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Abdullah a  Rip Van Winkle Prime Minister – waking up to  a four-year old World Bank Report on government bureaucracy and high costs of doing business?


Media Statement  
by Lim Kit Siang  


(Parliament, Friday) : I was a bit excited when I saw the Malaysiakini report yesterday “PM vows to cut bureaucratic red tape”, the AFP-Bernama  report on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s speech  at the Sixth Civil Service Premier Assembly yesterday,  but was very disappointed when I read its contents.


New Straits Times today headlined “Cut the red tape for new businesses, says Abdullah”, reported the Prime Minister announcing at his annual address to civil servants the setting up of a special task force to improve the public sector’s delivery system to enhance the nation’s competitiveness. It said::


He said Malaysia had "too many laws" stipulating various permits and types of approvals in order to set up a business.

Citing a World Bank report on competitiveness, Abdullah said starting a business in Malaysia required nine procedures which were completed in a minimum of 30 days, whereas Singapore only required six procedures which could be completed in six days, and Australia, two steps done in two days.

To set up a warehouse or factory in Malaysia, businessmen had to go through 25 procedures which took at least 281 days to complete.

This was far behind Vietnam, where businessmen had to go through only 14 steps in 133 days, 11 steps in 129 days in Singapore, and nine steps in 127 days in Thailand.


I was not impressed. In fact, I felt sad and depressed.


Abdullah had turned in a failed report card in his first three years as Prime Minister as far as his reform  pledge of a clean, incorruptible and efficient public service was concerned.


With his prolonged and critical absence from the country when Malaysians  were hit by  the monstrous flood disasters in Johore and Malacca at the end of last year, the only saving grace would be he was preparing to start the new year with a Pak Lah Mk II to  walk the talk  of his election reform pledges of an efficient, clean, incorruptible, accountable and democratic government prepared to hear the truth from the people.


Why was I disappointed and even depressed at Abdullah’s announcement of a special task force, headed jointly by the Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan and a corporate leader to be named, to improve the public sector’s delivery system to enhance the nation’s competitiveness?


Three reasons. Firstly, in quoting the World Bank report of the  high costs of doing business in Malaysia which would surely turn away the foreign investor, the reader will be under the impression that the Prime Minister was acting promptly and decisively to address and resolve the  bureaucratic red tape highlighted by the World Bank.


This is not the case, as it was four years ago that the World Bank reported the high costs of doing business in Malaysia.  This deplorable state of affairs remained unchanged in the four annual World Bank Doing Business Index for 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.


I first spoke on the World Bank report more than two years ago. During the parliamentary debate on the 2005 Budget on 4th September 2004, I specifically referred to the World Bank Doing Business Index and warned that Malaysia was losing out  FDIs and the international competitiveness stakes to Thailand and other countries  because of red tape and bureaucracy, and I again reminded the government of the World Bank Doing Business Index during the 2007 Budget debate in September last year.


There was no response or reaction from the government.


In contrast, Singapore improved on its “Starting a Business” index from seven procedures in eight days for 2003 and 2004 to six procedures in six days for 2005 and 2006, while Australia was able to maintain  its efficiency of two procedures in two days from 2003 to 2006.


Is Abdullah aware that the World Bank Report of the red tape and high costs of doing business in Malaysia is four years old?  He should have set up a special task force to cut red tape to reduce the cost of doing business in his first 100 days and not after 1,100 days!


Last week, Abdullah as Prime Minister was likened to a soprano singing alone.  One must wonder whether in this context, Abdullah has become a Rip Van Winkle of a Prime Minister .  (Wikipedia said that those who have not read the original story of a villager who woke up after a sleep lasting 20 years, "Rip Van Winkle" means either a person who sleeps for a long period of time, or one who is inexplicably (perhaps even blissfully) unaware of current events.) 


If Abdullah has to take four years to become aware of the problems of the bureaucratic red tape and the costs of doing business which is causing Malaysia to lose out in FDIs and international competitiveness, despite of being repeatedly reminded in Parliament, where is the public service  competency or efficiency he had promised on becoming Prime Minister?


Second reason – is Abdullah serious about the  revamp to end the bureaucratic red tape blocking FDIs?  The very fact that the private sector member of the task force could not yet be announced raises the question whether this initiative is motivated primary by P.R. or a political commitment to ensure efficient public service delivery.  Will there be a repeat of the Police Royal Commission whose key recommendation for a world-class police, the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), had been cold-storaged because of strong police objection and lack of political of the Prime Minister?


Thirdly, bureaucratic red tape, inefficiency and incompetence afflict the whole civil  service. Why is there is no proposal or political will to revamp the entire civil service to make it once again  a world-class public service in efficiency, competence and quality?



*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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