Gift or bribe? Drawing a clear line on corruption

by Gan Pei Ling / 27 Dec 2014 © Focus Malaysia

Can my company still send hampers to customers during festive seasons? What about treating a potential client to a free dinner or spa to secure a business deal? What sort of gifts could be consid­ered a bribe to solicit or retain business?

These are just some of the questions an upcoming amendment to the Malay­sian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009 will soon throw up, especially for companies without an explicit anti-corruption policy.

On Dec 9, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low had announced that the Corporate Lia­bility Provision is expected to be tabled in Parliament in March. The provision allows the MACC and Attorney-General’s Chambers to investigate and prosecute not just staff accused of giving or accept­ing a bribe but also the company’s top executives for their failure to implement measures to prevent bribery.

The Performance and Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) says the draft amendment is not publicly available yet as the government is still finalising it.

However, Pemandu senior manager Lokman Affandy Yahya tells FocusM the Corporate Liability Provision is modelled after the UK’s Bribery Act. As such, companies’ management can safeguard themselves against legal liability as long as they have put in place adequate anti-corruption measures.

In other words, Malaysian companies would have to put in place corporate integrity system, which would include a clear gift policy, whistleblowing pro­cedure and staff training, among others.

The Selangor State Development Cor­poration (PKNS) is one of the companies that began implementing a corporate integrity system in 2012.

The Selangor investment arm esti­mates it has saved more than RM400 mil over four years since it began practising an open tender system and prohibits direct negotiation.

PKNS integrity manager S Normalis Abdul Samad says the savings were calculated based on the Public Works Department estimation of project cost minus the price quotations of contractors that won the tenders.

“We need to get the best prices, the best value for money without compro­mising on quality. We’re very stringent now,” Normalis tells FocusM in a phone interview.

She adds that the state-owned com­pany practises a no-gift policy.

“If a contractor sends a hamper to us, we will write a thank you letter but politely ask it to not do so anymore in future. We want to send out a clear signal that if you want to do business with PKNS, there is no need to give tips or hampers,” Normalis explains.

Transparency International Malay­sia’s (TIM) consultancy TI BIP Malaysia Sdn Bhd director Mark Lovatt, who worked with PKNS to set up a corporate integrity system, says other govern­ment-linked companies such as Telekom Malaysia and Tenaga Nasional Bhd have also begun implementing such a system on their own.

“Telekom Malaysia, for example, no longer allows its staff to accept ham­pers. The first year it did not decline but directed the hampers to be collected on a stage at its lobby and sent to charity homes,” he says.

The next year, few contractors sent hampers to Telekom’s headquarters as they found out that the hampers would not reach their intended recipients.

Apart from state-linked companies, some private businesses have also started implementing clear integrity policies and procedures to deter corruption.

Home-grown printer Thumbprints United Sdn Bhd chairperson Tam Wah Fiong tells FocusM that 16 years ago, his company spent over RM100,000 in entertainment cost annually to secure business deals.

Now Tam, an executive committee member of TIM, strictly prohibits his staff from bribing authorities. In addition, his company spends only about RM5,000 in entertainment cost per year, yet his business has grown four-fold since then, recording a revenue of RM36 mil last year.

When asked if he lost businesses when his company cut down its enter­tainment cost, Tam admits he did lose some clients but gained new ones.

“We gained access to the export market, the US and Europe. Reducing entertainment cost means our company competes strictly on price and the quality of our product and service. It forces us to be more competitive internationally,” says Tam.

He adds that bribery among busi­nesses creates an unhealthy culture where companies splurge on lavish dinners, karaoke sessions or spas to “entertain” potential clients to secure business deals.

“[Bribery] inflates the cost of doing business, and allows uncompetitive businesses to get away with providing sub-quality services or products,” Tam notes.

Tam adds that employers need to consider the implications of condoning bribery on their businesses: “If I can bribe my customers, won’t my vendors and suppliers try to do the same with my staff too?”

KPMG Malaysia Fraud, Bribery and Corruption Survey 2013 reported that 71% of respondents believed bribery and corruption was an inevitable cost of doing business.

However, if Malaysia wants to become a technologically-advanced and global­ly-competitive economy like Germany and the US, Tam believes local compa­nies need to think long term and focus on improving their product or service quality, rather than relying on bribes to stay in business.

While enacting the Corporate Liability Provision is unlikely to completely wipe out corruption, it would perhaps send out the right signal that Malaysian top executives are increasingly intolerant of bribery and anti-competitive behaviour in business.

Green drive fizzles out for some developers

by Gan Pei Ling / 12 December 2014 © Focus Malaysia

It’s increasingly common for developers to market their commercial or residential properties as “green” by stating their green building certification rating on advertisements.

But what do these ratings mean to potential buyers? And what happens when developers fail to deliver on property with “green” elements as advertised?

A check by FocusM with Green Building Index (GBI) Sdn Bhd reveals developers are free to advertise their GBI rating as soon as their projects have secured provisional certification.

However, the catch is there is no guarantee a property will be able to maintain its provisional rating after having gone through a completion and verification assessment (CVA) to receive the full award valid for three years.

Indeed, GBI general manager Herman Teo confirms there are cases in which “developers have dropped the rating [after the] CVA” though he declined to specify the number of such incidences.

For the full story, subscribe to Focus Malaysia.

Lynas: An unsolved conundrum

by Gan Pei Ling / 29 July 2013 © The Nut Graph

IT’S been more than two years since The New York Times first broke the story on the construction of the Lynas rare earth refinery in Malaysia. Groups like Himpunan Hijau and Save Malaysia Stop Lynas have since organised several rallies and even taken the government and company to court. In response to public uproar, the Malaysian government invited international experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2011 and set up a parliamentary select committee in 2012 to review the plant.

(© cumi&ciki | Flickr)

(© cumi&ciki | Flickr)

After many road bumps, Lynas Corp finally secured a temporary operating license and began operations in November 2012. The company is also monitoring radioactivity levels at Gebeng which it periodically publicises.

However, there are still many questions about what will happen to the low-level radioactive waste that the plant produces. How will the hazardous by-products of a rare earth refinery be dealt with? And how are the government and anti-Lynas groups responding to these developments?

Recycle? Ship abroad?

Lynas Corp is confident that it can recycle the low-level radioactive residue into commercial products. The company intends to dilute its radioactive water leach purification residue into road base material and recycle its neutralisation underflow residue into fertilisers.

But as The Wall Street Journal pointed out in an 11 Dec 2012 report, such technology has yet to be tested. Additionally, it remains to be seen whether Lynas can find buyers to make its recycling proposal commercially viable.

The Atomic Energy Licensing Board and the Department of Environment are also still reviewing the recycling proposal. And even if the proposal is approved, Science, Technology and Innovation Deputy Minister Datuk Dr Abu Bakar Mohamad Diah told Parliament on 19 July 2013 that “these products must leave the country”.

In other words, Lynas must find international buyers for its recycled products. And should the recycling plan fail, the waste must be shipped abroad. But where to?

Permanent dumpsite

Australia is unlikely to take back the waste. And one wonders which other country would willingly import such waste and risk its citizen’s ire? At this stage, I think we should be prepared for the worst-case scenario where the waste is stored locally.

Indeed, on 2 July 2013, the Australian company submitted its plan for a permanent disposal facility. However, Dr Abu Bakar has declared that Lynas has no plans to permanently store the waste in Malaysia but that international procedures require the building of a permanent disposal facility. In the meantime, ministers have refused to disclose the plan and the potential locations for such a facility, likely fearing more protests from communities in any of these locations.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Ewon Ebin said on 5 July 2013 that the government could not reveal identified locations as it was “not finalised”. Six days later, the Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili was reported to have said the government need not disclose the plan since Lynas might be able to recycle the waste.

What is apparent is that there is no guarantee Lynas will be able to recycle the waste or to ship it out. Indeed, it’s clear that no matter what our political leaders say publicly, the company in consultation with the government seems to have prepared a contingency plan for the waste to be stored in Malaysia permanently.

(© existangst | Flickr)

(© existangst | Flickr)

Learning from past mistakes

It appears that the government has yet to learn from its past mistakes. The Lynas controversy stemmed from the government’s foolish move to approve the construction of the rare earth refinery without public consultation. Most Malaysians were only aware of the plant after the The New York Times report. If the government wants to restore public confidence, it must be transparent in all its future dealings with Lynas and the public.

Even if the final location of the permanent disposal facility has yet to be determined, the government must guarantee that it will consult the relevant state governments and local communities before a location is finalised. The government must assure local communities that they will be treated and included as legitimate stakeholders when the time comes. This is especially so since there are real fears that the community’s livelihood and environment could be affected by a permanent disposal facility in their midst.

Compared to the government, Lynas Corp seems to be doing a better public relations job. On 10 July 2013, it dropped the defamation suit against Save Malaysia Stop Lynas. Apart from that, it’s clear Lynas has a business to run. Hence, it must manage its relationship with stakeholders carefully if it’s to continue running its business.

(© existangst | Flickr)

(© existangst | Flickr)

Continued protests

To keep public attention on Lynas, Himpunan Hijau is running a campaign to collect one million Malaysian signatures to shut down the plant. The petition will start on 24 Aug 2013 and the signatures will be presented to among others, Parliament and the financial institutions that back Lynas. Himpunan Hijau chairperson Wong Tack has also announced that the coalition might take to the streets again in October.

Meanwhile, Save Malaysia Stop Lynas lead campaigner Tan Bun Teet has vowed to continue its international campaign against Lynas. The group has also mobilised local residents to file for judicial reviews in an attempt to revoke Lynas’s temporary operating license. Clearly, the parliamentary select committee and the approval of international experts has not been sufficient to convince skeptics of Lynas’s safety.

What needs to happen next? The government needs to be honest with the public. How feasible is Lynas’s recycling plan? Should it fail, is it really possible for Lynas to ship the waste abroad? If no, will Lynas store the waste locally? Or will it close down the plant after the temporary operating license expires in September 2014?

These are legitimate questions that the public deserve answers to. Will they be forthcoming? Past experience suggests the answer will be “No”. And if past experience is anything to go by, then the government will have to brace itself for more protests and bad press over Lynas.


Gan Pei Ling is going abroad to pursue a one-year master’s degree on the environment. She hopes the government will sort out Lynas’s waste management plan before she returns in September 2014.

Who cares about green lungs?

by Gan Pei Ling / 24 June 2013 © The Nut Graph

A fight to defend one of the last remaining green lungs in Istanbul sparked nationwide protests in Turkey recently. Despite that, the Turkish government has yet to reconsider its plan to turn Gezi Park into a shopping centre.

The same story occurs in most cities worldwide. When land becomes limited in urban areas, forests and parks are razed to make way for condominiums, malls and offices.

Looking at the Klang Valley, are we not losing our green spaces to commercial development as well? What are the benefits of retaining such spaces, and what can be done to preserve them?

(Source: wwf.org)

(Source: wwf.org)

Documented benefits

One of the reasons green spaces tend to be undervalued by town planners may be because scientists have not been able to prove its connection with our well-being until recently.

A study published in the Psychological Science journal in April 2013 found that city dwellers who live near green spaces tend to be happier than those who don’t. Tracking 5,000 households over 17 years, researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School found that respondents living in greener areas reported “less mental distress and higher life satisfaction”. The positive impact is equivalent to about a third of the impact of being married and a tenth of the impact of being employed.

“These kinds of comparisons are important for policymakers when trying to decide how to invest scarce public resources, such as for park development or upkeep, and figuring out what bang they’ll get for their buck,” lead researcher Dr Mathew White said in a press release.

Another new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in March 2013 confirmed that taking a stroll through a park helps to ease brain fatigue far better than walking through shopping or commercial districts.

If those studies weren’t enough, older research has discovered that children with attention deficit problems tend to focus better after walks in a park. “The researchers found that ‘a dose of nature’ worked as well or better than a dose of medication on the child’s ability to concentrate,” The New York Times reported in its health blog in 2008.

Defending green spaces

Kota Damansara forest (Wiki commons)

Kota Damansara forest (Wiki commons)

A new government under the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in Selangor after 2008 saw the Kota Damansara forest and the Ayer Hitam forest in Puchong gazetted as permanent forest reserves in 2010. A plan to develop the Subang Ria Recreational Park – the only open space left in Subang Jaya – was also defeated in 2011.

However, the people of Selangor should not take it for granted that the PR government will always defend green spaces. In the dispute over the Kelana Jaya sports centre, the state administration chose to ignore the Petaling Jaya Local Plan Two, in which the field was classified as an open space. It has refused to direct its state subsidiary to scrap its redevelopment plan.

In our capital city, Kuala Lumpur City Hall has yet to gazette Bukit Kiara as a forest reserve. While the Petaling Jaya side of Bukit Gasing is protected, the Kuala Lumpur side of the forest has been making way for housing projects.

Bukit Gasing residents who protested against a hill slope development project over safety concerns lost their legal battle in October 2012. To add insult to injury, the Kuala Lumpur High Court on 2 May 2013 allowed the developer to seek damages from the residents.

Participatory local governance

It is heartening that there are still citizens who would speak up, join forces and campaign hard to preserve the shrinking forests and parks in the Klang Valley. However, I think citizens need to be more proactive. Get to know your local councillors, state and federal legislator. Ask them about your area’s local plan. Find out what development plans are in store that would affect your neighbourhood.

In other words, build a relationship with your local council’s officers and your elected representatives. Don’t scream at them only when you discover the playground facilities near your taman have been vandalised, or when another high-rise building is coming up in your already congested town centre.

(Brisa/sxc.hu)

(Brisa/sxc.hu)

Keep an eye out for public briefings or dialogues held by your local council on development projects that would affect your area. Attend the budget dialogues held by local governments under the PR. Ask them how much they are spending on parks and playgrounds.

Hold political parties accountable. Make sure they appoint development experts, lawyers, economists, environmental experts and NGO representatives as local councillors to provide sound advice to your local government.

For far too long, citizens have left the responsibility of town planning to local councils. What sort of development do you want for your area? How many green spaces do you think should be preserved? What other facilities does your area need?

If our citizens do not invest time and effort to organise themselves and engage with local councils, the policymakers will implement development plans according to what they think the people need and want. But by building an active, working relationship with local governments, the people can keep the politicians and civil servants on their toes. Their voices against controversial projects will also carry more weight in time.


Gan Pei Ling believes an idle citizenry in a democracy breeds authoritarianism and irresponsible governments.

The contest for Selangor

by Gan Pei Ling / 28 April 2013 © The Nut Graph

SELANGOR is one of the hot states to watch in this general election. Both the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and Barisan Nasional (BN) hope to regain the country’s richest and most populous state.

Unlike Penang, Selangor has traditionally been a BN stronghold. In 2004, the BN won all of Selangor’s 22 parliamentary constituencies and 54 of the 56 state seats. But in a dramatic turn in 2008, PKR, DAP and PAS jointly secured 36 of the state seats.

Five years on, should the PR be given a second term to administer the state? How do the two coalitions’ manifestos and candidates compare with each other? And what are the likely election outcomes?

The PR’s record

Over the past five years, the first-term PR state administration in Selangor instituted open tenders, enforced the Freedom of Information Enactment, and carried out several legislative reforms to restore its state assembly’s independence.

In 2008, the young coalition appointed four women into its state executive council and made Haniza Talha the first female deputy speaker in Selangor. The state went on to create history and appointed women to lead the Kuala Selangor District Council in 2011 and Petaling Jaya City Council in 2012.

Under the PR, the state government has also tabled balanced budgets except for 2009 due to the global financial crisis. Past Auditor-General Reports have praised the state’s financial management record, which saw Selangor’s reserves hitting a historic high of RM2.6 billion in January 2013.

Under former Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, the administration also carried out several welfare initiatives. Aside from the better-known 20 cubic-metre free water programme, it was the first to moot and implement the idea of affordable housing for the state’s lower middle class.

It is hard to miss the striking similarities between the existing welfare programmes under Khalid’s administration and the promises made in the Selangor BN manifesto. Free water, affordable housing, cash incentives for newborns, free WiFi and free tuition for students are being promised to voters if they help the BN win back the state.

Khalid Ibrahim

The BN also says it would lower assessment taxes – and that’s about where the similarity ends. It remains silent on local government elections, which PR state governments have struggled to reinstate due to restrictons in the federal Local Government Act. Penang has since brought the federal government to court, while Selangor experimented with village chief elections in 2011.

It is also uncertain if the BN will carry on the practice of open tenders and legislative reforms kick-started by the PR. In contrast, the PR in Selangor have pledged to continue improving the state’s governance, including setting up an autonomous legislative service commission that will restore the state assembly’s financial independence.

Candidates

The BN unveiled its list of candidates on 16 April 2013. It dropped tainted leaders such as former Menteri Besar Dr Mohd Khir Toyo and Datuk Mohd Satim Diman, but five of its candidates have since been accused of possessing bogus degrees.

And while the PR’s candidate for menteri besar is quite likely Khalid again if he wins, things on the BN side aren’t so clear. Glomac Bhd chief executive officer Datuk Fateh Iskandar, a high-profile Umno politician who was initially speculated to be the menteri besar-in-waiting, is not competing in the elections. So who will become Selangor’s menteri besar if the BN is voted in? Selangor BN coordinator Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed told The Star that four candidates had been shortlisted but remained tight-lipped about their identities.

Political scientist Dr Wong Chin Huat believes the BN’s lack of a clear menteri besar candidate will hamper its campaign in Selangor.

“Selangor is one the most urbanised states and voters’ expectations are higher. People will ask. The BN needs somebody who can clearly compete with Khalid,” he told The Nut Graph in an interview on 21 April 2013.

Najib’s influence

BN national chief Datuk Seri Najib Razak has appointed himself to lead the campaign in Selangor. But Universiti Malaya Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMCEDEL) director Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Redzuan Othman thinks Najib’s influence could be limited.

Mohd Redzuan

According to the centre’s latest survey among 1,407 voters in peninsular Malaysia from 3 to 20 April 2013, Najib is only slightly more popular than PR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. The BN chief’s overall rating, at 54%, is only eight percentage points higher than Anwar’s 46%.

The study, which Mohd Redzuan presented to the press on 25 April 2013, also found the electorate’s general acceptance of the PR’s manifesto to be higher than BN’s manifesto.

Overall, the difference in support for both coalitions is only between three and five percentage points. Mohd Redzuan declined to reveal the exact figures but said both scored less than 50%. “It could swing both ways (on polling day),” he said.

The UMCEDEL survey did not focus separately on Selangor, but Mohd Redzuan told The Nut Graph that the state differed from other peninsular states with its high internet penetration rate. From previous surveys, the level of support for the PR has tended to be higher among voters who have access to the online media.

In 2008, most seats that fell to the PR were urban or semi-urban, while Umno retained most rural seats.

Forecast

Wong predicts that the PR has a strong chance of retaining Selangor barring “massive” electoral fraud.

Assuming state-wide Malay Malaysian voters’ support at 35%, Chinese support at 80%, Indian and other ethnicities’ support at 40%, and a similar voter turnout rate as in 2008, Wong calculated that the PR should still be able to win 34 seats.

“That’s a very conservative estimate, taking into account the effect of Najib’s goodies including BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia),” he said. People in Selangor have benefited from Selangor PR’s welfare programmes as well, he added.

A more optimistic picture could see Malay support for the PR at 40%, and combined support from other ethnicities at 50%, thus enabling the PR to win more than 40 seats and secure a two-third majority in Selangor.

Still, some 25 state seats in Selangor are seeing three- to six-cornered fights with a flurry of independents and small parties in the fray. How will that affect the election outcome? Where former party members are contesting as independents, such as former Selangor DAP publicity secretary Jenice Lee and Sepang Umno Youth chief Datuk Suhaimi Mohd Ghazali, Wong said it would hinge on how far the political parties can pacify the disgruntled supporters.

“They may split vote for both sides,” he said. “It depends on the seats contested, but, in the bigger picture, I think they are not a threat (to the BN or PR).”

Better deal for Malaysians?

by Gan Pei Ling / 12 April 2013 © Selangor Times

MALAYSIANS are finally going to the polls on May 5 after intense speculation for more than a year.

BN chief Datuk Seri Najib Razak pledged more cash handouts and development projects in a manifesto themed “Aku Janji” unveiled last Saturday.The ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) is going all out to regain the two-thirds majority in Parliament and five states it lost -in 2008.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR), which aims to unseat the half-a-century-old regime, promises lower petrol, water and electricity prices, to reform public institutions and wipe out corruption in its manifesto titled “Pakatan Harapan Rakyat” released earlier in February.

BN & PR manifestos' cover

The manifestos provide a gauge for our 13.27 million voters the direction BN and PR plan to take our country, particularly for some three million people who will be voting for the first time.

So how do the two coalitions size up against each other? Selangor Times speaks to independent analysts and academics to get their immediate thoughts.

Business-as-usual for BN

Merdeka Centrer for Opinion Research programme director Ibrahim Suffian thinks BN’s manifesto is an extension and report card of Najib’s attempted reforms.

“It has a lot of explanations about what the (incumbent) government has done and the future projects that they want to put in place,” he said in a phone interview.

Najib took over the premiership from Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi exactly four years ago.

Notable reforms implemented during his administration include the abolition of the Internal Security Act, emergency laws and annual licence for newspapers.

He also set up the Performance Management & Delivery Unit (Pemandu) which introduced the “Government Transformation Programme (GTP)” and “Economic Transformation Programme (ETP)” in a bid to overhaul the bloated civil service and national economy.

Yet, Najib’s tenure has also been plagued by corruption scandals involving the National Feedlot Corporation, submarine deals and most recently, native customary land grab in Sarawak.

Ibrahim pointed out that as the incumbent government, BN has found it difficult to tackle corruption, cut wastage in the public sector and address other systemic problems in the economy.

“They promised to carry out open tenders but this has not been done,” he noted.

As such, the BN manifesto focuses on giving more cash back for the public and infrastructure development such as building more roads, highways and schools.

In comparison, the independent pollster said PR offers more groundbreaking proposals to promote good governance.

The three-party alliance has vowed to restructure the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, restore its integrity by focusing on big corruption cases as well as reviewing anti-graft laws.

PR leaders have also agreed to abolish the Official Secrets Act and enact a Freedom of Information Act after earning brickbats from critics for failing to include it in their manifesto.

Populist policies

However, Ibrahim and political economist Prof Dr Edmund Terence Gomez think that both manifestos are populist in nature.

While BN pledged to give more cash to low-income earners and increase subsidies, PR said it would lower fuel and utility tariffs, abolish the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) and provide free tertiary education.

In addition, both coalitions have promised to raise government servants’ salary.

“They didn’t deal with the issue of how the government is going to pay for it,” said Gomez, an academic from Universiti Malaya Faculty of Economics and Administration.

He said the country relies on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to drive economic growth but inadequate attention has been paid to economic reforms needed to spur the growth of SMEs.

To be fair, PR did mention it would set up a RM500 million innovation fund and divert government assistance from large industries to SMEs if it comes into federal power.

And BN has mentioned in its manifesto that it would implement a plan for the “transformation” of SMEs and set up a National Trading Company to promote SMEs’ products in overseas markets.

But Gomez hit out at Najib’s administration for failing to implement significant reforms under the much-touted New Economic Model, ETP and GTP.

“They have identified the problems in our government, economy, education and came out with recommendations.

“But they have had problems instituting the reforms over the past four years. Why should we assume that they will be able to keep their promises (in the manifesto)?” he said.

Responsible promises

Gomez acknowledged that increasing the Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia for singles up to RM600 and households to RM1,200 is a highly effective way for BN to garner electorate support among t  e poor.

The cash handout will provide temporary relief to low-income groups.

“But is it sustainable? Will it solve the issue of poverty?” questioned the public intellectual.

He noted that Sabah, Sarawak and other states in Peninsular Malaysia such as Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis remain the poorest states in the country.

And BN has failed to address the widening regional development gap despite being in government for 55 years.

Although a manifesto is a set of election promises to woo voters, it should still be based on sound policies that are feasible and sustainable.

BN & PR key promises

Gomez highlighted that both coalitions have pledged to build more affordable homes without dealing with the core problem of escalating construction cost and property speculation.

Meanwhile, PR also seems to be contradicting itself by vowing to improve public transportation, reduce traffic congestion yet slashing car and fuel prices at the same time.

With cheaper cars and travelling costs, the public will have little incentive to adopt public transport.

“It will likely congest our streets even more (and increase carbon emission). At an age where everyone is concerned about climate change, is it a wise move?” Gomez remarked.

A better Malaysia

Finally, providing quality public education is central to eradicating poverty and nurturing the human resources needed to steer Malaysia towards achieving developed status. But the declining standard of our education system has become a common complaint among parents, teachers and students.

Educationist Datuk Dr Toh Kin Woon said the BN’s approach to education has been a failure.

“They talk about creating a world-class education system but I don’t see how they can achieve it,” Toh said in a phone interview.

The retired academic believes under PR, at least there is hope that greater emphasis will be placed on meritocracy in the recruitment and promotion of teachers.

“There’s also hope that there will be greater decentralisation, providing state education departments and district offices more flexibility in the implementation of education policies,” said the soft-spoken Toh.

He said decentralisation in decision-making in the government has helped to raise education standards in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia.

The former Gerakan politician added that PR is more forthcoming in its pledges to provide equal resources to schools from various language streams.

On top of that, the young coalition vowed to loosen the government’s stranglehold on our tertiary institutions and restore academic freedom by abolishing the Universities and University Colleges Act.

Overall, PR seems to offer a bolder manifesto to reform our government, economy and education.

But aside from the manifestos, the quality of candidates put forth by political parties will influence voters’ decision in the polls too.

Come May 5, whichever coalition makes it to Putrajaya, it is up to citizens to hold the political parties accountable to their election promises and ensure the new government implements responsible policies to develop the country.


 

Sidebar: What’s in it for the women and indigenous people?

WOMEN make up half the population in the country but local political parties have been slow to adopt policies to promote gender equality.

Both Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and Barisan Nasional (BN) have pledged to increase women’s participation in decision-making roles in their manifestos.

But are they serious in removing obstacles that hinder female participation in politics and the economy?

In the 12rh General Election, only 23 women were elected to Parliament, making up slightly over a tenth of the 222 seats.

The statistics are even lower in state legislatures, where there were only 27 BN female lawmakers and 21 from PR out of the 576 state seats.

Women’s rights activist Maria Chin Abdullah thinks both coalitions should put forth more women candidates in the upcoming polls if they were committed to their pledge.

“We definitely need more women in Parliament and State Assemblies,” said the executive director of Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower) in an email interview.

She pointed out that both coalitions are more interested in giving out cash to married women in their manifestos.

Policies that empower young or single women are notably missing.

“Both are weak in substantive empowerment due to the welfare approach. There’s nothing wrong in giving money but it’s a short-term measure,” said Maria.

The saving grace for BN, she said, is that the coalition claimed it would implement schemes to support women working from home.

“But what about men who choose to work from home? Why are they not encouraged?” questioned the activist.

She said the policy is based on a false, stereotypical assumption that only women work from home.

Furthermore, Maria took the BN regime to task for failing to implement significant gender reforms after 55 years in government.

“Women’s groups have been fighting for the recognition of other forms of rape in our laws such as marital rape and gang rape, the review of Syariah laws that discriminate against Muslim women, the implementation of sex education to reduce sexual violence against women,” she cited as examples.

She added that there has been little effort by the BN regime to address the increase of women affected by HIV and AIDS, human trafficking and review the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.

Maria gave PR credit for addressing some of these issues in its Agenda for Women, which was launched separately last year.

It also promised to adopt gender budgeting, which is about breaking down government data to ensure public resources are allocated equally to both sexes.

“It will shift the burden of women’s welfare from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to the Health, Education, Transport and other ministries that also deal with women’s problems,” she explained.

Meanwhile, both BN and PR have promised to uphold the indigenous people’s native customary land rights (NCR).

However, Centre for Orang Asli Concerns director Dr Colin Nicholas said if BN was sincere, its federal and state governments should have withdrawn from court battles over land disputes with the indigenous people.

“Why make free promises now?” questioned the academic-turned-activist.

He highlighted that PR has vowed to gazette 141,000 hectares of Orang Asli land but he said that is less than 20% of their customary land.

“It’s not enough and it’s what the BN government recognises as well,” said Nicholas in a phone interview.

While the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government has tried to gazette Orang Asli reserve over the past five years, the Kelantan government has been embroiled in land disputes with the Orang Asli there.

“It’s very difficult to ask the Orang Asli there to vote for PAS,” he said.

Nicholas said both BN and PR should come forth and support the UN Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, implement laws to comply with the it if the coalitions are truly for indigenous people.