Dap is a member of the Socialist International (SI) which is an association of political parties and associations seeking to establish democratic socialism. Democratic socialism seeks to become a counter weight to corporate capitalism with the aim to ensure that no one is marginalized or excluded from the process of societal transformation and development.
It recognizes the impact of social and economic structural transformation on the society. According to SI, the social cost of these transformations - unemployment, regional decline, destruction of communities - has affected not only the very poor but also working people in general.
The process of development in the name of modernisation has brought additional challenges to the society. It has often benefited the haves but marginalized the haves-not. Some of the side effects are profound e.g. rising inflation, escalating property prices through speculation and the creation of a new class of urban poor. These side effects are man-made.
Some of these signs are evident in Malaysia. Refsa, a research arm linked to Dap, revealed that more than 74% of the total Malaysian workforce received up to only Form 5 education (11 years). More than 86% of our total workforce earn less than RM3,000 a month. Some observers even called for it to be made an urban poverty line.
It means corporate capitalism, if not managed and controlled, will exacerbate the situation. The rich will become richer and the poor will end up poorer. This is where good public policy and responsible governance comes in. A good government has to ensure that our human resources who are being tapped and utilized by the capitalists to achieve their profit targets and business objectives are aptly rewarded and not being marginalized by the contribution they brought to development.
Hence, the debate on Bayan Mutiara should not be subjected to merely the issue of transparency or price. It questions the policy direction and ideological orientation of the Dap and its continuous commitment to democratic socialism.
At the Malay Mail debate on Bayan Mutiara, the party’s publicity chief Tony Pua rebutted an allegation on the sale of Bayan Mutiara land that it was below market valuation. He said the state government, led by his party, had helped to unlock the value of the land by selling it at RM240 per sqft which was supposedly RM40 above market rate.
Who is the state government helping to unlock the value for? Is it for the state, the capitalist or the average people? Average Penangites are facing tremendous pressure to own or keep a home due to escalating property prices pushed up by corporate capitalism and unhealthy speculation. By unlocking the land value means pushing the land price to follow the unreasonable speculation induced level. Is this a fair deal to average Penangites?
An important tenet of democratic socialism is the promotion of justice and equality. It strives for the end of all discrimination against individuals, and the equality of rights and opportunities. It demands compensation for physical, mental and social inequalities, and freedom from dependence on either the owners of the means of production or the holders of political power.
However, in the Bayan Mutiara case the Dap-led state government has acted precisely in ‘the government’s knows best’ mode. It has decided arbitrarily on the sale of Bayan Mutiara land to fund the affordable housing scheme on the mainland.
How can this be consistent with the promotion of justice and equality if average Penangites are not being able to own, share and enjoy the homes and facilities to be built on the Bayan Mutiara land?
Can the state government guarantee that the new mega city, Penang World City (PWC), would be able to meet the aspirations of the average Penangites and fulfil the requirements of a sustainable development which is inclusive and value added to the state’s socio-economic transformation?
What is Dap’s vision for the PWC? How can the PWCT create jobs and opportunities for the average people?
Will the average people be one day pushed out from the island due to unreasonable escalation of property prices and inflation?
The development of PWC is not without its risks which are associated to the highly fragile global economy. Most of the developed economies, which are Malaysia’s most important trading partners, such as US, Europe, Middle East and Japan are facing unprecedented political and economic challenges since post World War II.
It is believed that Tropicana Ivory Sdn. Bhd. (TISB) will be taking over the Bayan Mutiara land in phases in accordance to the payment schedule. Since the project will be dependent on foreigners to purchase a big chunk of the development, it is not insulated from the impact of a global economic slowdown.
What will happen should TISB fails to complete the project? Did the state government conduct any scenario planning to avoid and prevent the project from being abandoned half way? Does the state government have a back-up plan if the project is being abandoned?
In the face of criticism, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had announced it is mandatory for TISB to ensure 30 percent of residential property built must be low-medium cost (LMC) valued at between RM72,500 to RM220,000. TISB had earlier announced its intention to build 15 percent of residential property valued at between RM300,000 to RM500,000 at every phase.
It is pertinent for TISB to identify precisely where it is going to build the 30 percent LMC residential property at every phase before being given all necessary approvals to start construction.
Even if the 30 percent quota for LMC has been honoured, does the state government have any plan(s) to help ensure that those who cannot afford the down payment or qualify for a bank loan can own a place too?
So far, the Dap’s policy direction has been both contradictory and populist. At the federal level, it has been vocal against Barisan Nasional’s record on poverty, inequality and elitism. Its leaders have been vocal in promoting good public transport system, minimum wage, free education and other issues related to the lower-average income classes.
Apart from giving out social grants ranging from RM100 to RM1000 in Penang, the chief minister had promised to give out RM1000 to all Malaysians should Pakatan win federal power.
On the other hand, when it comes to protecting the interest of the larger society especially the poor the party has made pro-corporate decisions which may drive up inflation and property prices in the state.
Critics have accused the state government of sugar coating its decision to sell state owned prime land by announcing that proceed from the sale would be used to build low cost residential property. They had pointed out the chief minister had said there is enough surplus in the state’s coffer to fund the low cost housing scheme when the latter presented a RM500 million cheque to Penang Development Corporation.
Its publicity chief Tony Pua had said in the debate that the state government would not mind selling the land to any Barisan Nasional crony who can afford to pay the highest bid for the land.
Furthermore, the state government had announced its plan to fund the building of four mega infrastructure projects totalling almost RM8 billion through land swap. There is little the party can do to justify its democratic socialism credentials if such massive amount of funds is going to be used to help private vehicle owners.
How is the transport policy going to help those who have to rely on public transport for mobility and help to eradicate inequality?
Dap leaders must not be seen as willing to castigate and penalise the poor and disadvantaged, while at the same time promoting policies which increase their misery and hardship.
Dap's desire to embrace the market and to promote commercialism in the state, without being inclusive, may create unprecedented levels of affluence for the rich and big business but will do nothing to help the most needy and vulnerable.
Dap must stop being the New Labour and embolden the growing division between the social classes; the rich and powerful on one side (island) and the poor and disadvantaged on other (mainland).
Instead, the party should be focusing on propositions to make wealth distribution more equitable and the poor getting better access to services and assistance which can help to alleviate their living standard.