Only vocal state governments, chief ministers and menteris besar can now help mitigate a Malaysia that 'will be bankrupt by 2019'.
I have said it before and I will say it again: state governments and their respective chief ministers and menteris besar must demand more control over their resources and become Malaysia’s engine of growth.
To become an engine that takes Malaysia forward, the state governments should be vocal with the way development projects from Putrajaya are forced down their throats and not done according to the aspirations of the local population.
So far the states have only rebelled against the Rural and Regional Development Ministry’s attempts to set up rural development committees in opposition-held states.
In these states, Umno minister Shafie Apdal uses his district rural development committees to bypass and to undermine the opposition-led state governments.
In states where Umno is in control, the rural development programme is used in a pork-barrel fashion to support local party leaders (read Umno).
Do chief ministers and menteris besar have a right to “rebel”? Yes, they do.
In this time of stupefying political stagnation, the horrifying prophecies uttered by Minister in the PM’s Department Idris Jala on the economic front demands the most urgent need for change.
Jala, who is chief executive officer of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu), dropped a bombshell when he said Malaysia will be bankrupt by 2019 if it does not cut subsidies and rein in borrowings.
He said that Malaysia’s debt would rise to 100% of GDP by 2019 from the current 54% if it did not cut subsidies.
It was even more frightening when Jala said that Malaysia was likely to become an oil importer as early as next year at the current rate it was consuming petroleum.
State governments as saviours
It seems Malaysians continue to be among the highest fuel consumers per capita in the world fuel consumption habits pattern, which generally has remained relatively unchanged despite increased oil prices in 2008.
Believe me, the damage that a tired and comatose government can do before 13th general election is too horrific to think about.
In this scenario, the silver linings are the state governments and its chief ministers and menteris besar.
What matters now is for chief ministers like Musa Aman (Sabah), Lim Guan Eng (Penang) and perhaps even menteris besar like Khalid Ibrahim (Selangor) and Nik Aziz Nik Mat (Kelantan) to wake up to how they can become the engine that takes Malaysia forward despite the inertia in Putrajaya.
And to do that the state governments which they lead must be vocal.
The sight of chief ministers and menteris besar lining up outside the Putrajaya begging for development funds is an ugly one.
Many distortions have crept into federal-state relations in the bad old days when Umno controlled nearly all of our major state governments.
These distortions need to be removed.
State governments now need to become more vocal about things like having centrally controlled development and welfare programmes rammed down their throats.
If we are seriously interested in ensuring that not another child grows up malnourished and illiterate in Malaysia, the solution lies in giving kampung women control of food programmes.
This is something that more enlightened chief ministers should start doing.
Once state governments start competing with each other to become popular tourist destinations, favourites for foreign investment and centres of excellence in rural development, education, healthcare, sanitation and infrastructure building, Malaysia will finally begin to really change.
If this starts to happen soon, then the deleterious consequences of having a stagnant government in Putrajaya and a prime minister who seems to be in a somnambulant state will be mitigated.
Selvarajah Somiah is a geologist and freelance writer. He blogs at selvarajasomiah.wordpress.com