One year of false hopes from Pakatan Harapan

After a year of Pakatan Harapan rule, the euphoria that followed the May 9 general election is rapidly evaporating. The anti-kleptocracy campaign appears to have been selective as crony capitalism is again the name of the game especially with regard to the mega projects up for grabs and Mahathir’s penchant for privatisation holding sway.

Behind the anti-Najib drama, the PH government has been pushing through multi-billion-ringgit projects that had been started by the Najib regime but with just as little transparency.

The procrastination in the implementation of urgent reforms promised in the PH GE14 manifesto is unacceptable. There have been engagements with civil society but no improvement in promised reform of repressive laws.

The refusal to release the CEP report to which civil society had contributed is especially inexcusable.

Inconsistency in the war on kleptocracy

The PH government had pledged to wipe out kleptocracy and this promise was key to the victory at GE14. They have disappointed the people of Malaysia and especially Sarawakians who have seen the wealth of their state sucked dry by the rapacious greed of the kleptocrats there.

The PH government has not yet acted to make former chief minister Taib Mahmud declare his assets and those of his spouse and family’s. The PH government has shown us that where there is a political will in getting to the root of the 1MDB scandal, there is a way to rid Malaysia of corruption and kleptocracy across the board.

However, by letting off his long-time ally in Sarawak, arguably the richest man in Malaysia, the prime minister makes his campaign against the former PM Najib look like a personal vendetta. The prime minister has also failed to lead by example and declare his assets and those of his spouse and children’s.

Back to privatising national assets and Proton 2.0

So far, the PH government has not spelled out their fundamental difference in economic policy from the old BN regime. What we have heard is the alarming news of the return of the old discredited Mahathirist policies, namely, privatisation of our national assets in the name of Bumiputeraism and the revival of the national car, Proton 2.0.

The PM has said that the sovereign wealth fund Khazanah will be privatised for the benefit of Bumiputeras. Malaysians need to be reminded that during the financial crisis of 1997/98, it was Khazanah that had stepped in to take over the assets of the failed companies owned by the Bumiputera crony capitalists in Renong, MAS and TRI. After taking over the assets, Khazanah revamped these GLCs with professional managers and better rules of governance. Thus, Khazanah is successfully achieving its purpose of creating a sovereign wealth fund for the benefit of ALL Malaysians. Its expressed purpose never has been to be privatised to Bumiputera crony capitalists.

The prime minister has also announced the revival of yet another national car, or Proton 2.0. After the fiasco of Proton 1.0 and the huge cost to Malaysian taxpayers, our public transport system and Malaysian consumers, it is unbelievable that such a failed enterprise could be supported by a PH leadership full of former critics of the first Proton project.

Another national car project will surely fail with further losses to the national coffers and we will have to underwrite the losses. The PH government won’t have 1MDB to blame for that anymore.

Economic projects as non-transparent as the BN’s

Behind the smokescreen of the anti-Najib kleptocracy campaign, the PH government has been pushing through multi-billion ringgit projects that had been started by the Najib regime but with just as little transparency, showing that the difference between BN and PH is who gets to handle and control these multi-billion projects, namely, the questionable ECRL, Bandar Malaysia and the Penang Transport Master Plan projects.

As far as the ECRL is concerned, the PH government has not fully recovered the money lost in the overpriced contracts. Furthermore, despite the realignment of the ECRL route through Negeri Sembilan, there is no mention of any new feasibility study or new EIA being done. How did the non-elected Daim Zainuddin single-handedly achieve that new agreement without the need for a team of professionals?

As for the Bandar Malaysia project, the Najib government had terminated the contract with the Malaysia-China consortium because of non-fulfilment of the contract by the purchasers. Mahathir has reinstated the agreement with the consortium only having to pay a further RM500 million, in addition to the original RM741 million deposit.

As with all the other privatisation plans of the new prime minister, why couldn’t Bandar Malaysia initiate the master plan itself and then sell the land to be developed according to this plan and make all the profits itself instead of what the private consortium is going to make?

Then, the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) costing RM46 billion involving the reclamation of three man-made islands gives no indication of how much the cost of reclamation would be, the time period the reclamation would take place nor feasibility reports or environmental impact assessments (EIA).

Delaying urgent reforms is unacceptable

Using the excuse of the government debt to delay local government elections which have been suspended in our country since 1965 is not acceptable.

It is a simple matter of abolishing a provision under the Local Government Act 1976 and reviving the Local Government Election Act in order to introduce local government elections. If the PH government is prepared to see billions going down the drain with the revived Proton 2.0 project, don’t tell us there is no money for running local council elections.

There have been engagements with civil society but no improvement in promised reform of repressive laws. The Cabinet imposed a moratorium on draconian laws including the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of CMA in October 2018. The moratorium was short-lived and it was lifted in December 2018 following the Seafield Temple fracas.

Considering the efforts by civil society in contributing to institutional reform after GE14, the prime minister’s decision not to make the CEP report public is unacceptable and stinks of BN non-transparency.

Many lawyers have pointed out that the repeal or review of our laws that violate basic human rights can be expeditiously accomplished within the first 100 days of the PH government. These include abolishing laws that allow detention without trial, namely, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (Poca), and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) 2015.

The PH government is now reconsidering its initial pledge to abolish several contentious laws, including the Sedition Act 1948, Prevention of Crime Act (Poca) 1959, Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, Printing Presses and Publications (PPPA) Act 1984 and the National Security Council (NSC) Act 2016. This is totally unethical backtracking on the PH GE14 manifesto.

More racial discrimination

The capitulation by the PH government to the threats of far-right Malay supremacists over the ratification of ICERD in November 2018 has since been followed by the decision of the education ministry to maintain the matriculation quota for Bumiputeras at 90%. The New Economic Policy that was intended to end in 1990 continues as the never-ending policy to benefit Bumiputeras. This is not surprising when the prime minister himself heads a party that is only open to “Pribumis”.

It is equally absurd to tell Malaysian independent Chinese secondary school graduates that their UEC certificate can only be recognised in five years’ time. The UEC certificate went unrecognised by the BN for 61 years even though it has internationally proven its efficacy with thousands of graduates since 1975. This is a serious breach of promise in the PH GE14 manifesto since more than 80 per cent of Chinese voters voted for PH because of this promised reform.

Consequently, after a year of the new government, Malaysians who had supported the Pakatan Harapan administration during the 14th general election can only watch with growing despair at the reneging of the promises of reform that had roused the electorate at the election.

The lesson of the first year of the PH administration is that, as always, civil society needs to be ever vigilant to push for these reforms because the government of the day has shown it is dragging its feet and reneging on these election promises when they have the opportunity.

Worse, economic, educational and other polices of the PH government since May 9, 2018 have shown that they are evolving into BN 2.0.

Kua Kia Soong is the adviser to Suaram.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.