Former Finance Minister and Member of Parliament for Gua Musang, Tengku Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah started a blog, Razaleigh.com. His blog's presence was first noticed when Rocky Bru published his blog link in a posting on the Kuala Terengganu by-election result.
By then, Ku Li, as he is affectionately known, had already posted his luncheon speech at the ASLI's 11th Malaysia Strategic Outlook Conference 2009 on January 15th and statement on the Permatang Pauh by-election.
His blog's initial url address was at http://tengkurazaleigh.wordpress.com but has since acquired it's own domain and moved to http://razaleigh.com. Initially, he was publishing his official statements and speech, but started to response to comments from the public.
Yesterday he posted a critical comment on two Government's economic rescue measures; Valuecap and the RM7 Billion Stimuli Package. He viewed that fiscal public policy must meet the criteria of right spending, large enough and right timing, and the two measures do not meet that criteria.
Valuecap's objective to buy "undervalued shares" was viewed as vague instruction, senseless economic policy, and suspiciously seen as an exit plan for "cronies" at the expense of public's EPF money. On the RM7 Billion Stimuli, he commented that since early November, none of the details are made available, none of the projects go off the ground, and its effect unnoticable.
Many of his critics harshly described Ku Li as out-of-date and practising old school economics. They viewed his Tun Razak's style of Institutional building may not be suitable with time.
The problem with such comment could be becasue Malaysians are too used to talking on micro-specifics rather than the bigger socio-economic overview.
This blogger view that this arised from the increasing exposure of Malays to commerce, and dominance of big business. Malaysians perspective of socio-economic policy tend to be short-term, free market in thinking, and shy from the far sighted outlook and structural issues.
Whatever school of economics one was schooled in, the Malaysian experiance during the short and impactful Tun Abdul Razak days and Tun Dr Mahathir's 22 years was never dedicated to any economic school of thought but relied on common sense adjustment to workable models and development of our own unique policies from our own experiance.
Having followed Ku Li in several of his political campaign, this blogger was hard pressed for not able to hear him reveal specifics of his economic ideas for today's challenges. This blogger is perhaps caught in the same thinking as other Malaysians.
With him beginning to blog, we can now expect more and more of his ideas and thoughts coming out. And, blogger Politica heard he will be appointed as Senior Minister for Economics and Finance.
His posting reproduced in full, below:
Four Months Later ...We are in the midst of a once-in-a-century credit tsunami”After the Great Depression, economists thought they had banished economic crashes to the history books. We were said to be in a new economic era in which carefully calibrated management of interest rates and money supply by Central Banks would keep the system humming without major disruption. Today’s crisis, sparked by a reckless greed which implicates the entire US financial establishment, has rubbished that view. The policy thinking of John Maynard Keynes, who puzzled over the causes of the Great Depression and described the remedy that Franklin Delano Roosevelt applied, has been dusted off and brought back to life. Suddenly everybody is a Keynesian again.-Alan Greenspan, October 23, 2008
Keynes diagnosed recessions as a failure of aggregate demand. Today’s recession is caused by a loss of confidence triggered by credit failure. A mass of worthless American mortgages, packaged and resold all over the world, wiped out trillions of dollars in the value of savings and investments and sparked a global collapse of credit, the oxygen of business. Consumers cut back on spending and businesses cut down on production and investment, reducing demand for materials and labour and leading to even lower confidence. If this self-reinforcing process is not arrested, the system goes into a tailspin.
The government is the only economic agent with the scale and freedom of action to turn things around. It does this either by increasing its own expenditure or lowering taxes, or some combination of both. Each of these measures stimulates demand. By increasing its own expenditure, the government creates demand directly. By reducing taxes, it leaves more money in the pockets of citizens so that they demand more goods and services. The latter can fail if citizens are so uncertain that instead of spending that extra money they save it away. Either way, such fiscal measures are temporary, targetted remedies aimed at reversing a destructive cycle of lowered demand, or at least to cushion its shock to the most vulnerable members of society. It is remedial, like reviving a patient, putting out a fire, or preventing a landslide.
Like all remedies, successful fiscal policy must have the right ingredients in the right dose applied at the right time.
Let me stress this again.a) It must consist of the right spending. The right type of spending will aim for a combination of short term relief and stimulus, and long term improvement in the productive capacity of the economy via infrastructure investment, economic restructuring and institutional reform. Both the size of the expected multiplier and how quickly it can take effect in the economy need to be taken into account in selecting any particular project.I am not sure that the two stimulus measures that the government has announced in the last four months fulfill any of the above criteria.
b) The stimulus must be large enough.
c) And it must be applied on time. Delay allows time for the down cycle to turn, enlarge its effects and cause long term damage. Stimulus measures can take months to take effect. Some of the right decisions have to have been made yesterday.
In October the government made EPF put RM5 Billion into Valuecap Sdn Bhd, a company formed in 2002 to buy stocks on the basis of loans, for Valuecap to buy “undervalued stocks.” But just what is an “undervalued” stock? Undervalued by whom? Given that the entire market is perpetually on the lookout for “undervalued stocks” to make a buck off, I’m not sure if this was a helpful instruction. It asks for Valuecap to be smarter than the market. And it’s not as if EPF itself didn’t have perfectly capable fund managers investing in the stock market. So we entrusted RM5 Bil from the retirement savings fund of our workers to a company with a proven track record of being unable to locate that value, a company that prior to this already owed creditors RM5.1Bil that it is unable to pay.
Valuecap’s merits aside, it was not clear how propping up the stock market was supposed to stimulate aggregate demand. But it was clear that RM5Bil, representing 1% of the capitalization of the KLCI, or the value of 3 days’ trading, was barely enough to cause a blip in the KLCI, after which it continued to decline along with other global markets.
If picking ‘undervalued stock’ is a hopeless vague instruction, the real criteria Valuecap uses for picking companies need to be scrutinised. The Valuecap deal was so opaque, so economically senseless, that EPF contributors and the investing public may be forgiven for wondering if the real intention was to cash out favoured parties, leaving the government and EPF contributors holding the bill.
One international fund manager described it as “daylight robbery” of the very people we were supposed to be helping through the recession.
This kind of perception of the Malaysian government’s capacity for governance and policymaking does little to improve confidence in the Malaysian economy. Right now we are in particular need of that confidence.
The 7 Billion stimulus package
It’s hard to comment on the RM7Billion stimulus package the government announced on November 4 because none of its details have been filled in, none of its projects has gotten off the ground, and none of its effects noticed yet. It appears to be a hodgepodge of projects driven by special interest with no economic plan behind it.
The most memorable element in it for me was the provision for RM200 million of this fiscal stimulus to go towards “re-engineering” all Malaysia’s toddlers into “holistic human capital” whatever that is, in nurseries run by an organization led by the wife of the Deputy Prime Minister. Permata curriculum will now be the national early-childhood curriculum and Permata’s teachers will be absorbed into the Ministry of Education’s payroll.
In this grave crisis, it is interesting to see the government support a private effort to the extent of absorbing it into the government and giving it RM200 million to spend. How will that money be spent? Has the Ministry of Finance taken over policymaking on early childhood education? What does this say about governance and transparency?
How this constitutes an economic stimulus in the sense I described above is a question I almost forgot to ask.
In a press statement in October last year, I underlined the urgent need for action. I said we must be vigilant, coordinated and bold in our response to the crisis. The government ignored that view. To date we have seen only denial, indirection and inaction. What measures have been announced have yet to be implemented.
What’s even more worrying is the thought these failures may arise from a failure of capacity, not of knowledge. Our current leadership, and the way it is organized and supported, may lack the very capacity to deal with major crises.
That may explain why it continues to deny we are in a serious crisis, both economic and political.