By Wong Chen
I just came back from attending the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) conference in Bangkok. As such, this article is primarily about the conference, and the issues surrounding it. It was a six-day conference, where all 10 ASEAN member states were represented by non-executive legislators. AIPA basically enables these backbenchers to support, influence and nudge their respective governments on ASEAN related issues and policies. AIPA MPs play a supportive role to our foreign ministers, akin to a second tier diplomacy to ensure that ASEAN goals and centrality are upheld.
However, since not all ASEAN countries practice democracy, the representation of differing voices in AIPA is somewhat limited. As such, in some cases, ASEAN delegates tend to echo their own government’s entrenched positions, rather than independently try to forge new policy ideas and directions. In this context, I am proud to give due recognition to our Speaker Dato Mohd Ariff Yusof, who did a very good job to ensure a bipartisan representation for Malaysia in AIPA. Most, if not all Malaysian political parties were represented in this conference. This allowed for more diverse views coming out from the Malaysian delegation. However, in the face of differing views from other ASEAN states, I noticed that the Malaysian delegates instinctively and quickly closed ranks and cooperated to a united stand. This behavior may seem minor, but it gives me some hope for Malaysia. It shows that despite our many differences, Malaysian politicians of differing races, religions and political beliefs, can unite in the area of policies, albeit foreign policies. So we may not be so different after all. This is a most important message to remember when we celebrate this 62nd Merdeka.
For this particular conference, I wrote and sponsored a carbon pricing and climate change resolution on behalf of the Malaysian delegation. This was a follow up resolution to the AIPA Caucus meeting in July. There were indirect attempts by authorities to dissuade and alter my resolution, but I told the Parliament officers that I would not compromise on this issue. Carbon pricing is widely recognized as the most effective solution to contain and reverse climate change. In the Malaysian context, this can take the form of a CO2 carbon tax on power plants, rather than a cap and trade approach. Recently, Singapore passed and implemented a carbon tax policy on their power plants.
Having worked as a corporate lawyer, I am fully aware that the idea of taking on Malaysian tycoons, who own power plants, will require a lot of political will. For decades, crony capitalism has been allowed to grow unfettered in Malaysia. The original exercise of tycoons attempting to control politicians, have seen the tables turned on them. So much so that tycoons now complain that the crony capitalism model is unpredictable, unsustainable and turning them into sub-contractors.
Power plants in Malaysia are responsible for 80% of the CO2 emissions in Malaysia. These owners are extremely rich and powerful, fattened by the extremely generous power purchasing agreement terms given by politicians. They can easily pay a nominal carbon tax. Like the case of Singapore, I am proposing that we start carbon pricing with a nominal rate. Unfortunately, all things being the same, we will have to wait for Malaysia Baharu to find the will to carry out real reforms. It is very sad that this wait has become a mantra.
My fellow ASEAN delegates who pondered my carbon pricing resolution were all supportive. Not a single delegate spoke out against it. The delegation from the Philippines, in fact proposed an additional point to strengthen the resolution. While the presentation and vote on the resolution took in all a mere 20 minutes, I spent many, many hours in the background, networking and lobbying the ASEAN delegates to support the same. When the AIPA Caucus delegates were last in Kuala Lumpur, I hosted a simple garden dinner for 16 delegates from Lao, Myanmar and Vietnam. Serving them musang king after dinner probably helped to seal their support. I did not have to lobby the Singaporeans at all, as they have implemented it and in fact their officials helped provide me with some policy ideas. Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines are also all currently committed to explore carbon pricing as a national policy. I also had long friendly chats with the Bruneians; it didn’t hurt that one of the key advisors is a family friend of my aunt in Melbourne. As for the Cambodians, I have managed to strike up a working friendship with an up and coming young MP, who is a capable policy technocrat.
Lastly, my AIPA resolution is persuasive at best, it does not bind Putrajaya. But at least it will keep the push for carbon pricing alive for Malaysians concerned about the environment and climate change. For this 62nd Merdeka, I have to be realistic with what our top leaders can or are willing to deliver. Having been disappointed enough, I have a simple non-political/non-ideological wish; that our government will do something positive for the environment and implement a carbon pricing policy.