Mahathir’s attacks on the poor shows he has lost his marbles!

Mahathir’s attacks on the poor shows he has lost his marbles!

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is back to his old self! This time the grand old man condemned the poor at the monthly address at the Prime Minister’s Department assembly yesterday morning.

His perception of the poor lacks humanity and humiliated the millions of workers and people who work hard, day in, day out, just to survive. Only someone with a Donald Trump mentality would be able to appreciate such a speech that degrades and undermines people.

Mahathir was quoted as saying, “Why are they poor? Because they are unproductive and do not contribute to society in a way where society would repay them.” He also said the poor should not feel envious of the wealthy because the wealthy pay high taxes and the government uses this money to pay salaries and develop the country.

‘Who is Mahathir calling unproductive and not contributing to the society?’

Is he talking about the fisher folk who go fishing before daybreak and risk their lives at sea? Or is he talking about the paddy farmers in his hometown in Kedah toiling in the paddy fields to grow rice for the nation?

Is he talking about the factory workers, who are forced to work 12 hours to complement the totally inadequate minimum wage? Is he talking about the small farmers who work the land to ensure we get our supply of food? Or the nanny who takes care of our children in the absence of nurseries at the workplace?

Or is he talking about the plantation workers, or the cleaners, or the thousands of people who cross the border in the wee hours to do 3D jobs in Singapore? Or the lorry drivers who park their vehicles on the roadside to catch up on sleep? Or is he talking about the civil servants whose pensions he plans to slash? Or is he talking about the miserably paid motorbike riders delivering food, or the Grab drivers…..? Who is Mahathir calling unproductive, not contributing to the development of the country, and envious of the rich?

‘Productivity low?’

According to International Trade and Industry Minister Darell Leiking, in truth, Malaysia’s labour productivity grew 2.2% in 2018, surpassing some developed nations including China and Australia, and was ahead of selected Asian countries.

Even Japan, the nation which Mahathir worships, had lower labour productivity!

Now looking at another study –  Are Malaysian Workers Paid Fairly?: An Assessment of Productivity and Equity by Athreya Murugasu, Mohamad Ishaq Hakim and Yeam Shin Yau.

Their study concludes that Malaysian workers receive lower compensations relative to their contribution to national income from productivity and equity perspectives. They argue that Malaysians are paid a lower wage compared to benchmark countries, even after taking into account productivity differences and secondly, they conclude that Malaysia has a lower labour share of income despite its labour-intensive nature.

This suggests workers are not adequately compensated for their contributions.

Their study raises some serious issues which Mahathir and the rich do not us to know. The study questions – While employers(bosses) need to be fairly compensated for their respective factor inputs, the question remains, why is the share of compensation to employers(bosses) higher relatively to workers and why isn’t this reflected in Malaysia’s taxation and distributive policies?

‘Do the wealthy pay high taxes?’

Now let us talk about taxes. Mahathir glorifies the rich for paying taxes. Perhaps he was deaf to what his own Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng had said before.  

In one of his post-budget forums, Lim said that even by increasing taxes to 30%, we will still be among the lowest compared with neighbouring countries and he added that the government does not believe in harsh and abrupt measures in taxation. Perhaps harsh and abrupt measures are reserved for workers only by keeping minimum wages low.

Lim had also said previously that there will be no new taxes on the wealthy so as to prevent shocks to the financial system. He said the government will not introduce capital gains tax on shares and other taxes on the wealthy in order to prevent “shock to the system”. These measures are to ensure there is no capital flight according to him.

So, Mahathir’s wealthy amigos will take a flight when taxes are increased. So much for Mahathir’s appreciation of the wealthy and their taxes: the minute taxes go up, they will abandon him, unlike the poor whom he enjoys humiliating.

Anyway, how much do the rich people get taxed in Malaysia? Can Mahathir actually give a figure how much tax the richest ten people are paying in Malaysia?

While their income has been made public yet their tax payment details come under the Official Secrets Act according to answers given in Parliament. And who can forget, the government giving Lynas 12 years of tax exemption despite all the controversy over its handling of radioactive waste.

‘The poor and the balance 80%’

Looking at purchasing power, Malaysia’s wages are one of the lowest in the region. Most of Malaysia’s poor earn monthly salaries that are two times less than the monthly entertainment allowance of RM2,500 paid to MPs.

Our MPs even get a fuel subsidy of RM 1,500 a month – which is higher than the minimum wage set by the government.

According to an article by Deputy Defence Minister Liew Chin Tong, published in Malaysiakini on Dec 31, last year, he said nearly 30% of Malaysians polled by Gallup in 2018 felt that they did not have enough money for food, while 23% reported not having sufficient money for shelter.

80% of them experience economic insecurity, such as low wages as well as high cost of housing and transport.

What is shocking about his revelation was that he said “The B20 poverty category, as defined by the UN, needs welfare, but in the Malaysian context, it appears that the subsequent 60% (M60) need better jobs, better pay, better business opportunities, better upward mobility for their children, better housing options and better transport alternatives.’

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Prof Philip Alston’s report suggested that Malaysia’s poverty rate is most likely between 16% and 20% and Liew while agreeing to this, also said that beyond the B20 group, the rest of the population – perhaps excluding the top 20% – the middle 60% (B21-B40, M40) are about in the same boat.

What was laughable was when Mahathir said, “I hope everyone will focus on the nation instead of themselves.”

Why then did Mahathir focus his attack on the poor, and not question the huge allowances paid to his Cabinet lackeys? Or address the stashing away of wealth in the tax havens by corporate figures, or on the huge salaries drawn by GLC CEOs?  His target was the poor man working day in day out trying to make ends meet!

S Arutchelvan is the deputy chairperson of Parti Sosialis Malaysia.