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Raging debate on liberalisation
Published on: Sunday, November 18, 2012

SABAH is an unlikely battleground over the issue on liberalisation but controversy is raging within the ranks of the RM5b local travel trade.

Local tourist guides have been particularly vocal in objection.

The Malaysian Association of Tours and Travel Agents (Matta) Sabah has also expressed quiet discomfort about the implications of possible 100% foreign ownership on the business wellbeing of its members.

The dominant theme of trade liberalisation is reduce or lessen the barriers to entry, rids monopolies and their associated inefficiencies and high prices which supposedly, helps all through the benefits of competition and unleashing individual human enterprise.

So, what about free entry of foreign guides and tour operators who take over the lucrative cake, eventually?

That's the prospect and uncertainty that has apparently alarmed the local trade.

Members have voiced their fears and unease at an in-house dialogue with the State Government and spoke out publicly in the press.

Will this nice sounding thing economists call 'liberalisation' open the floodgate to predatory 'robber barons' from the rest of the world to move in unfettered, take away their rice bowl and make local players worse off?

As we shall see later, Tourism Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun conceded it is not even up to the State to choose or stop its advance.

The sheer weight of global business forces will force it upon Sabah, according to him.

Which leaves Sabah with only one choice which sounds like the motto to scouts - Be Prepared to respond to the challenge, he suggested.

So, it looks like we can no longer choose our destiny, that serious.

Not surprisingly, the sense of vulnerability prevails and so far, with no one able to guarantee or predict an outcome on the beneficial side.

Liberalisation may not mean liberation of economic ills? In theory, liberalisation promises a bigger pie which prospers all.

In practice, it may just redistributes cash flows to dominant foreign players at the expense of locals.

That's the spectre and risk that haunts the local industry now.

So, the matter does deserve scrutiny, especially looking into what existing regulations might have stood on the way of local economic and business growth and do regulatory transformation, rather than accepting liberalisation wholesale as a new gospel truth for wealth and health creation.

In the sense that it finds its root in two-centuries old French laissez-faire concept of allowing business companies etc to operate and develop freely without the government interfering or controlling them, liberalisation is not a new policy.

In fact, laissez-faire has been tested and tried.

And people including US President Franklin Roosevelt, have blamed the excesses of laissez-faire as causative forces behind the large swings of boom and bust economics, culminating in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Liberalisation may not be the same as liberation from business ills or economic problem.

What economics students know Economics students are aware that the central economic problem is scarcity - scarce means to satisfy ends.

As far back as 1932, Lord Robbins defined economics as ' the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.'

So, keep your fingers on the words 'human behaviour.'

Liberalisation involves enlarged and introduced free play of 'human behaviour' from the global stage to the local stage, or vice versa, most likely in chase of 'scarce means' and the opening up of scarce means at a global scale.

What worries deep thinkers - need six planets? It worries some intellectuals, because they think it might speed up a self-depleting process, hits the limits to growth.

Then what?

Or, because it opens the door to very dominant or powerful corporations, unfettered, every last wilderness, ecosystem and natural resource, to the whims and fancy of profit alone and profit-driven 'human behaviour'.

The day that happens, it may mark the end to the so called Triple bottom lines or Triple Ps - the 'profit-loss' account; the 'people' account and the 'planet' account, first coined by British sustainability guru, John Elkinton The gist of his idea of sustainable development is to secure a Triple Win - Profit ( ie, business) must win; People must win and Planet earth must win also.

However, prominent nature scientists like Professor David Belamy (a friend of Sabah), have said if the whole world aspire to achieve the American standard of living, the human race will need six more planets like earth to overcome that scarce means!

But they, especially the mature, debt-ridden, stagnation and recession-prone advanced economies, which have become increasingly non-competitive, don't have access to six planets.

So, access is stuck to outsourcing for scarce means within the sole planet that we know, although some scientists think we may be able to mine the moon and Mars one day, or simply migrate there!

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