In conjuction with Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day, what does it mean for our country to be celebrating its 47th year as a nation?
We are all citizens of Malaysia and proud to be so. As such, we should all love this country and I think the unexpected results of the last general elections have really given hope to the nation. Hope in the sense of greater room for democracy and human rights, and also, it has forced all levels of government, whether BN at the federal level or Pakatan Rakyat at the state level, to be more attentive to the peoples’ voice and to pay more attention to the social welfare of the people.This is what we have seen in the last two and a half years; a clear change in the expectations of Malaysians.I personally see a greater sense of hope in many people now, especially amongst the younger generation. This should be credited to the political tsunami of 2008 which changed the way Malaysians look at their country. The results also encouraged Malaysians because it made them realise that this country can be changed.
Previously, many of us, even amongst the opposition politicians, were feeling very pessimistic and passive about what was happening to Malaysia at that time. We thought that the political scenario could not be changed and those who were unhappy would just have to leave the country if they could afford it.
But that is no longer the situation now. We can see that there is greater hope and that the future is in our hands. That is why we now see ever-growing numbers of organisations such as youth and religious bodies taking the initiative to get involved in efforts such as voter registration exercises. This is a trend we have never seen before. It is wonderful to see groups like E.P.I.C (a youth voter registration group) taking the initiative to exercise their rights as citizens and get other involved in the country’s democracy. These are encouraging signs because people are now concerned enough to register and then get others to register as well. They realise now that the future is in their hands, which is empowering for Malaysians.
Has Malaysia achieved the best it can, in terms of quality of life, standard of living and prosperity?
Of course, we have seen changes over the decades which have transformed the country’s economic status. It has improved tremendously from say, the seventies when I was a child, up to today. There are big changes in terms of infrastructure and income but there are also many issues that have not been addressed rationally.
The saddest thing is that after half a century of independence, we are still talking about race. We are still debating on whether the New Economic Policy (NEP) should be abolished. There are still those who are afraid of doing away with these crutches. As long as certain political parties and mainstream media continue to harp on racial lines, you will never achieve a nation that has genuine unity among all races.
But is the public aware of how race affects the country’s economic developments?
Many of the Bumiputras have been conditioned from a young age to think in terms of “us versus them” and it is also an undeniable reality that many of them in rural areas are indeed living in poverty. This is particularly true in Sabah and Sarawak who are often the “forgotten” Bumiputras.
So as non-Bumiputras, if we do not help the East Malaysians and poor Malays to come out of poverty, the issue of race will always be maintained. This is where leaders of all races have a role to play, not just within their own communities, but in combating all levels of poverty. Unless that happens, national unity will be impossible.
What can or should be done to create racial unity in light of the PM’s 1Malaysia?
I think it is simple. The race-based parties are the cause of racial disharmony and are a great hindrance to national unity. Unless we do away with parties who assert a racist agenda and their respective media outlets, unity cannot be achieved.
One cannot help but wonder what BN means by 1Malaysia because while on one hand they talk about it so much, when they are in the rural areas, they speak on racial lines once again. Moreover, when questioned over whether he is a Malaysian or Malay first and foremost, it seemed very natural for our Deputy Prime Minister to say he is a Malay first. But it is funny that they should make such statements when the 1Malaysia vision clearly states that we should consider ourselves Malaysians first. It appears they are not genuine about applying the 1Malaysia concept.
In light of our current state of affairs, what should be done to improve our society?
With our foreign direct investments (FDI) dropping by 81 percent, it is time for us to work harder on addressing the state of our economy. There are many reasons why FDI is not coming into Malaysia, among which is that our policies do not make us as appealing to foreign investors in comparison to other Asian countries because we lack competitiveness against Indonesia, Thailand and even Vietnam.
A lot of investors are also put off by our lack of aggressiveness in pursuing FDI. So I think we should put aside any racial sentiments and focus on the country’s economic growth. Whether Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazan, we should focus on ensuring that the wealth is not just confined to one group and is instead enjoyed by all. Otherwise, these issues can easily mislead people into following a racial agenda.
That is why DAP has been going to East Malaysia to speak to Sabahans and Sarawakians for many decades now, even without having elected representatives there. We have been championing their struggles in Parliament; as a KL MP I regularly speak up on problems faced by indigenous East Malaysians. This should be the spirit adopted by all political parties; otherwise we will never have real peace among all the different people of Malaysia.
Two and a half years on, how has Pakatan Rakyat turned the administration of the state towards the betterment of the people?
When we came to power, we created the concept, “Merakyatkan Ekonomi Selangor”. Under MES, there are many social welfare programs to help those in poverty. We also work on restructuring the Government-Linked Corporations (GLCs) by auditing and performing restructuring exercises on all of them. This included restructuring the Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO) salary structure pay rates.
The salary disparity between each company under the state government’s stable was very high. For example, Kumpulan Darul Ehsan Berhad (KDEB) CEO’s salary structure was much higher than the Selangor State Investment Center (SSIC) CEO’ salary. We have now standardised these salary scales so if you are top-level employee in these companies, the pay scale would be about the same across the board.
We are also working hard to resolve various ‘thorny’ issues. One example is the Bukit Botak case, where upon discussions with the locals, we decided to build semi detached houses and sell to the residents there at subsidised rates to solve their long standing land issues due to abandoned housing projects. Then there was the Talam Corporation debt of over RM2.9 billion, we managed to recover via asset reacquisition, contributing to the state coffers in the process. We came up with a plan to redevelop those assets. This is a great result for the state government, for Talam and for the people.
We have been working hard to resolve other outstanding issues but we are not getting cooperation from the federal government. For instance, the SYABAS restructuring and takeover exercise. Our effort to acquire the water company at a reasonable amount is for the people’s sake. We don’t think it is right for anyone to profit at the people’s expense for a basic necessity such as water. If we don’t take over SYABAS, the people would have to suffer a 37% rate hike in water prices, which would have come into effect from January 2009. As a result of our efforts to acquire it, the rate hike has been put aside. If we don’t take over, every three years the people would have a hike in their water bills. So we want to takeover SYABAS to protect the people. Unfortunately we are not getting help from the federal government.
In addition we are also providing financial assistance to religious, Tamil, Chinese and independent Chinese schools. All these were never done under the previous state government.
We try to reach an amicable solution in every difficult case we encounter by soliciting the peoples’ views. Take for example, the building of the Carrefour hypermarket in Kota Damansara. The project was proceeding until the people protested. We halted the project for more than half a year to listen to the people’s grouses. In the end, we decided to let the project proceed but we did hear out the public.
Another example is the Rawang high tension cable relocation over which the residents’ protested. We took into account their viewpoints and delayed TNB’s attempt to forcefully install the high tension cable. Unfortunately, TNB managed to win the court case in the Federal Court and the right to install the cables where they want. However, we have continued to negotiate with TNB for a more amicable solution by providing a different route for the cables. These examples show that we are more pro-people compared with the previous BN state government.
What are the new initiatives for the public that the Selangor government has embarked on this year?
We have set up Kumpulan Semesta Sdn Bhd (KSSB) to regulate all sand mining activities in the state. With KSSB, we have also standardised all mining contractors’ payment. The additional financial resources obtained from the mining resources are used to fund pro-people schemes such as Skim Mesra Usia Emas.
We are trying to correct the wrong doings and practices left over from the previous state government and restore accountability to the system. However we are encountering difficulties in controlling all sand mining operations in Selangor as there are still sand mining thefts going on. We are not getting full cooperation from the police as they say it is not their problem to apprehend the sand mining thieves in the state.
The difficulty here is because under the National Land Code, the District Land Office is responsible for monitoring sand mining activities in their districts. However, we just saw a case in Penang in July where the state police have apprehended a sand mining thief and charged him in court. Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim has called upon the Selangor state police to emulate their Penang counterparts in stricter sand mining crime enforcement in Selangor
What are some of the biggest challenges and obstacles for Pakatan in running Selangor?
Most people are confused and unaware of the jurisdiction and power of the federal and state governments. In Malaysia, the system of governance is highly centralised, with the federal government running most of the administrative affairs of the country, while the state governments are mainly responsible for land related matters. This has led many to have unrealistic expectations of what we are authorised to do.
We have had many complaints regarding increasing crime rates which the people blame us for being unable to solve. In a dialogue with Kinrara residents, they asked me why can’t Pakatan takeover the KL Shah Alam Expressway (KESAS) so that they don’t have to suffer any more toll hikes. Even the issue of lack of Chinese schools in Selangor was blamed on us.
Federal officers placed in the Selangor are often caught in a bind between serving the people and the BN federal government. They are constantly coerced to toe the federal government’s line. The District Officers and mayors are also supposed to abide by the state government’s directives as well. It leaves them in a predicament.
Another problem we face is with the hiring of civil servants. Hiring of graduates by the state government is on a contractual basis and all new graduate recruits for state civil service have to go through the Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam (JPA) before being made available for hiring by the state. We are not allowed to choose who we want for the state government. We also have to abide by the JPA’s salary scale which is lower than the market rate.
To confront the problems of little ‘Napoleons’, we have begun to rotate the engineering and planning department heads of the local councils. However in doing so, those transferred have to learn the new local council’s projects and development makeup from scratch. This has caused the mayors and Datuk Bandar to be reluctant to release their experienced staffs for the rotation exercise.
Where do you think PR can improve on in Selangor governance?
The most crucial area for us now is the information dissemination of what the Selangor state government is doing. It is the weakest part of Selangor PR government. We are very concerned with the Malay community, who forms 53% of the state’s population. Most of the Malays especially in the rural areas are not exposed to alternative media news, hence they are in the dark on what the state government is doing.
To address this we are coming out with a new plan for Selangorkini and we will allocate RM 15 million in 2011 to address this information dissemination issue.
How would you assess of Pakatan’s ability to govern at the federal level should it win power at the next elections?
I don’t think it will be difficult for PR to govern the federal government. As DAP was an opposition party since its inception, it has led many to question our ability to govern. In the past two and half years, we have proven that we can govern Penang and Selangor well.
We have corrected many wrong doings of the previous state administrations and introduced transparent governance, such as implementing open tender procurement in Penang and Selangor.
We have also stepped up efforts to curb corruption. For example, we have introduced the Integrity Pact in all local councils. Soon, contractors dealing with local councils will have to sign an agreement to indicate that they will not be involved in giving bribes to the local council staffs. Selangor will be the first state in Malaysia to introduce it.
This year, we will have hearings on the Freedom of Information Bill to study, improvise and implement it in Selangor. The public can now access to certain information and documents that was previously classified as ‘Secret’ or ‘Confidential’. We are moving towards reintroducing integrity and transparency in the government and righting past wrongs. The people can expect the same when we takeover Putrajaya.
We will be more attentive to the people’s views and the rakyat’s social welfare. Compare us with those currently in the ministerial positions, are they as qualified to lead the country? Similarly, who else is more qualified to lead Selangor than Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim? We see Datuk Noh Omar and Datuk Seri Mohd Khir Toyo fighting each other endlessly to lead Selangor UMNO. Are any of them qualified to lead Selangor?
Look at the quality of members of Parliament in Pakatan. I would say that we are as or more qualified to run the federal government compare to BN.
After March 2008, have Malaysian women been given a stronger voice in the governance of our country? What more needs to be done?
Women are definitely being given more room in governance under Pakatan. There are more women MPs in Pakatan now and in Selangor, there are four women in the state government. It is also the first time in Malaysian history that the deputy Speaker (in Selangor) is a woman (PKR’s Taman Medan assemblyman Haniza Talha).
Even in the Hulu Selangor by-election, PKR’s campaign director was Fuziah Salleh (Kuantan MP) so the emergence of female leadership is clear. I think the general elections created this interest among women; even during morning exercise sessions at the park, women are now discussing politics.You see this happening at the beauty salons and coffee shops, too. Women are now commenting on various issues such as the Elizabeth Wong photo scandal, the collapse of the Perak government and so on. So the awareness of female voters has been helped
tremendously by the surge of March 2008.
Furthermore, I would say one of the silliest things BN did was putting me under ISA detention. It really made women, in particular, talk about the ISA and become more aware of such draconian laws in our country. That is why the recent nationwide vigils for the 50th year of ISA were so well-attended, despite the public knowing that the police would be there to stop them. Yet there were many new young faces at the vigils, from various backgrounds, all gathered for a common cause.
So I think it is clear that after March 2008, there are more opportunities for the country to be transformed into a better place, and with that comes greater hope for the future.
How do we carry forward the positive impact of having more women in political administration to enhance the status of women in our society?
The policies of the three Pakatan parties are very much catered towards caring for areas such as single mothers who are dealing with poverty as well as the various women’s organisation initiatives. However, we cannot just focus on handing out money all the time; we also have to think about ways to empower them in the long run.
But with the state budget being so limited, it becomes tricky to establish the kind of programs that we need. Our budget is about RM1.4 billion annually. However, the federal government budget is RM191.5 billion. When we talk about the financial ability of a state as compared to the federal government, people need to be aware of the actual figures involved. There are certain things we simply cannot afford to do without greater financial aid from the federal level.
Moreover, in terms of uplifting the status of women, many of the changes that are needed do not fall under our legislation. For example, the Social Welfare Department is not under the state. So they have their own programs and we can only make suggestions. But we have created our own social welfare programs such as Skim Usia Emas, Tawas and others which are all paid for by sand mining profits.
Another effort to help the struggling groups in Selangor is the microcredit lending program which will aid small businesses with their start-up capital for hawker stalls and such. Even though the amounts required may be small, RM5000 or RM10000 can make a huge difference in giving the people business opportunities.
How do you see yourself performing in a high profile administrative role in a PR state? What are the challenges faced by women leaders?
Sometimes I do feel that even though I am a senior Exco member, it is sad that in Malaysia the race-based agenda implemented by the federal government is so strong. I’m a non-Muslim, a non-Malay and also a woman. These three obstacles are hard to overcome and perhaps I am not being recognised for these reasons.
But although I may not receive due recognition for my roles, the portfolios that I hold for the state are key divisions. So what matters is whether you take the responsibility seriously and show initiative to get the job done well. You can still bring about positive change in the administration of the government regardless of what your position is.
I have tried my best to be a good link between the people and the relevant departments of the state government so that grouses can be communicated efficiently. This includes the concerns of business people who are an integral part of Selangor’s prosperity. I still think the state government has plenty of room for improvement and things that need to be worked on. But I hope that people see that we are trying our best to set a good example of how a government should be despite the obstacles placed by BN and its media.
Do women need to push themselves harder to achieve the 30% women participation in politics target as envisioned by Pakatan?
We do need more women to come forward and offer their skills and services so that the larger community, including the government, sees that they can contribute in key ways. Sometimes if we stress too much on the percentage, we may end up with poor quality of human resources for important positions.
So at this early stage of our governance, we want to ensure we have the best people for the job. Women who are capable are and will continue to be given opportunities to perform in high positions. But sometimes I do wonder how many women are willing to step up and sacrifice their time for leadership roles? This is an important question to address.
If we push for a 30 percent quota, no one will really object to that figure, but it still remains whether we can fill those seats with quality women. Of course we should promote this but we ultimately need more women to volunteer their skills and time.
Is there a plateau for women involved in politics and leadership in this country?
I don’t think there is such a problem in DAP, but I cannot speak for the other parties. But certainly in our party, I find that even among the male members, many are also supportive and open to women’s participation. In fact, before the last general elections, they were actively looking for female candidates.
Hopefully the political tsunami of 2008 will be a stimulus for more women to enter politics and hold positions of power. However, I would like to caution women from expecting special treatment of any kind when entering politics. You must work hard to convince people of your suitability for leadership positions by being a good example.
Please visit www.selangorkini.com and www.tvselangor.com for the latest news and videos of state activities. Also check out the state government’s site, www.selangor.gov.my where you can read statements from Pakatan elected representatives and also sign up for the state’s newsletter.