By Dr Syed Husin Ali
PRIME MINISTER Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s announcement on the moves to liberalise the 27 services sub-sectors raise a number of basic questions.
Firstly, what does he really mean by “liberalisation”? Is it merely confined to the lifting of 30% bumiputera equity? What are the efforts for socioeconomic upliftment of the poor and marginalised from all ethnic groups?
In this connection what does liberalisation of the health and social services imply? Najib needs to explain this very clearly because liberalisation is closely related to privatisation. Health is one of the key social services that can be used by a responsible government to promote and preserve the welfare of the people at large. It should never be privatised.
Secondly, in the context of globalisation — which is often seen as a new form of neo-colonialism underpinned by the free market system — the processes of liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation are closely interlinked. Does this mean the denial of the role of the state? With the serious recessions now being experienced in the West, isn’t free market and neo-liberalism already found wanting?
Can these processes guarantee greater welfare for the ordinary people? Or will they only further the interests of big businesses from the global capitalist centres and the local counterparts that collaborate with them?
Thirdly, Najib hopes that his liberalisation move will improve Malaysian international economic competitiveness which has been sliding over the past few years. But is competitiveness the only or main thing? Is it useful to have improved competitiveness if it does not guarantee greater benefits to the workers, farmers and other low-income groups, but instead create concentration of wealth, wider socioeconomic gaps and worsening of comparative poverty?
Finally, Najib seems to assume that with his liberalisation move there will be more inflow of foreign direct investments. This need not necessarily happen. Isn’t the prime minister aware that many negative factors, such as chronic corruption and absence of independent judiciary, together with constant violations of basic human rights can drive away potential investors?
Furthermore, why should there be such obsession on the FDI for growth and development? Why don’t we draw lessons from those developing and developed countries that have managed to industrialise and develop by depending more on the mobilisation of domestic capital?
Dr Syed Husin Ali
Parti Keadilan Rakyat