In defence of BR1M, a reply to TK Chua — Khairul Azwan Harun

JANUARY 6 — Primarily I wish to thank TK Chua for his response to my article on BR1M: “Of BR1M and Malaysia’s Political Landscape,” on January 3, 2017. There were some points you brought up that I intend to address.

Before that however, I could not have been more delighted to see the level of respect and dignity in which you wrote your article. There is an art to opposing, one that does not demean the person you correct yet one that gives the critiqued the gift of a new perspective to consider. It is a missing art in many of Malaysia’s opposition leaders.

One of the main points in TK Chua’s rebuttal was that BR1M scratches only the surface of what is a structural issue in Malaysia’s economy. Namely, he listed “unemployable graduates” and a “total lack of decent and affordable housing” as factors for Malaysia’s economic mismanagement.

Chua definitely has a point. These are tremendous hurdles for Malaysia’s development model that need to be addressed if we are to progress into a high income economy.

I would argue, however, that initiatives have already been in place to help unemployable graduates and provide affordable housing. By 2020, there will be an increase in demand for an additional 1.3 million Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) workers in the 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEA).

To meet this demand, there are over 1,500 TVET institutions in Malaysia of which are polytechnics, community colleges, vocational colleges and other higher learning institutions.

Beyond TVET, double tax deductions will be given to private companies who provide Structured Internship Programmes for students pursuing undergraduate degree, diploma and Malaysian Skills Certificate Level 3, all in all enhancing the capabilities, experiences and employability of fresh graduates.

Government-led initiatives such as 1Malaysia Training Scheme (SL1M) are also expanding to produce over 20,000 graduates in addition to the 15,000 in 2016.

For affordable housing, the government continues to provide vacant land at strategic locations to Perumahan Rakyat 1Malaysia (PR1MA) to build more than 30,000 houses with the selling price ranging around RM150,000 — much lower than the market price of RM250,000 to RM400,000.

Ten thousand houses will be built in urban areas for rental to youths entering the labour market. Five thousand units of People’s Friendly Home (PMR) will be built with the Government subsidising up to RM20,000 per unit.

The issue of graduate employability and affordable housing has been recognised by the government and substantial initiatives have been put in place to address the issue. TK Chua argued that cash transfers through BR1M “can’t significantly and sustainably change the life of the recipients.”

That perhaps is a matter of perspective. For those who don’t receive BR1M, it is hard to comprehend how a little over RM1,000 can help change your life. The dire hardship in which BR1M recipients live is a reality that escapes many.

But, if you are earning less than RM1,000 a month, BR1M handouts of RM1,200 (up from RM1,050 last year) goes a long way. With over seven million recipients, BR1M becomes more than just a temporary fix. BR1M gives our low earning fellow Malaysians the relief of worrying about putting food on the table. It in effect gives them time to strategise and save for the future of their families.

BR1M is also accompanied by many other indirect redistributive policies. The purchase of reading materials, computers, newspapers, internet subscriptions all combine to make up a lifestyle tax relief of RM2,500 a year.

To ease the burden of working parents, a tax relief of up to RM1,000 is given to taxpayers who enroll their children into registered nurseries and preschools. This programme alone will benefit 40,000 families.

Beyond BR1M, underprivileged hospital patients, the elderly, working moms all receive their own separate benefit initiatives.

BR1M is only the simplest aspect of a comprehensive government structure aimed at providing and incentivising low income earners. It is crucial that those who criticize BR1M, who call it a form of bribery go down and actually talk to BR1M recipients, comprehend where they come from and empathise with the reality of their living situation.

I also tend to respectfully disagree with TK Chua that Malaysians have become too politicised as a result of there being limited open debates and discourse of government policy.

There are many platforms where people can criticise their leaders, the question is whether we can approach those platforms in a manner that does not insult or antagonise others in the discussion.

I myself am chairman of the KL International Youth Discourse where we continue to enable all and any Malaysian to speak of their experiences and proposals directly to our leaders.

My argument is that we should not limit ourselves to the inability of admitting when the other side is doing good. The ability to concede points is the strength of any democracy; it is mature and constructive dialogue empty of pride and labels.

I wish to thank TK Chua for his respectful article. It provided me the opportunity to read a perspective different from my own, hence allowing me a chance to expand my understanding. I hope to meet you in person one day to continue this fruitful discussion.

* Senator Khairul Azwan Harun is deputy chief of Umno Youth

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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