11th Malaysia Plan review: What reformasi agenda?

We expected the Mid-Term Review of the 11th Malaysia Plan to be an exposition of the new Pakatan Harapan government’s development strategy that would be radically different from that of the previous Barisan Nasional government’s. After all, the new MP for Port Dickson Anwar Ibrahim expressed gratification that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had integrated the “Reformasi” agenda into the national agenda.

What radical reforms are in this review of the 11MP? Pray show us.

In fact, if we survey the headlines in the mainstream press today, we will see two issues being given prominence, namely, “Two terms for PM and CMs” and the irrepressible “Crooked bridge”.

Limiting the terms of office for the prime minister and chief ministers could have been announced during the 100 days and has little to do with the overall course of the 11MP. The crooked bridge, which was the brainchild of Dr Mahathir more than a decade ago, is as crooked an idea at a time of austerity as it is a ludicrous spectacle in a supposedly “new” Malaysia. This crooked bridge seems to have found only one other champion and that is our youngest minister who did not give any cogent reasons as to why he supports his mentor’s crooked bridge. In fact, the prince of Johor had more “reformasi” spirit when he suggested the money would be better spent on building the hospital that was allocated for his state.

What Reformasi agenda?

The mid-term review has merely set new economic forecasts and goals for the remainder of the 11MP – lower economic growth, lower current account surplus in our balance of payments, lower private and public investments growth, higher trade surplus, higher per capita income, a fiscal deficit by 2020, lower development expenditure. It expects Malaysia to breach the threshold of a high-income nation by 2024 and not 2020.

There is announcement of revenue diversification from indirect taxes and non-tax revenue and efforts to provide affordable housing and increase home ownership but there is not much on details for these plans. On governance, the term of office for the prime minister and chief ministers will be limited to two terms, and legislation will be introduced to curb political financing. There will be tougher action against misconduct and wrongdoing of public officials and a task force to conduct a comprehensive audit and review across public sector institutions and agencies.

The real Reformasi agenda

The electorate who voted for PH in GE14 expect nothing less than serious transformational reforms that will reconstitute truly democratic institutions and improve the lives of the 99% especially the B40 Malaysians as follows:

1. An end to race-based policies – Replace them with needs-based measures that truly benefit the lower-income and marginalised sectors. It is common sense that poor rural Malaysians should be assisted based on their needs in their particular economic sectors. Today, there is a lack of ethnic diversity in the civil service and armed forces. It is also time that recruitment and promotion in these services be based on merit.

2. Reinstate our democratic institutions – Bring back local elections that have been suspended since 1965. The existing laws should be amended to allow freedom of assembly and association as well as freedom of expression and information as guaranteed by the fundamental liberties in the Federal Constitution. Institute judicial freedom by devolving the appointment of judges to an independent commission comprising judges, Bar Council representatives and NGO representatives in order to ensure the independence of the judiciary. Repeal all laws that allow arbitrary declaration of emergency, torture, capital punishment, detention-without-trial and incommunicado detention including the Security Offences (Special Measures Act), Prevention of Terrorism Act, and Prevention of Crime Act.

3. Zero tolerance for corruption – The new PH government should stop the dubious practice of appointing peoples’ representatives as directors of federal and state corporations. All public corporations must be run by independent and qualified professionals and not government lackeys, an obvious conflict of interest. The MACC can be put in charge of this asset disclosure programme which monitors and evaluates the information and can investigate, prosecute and sanction those who fail to comply.

4. A progressive economic policy – Renationalise those assets, especially land, water, energy, which belong to the Malaysian people instead of local and foreign capitalists. This will not be that difficult to do as at present many of these assets are under the ownership and/or control of various government funds and government-linked companies (GLCs). A pro-people government will be able to open these GLCs to democratic control of the people and direct them to implement good labour and environmental policies. It is time that Petronas’ revenues are invested in a Sovereign Wealth Fund as a pension fund for future generations and the oil-producing states. We also want a strong and fairly distributed public-sector health, education, housing, transport services, including highways which have been privatised to crony capitalists at the expense of the public good. Our small and medium enterprises, farmers and fisherfolk need adequate support in order to develop our local food and industrial production.

5. Redistribute wealth fairly – The increasingly serious gap in income inequality needs to be addressed through progressive taxation on the high-income earners, their wealth and property and effective tax laws to ensure there are no tax loopholes for the super-rich. Transfer pricing that enables the largest corporations to stash their profits in off-shore tax-free havens has to be curtailed by proper legislation. Capital allowances and tax holidays for foreign firms must be reviewed while a tax should be imposed on all international financial transactions and hedge funds.

6. A far-sighted and fair education policy – Education should not be politicised as it has been since independence. There should be equal opportunities for all without any racial discrimination with enrolment into all schools, including tertiary educational institutions. Besides building national schools using Bahasa Malaysia, mother tongue schools for the various ethnic groups should be built in education precincts sharing facilities to promote integration, ensuring proportionate financial support and training adequate teachers for these schools. Schools should be built according to demand by the local communities under the respective elected local councils.

7. Defend workers’ rights and interests – The right of all workers to unionise is a universal right and we want a progressive guaranteed living wage for all workers, including foreign workers. Workers must be given the right to association, full employment, retrenchment pension fund and workers’ representatives should be part of decision-making in enterprises. We want a retrenchment fund for laid-off workers and we want universal pensions for citizens aged over 70 years. At the same time, we would promote self-governing workers’ cooperatives to produce goods that are useful for society.

8. People-centred and caring social policies – Institute a Housing Development Board, managed by elected local councils to implement an effective low-cost public housing programme for rental or ownership throughout the country for the poor and marginalised communities, with adequate space for community activities, recreation and green areas. We need to prioritise the public transport system in the country for the benefit of the majority while regulating highway construction and car traffic in city and town centres. We also want child-care and crèche facilities in all public and private sectors for working parents, homes and day-care centres for the elderly and disabled through benefits and support services, including access to mobile healthcare.

9. Prioritise Orang Asal rights and livelihood – It is a priority that we put the rights and livelihood of the Orang Asal at the top of the national agenda by recognising their rights over the land they have been occupying for centuries, prohibiting logging in Orang Asal land and ensuring all Orang Asal villages have adequate social facilities and services. The autonomy of the Orang Asal must be respected by ensuring their participation in all policy making involving their interests and introducing policies and laws that comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, especially their right to customary land.

10. Sustainable development and environmental protection – All local people must be consulted before any development projects and all permanent forest and wildlife reserves are gazetted. We want renewable energy projects that do not destroy forests or Orang Asal land and reject nuclear power and other toxic industries. The government should lead the development of renewable energy and not rely on the private sector to suggest environmentally harmful and socially destructive projects. A people’s government will enforce recycling measures, responsible waste disposal and enact laws to protect animal welfare.

These are the major reforms the people expect from the PH government. If “Saudara Anwar” says that the current prime minister has already incorporated the “Reformasi agenda” into his present policies, does it mean we will not be expecting anything more when and if “Saudara Anwar” takes over as prime minister?

Kua Kia Soong is the adviser to Suaram.

The views of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT