As we approach the first anniversary of Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) victory in the 14th general election (GE14), it is natural to ask how well the government has done.
Many, if not most, Malaysians would say: they have done well under the trying circumstances but could have done much better.
Most of us, including those in Cabinet, did not expect PH to win GE14 anyway. That is why they boldly drew up an ambitious manifesto which they now find difficult to fulfil on time.
PH government has been fighting against many odds
But in all fairness, the PH government did not realise the huge rot throughout the whole administrative system. The rotten challenges were, inter alia, as follows:
a) The corruption and decay that was rife from top to bottom of the government, and which was sadly led by some of the top leaders and officials themselves.
b) The bias and consequent professional weakening of the civil and public services, caused by about 60 years of rule by one political party.
c) The blind loyalty that developed in many civil servants who served party politics instead of following the tested and traditional 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.
d) 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 these little Napoleons are resisting the less experienced ministers. The PH ministers have to bring them under stronger control and better management, or lose out.
e) Cronies were pervasive before, and their negative influence on the administration has to be more strongly resisted to reduce the rot in the administrative system. This is why the destructive practice of money politics has to be controlled.
As our prime minister has repeated many times, the government currently faces many challenges in wanting to move forward more speedily and efficiently, to score better records in its accomplishments.
But as a former civil servant, I know our 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 boost national progress and well-being.
What the government has achieved, however, must be better publicised. It would be useful to have public reports every one to three months on the government’s accomplishments. But we also need to give the government a bit more time.
Give PH another year to overcome poor public ratings
For the above reasons, it is only fair and reasonable to give the PH government at least another year to achieve more success at a better pace. This would help win much more support.
A recent Merdeka Center survey showed that the public and popular rating of the government is on the decline. This is not a healthy trend in public opinion.
The poor rating could be due to:
1. Inadequate consultation with the public and opposition, for instance in the ratification of the Rome Statute and other international conventions.
Some ministries have been criticised for not taking the public and professionals into greater confidence before introducing important policies which could affect stakeholders. Thus the consequent public rejection and resentment which could have been avoided in the first place. Another good example is the teaching of the essential English language, for greater progress.
2. On the other hand, some policies that are in the best national and public interests should be implemented with greater courage and conviction.
The public must be assured that the full truth will be told about the alleged enforced disappearances of Malaysians. Fear is created, and confidence suffers when the Suhakam report on this issue is played down.
3. Foreign labour has been a source of great concern for Malaysians, especially our labour movement. Even our large numbers of unemployed people suffer due to previous flip-flops on labour policies. Can’t we come up with more sustainable policies and practices that would suit employers, employees and foreign workers as well?
4. The minimum wage could have been raised to RM1,500 per month much earlier, instead of decisions being postponed so many times.
The income disparity here and all over the world is widening, causing much frustration and misery to hardworking Malaysians. Yet we seem to drag our feet. Unfortunately, the government gives the impression that we, and they, are anti-poor labour and more supportive of rich capitalists.
This is neither right nor proper, and builds up public resentment. It even nurtures social unrest and upheaval, and anti-social elements that might be extremely difficult to control later.
We need a minimum wage which is adequate, and a living wage as well, before it is too late to prevent ugly developments.
5. The cost of living is high, and rising. We have to introduce an anti-inflation package to lower the cost of living as soon as possible.
The people keep asking how much the government has done so far, and why so little has been achieved to lower the prices of at least the basic goods and services consumed by the poor.
For instance, can the supply of food be increased through more competition and less protection? This alone might help lower prices.
We can understand the severe challenges faced by the government after so many years of mismanagement and corruption, cronyism and wastage of public funds.
It may be too much to expect a stronger turnaround so soon. But where there is unfair resistance to transformation and change for the better, the government has to be tougher and forge ahead, especially where race, religion and the royalty are wrongly used to protect narrow, vested interests. Racism and religious bigotry should be more strongly resisted.
We all appeal to the PH government to move more resolutely to serve the interests of the people. Through this, they will get stronger support from the people and backing for better ratings.
Then we will all, as Malaysians, be able to help build a better Malaysia for more peace, prosperity and national unity.
Ramon Navaratnam is chairman of ASLI’s Centre for Public Policy Studies.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.