opposite way.

The full findings can be found in the paper entitled “Lesser Government in business: an unfulfilled promise?”, available from Ideas’ website.

Pemandu claims a 100% achievement rate when it comes to divestment of companies under GLCs and government-linked investment companies (GLICs).

This is true only if we talk about the 33 companies Pemandu identified in 2011 and nothing else.

But if we talk about the actual state of Government’s role in business as envisioned by the NEAC in the NEM, the Government has not succeeded.

From 2011 to 2015, the Government’s share in the 30-stock FBM KLCI actually increased from 43.7% to 47.1%, indicating that the Government now has a stronger grip on the largest companies in Malaysia.

The Government has also increased its investments in private companies as compared to its disposals.

We found that the total value of GLC acquisition was RM51.7 billion, and this dwarfs total disposals, which only stands at RM29.5 billion.

To illustrate how bad it is, did you know that when you eat at Popeyes, Tony Roma’s or Manhattan Fish Market, you are actually eating at restaurants that are majority-­owned by the government?

Frankly, this is really weird because as far as I know, the only other Governments actively building restaurant chains are either Marxist or totalitarian, like North Korea with their Pyongyang Restaurant brand.

Pemandu hides the bigger story, which is that the Government has actually not reduced its overall role in business. Their grip has actually increased.

In fact, Pemandu itself has set up a new GLC called the BFR Institute, entering the consulting market which was previously free from direct Government interference.

They may have even gained an unfair advantage because they used the Prime Minister’s Office as their official address, until I alerted them about it. They have since changed their address.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done if the Government is still committed to achieving their own target.

Claiming to have achieved it when they haven’t is not the right thing to do.

First published for The , 24 May 2016

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Wan Saiful : Critics should stop acting like they are smarter than parents

Wan Saiful : Critics should stop acting like they are smarter than parents

Since Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s Budget 2016 announcement last year of two new pilot programmes to support the improvement of English language proficiency of students in schools, the Dual Language Programme (DLP) and the Highly Immersive Programme (HIP), have faced a barrage of unfounded criticism and opposition from critics.

These pilot programmes should be celebrated because the government is finally allowing parents to have a say in their children’s education, albeit still in a limited way.

This is a bottom-up policy where parents are able to vote on whether their child’s school gets DLP, HIP, or even opt out altogether.

This is a powerful move, yet it seems that many groups don’t understand that the school leadership and parents hold the power.

It is an unsupported and harmful assertion to claim that these policies are a throwback to colonial times, and to falsely accuse that it prioritises English at the cost of proficiency in Bahasa Malaysia.

Schools can only do it if they are already good in Bahasa Malaysia. These detractors are denying parents the right to choose what is best for their own children.

Who are they to dictate what parents can or cannot do? Are they saying that all parents are too stupid to know what is best for their children?

What makes them think they know better than the millions of parents and teachers?

The DLP will only be offered to government national schools that meet four criteria: proper resources, teachers who can teach in English and Bahasa Malaysia, parents who are supportive of the programme, and schools that are already performing well in Bahasa Malaysia with cumulative grade point averages (CGPAs) at or above the national average in national examinations.

They will be given the option to teach Science, Mathematics, Information Technology and Communication, and Design and Technology, in English or Bahasa Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the HIP aims to strengthen English proficiency by increasing usage hours outside the classroom.

These are essentially what the programmes are meant to do.

First published for MalaysiaKini , 27 March 2018
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