By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
“Pakatan Harapan (PH) continues to be hampered by a trust deficit. Many of its own members are attacking one another. Conspiracies about alliance, intensive politicking and reports of infighting (often played out in the media) are taking place away from what PH should be focused on – governing. After 100 days, these sort of things should be declining, not increasing in prominence” – Dr Bridget Welsh.
I have but to concur with Bridget’s conclusion as that is what it boils down to when making a definitive assessment of Pakatan Harapan’s performance after being in power for a hundred days. Incidentally, the 100-day deadline ended on Saturday, August 18. However, in Perak the party’s 100-day honeymoon concluded on Monday, August 20, a hundred days after Ahmad Faizal Azumu was sworn in as the 12th Menteri Besar of Perak.
The euphoria over regime change, a taboo word before the unexpected results of General Elections 14 on May 9, is predicted to last perhaps till the end of the year. And it may end much earlier. But on the whole Malaysians are generally happy with developments thus far. My simple answer when posed with this question, “Will Tun Mahathir’s government survive the test?” I say so with much conviction that he would, considering what he has achieved so far. As far as I am concerned getting rid of a highly corrupt government led by a kleptocratic leader whose only interest was to milk the country dry is no mean feat.
And based on this premise, I feel most Malaysians are prepared to give Tun Mahathir more time for the simple reason that the new government cannot change a system so embedded in every layer of the society in just 100 days. The rakyat’s needs are simple. They only want two things – “zero tolerance for corruption” and “accountability by those in positions of power”.
And this is what Mahathir has done so far. The much-disliked Najib has been arrested and charged in court and hundreds of officers appointed to senior posts by the former prime minister have been removed and replaced. The new PH administration’s house cleaning may look spiteful but it has the desired results. The fact that Najib and his cohorts get to air their grouses with impunity in the papers and over social media is testament to how “new Malaysia” is being touted. Outdated, regressive and punitive laws are being rescinded for the benefit of the people. To many, the ouster of an arrogant, decadent and highly corrupt government helmed by Barisan Nasional and led by a condescending Umno is the icing on the cake.
The Pakatan Harapan manifesto promises 12 things in the first hundred days. Although not all 12 promises have been fulfilled, the government is on to a good start. The dreaded Goods and Services Tax has been abolished in its entirety. The government has set to make Employment Provident Fund contributions for housewives a must. It has restricted student loan repayments and abolished the blacklisting of defaulters. A comprehensive review of megaprojects like the High Speed Railway project between KL and Singapore and the lopsided East Coast Railway Link between Port Klang, Selangor to Pengkalan Kubor in Kelantan has been made. Mahathir has re-negotiated a new deal with the Chinese Government, one that is more Malaysian-friendly. The issue of stateless Indians has been resolved. Those above 60 and with red identity cards are given automatic citizenship.
Having done so the one thing that requires immediate attention is ridding the “Umno DNA” from the top layer of the administrative machinery. The officers were appointed for one simple reason – loyalty to Najib. One reason why Najib was able to circumvent established procedures was because he appointed those who were willing to look the other way when he was “robbing the state coffers”. Although many have been identified and flushed out there remain a few and these misfits are giving ministries and departments a tough time. Therefore, there is a need to make key institutions free again in order to avoid another scandal similar to 1MDB.
Some of the unfulfilled promises include the debt problem affecting FELDA settlers, setting up of royal commissions of inquiry into the impropriety of 1MDB and financial losses incurred by FELDA, MARA and the pilgrimage fund Tabung Haji. These promises require a heavy injection of funds which the country can ill-afford now that the national debts are in excess of RM1 trillion. The upcoming budget in October will, hopefully, address these shortcomings.
Thus the first 100 days was basically about giving the rakyat what they had wanted – arrest and charging of Najib and a massive cleaning up of the administration. As the government forges past the symbolic deadline, it has to deal with difficult choices head-on in order to correct a corrupt system that has been systematically abused and defrauded by a leader who could not resist the temptation of cold hard cash and the moniker, “Pahlawan Bugis”. While he plundered, his wife was overcome by handbags and tiaras. We are dealing with a morally sick couple.
Having said that, let us examine how much has our 100-day old Menteri Besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu progressed since taking office.
Overall, I am not very impressed. This sentiment is shared by many. Perakeans look forward to a dynamic Menteri Besar unlike the one that craved for cheap publicity on board a City Council dumpster holding a rake and a broom for good measure. Ipohites’ needs have transcended that less-than-enduring image. They look forward to someone who walks the talk and mean what he says. It is one huge disappointment. A leader must be in the thick of the action not someone who is afraid of making mistakes or stepping on his bosses’ toes.
The land lease issue of new villages comes to mind. Faizal’s reluctance to convert temporary titles to permanent titles sticks out like a sore thumb. He has alluded to the Federal Constitution and argued that it was unlawful to bestow permanent titles to new villages. Faizal cited the National Land Council decision in 1988 to double leasehold period from 30 to 60 years to support his claim.
Come on Faizal, these poor settlers have been living on their miniscule plots of land since the Briggs’ Plan of 1951 well before you were born. If Nizar could convert 11 leasehold titles belonging to Orang Asli to freehold in Kampung Baru Kuala Rui, Gerik in 2008, during his short tenure as MB, I don’t see why you can’t. Is this because they are Chinese? Why the double standard?
Constitutional expert and state executive councillor Aziz Bari had insisted that there is no such provision in the Federal Constitution. Perak Pakatan Harapan has pledged to issue freehold titles as part of its election manifesto. Aziz Bari and Nizar were warned by Faizal not to air differences of opinion in public and to the media.
Encroachment of Orang Asli’s lands is another issue that requires an equitable solution. The culprits are companies who extract timber in their concessions without a care for the environment. Their callousness is causing much hardship to the Orang Asli community as their livelihood is being affected.
Faizal’s leadership is suspect. He being in the good books of Tun Mahathir is no assurance of him holding on to his post for a full term. There are rumblings of a no-confidence vote echoing in the halls of the state legislative assembly.