By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
Ipoh Echo’s one-on-one with Menteri Besar, Dato’ Seri DiRaja Dr Zambry Abd Kadir on Thursday, December 22, 2011 at his residence. Zambry provides a candid appraisal of his achievements during his tenure as MB and his expectations for the New Year. We reproduce excerpts of the interview here.
IE: Since assuming leadership your visibility is most pronounced compared to your predecessors. You have established a very cordial relationship with the media which works in your favour. The general view, however, is of you being the frontrunner and not your subordinates.
MB: This is not something new but it’s the prevalent view at the moment. My excos are few. There’re only six instead of ten, therefore, each holds several portfolios. But that doesn’t discount us from working harder.
The other factor is the work culture which I have inculcated. It will take them awhile to get used to. But I am certain they’ll slowly and gradually but surely learn the ropes. You can now see how some of them are interacting with the rakyat in overcoming their problems. It’ll take time, of course.
IE: Budget 2012 is much similar to the Federal Budget 2012. Can it be termed an Election Budget?
MB: Well, it’s interesting to hear the Opposition’s response after my budget speech. We’re still uncertain when the election will be.
I, however, look at it differently. I am trying to present the best budget to the people. The approach I have adopted is to concentrate on certain target groups rather than the masses, as such people think it’s an election budget.
The methodology may differ but it addresses specific groups of people. There are over 50 touch points. People can term it as an election budget, but in all honesty, it’s a budget for the people.
IE: People’s fear is the delivery of the budget ‘goodies’. Some RM8 million has been allocated for NGOs responsible for the rehabilitation of abused women and children and the charity of the underprivileged and the poor. Has a workable mechanism been devised to deliver these goodies so they reach the right people?
MB: We may have the best policies and pronouncements but when it comes to delivery it fails miserably. I’ve devised a system whereby each exco will be responsible for the management of funds under his/her portfolios. From UPEN and the state financial department the money will be channelled to the respective agencies.
In the past, the flow and disbursement of funds were being reviewed every quarter. But this time around the effectiveness of the system will be scrutinised instead. Henceforth, this will be the strategy I’ll adopt to ensure fairness and fluidity.
IE: Perak Women for Women Society is a fine example. It concerns itself in women’s affairs. The society wants to know how to go about applying for funds?
MB: I am aware of this society. I believe Dr Sharifah, the president, is in constant communication with Dato’ Hamidah, the exco for women’s affairs. She should, therefore, channel her requests to her on all matters pertaining to women’s welfare.
IE: The number of unemployed in Perak, according to statistics, stands at 29,000. What are your actions to address the problem besides resorting to a job fair as undertaken by IDR last October?
MB: Holding job fairs is one of the ways to address the problem of unemployment. The most important thing, however, is the setting up of PEKA or Pusat Kerjaya Amanjaya where job seekers can register themselves for employment. PEKA will job-match registrants based on their qualifications, skills and experiences. But you know the market needs today. Job-matching is difficult and getting the right job for the right people is not easy. You must remember the kind of job-seekers we deal with. Some are very choosy. I recall meeting one guy recently who complained that PEKA had not updated him on his request. I asked him what kind of job he was looking for. He replied, “I want to be a pegawai.” Obviously, the Centre can’t find a job of one’s choosing.
Rather than wait for job-seekers to contact PEKA, minders go down to the ground to meet them instead. This is more practical, considering the difficulties those looking for jobs face.
Furthermore, we are working closely with the Ministry of Human Resources to update them on the numbers. With these measures in place I believe the problem of unemployment can be resolved to a certain degree.
IE: What about the issues of English language proficiency and labour mobility? How do these factors affect your plans?
MB: English language proficiency among graduates and diploma holders is poor. It affects their chances to be gainfully employed. Industrial players too are selective when looking for candidates to fill up vacancies.
I have discussed this with captains of industries and FMM Perak to seek a long-term solution to the problems mentioned. Industries are themselves worried about losing those whom they have trained to third parties. This is a universal phenomenon which affects not only us but the rest of the world. I suggest that employers take measures to instil loyalty by sending the employees abroad for specialised training as a means of maintaining their loyalty.
Regarding soft training, I have also suggested that vocational-training institutions conduct language courses to prepare their graduates for the job market. Polytechnic Ungku Omar is receptive of the idea.
IE: Cleanliness is a serious issue here in Ipoh. In view of Visit Perak Year 2012, what do you intend to do to overcome this? City Council’s response has been dismal thus far.
MB: I am very aware of this shortcoming. I hope Ipoh City Council doesn’t create ‘a state within a state’. The Council has to comply. Ipoh is the capital city of Perak and is the nerve centre of the state. Like it or not MBI has to play its part by setting a good example for other local councils to follow.
The Mayor and the Council members must remember that they are being appointed by the state government. Conventional wisdom dictates that they should follow orders, not otherwise. It’s therefore incumbent upon them to keep Ipoh clean as that is what is being expected of them. They have to walk the extra mile.
However, you can’t blame MBI alone. Residents too need to change their mind-sets. They can’t apportion blame on City Council whenever garbage is not collected or when an area gets dirty. It’s a collective responsibility. Both MBI and Ipohites are equally liable.
Changing of habits and mind-sets will help resolve this problem, especially when we play host to tourists during Visit Perak Year 2012. The imposition and enforcement of laws will have little impact if people refuse to change their habits.
IE: Do you feel Visit Perak Year 2012 will succeed considering the many difficulties?
MB: Considering the time frame, the duration and the general expectations, the difficulties are overwhelming. That’s the reason why I have set very modest targets which are achievable with some commitment, of course.
I anticipate tourist arrivals, locals and foreign, to cap the 5-million mark. The number may increase the following year if things work in our favour. We have to put our best foot forward in order to achieve this.
We’ll do our best to promote Perak to the visitors through the numerous activities and programmes in place. You must remember, however well these activities and programmes are organised and conducted, they will not succeed without the help of ordinary Perakeans. I, therefore, urge all Perakeans to come forward and lend a helping hand.
IE: What is BN’s chance of retaining power in Perak post GE13?
MB: I wish to draw a parallel here. When you’re on the battlefield, what’s the utmost in your mind – to win or to lose? To win, of course. When we set our mind on winning we’ll go for it. This is, however, dependent upon how Perakeans at large judge us. People will look at what you have done rather than your political rhetoric. We have been around for almost three years. I am certain by now people can make their judgment. Some may like us some may not but I believe most are with us.
IE: Will allegations about corruption involving UMNO leaders affect BN’s chances of winning in GE 13?
MB: Well, there are two issues here. One is national the other is state. Some say that they are inter-related some say they are not. In any organisation there’ll be black sheep, like in a barrel of apples there will be some rotten fruits but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole barrel is rotten.
UMNO is a huge organisation and we have our problems. But that doesn’t mean our opposite number doesn’t have its own problems. We definitely don’t condone corrupt practices. Actions are presently being taken against the wrong-doers.
IE: What do you consider is your one most worthy achievement during your 34-month tenure as Chief Minister of Perak?
MB: Wow! This is the most difficult question. As a leader, the one thing I aspire for is peace followed by prosperity. Thanks to God, who has answered my prayers. Peace and prosperity have descended on Perak. People are not fighting one another in spite of perceived differences. All these have translated into better economic performance, as evidenced by the state’s annual GDP growth rate. This I feel is my most worthy accomplishment.
State-linked agencies like SEDC have been performing well unlike before. You can see developments taking place everywhere in the state. In Ipoh itself new buildings are springing up. The city’s skyline is changing to an extent. Meru will soon transform into a booming township. This is my other worthy achievement.
The other aspect is the change in work culture of my staff. Therefore, it’s not one but many achievements. In the spirit of Perak Amanjaya, the state will surge forward, economically. Trust me.
IE: Finally, your hope for 2012.
MB: I hope the people will continue to give us the support we so desire so we can fulfil our promise to make