Chairperson of the Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam gives his views on Harapan’s first year in office.
As we celebrate the first anniversary of the Pakatan Harapan victory in winning the 14th general election (GE14), and forming and running the new federal government, it is natural to ask – how well has the government done?
Many Malaysians, if not most of them, will say – they have done well under the trying circumstances, but they could have done much better!
Most Malaysians, including those in the cabinet, did not expect Harapan to win GE14 anyway. That is why they boldly drew up an ambitious manifesto, which they now find difficult to fulfil.
Fighting against the odds
However, in all fairness to the Harapan government, they did not, understandably, realise the huge rot that had sealed itself into the whole administrative system. The rotten challenges were, inter alia, as follows –
1. The corruption and decay that were rife in the government from top to bottom, sadly led by some of the topmost leaders and officials themselves;
2. The bias and consequent professional weakening in the whole civil and public services, caused by about 60 years of one political party’s dominant rule;
3. Blind loyalty that had developed in many civil servants to serve party politics, rather than following the time-tested traditional good values of the civil service. Then, we faithfully served God, King and country, with neutrality, intellectual integrity and a much deeper sense of honesty. Today it may be somewhat different;
4. The ministers in the past were also, understandably, more experienced. They may have encouraged the growth of many little Napoleons, but they could control them. Today, many of the little Napoleons are resisting the less experienced ministers. So the new Harapan ministers have to bring them under stronger control and better manage these little Napoleons, or lose out;
5. Cronies were pervasive before, and their negative influences on the administration have to be more strongly resisted, to reduce the rot that had sunk into the administrative system. That is why the destructive practice of money politics has to be strictly controlled soon.
Hence, as our prime minister has repeated many times, the government is now facing many challenges, in wanting to move forward more speedily and efficiently to score better records in its accomplishments.
As a former senior civil servant, I know our Administrative and Diplomatic Service (PTD) alumni believe that with the right persuasion and more dignified treatment of the civil service, the government can and will overcome any obstacle to faster national progress and wellbeing.
But what the government has achieved has to be better publicised. Hence, it would be useful if there can be public reports every one to three months on government accomplishments. But we need to give the government a bit more time.
Give another year
For the above reasons, it is only fair and reasonable to give the present new Harapan government at least another year to achieve more success and at a faster pace. This will help win more public and voter support for the Harapan government.
A recent survey by the Merdeka Centre showed public and popular ratings of the government have been declining. This is not a healthy trend in public opinion, as it could show waning support.
This poor rating could be due to the following reasons:
1. Inadequate consultations with the public and with the opposition over, for instance, the ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and other international conventions. In fact, some ministries have been criticised for not taking the public and professionals into greater confidence, before introducing important policies that could badly affect stakeholders. Thus, there is consequent public rejection and resentment, which could have been avoided in the first place. A good example is the teaching of the essential English language, for greater progress.
2. On the other hand, some policies that are in the national and public interests have to be implemented with greater courage and conviction. Hence, the public has to be assured that the full truth will be told about the alleged enforced disappearance of Malaysians. Fear is created and confidence suffers by playing down the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) report on this sensitive security and public safety issue.
3. Foreign labour has been a source of sore concern for Malaysians, especially our labour movement. Even our large numbers of unemployed persons suffer, due to our past flip-flops on labour policies. Can’t we come out with more sustainable policies and practices, to suit employers, employees and foreign workers as well?
4. The minimum wage could be raised to RM1,500 per month much earlier, rather than have to wait and postpone decisions so many times.
Income disparities are widening here and all over the world and are causing much frustration and misery to hardworking Malaysian workers. Yet, we seem to drag our feet. Unfortunately, our government gives the impression that we and the government us are anti-poor labour and are more supportive of rich capitalists.
This is not right nor proper, and builds up public resentment. It even nurtures social unrest and upheaval, and bad anti-social and dangerous elements, that will be extremely difficult to control later.
Hence, we need to have a minimum wage which is adequate as a living wage as well, before it’s too late to prevent ugly developments.
5. The cost of living is high and rising. Thus we have to introduce an anti-inflation package to lower the cost of living as soon as possible. The rakyat keep asking how much the government has done so far, and why so little has been achieved to lower prices of, at least, the basic goods and services consumed by the poor?
For instance, can the supplies of food be increased by more competition and less protection? This act of encouraging more competition alone would help to lower rising prices.
Be more resolute
We can understand the severe challenges faced by the new government, after so many years of mismanagement and corruption, cronyism and the wastage of public funds.
Hence, it may be too much to expect a stronger turnaround soon. But where there is resistance to transformation and change for the better, the government has to be tougher and forge ahead, especially when race, religion and royalty issues are wrongly used to protect narrow vested interests. Racism and religious bigotry should be resisted more strongly.
I appeal to the new Harapan government to move more resolutely to serve the righteous national and public interests of the rakyat, for which they will get the people’s stronger support and backing for better ratings.
Then we will all, as Malaysians, be able to help to build a better Malaysia for a better record and ratings, for more peace, prosperity and national unity in the future.
The views expressed are those of the writer.