July 12, 2009
Najib not going to win brownie points
by Khoo Kay Peng*
Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has announced some ‘goodies’ to mark his 100th day in office. It is best for his supporters not to go overboard and overly generous with their praises. The fact is he did not make any major announcements or address any key areas, as claimed by certain newspapers.
Some of his announcements are noteworthy but most of them are not going to bring any significant changes to the social, economic and political landscape in the country. The 20 percent discount given to frequent toll roads’ users, limited to those using SmartTag and Touch ‘n Go cards, does not help to address the root cause of lopsided privatisation contracts signed between the government and the operators. It was not made clear whether the discount is given by the operators or the government may end up having to compensate them for the lost revenue.
Most of the announcements are not extraordinary. Halving the licensing renewal fee for petty traders and hawkers in Kuala Lumpur, providing low-cost housing to low income families, facilitating applications for registration of births in Sabah and Sarawak, construction of roads and public amenities in Sabah and Sarawak and offering additional 3,000 individual taxi permits are things any government should do without the need to make any fuss about them.
Only in Malaysia, such announcements are considered ‘goodies’ and ‘special gifts’ generously handed out to the people by its supreme leader. I would like to offer the prime minister a free advice. He should really avoid making such populist announcements because they are not going to win him any brownie points.
There is a growing political maturity amongst many urban Malaysians. Such announcements will not make him look generous, caring or people friendly. Instead, they only help to expose his inability to focus on real fundamental issues facing the nation and its people.
Serious bottleneck in economy
The prime minister and his teams of experts should put more thoughts and efforts into our economic development. The economic structure is clearly facing a serious bottleneck. Our efforts to market Malaysia as a high-tech hub and a knowledge-based economy are not bearing the desired results.
The main problem highlighted by many organisations, both local and foreign, is a lack of skilled workers. What is the government’s strategy to help retain and grow our skilled labour pool?
The government’s continuous education policy flip-flop is going to invoke a high cost on the society. It means our hope to enhance the knowledge capital of our workforce will be severely dented and any new plan to help improve the quality of our education system can only be done after 2012.
Closer to the economic front, none of our plans – five-year plans or otherwise – seemed to work. There is a dire need to rethink a new growth strategy for our economic development. None of our newly developed industrial parks and hubs – Cyberjaya, Port Klang Free Zone and the various corridors – is showing any sign of success yet.
Our tourism development strategy focuses more on promotion and advertisement rather than the development of world-class tourism products and the improvement of public amenities to support tourism. The appointment of Jean Todt, the ex-CEO of Ferrari, is not going to save the industry. Again, it only exposes a lack of new ideas to help develop the sector.
Issues that Najib has ignored
As a veteran, the prime minister should do better than just the 11 announcements made to mark his 100th day in office. On race relations, he should strive to introduce a race relations legislation to protect the people from unfair and unjust racial profiling and abuses. He should also try to introduce a new coalition formula for Barisan Nasional.
Any political party or coalition must evolve with the changing requirements and expectations of the society. The BN political structure does not help to promote true nation building. On many occasions, it was detrimental to national unity by protecting and condoning overt ethno-nationalism, race supremacy, religious exclusivity and nepotism.
In the early days of his premiership, Najib had touched on the need for BN to change. Sadly, he failed to walk his talk in his first 100 days. He should spend a great deal of speech on the need to explore meaningful socio-political changes to help steer the society towards a less racialised and polarised future.
Najib spoke casually on his intention to combat crime and fight corruption but stopped short of providing us with the details. I support the prime minister’s intention to address these two key issues.
But to address these two issues, his administration must first strengthen the relevant public institutions which are directly responsible to carry out their duties to fight corruption and crime.
What are his plans to help restore public confidence in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the police and the judiciary? What had happened to the two royal commissions – the judiciary and police force? As a start, his administration should ensure a satisfactory closure to the two royal commissions. Will Najib address these issues in his next 100th day?
There are many more fundamental areas and important issues which were left unaddressed in his first 100th day such as the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) fiasco, custodial deaths, land scams, constitutional crisis in Perak power grab, dispute in using religious terms, repeal of draconian laws, et cetera. These issues cannot be swept under the carpet. They will return to haunt his premiership.
As a Malaysian, I would like the prime minister to do well. It is my citizenry duty to ensure that his leadership brings out the best in the country. There is no time for populist announcements, half-hearted reforms and insincere apple polishers.