In this time of stupefying political stagnation at the highest levels of the Government of Malaysia, good news is hard to come by. Good news is only possible when governments show that they are capable of firm economic and political decisions. And, there is not the smallest sign that the Najib’s government plans to do anything other than continue stagnating till the next general election somewhere on March/April 2013. Please do not allow 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) payment of RM500 to households with an income of less than RM3000 per month to fool you into believing that there are signs of renewal that are suddenly going to manifest themselves. The results of the last round of General Elections the 12th were so stunningly bad for UMNO that there is not a murmur of revival in the hot June air.
On the economic front, where there is the most urgent need for change, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala also Chief Executive Officer of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) drops a bombshell that Malaysia will be bankrupt by 2019 if it does not cut subsidies and rein in borrowings. Idris a Sarawakian the former “Number One Man” for Sarawak Shell further added fuel when he said that Malaysia’s debt would rise to 100 percent of GDP by 2019 from the current 54% if it did not cut subsidies. And what is even more frightening is when Idris said that Malaysia was likely to become an oil importer as early as next year at the current rate it was consuming petroleum. It seems Malaysians continue to be among the highest fuel consumers per capita in the world fuel consumption habits pattern which generally has remained relatively unchanged despite increased oil prices in 2008. The damage that can be done by a tired, comatose government before 13th General Elections is too horrific to think about but do not despair. There are signs of good news from the states.
You would have noticed them if you read between the lines of the statements that were made in Keningau Sports Complex few days ago by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak when he celebrated Tadau Kaamatan this year in Keningau with 20,000 Natives including, Huguan Siou Pairin Kitingan and Chief Minister Musa Aman. Najib openly acknowledged that Sabah is experiencing rapid growth under Musa Aman and Sabah in the first quarter of this year had attracted about RM10 billion from foreign investors including the Sabah Ammonia Urea (SAMUR) project in Sipitang and the Keningau Integrated Livestock Center and a lobster cultivation project in the east coast of Sabah. But, UMNO now rules only 8 states minus Sarawak, so it does not matter. What does matter is for chief ministers like Musa Aman, Lim Guan Eng and perhaps even Menteri Besars like Khalid and Tok Guru Nik Aziz to wake up to how they could become the engine that takes Malaysia forward despite the inertia in Putrajaya.
To wake up and become engine that takes Malaysia forward, sometimes the state governments should be vocal with the way development projects from the Federal is forced down their throats and not done according to the aspirations of the local population. So far they have only rebelled against the Rural Development Ministry’s attempts to set up rural development committees to bypass and to undermine the state governments without consulting them. In states were UMNO was not in control, the minister Shafie Apdal uses his district rural development committees to bypass and to undermine state governments. In states were UMNO is in control, the rural development program was used in a pork-barrel fashion to support local party leaders. And, the states are right to do so but they now need to become more vocal about other things like having centrally controlled development and welfare programmes rammed down their throats. I have met state ministers and state exco members who admit privately that they are often forced to sacrifice excellent welfare programmes of their own for the sake of national welfare programmes. Remember, the former Chief Minister Harris Salleh recently even said that Shafie’s Rural Ministry had even justified awarding a RM100 million tender amount for the Pulau Gaya electrification project when the actual tender cost was only about RM25 million. Harris Salleh even said that he had received “many complaints from rural folk” that the billions of ringgit allocated by the federal government for rural projects was not having an impact on their lives and these projects were introduced for the sake of contracts and most of them are of low standard.
This is wrong because I can confirm from my own field research that the rural development programmes and welfare programmes that work best are the ones that are locally controlled. I have said it before and I will say it again that if we are seriously interested in ensuring that not another child grows up malnourished and illiterate in Malaysia, the solution lies in giving kampong women control of food programmes. This is something that more enlightened chief ministers should start doing forthwith which brings us back to what chief ministers can do to become Malaysia’s engine of growth.
They must demand more control over their resources. The sight of chief ministers and Meneri Besars lining up outside the Putrajaya to beg for development funds is an ugly one. Some states are bigger than the whole of Peninsula Malaysia and they would develop and grow much faster if they had more control over their economies. Many distortions crept into Centre-State relations in those bad old days when UMNO controlled nearly all of our major state governments. These distortions need to be removed and should be quite easy to remove now that we see Non-UMNO chief ministers making common cause on matters of national security.
Once state governments start competing with each other to become popular tourist destinations, favorites for foreign investment and centres of excellence in rural development, education, healthcare, sanitation and infrastructure building, Malaysia will finally begin to really change.
If this starts to happen soon, then the deleterious consequences of having a stagnant government in Putrajaya and a Prime Minister who seems to be in a somnambulant state will be mitigated. At the moment, despite the “spectacular” success of BR1M, we are in the hands of so weak a government that not a day seems to go by without someone giving it a slap or two. In recent months, we have seen Ministers and supposedly faceless bureaucrat interfere publicly in matters of policy.
When Federal Ministers decide what our telecommunications and multimedia policy should be and when Ministers decides whether MAS should be refinanced or abandoned to its fate. And, when the Minister tells us despite possessing state-of-the-art warplanes, modern weapons and submarines that the nation’s security was so fragile that it could be compromised by mineral water bottles and packets of salt, it starts to feel as if we do not have an elected government at all. The Chief Ministers and Menteri Besars have at least a mandate to rule and real administrative experience.