Correcting the U-turn government

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman recently posted photos on Instagram of him sharing a meal with preacher Dr Zakir Naik. This big U-turn came soon after he called for Naik to be deported.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Syed Saddiq probably thought it was a proud moment, but his whimsical out-of-the-blue public relations publicity stunt went horribly wrong. Right-thinking Malaysians were aghast at the cosiness displayed by a minister on a hot-potato issue that still consumes Malaysians.

Some said he is a youthful and handsome prodigy but a naïve one in this case.

Syed Saddiq is the face of youth in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government. He represents the hope of the young voters who voted for change in GE14. Instead, we are getting the same tired old politics.

It cannot be denied that PH is now a replica of the Barisan Nasional (BN) government – nothing has changed.

In May 2018, we were proud that we have the oldest prime minister in the world. What is there to be proud about now, if you run a “nyanyuk” government?

Many younger voters vehemently objected to Dr Mahathir Mohamad but wanted a change in leadership. Now I can understand why. History is repeating itself: it’s hard for a leopard to change its spots.

Syed Saddiq’s postings sum up what is wrong with the Malaysian government. I must stop saying PH government or BN government. Mahathir and Syed Saddiq represent the government – the Malaysian government.

Malaysia, the nation, should come first. We must not repeat the same racial, religious, political rhetoric and crowd-pleasing antics of the BN era.

In Sabah, the people are upset by an about-turn on the proposed Papar dam and the Tanjung Aru Eco-Development project.

Parti Bersatu Sabah’s information chief, Joniston Bangkuai, said the Warisan-led state government’s inconsistent stand had raised the eyebrows of many, including those who voted for them.

“At the rate these flip-flop decisions are being made, this Warisan-led coalition state government should be known as a ‘U-turn government’,” he said.

The state government has to recognise the groundswell and not bulldoze through projects, otherwise these projects will face a similar fate as the coal-fired plant in Lahad Datu many years back.

In July, it was reported that about 100,000 job applications were received by the Sabah Public Service Commission for 401 job vacancies. Where did the rejected ones go?

In July 2018, the Sabah trade and industry ministry, under Madius Wilfred Tangau, announced that it aims to create 600,000 jobs by 2023, under the small and medium enterprises sector.

The latest statistics show that the unemployment rate has increased. The Sabah government has to really think hard about how to create these 600,000 jobs.

Floating nice figures is one thing, but putting words into action is another thing. The fact that 100,000 people chased 401 jobs in Sabah shows that we need more industries and the use of digital technology in a sharing economy to promote self-employment.

We read that many Sabahans have left the state to look for jobs in foreign countries. They end up being exploited and deported with nothing in their pockets.

PPBM’s policy and strategy bureau chief Rais Hussin said recently that the ruling coalition would lose federal power if a general election were held the next day. His frank views are being echoed by other component party leaders.

The same goes for the Sabah state government. People are now comparing statistics with that under the former state government, led by Musa Aman, and the figures do not look good.

Granted, it would not be fair to compare apples with apples as the circumstances are different – we are now saddled by 1MDB and all the financial mismanagement that is being exposed daily.

But the fact remains that people need jobs; people need to feed their families. They are tired of excuses. In the digital age, you can’t hide or run; people need answers and solutions. The state government has to answer to the people.

Mahathir has admitted weaknesses in communicating the success of its policies as the reason behind PH’s dwindling popularity.

“The press loves controversy. So that’s why I find it difficult to comment on controversial matters,” he said. Another Trump-like statement from Mahathir. If you can’t clearly articulate your policies and behaviour, don’t blame the press.

Khat is a good example of poor communication and U-turns. What was the khat issue about? Arabic, Muslims, race, Maszlee, fun games, art, calligraphy, compulsory, not compulsory, elective subject, hours spent on learning, how many pages, etc.

The public is confused, the Cabinet is confused, the whole country is confused. Isn’t that poor communication? The current style is to shoot from the hip first and clarify later.

Don’t blame the press.

Opinion articles by intellectuals, writers and the Malay middle class show that many are saying it would be better for Malaysians to migrate, and that it would be better for our children to be educated overseas and continue working there.

At least then we would not have to deal with “holier than thou” Muslims who say that only enemies of Islam would want Naik to be extradited. A PAS leader has even said that only hypocrites and sinners would want him booted out.

I am a Malaysian Muslim. Why should I be publicly condemned by a PAS leader as a sinner and hypocrite while an Indian fugitive, wanted in India and banned in several countries, is seen cosying up to the PM and our ministers as if he were the centre of the earth?

Would a Malaysian be able to claim asylum in Commonwealth countries such as the UK or Canada in the same manner that Naik is being harboured here? Those countries, with significant Muslim populations, must have thoroughly investigated him before banning his entry.

Many of us would hesitate to leave the country of our birth and the country we love. Unless the government changes its ways, we might see a mass migration if Naik is somehow installed as a new religious leader.

I always understood that our sultans are the heads of religion in each state. Now I am beginning to be confused as to who has the real religious authority in Malaysia, just as I am confused about khat being part of the school curriculum.

Will the Cabinet take time to think through what they are proposing, especially when it comes to sensitive issues like religion, race relations and education, and learn to communicate better with the general public before making embarrassing U-turns that stir up emotions and endless debate?

Take to heart the campaign line used by former US president Bill Clinton: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Concentrate on improving the economy and creating jobs and do not get distracted by issues like khat and Naik which do not bring any real benefit to the nation.

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