When Hannah Yeoh answered the last minute call to contest the Subang Jaya state seat in the 2008 general elections, she thought life would be back to as before weeks later, for she had not expected to win. In 2013 she won re-election with second highest majority in Selangor. Life has definitely taken a change for the better.In this second part of the interview, the Rocket hears her candid views on what Selangor needs to improve on. Report by T.K Tan. Photo by Wira Andika.
(To read the first part of the interview, please go to http://www.therocket.com.my/en/blazing-the-trail-hannah-yeoh/)
Back to basics
As a second term ADUN, Hannah’s reputation as a hardworking and conscientious YB has spread far and wide, and for a good reason. In this candid interview, I noticed that nothing works Hannah up more than when the subject of service delivery was broached.
“I would like to see PR focus more on state-related issues. That means basic service issues such as rubbish collection, roads resurfacing, land processing and welfare, etc.”
“We have often boasted about Selangor being a rich state, having healthy finances. However if it is not translated to good or even adequate delivery of basic services under our jurisdiction, we are in no position to speak further.”
Hannah brings up the issue of competence for the local councils (LC) as an illustration. “As an ADUN for Subang Jaya, there are several issues which I disagree with, one being the establishment of auxiliary police force for my LC area. Though it concerns safety issue, it is the responsibility of the home affairs ministry. They collect income taxes and thus have a bigger budget to do the job,” she said.
“Many LCs are already struggling with a limited budget. They can’t afford to expand precious funds to do what is someone else’s jurisdiction while it is not having enough resources and struggling to perform the basic services. I have had residents complained about the long wait for their area’s playground and drains to be repaired and also trimming of trees.”
“Though MPSJ is reportedly one of the richer LCs in Selangor, the LC too suffers from lack of funds to do the basic services,” she pointed out.
As for cleanliness, even though Selangor has taken over the cleaning services from Alam Flora and saved millions of ringgit via open tender of the service contracts, Hannah finds the service level in the LCs as still unsatisfactory.
“Many of the cleaning companies who bid for the cleaning contracts in my area have the same group of workers and supervisors. It isn’t just the question of whether if the bid is the lowest; the contractor has to be able to do the job.”
She believes an audit of the cleaning contractors must be performed properly before hiring these contractors. “On the tender boards for the LC’s cleaning projects, no councillors are allowed on it; the excuse is it’s meant to keep political influence away. However with no politicians there, there is no monitoring of the right contractor to be hired,” she elaborated.
Hannah attributes the poor quality of the contractors as affecting the LC area cleanliness. “Some of the residential areas in my constituency have seen many change of cleaning contractors due to their non-performance. The current system of vetting and hiring the contractors need to be improved, whether through open tender or other ways.”
“Some of the scope of work specified to the contractors need to be revised and adjusted according to the commercial area’s density of businesses. On top of that there needs to be more stringent enforcement of the restaurants’ cleanliness and discharge of rubbish and effluents.”
Hannah takes a swipe at the transparency of or lack of it, the LC’s councillors meetings. “The LC’s are supposed to have an open public live telecast of the council meetings. In my area MPSJ has yet to follow it.”
She has sombre message for PR if its wishes to progress to Putrajaya. “In the next five years before the next GE, Selangor PR needs to tackle and improve on the basic services. Only through this way we can present to Malaysians and tell them we have performed where we were given the chance.”
“This is one facet of the basic services that PR needs to tackle and improve on. There’s no point of talking about taking Putrajaya if we can’t fixed what we need to do right at our doorsteps, literally.”
Focused welfare policies
Selangor under PR in the last term had implemented a people-centric scheme known as Merakyatkan Ekonomi Selangor (MES), with many welfare programs targeting the senior citizens, households earning below RM 1,500 a month and also for the broader public such as the free water program.
Hannah believes Selangor has to focus its welfare priorities for better results. “We need to ensure it reaches the target groups, not just for the sake of dishing goodies to win votes.”
“We need to be focused on a few good programs instead of having too many programs that reaches many but lacks the effect on the groups who need it the most. There is no point being the richest state but also having the most number of poor.”
“It’s a challenge for us PR ADUNs when we have too many welfare programs. Our service centres become like a welfare centre and we lose track of who to get the help for. Often times the ADUN office is like a complaint centre for the LC.”
On remedial steps in this area – “since last term PR had established a select committee under the DUN’ purview to look into the welfare programs implementation and its effectiveness in helping the poor.”
Hannah sees that in order to improve the execution of the programs, Selangor needs to disseminate the information to the target groups more effectively.
“In terms of civil and political education, in this second term we must be harder on ourselves. We are dealing with a mainstream media that is hostile towards PR and dishes pro-BN propaganda.”
She identifies that the free WiFi service provision as a crucial piece in this public relations effort. “The alternative media is our one free media outlet that we can leverage to counter BN’s attack. We need to get the free WiFi up in the rural areas where PR’s information is lacking. Currently it is very slow in implementation,” she elaborated.
Dealing with the bureaucracy
In spite of PR having governed Selangor for more than five years, Hannah says that the state civil servants attitude towards PR’s attempt to reform the governing system is still lukewarm.
“Despite us implementing many transparency and accountability initiatives, many civil servants would just execute the duties by the book and no more; there is a lack of initiative on their part to go beyond what the regulations have laid down.”
To be fair she opined that five years of new governance is still too early to change old mind sets amongst the state civil servants. “It is not enough for the political leaders to tell them what we want; we need to tell them how it should be done.”
“An example I have is the double parking problem at the local council area. The public would complain about haphazard double parking issue during the peak hours at a certain commercial area. The LC enforcement would come at a non-peak hours to do the rounds and report no double parking problems.”
On the plus side she sees that the civil servants now are more open in voicing their opinions and suggestions. “We must understand that it is difficult for them to do more than is required due to the prevalent political atmosphere in the country.”
She used the case of the public consultation hearing sessions as example: “after 2008 PR started holding more public consultations to engage and obtain public feedback. Many residents who turned up for these sessions were angry; they would vent their frustration at the civil servants.”
“We must understand that the civil servants are not up for elections. When the public vents their anger at matter such as traffic lights, it is often not within the jurisdiction of the LC to remedy it. Many of the areas of governance lapped with or are under the purview of the federal authorities; often they can’t resolve it.”
There is also no reward for them to take the initiative to do beyond what is required as the federal government has the power to decide the tenure of the state civil servants. “Sometimes, the good or performing civil officials would be transferred to federal departments. This unhealthy relationship with the federal government is something that the PR state government has to deal with carefully,” she opined.
She believes that not all the civil servants are bad or have a lackadaisical attitude. “Our task is to promote the good ones. It is not good enough to pass a good law like the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. It was crucial for us to engage the various stakeholders especially the civil servants in this transparency process.”
The next stage for PR is to empower the civil servants to be more competent and effective with whatever constraints we have now. “Regardless of what the people read in the media (about PR’s performance), they must be able to feel the difference when they come into contact with the state government departments.”
On the plus side with PR winning more seats and getting a bigger mandate during the 13th GE, it has helped settled the civil servants’ doubt to do their job. “However, the expectations of the people are also higher too with the bigger mandate,” she added.
Second time around
With the 13th general elections still fresh on Malaysians’ minds, Hannah reflects on some of her observation and how DAP and Pakatan Rakyat can move forward after this close result. In her words:
Unlike 2008 where I was a newbie and with zero election experience, in this general elections (GE) seeking re-election, it was more bearable for me as I was more experienced in the campaigning and knew the grass root DAP members. The only drawback was I had just come out of my confinement period with the birth of my second child.
The young people are now more enthusiastic and involved in politics. The big winning majority obtained by PR candidates in Selangor was due to the higher voter registrations during the 2008 to 2012 period.
Based on the voting trends, we can see the young voters are with us. The young are also more willing to engage in politics. After the 13 GE we have had hundreds of young signing up as interns in the party. More people, especially the young feel that politics is the way to improve the country.
As for the GE results, it shows that the people have accepted that Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is here to stay; they don’t see us as marriage of convenience. Now is the time for us to lead by example instead of just lecturing BN on what is wrong in the state and country.
I was sad when some of our coalition partners’ candidates didn’t win in the last GE, the prominent ones being Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad, Saifuddin Nasution and Mohamad Sabu. That was quite a letdown.
We have to keep our focus on the march to Putrajaya. After the result many ordinary supporters went into depression. Many of the older generation supporters felt that with this result, they wouldn’t see the political change in their lifetime.
As leaders, we must continue to generate hope to sustain this momentum of change. It isn’t done just through ceramahs and rallies; we must show the good result at the states we governed.
In this campaign the PR partners had excellent coordination; we made the effort to present ourselves as the clear alternative option to the people. For that we have received good feedback from the people. However in some instances, such as in the Kota Damansara and Semenyih seats PR needs to learn its lessons of cooperation and consensus.
The ADUNs need to remember that we are not greater than the party we represent. The list of former YBs contesting as independents and losing badly in this GE shows that without the party, the voters wouldn’t accept us.
Our task ahead before the next GE is to sustain the voters’ interest and enthusiasm. As for rallies and ceramahs, PR needs to not over do them; we need to hold them more often in the rural areas. Klang valley residents are generally in touch with the issues; we can go slow here. Voter registration needs to be continued especially in the rural areas. We have to step up our outreach to the rural voters.
The GE results portends much challenges for DAP. DAP wants to expand its appeal to all ethnic groups and obtain more party membership. At the same time, it needs to be careful with the membership. I believed that there are a lot new members that have been sent in by certain parties to infiltrate and sabotage the party.
Take for instance the complaints to the ROS about the party election that was held last year. How do we filter and vet the genuine members and at the same time expand the party membership? That’s a crucial challenge for DAP.
Selangor and Penang
There seems to be a perception amongst the public in Klang valley that Selangor has lagged behind Penang in delivering basic services such as roads maintenance and cleanliness. There is a need for both states to share the resources and knowhow on how to tackle some of the basic issues without us reinventing the wheel.
For example, Selangor leads in the area of Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and Penang has followed suit. Likewise in the handling of basic services mentioned just now
For PR, we need clear leadership at the national and state level. In Selangor as the three partners are almost equal in ranking, we generally move slowly by consensus. There are good and downsides to that; we have no dominant partner here, however policies are slower in coming.
In contrast with Penang, which has DAP as the dominant party running the show here in Selangor we has this set of characteristics. Whilst a visitor and a casual follower of current affairs may observe Penang to be ahead in some aspects, Selangor can and should perform better in areas where it has the advantage and head start.
Selangor has moved ahead in the fight for corruption, freedom of information and poverty alleviation. We should excel in these matters and not let the minor hiccups and misunderstandings stumbles us. The key word I would emphasise on is focus. Let’s not do all things and survive on average performance; we should excel in the few major ones that we can do.
It is now incumbent that Penang and Selangor lead by example and that our policies go across races to help all.
(Pictures courtesy of Mick Loke and Jen of Subang Jaya Elections Facebook page)