August 2, 2018
10 Things to do for Malaysian People
by P. Gunasegaram
QUESTION TIME | All governments routinely claim that they are there for the people and that they will take care of the interests of the people. But is that what they really do? Or do the leaders forget about the plight of the rakyat and focus on other things such as consolidating their power?
To do their jobs properly, the government needs to prioritise the rakyat so that the most important gets done first and the others follow on from there.
To remind Harapan, in the midst of all the controversies which have emerged post-May 9, here is a list of 10 things they should be prioritising.
1. Restore our democratic rights
What we need going forward is a full restoration of our democratic rights as envisaged in the original constitution of Aug 31, 1957, nothing less.
That entails removal of all oppressive new laws under the Najib regime such as the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (Poca), Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (Pota), Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), Anti-Fake News Act 2018 and National Security Council Act 2016.
It should also include archaic ones such as the Sedition Act 1948, the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA), the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA), the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) and serious overhaul of the Penal Code to remove ancient laws such as criminal defamation, etc.
People Power dethroned UMNO-BN
After what we have been through, it must be crystal clear to everyone that to remove a corrupt government and one that is not meeting the legitimate aspirations of the rakyat, there must always be a means of check and balance.
Successive BN governments, including those under Dr Mahathir Mohamad previously, have eroded the legal system and undermined the laws protecting individual rights. These have to be rectified forthwith.
As long as these laws exist in the statute books, unscrupulous leaders can use it to oppress the people yet again. It is a matter of regret that not enough is being done in this regard, as one of the key promises of Harapan.
2. Demarcate lines between executive, judiciary and Parliament
If necessary, introduce legislation to do this. For too long, there has been executive interference in the judicial system, even before the time of Najib Abdul Razak.
Judicial independence all but died in 1987 following Mahathir’s interventions to suspend Federal Court judges.
The only recourse the public has against an oppressive executive is the judicial system. For this, prosecution and investigation too must be independent of government.
To ensure that the Police toe the line and follow the law (by the way, the Police come up tops in surveys of which government department is the most corrupt), an independent commission of investigation for police misconduct needs to be set up.
No matter how much the police maintain that oppressive legislation is necessary, they must follow the law – police brutality in detention is well documented.
3. Redraw constituencies to correct gerrymandering
There can be no argument that the will of the population is reflected in a one-man, one-vote system. However, when you have constituencies several times larger than others, the intention is negated because less people vote for one representative.
Keep differences to a maximum of say 15 percent between constituencies – that will be fair to everyone.
4. Do something concrete about corruption
It is not money that is the root of evil, but corruption in getting the money. So, lay the ground rules – open tenders, no patronage, accountability, an independent MACC reporting to Parliament, no cronyism, contracts no longer under the OSA, and 101 other things.
If current laws are not sufficient to bring those who clearly live beyond their means to account, enact new ones which will clearly require them to account for their assets, forfeit them if they can’t and charge them accordingly.
And why this strange reluctance now for all ministers, MPs and state assemblypersons to make a public declaration of their assets? What are they afraid of?
5. For the long term, do something about education
Black shoes only hide the dirt, they do nothing else. Is that the priority of the Education Ministry?
Without a long-term plan for education, the rot in the country cannot be stopped. Quality education has to start with headmasters and headmistresses and teachers – upgrading their quality.
Our education has to move with the times, and improving English must be part of the agenda. Rural children want to learn English so that their chances of succeeding increase.
Education is too important to be left to chance and to people who don’t seem to have a clue about what they are doing.
It is definitely not just about whether the Unified Examination Certification (UEC) qualification is recognised. It is about preparing a new generation of people for the workplace, moving us up the economic ladder to higher value-added activities, greater opportunities and a better life for everyone.
6. Have a coherent economic plan
It’s all good and well to blame the previous government for everything, including falsely accusing them of having run up a debt of RM1 trillion.
But what is your programme for the economy? How are you going to achieve economic growth and ensure that it is achieved? How are you going to ensure that this is distributed among as many people as possible?
How will you ensure that the socio-economic position of everyone improves rapidly in line with the large amount of resources this country has? What are some of the specific measures you will be taking?
You can give subsidies, increase your spending for the public, build better infrastructure, etc, only if you increase revenue. How are you going to do that?
7. Set targets and make them public
Setting targets alone is not enough, there has to be someone monitoring them. Unfortunately, the new government dismantled the Performance Management and Delivery Unit, or Pemandu, and summarily discontinued their use.
Despite all the vituperative criticism levelled against Pemandu, it played a major role in economic development under the previous regime. First, it helped all government departments and agencies, including even the police and others to set key performance indices or KPIs which they must achieve and then a system for monitoring this.
Thus, there was a clear, articulated and measurable path to achieving developed status, which not only included income criteria but socio-economic criteria as well.
Out of the labs that were set up and the discussions that arose, a number of useful initiatives arose for increasing economic growth while at the same time improving the quality of life. This was one of the better things that the previous government did and it contributed to better economic growth and living standards.
While it has disbanded Pemandu, the new government must come up with a similar or better system of setting KPIs among all the ministries and the key government agencies. Otherwise, there is going to be a lot of talk but no action plan which is measurable and can be monitored.
The manifesto is a good starting point – set targets and state how you are going to achieve them, and monitor them.
One of the things the government should consider here is a multi-agency government committee such as the National Development Planning Committee (NDPC) of old.
Such committees are typically headed by the Chief Secretary and comprise key people from other ministries, especially secretaries-general of economy-related ministries, the central bank governor and others.
Civil servants from various departments studied all major proposals thoroughly and made their recommendations to the NDPC, which then made a final decision. Seldom were their recommendations overturned in the past.
The NDPC was disbanded under the previous Mahathir regime and politicians decided whether projects were viable or not and whether they were desirable.
8. Consult and reach intraparty consensus
Harapan is a coalition of parties which have common aspirations. And in the spirit of consensus and consultation, they chose a Prime Minister, Mahathir, who will run the show until Anwar Ibrahim takes over.
This is the new Malaysia – consensus and consultation should be agreed upon at least at the supreme council level of the party and at the cabinet level of government.
Prime ministerial prerogative must only be exercised if there is a deadlock, much like a casting vote by the chair of a board. Majority views should prevail because the prime minister comes from a minority party.
No other committee should usurp the Cabinet, which should be the ultimate body for deciding on policy matters and must take joint responsibility for decisions taken. There should be no yes-men in the cabinet and everyone should speak their minds openly without fear of retribution.
9. Allow for dissenting views and discussion
This must be freely allowed within Harapan and within parties in the Harapan coalition, otherwise you will see a group of nodding yes-men who will fawn over the emperor’s clothes even when he is naked.
The room to criticise, make suggestions, to discuss and debate must be there. The prime minister does not know everything and must take advice and encourage opposite views to come out so that all angles can be scrutinised before a final decision is taken. Do we really want another national car? Is that going to be pushed through via prime ministerial prerogative?
I can’t stand, and certainly cannot understand, this call to let the government do its job without fair criticism and feedback. Look what prime ministerial prerogative got us in the past.
Any government worth its salt and truly interested in representing the rakyat and having its interests as its highest aims, instead of the leaders’ own interests, must be unambiguously receptive to constructive criticism and obliged to explain their policies and decisions so that the public understands it. That’s what transparency, good governance and accountability is about.
10. Be humane and fair in your decisions
Finally, don’t overdo things when you want to try and paint a black picture of the previous government.
Don’t tar and feather everyone. There are many people, including many top civil servants, and heads/boards of government-linked companies who have made a real contribution to the country.
Do not denigrate their contributions, do not make light of them, do not label them as corrupt unless you have evidence. If you have evidence, charge them.
There are many people in government who are professional and interested in doing a good job in the service of the nation. Use current resources, which are not corrupt and which are capable; acknowledge them.
Do not run roughshod over innocent human beings in your haste to put down everything the previous government has done. I dare say the politicians associated with previous BN governments over a long period of time are more corrupt than the civil servants, the vast majority of whom have had no opportunity for large-scale corruption in the way politicians have had all these years.
All Malaysians hope that Harapan can once and for all kill political corruption, the most insidious form of corruption there is because it leads to all other forms of corruption. As they say, the fish rots from the head.
This is the sixth and final part on a series of articles on Malaysia post-GE14.
Part 1: Mahathir’s patently unfair cabinet
Part 2: Did Mahathir win the general election?
Part 3: Do we really need a council of elders?
Part 4: Proton, Khazanah, Malaysia Inc and Mahathir
Part 5: Here’s how Khazanah can spread its wealth
Part 6: 10 things Harapan should do going forward
P GUNASEGARAM says the greatest challenge this government has is of getting rid of corruption, patronage and cronyism within their own ranks. If they can do that, the rest is easy. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.