Locals need local solutions

A colleague of mine shared with me today that his hometown Taiping slowly going to be a ghost-town. Light industries are moving out and job security is diminishing as we speak.

There are probably a hundred Taipings in Malaysia. For every reinvigorated Kulim or Rawang, there are these other towns, whose advantages are dissipating with a changing world. What do they do?

It is not the obligation of market economics to ensure every city keeps its importance, if not Manchester would still be the world’s industrial capital an we all would be waiting getting coal from Newcastle. However if we rely on free market principles then we must also free the people in the struggling localities to actuate changes/process to reverse the losses.

The rule is, those who are most affected have the biggest incentive to change things around.

Smaller towns will always suffer from over-centralisation since they have to wait for those in powerful corridors so far from them to decide their fate. This rarely happens.

People in Putrajaya need to look at the big picture, irrespective if it is a Barisan or Pakatan government. People in hamlets have to look after their own interest. The balancing between those two interests will result in better policy.

That is why we hear of regions suddenly becoming vibrant because the central comes from there. Kedah was a serious commitment for the Mahathir administration as is Penang under the Badawi before the election loss. The PM and Nor Yakcop, as finance ministers and Penang boys made Penang the preferred target. And there are the rumours on how the parliamentary seats of ministers are always better off than those of non-ministers and definitely better than those run by opposition MPs.

A free market also requires a free and vibrant democracy to enable everyone to benefit from the process. Otherwise it will be a tool for the politically connected.

We have to ask, what does the Taiping local council do to encourage economic activity in the township. If there are no independent efforts from the locality to improve business, what chance to you have hoping the state and federal leaders will come up with business plans for you?

This is not to say, all efforts by all districts, townships and cities will bear fruit but it is important for all areas to fight for their survival in tandem with their main organ, and not just wait for the main organ (state/federal) to plan, invest and execute economic boons for the respective regions.

Free market policy is about individualism and assuming responsibility over our decisions.

In 1896 the Federated Malay States under Frank Swettenham was criticised for being too centralised, limiting state power to plan and execute what was best at a local level. And that was with only four states (Pahang, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Perak), but a hundred years later with 14 states, BN is adamant about keeping power in Putrajaya.

It make political sense ( as overly centralised Communist party was most powerful and feared when everything was in Stalin’s hand in Moscow) but it does great damage economically.

Our people become dependent on Putrajaya for ideas, and abandon their own economic realities in remote zones to everyone except themselves.

States are about balancing a series of relationships, two-way relationships even if components are not equal in value. Federal ministers have great responsibilities, however by making the lowest unit in a district in Sabah have no responsibility does not increase the net worth of the federal minister. If anything, the net worth of the whole chain is reduced by the lack of power distributed through.

And even in Britain, where things work more often than not, power was devolved from Westminster to the Scottish and Welsh Parliament to show the symbolic importance of devolution, and later the practical and economical gains gotten by getting people feel they are making decisions at a level closest to them, and not bits in a remote control play from central station.

Maybe Taiping is meant to depreciate its value according to market dictates, but that should not disallow Taiping locals from reversing the trend.

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