by Din Merican
Sungai Lallang, Kedah
January 26, 2008
At Ceramah Umum in Sungai Lallang, not far from Sungei Patani, yesterday night (January 25, 2008), Parti KeADILan Rakyat’s Secretary-General, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim told a gathering of 1200 people from all walks of life who braved the heavy drizzle that PKR and its partners PAS and Democratic Action Party (DAP) will be return the economy to the Malaysian people under the concept of “Merakyatkan Ekonomi”.
A strong team of PKR stalwarts from Kuala Lumpur led by Tan Sri Khalid comprising Sdr. Zambri Yusof, PKR Kedah Liaison Chief, Sdr. Johari Abdul, PKR Supreme Council member, Puan Fuziah Salleh, Deputy Director (Elections), prominent lawyer and Party Treasurer, Willam Leong, and yours truly from the Office of Dato Anwar Ibrahim descended on the Merbok Parliamentary constituency and stronghold of Minister of Information Dato Zainuddin Mydin (ZAM). We were given a rousing welcome and garlanded by members of the Indian community and Tan Sri Khalid also accepted some 200 new Indian members under the watchful eye of a few members of the famed Special Branch with two of them manning their video camera.
According to Sdr. Zambri, the local Police authorities gave PKR the permit to hold this gathering and we were indeed most grateful to them for this gesture. I wondered aloud whether Bukit Aman headed by their IGP Tan Sri Musa Hassan at Bukit Aman would have allowed us to meet in Sungai Lallang if Sdr. Zambri had applied for permit in Kuala Lumpur. The granting of the permit did reflect that Police personnel on the ground were more reasonable and understanding than their bosses who are close to the seat of power in Putrajaya.
It was a peaceful gathering of concerned Malaysians.They wanted a different take on the political and economic situation in their country, compared to what the mainstream media have putting out each day and night. They want to be part of the moments of truth. Let say me this with a degree of pride that my colleagues and I did not fail them. We were hard hitting and critical of what is happening in Boleh Land under Abdullah Badawi.
More importantly, we were able to articulate an alternative vision and offer concrete solutions to our present malaise. In this sense, the UMNO-BN regime is bankrupt of ideas and could only rehash and rebrand failed schemes, spending millions of ringgits relaunching them throughout the country amidst pomp and ceremony with “gendang bertalu talu” (with repeated beating of the drum).
“Merakayatkan Ekonomi, apa maknanya?” asked Tan Sri Khalid. He went on to explain this concept in a commonsensical and non-technical way. It means that economic choices made by the people which are considered and dealt with the Government in preparing the annual national budget exercise, and ensuing programmes. The collective decision is invariably a very rational one and that is, it is a choice which on the aggregate provides social and economic benefits to the maximum number of people, not to a single person or crony or some vested interest group. For example, a decision made by the Prime Minister to buy a rm230 million Airbus Executive Jet for his own use and that made by the Deputy Prime Minister to purchase of two French made submarines and a fleet of Russian fighter aircrafts in exchange for commissions to the tune of nearly rm1,000 million cannot be tolerated in such a system. Both are cases of abuse of power.
The role of the government then is that of a custodian of natural resources, taxes, royalties and other incomes and proceeds from the disposal of public assets should be kept in a special fund, as in the Islamic Bait al-maal concept. The custodian acts in trust for,and in the interest of, the entire nation.
Funds will be used for education, healthcare, and social services and public infrastructure. In such a custodial role, the government is expected to be thoroughly professional, competent, responsible and accountable to its citizens. If the government is inept, or corrupt, or acts against the interest of the nation, it can removed by the people and its officials can replaced or charged in our courts and appropriately punished. The government must be fully accountable to the people who, in turn, have the right to know.
He told the audience that in order to make the right decisions about their choices, the public should be provided with complete information. It is for this reason, when an alternative government is elected in office, the Prime Minister designate in consultation with PAS and DAP as partners will abolish the Official Secrets Act (OSA), a relic of the British colonial system, which has enabled the UMNO-BN government to conduct its affairs without public oversight. India has done way with their OSA. If India could introduce right to information legislation,Tan Sri Khalid could not see any valid reason why Malaysia cannot do so. The alternative government would also seek to reform and strengthen the Judiciary and protect the rule of law.
The rule of law is important if we are to attract foreign and domestic investors to create much needed economic growth. Right now, our economic growth rate reflects that our economy is performing below its potential. We need to put in place policies that can create jobs and opportunities and we need, said Tan Sri Khalid, to invest in the training and retraining of our workers so that they earn higher income. We need to improve our education and healthcare system. At the same time, we need social policies that can reduce the widening gap between the rich and the poor. There must be justice for all Malaysians—Malays, Indians and Chinese alike. Growth and national productiity will precede, of course, distributive justice.
There should a root and branch reform of the civil service and there is an urgent need to provide adequate facilities and resources to take care of policemen and soldiers. We must deal with the high and rising crime rate and protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity. The audience applauded when Tan Sri Khalid remarked that,” kita mesti memberi kemudahan and gaji yang lebih baik kepada anggota polis dan perajurit perajurit kita yang sudah banyak mengkorban tenaga dan nyawa mereka demi keselamatan and keamanan negara kita”.
In closing his remarks, he pledged amidst applause that as soon as the new alternative government is formed, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim will announce that “harga minyak akan turun” at the pumps. Unlike what Najib said, Malaysia will not go bankrupt. It will be bankrupt, if and when the present government does not how manage the country’s wealth prudently. We need to eliminate wasteful and unproductive public spending.
There will be free education for all Malaysians up to university level. He said that the new government would also study the national health service in the United Kingdom with a view to introducing a similar system in our country so that those young and old alike do not have seek public donations for serious illnesses. It is the responsibility of a good and caring government to ensure that no one is denied the right to proper medical care. Malaysia is a rich and blessed country, and we can certainly afford a better deal for all Malaysians.
All the speakers from the PKR team made impassioned appeals to the audience that “inilah masanya untuk kita membawa perubahan dalam bumi kita yang bertuah ini”(Johari Abdul). My 25 minute speech was a personal reflection of a Kedah boy who was born during Second World War in Guar Chempedak, Yan, not far from Sungai Lallang. I told my audience that I owed it to their grandparents, parents and others for taking such great care of me and supporting me through school and university. I said, “saya ni terhutang budi kepada rakyat negeri Kedah yang menjaga saya dengan baik. Sebab itu saya kembali berjuang bersama Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim dan kawan kawan lain dalam PKR demi masa depan yang lebih baik dan aman bagi rakyat. Negara kita sakit sekarang”. I also urged my audience to work hard ahead of difficult times, and live in peace with each other, not to allow UMNO politicians to play the Malays against the Indians and the Chinese.
After the ceramah—it was already ten minutes past midnight by that time— many among the audience came up to the platform to thank us and shake our hands. The warmth and sincerity as reflected in their sad eyes made me say to myself that “there is no way my colleagues and I and our esteemed leader, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim, will ever let them down, inshaAllah”.
It is always a learning and humbling experience for me to meet my fellow Malaysians who are doing the best they can with their sparse resources at their disposal from dawn to dusk—kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang makan petang—to eke a living, educate and give their families and dependents a decent life.The fight against poverty and lack of opportunity is never more urgent.