The adage “change is the only constant” may not be totally applicable to Malaysia despite the churn in governments, prime ministers and Cabinets over the last five years.
But that’s only in form.
When it comes to substance, everything appears to be as hollow as before – no change whatsoever. When you think that ministerial statements will see some improvement, you are proven wrong time and again.
Many Malaysians waited with bated breath for more refreshing pronouncements after the unity government was sworn into power. However, they were disappointed many times, with headlines sounding very familiar to the ones dished out several years ago.
Many things that the current government leaders are saying or doing now are also those that the leaders had vehemently condemned when they were in the opposition.
They were quick to say then that most government leaders were paying mere lip service. And look at the very things many current ministers or their deputies are saying now. It makes one wonder if changing a government is at all necessary.
Take for example the mistreatment of migrant workers, for which Malaysia became notorious over a couple of decades. It seems to continue despite the warnings and assurances from all human resources ministers. A check on Google for media headlines over the last several years shows that the same problems exist, nothing has changed.
The ministry has warned employers and recruitment agents of being blacklisted or of tough action to be taken against fake recruitment and abuses. All the ministers had taken a horde of newsmen and cameramen in tow to raid workplaces to show they are doing something. But the problem of worker abuse seems to be perennial.
The recent report by home minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail admitting Malaysia has 250,000 excess workers points to errant agents, fake companies and corrupt government officials who must have approved the quotas without doing any due diligence.
Recent reports of thousands of Bangladeshi workers arriving here with no jobs as promised and being left in poor living conditions, lack of food and debt bondage have received international attention.
It is mind-boggling how the authorities can allow these workers to live without any dignity and begging for help from international NGOs.
Meanwhile the culprits responsible are living in luxury with their loved ones. This is not only irresponsible but sinful.
I don’t think one needs rocket science to trace the errant employers, agents applying for more workers than needed and ministry officers who approved the quotas. Why, even the name of the companies which faked the number of workers needed are printed clearly on the work visas.
There have been numerous probes and arrests by the authorities related to employment of foreign workers over the last several years but charges and convictions have come only in a trickle.
If the government allows this forced labour situation to persist, Malaysia may end up being downgraded back to Tier 3 in the US Trafficking in Persons annual report next year. It was upgraded to its current Tier 2 Watchlist just this year.
Unnecessary government celebrations
Do government leaders think the average Malaysian will be overjoyed with the planned three-day event next month to commemorate the Anwar Ibrahim government’s first year in power?
The leaders must be tone deaf to think that the rakyat are excited with the “One Year with the Madani Government” event, especially with the extremely poor performance of some of the ministers and their deputies.
To spend public funds in this wasteful manner for a “syiok sendiri” (self-gratification ) exercise is disgusting to many. This is especially so when a large number of citizens are struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living has gone up substantially and the ringgit has dropped to an all-time low.
They want answers to the many problems facing them right now, and not some organised gathering to inflate the ego of the prime minister and his ministers. These are the same leaders who have condemned the previous governments for such ludicrous government-paid events when they were in the opposition.
Condoning “party hopping”
It was Pakatan Harapan that pushed hard to make the anti-hopping law possible after it was ousted by treacherous MPs who switched parties in 2020. It happened because one of the main clauses in PH’s memorandum of understanding with Ismail Sabri Yaakob when he was prime minister in 2021 was to pass this law.
The main parties in the coalition – PKR and DAP – were screaming their heads off after PH was ousted, asking for democracy to be strengthened by passing an anti-hopping law. The MoU was to ensure there is the two-third majority needed to amend the Federal Constitution. And it was this law that prevented a change in government after the general election in 2022.
But suddenly, PH appears okay with Bersatu MPs from the opposition switching allegiance to support Anwar in Parliament, while opting to remain members of the opposition party.
A bizarre act indeed. Not only has the unity government condoned it, it has used the equal funding for constituencies as lure for this purpose.
Bersatu cannot boot out MPs who defy the party line as it has not amended its constitution to sack MPs who do so. But this is no excuse for the unity government, which had promised reforms, to accept these political frogs.
These and many other recent events are likely to see the cry against the unity government get louder, putting Anwar in a very precarious position.
If it continues to put its promised reforms on the back burner, thinking that Malaysians will give it more time, I am afraid the unity government will be hard-pressed to last the full term.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.