Faizal Tajuddin: Nationalize! Part 1
Nationalize! Part 1
by Faizal Tajuddin
“Ten years ago, you could have three ringgit in your pocket, take the bus to KL, have your teh tarik and roti canai, maybe a kretek cigarette or two, take the bus home, and still have some change in your pocket.” Said a friend not so long ago.
And he was right. Ten years ago was 1996, a year before the financial crisis. Right after the crisis, Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines took up the IMF/World Bank “aid package” and ended up selling off most of their private and more importantly, their public enterprises at bargain basement prices to foreign companies as part of the package agreement. As a result, immediate living cost for the population went up, along with mass un-employment;, not only from the initial financial crisis, but also from the mass retrenchment by these brand new foreign-owned local companies.
Why the mass retrenchment from the foreign-owned local companies? Why it’s elementary my dear Watson, private companies, like any other private companies anywhere around the world, exist to maximize profit. “Maximizing the shareholders value”, as any CEO would say. So why the mass retrenchment? Watson, Watson, you really should pay a little more attention. Labour is expensive, and now that these former public-owned enterprises are newly privatized, they operate like every other corporations. They started laying off workers, jacking up the price for their services as much as they can get away with, to…say it with me Watson…”maximize the shareholders value”.
These public-owned enterprises, providing basic services such as water, electricity, telecommunication etc, were privatized as part of the agreement for the prescribed aid package. As soon as the utilities were privatized, the utility companies were no longer merely providing basic services for the population at sensible inexpensive rate, but at cutthroat, maximized-the-profit-margin rate. The utility companies were no longer merely providing basic amenities for the population as any public services should, but maximizing the profit margin, as any private corporations would. Get it Watson?
Now the dynamic has changed. The public services existed not to serve the public, but to really make a sweet, round numbered profit the shareholders. Somebody, somewhere redefined the meaning of the words “public services” without really telling us, the public about it. It no longer have that ‘looking out for the regular folk’ connotation to the words. Suddenly “public services” really meant us, the PUBLIC, SERVICING them, the super rich. Now it’s the public who are shouldering the burden of subsidizing the rich every time they turn on the gas for cooking, water for cleaning, electricity for ironing, and taking the train to work.
It’s a beautiful arrangement for these corporations. Public services are more often than not, monopoly enterprises. There’s usually only one enterprise providing the service for the whole nation, or the whole province. Taking control of one, and you automatically monopolize the whole industry. No matter how high the price are hiked, regular folk have no option but to pay it. And since they are at the same time, basic amenities, folk from all social strata, from the working class to the leisure class, they all use these services too. Nobody would suddenly say “whoops, water is too expensive these days. Let’s not drink water.” They would drop dead from thirst my dear Watson. They can’t say, “whoops, Syabas’ water is way too expensive, let’s exercise our consumer choice, and use Tahniah’s water instead”. Because you see, there is no Tahniah Water Sdn Bhd. Choices doesn’t exist. It’s a monopoly, get it? There may be a slight variation to this rule.
Take Tenaga Nasional Berhad for example, while TNB monopolizes the business of distributing electricity to the whole nation, they in turn had to buy the electricity from various sources of power generating companies, or the so-called IPPs (Independent Power Producers) who are themselves, a recently privatized branch of the power supplying network. This obviously drove the rate of electricity up. Now at every juncture of the power production network, from production and distribution are driven by the profit motives.
When Tenaga Nasional Berhad was merely the Lembaga Letrik Nasional, (nondescript, gets the work done, cheap, nationalized, no Berhad bullshit) everything from power generation to power distribution was handled by the LLN. There was no independent private contractors handling the different aspect of the electricity business and drives the rate up. Now, since public services have a new brand definition which rewards the selected rich, at every juncture of this power supply network is now no more than cash-cow operations.
Now, since TNB actually have to buy the power from these IPPs, their own cash flow and profit margin would take a hit, but they don’t really have to worry too much about it, because it’s not TNB that’s shouldering the burden of higher cost of operations. It’s us! Every. Single. Time the profit margin for these privatized public services swayed off from being “profitable”, you can bet your non-existent life saving that a new tariff rate will be announced, swiftly transferring the unprofitable aspect of these public services to…you guessed it…the public. It’s such a sweet arrangement isn’t it? Foolproof, loss-proof, perpetually profitable, and backed to the core by the administration and their spindoctors.
You just have to wonder why our last and current administration have this Thatcher complex? Whose dumbshit idea was it to go down the Reagan/Thatcher road and privatized everything under the sun? Can you see how this is a beautiful arrangement for these rich fucks, out to screw regular folks like you and me? Can you Watson?
Indonesia reeled from the impact of the crisis and the prescribed “aid package” for quite awhile. Unemployment was high and living cost is still high due to the wholesale privatization. And courtesy of the aid package, everytime a new budget is tabled, debt-repayment would take precedence over human welfare such as health and education. They have to spend more money to service off debt, than they spend it for their own population. Indonesia is royally fucked, I’m sorry to say my dear Watson. My heart goes out to them.
Now my question to you my dear Watson is this. Why in the name of all things sacred and profane, did Malaysia privatized our public services too? We didn’t subscribe to the IMF/World Bank aid package? Those other countries went down the privatization path because they had to. It was part of that “not-much-of-an aid” package. It’s understandable. They were screwed. We understood. But we certainly didn’t have to privatize. We got no excuse to privatize. Remember the bullshit excuse they give every time our dipshit politicians, media and spin doctors wanted to privatize a public service? Remember the word they use?
That’s right Watson. Oh hey you’re catching on quick. Efficiency. Every.Single.Time they were about to screw us over, and hand over on a platter a public service to private company of their choosing, the dipshits would always cry out this single word as their warcry. “Efficiency” they would yell out to quell the rumbling on the ground, of folks worrying about the inevitable price hike of electricity and water and telephone bills. “Efficiency”, they would cry out, as a one-word-fix-all rationale to whatever opposing voice in the wilderness. And make no mistake about it. Opposing voices can only be found in the wilderness. The dipshits control just about every media avenue where you can reach a big audience, or wherever discourse may take place. Since the dipshits control every avenue where rationale voices can, or rather, cannot be heard; their bullshit “efficiency” excuse is taken as the absolute truth to the supposedly inevitable process of wholesale privatization. It’s beautiful how monopoly of public opinion can justify the bulldozing of social welfare with little more than one meaningless word… “Efficiency.”
If the warcry “efficiency” doesn’t quite quell the rumbling on the ground. Well then they’d just browbeat you into submitting. “Just accept it”, as our own little Thatcher, Pak Lah said in response to the latest, brand new tariff increase courtesy of TNB, effective June 1st. That sure sounded like Margaret Thatcher’s ‘There Is No Alternative’ excuse, given when Thatcher was doing her round of wholesale privatization. Or my own personal favourite ‘transferring-the-burden-to-the-public’ answer, courtesy of Lim Keng Yaik- “The new tariff structure encourages consumers to conserve energy instead of using electricity as if there is no tomorrow.”
Aw yeah dipshits. Always, ALWAYS transfer the burden of blame to the public. It’s not the dipshits’ fault that the privatization process is so obviously flawed, that it perpetually drives the cost of living up, not concurrent with real wage. It’s not the dipshits’ fault that the public service were sold off as no more than cashcows to the filthy rich, making the public pay for their excessive profit making scheme. And it is sure as hell not the dipshits’ fault when profit-making endeavour doesn’t quite turn out the way they hope it would and the public are suddenly shouldering the cost of it all.
Well is there no alternative? Do we just have to “accept it” as our own little Thatcher said? Sure there’s an alternative. The dipshits’ really should re-nationalize!