A year of pain for some and pluses aplenty for all ― M. Santhananaban

MAY 9 ― After a year in office and in spite of several missteps, missed targets and maladroit moves it cannot be denied that the smooth and peaceful emergence of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government was the best thing that happened to Malaysia in a very long time. There could not have been another way except one that was calamitous, catastrophic and chaotic.

We were on the precipice of becoming our region’s basket case.

Malaysia is willy nilly back on to the path of being Southeast Asia’s brightest star in terms of managing change in a measured peaceful democratic way.

In the 1970s we had been in a somewhat similar position when we were surrounded by either undisguised authoritarianism or military-martial law systems. It is remarkable that at least two of our bigger neighbours have embraced the basic principles of democracy and open political dissent. We are today in a much kinder, gentler Asean regional environment

What is there to celebrate on May 10, some would ask.

It is a full year since Malaysia took unequivocal steps to end almost a decade of unbridled kleptocracy. The most recent forfeiture actions to recover more than a billion ringgit of assets, including baubles and bribes are noteworthy.

Most significantly the PH government has been successful in bringing about a reaffirmation and reinstatement of time-honoured values like hard work, honesty, integrity both in our public and private domains. Undoubtedly in the long term this would be the ingredient that would contribute to greater national unity by addressing issues relating to income inequality, geographical divide, rural-urban differences and the rights and responsibilities of the majority and the minorities. If any community is lagging behind it has become abundantly clear that when the playing field has been levelled there will be openings and opportunities for everyone. The PH government has to monitor the situation closely so that sizeable sections of all communities feel included and are able to participate in economic activities.

The PH government must apportion more assets and soft power to explain its policies and the principles it operates on. They have done badly in this regard in the past year, especially after the euphoria of May 10, 2018.

The Press and media’s role in promoting investigative journalism and openness and transparency in the public domain has to be encouraged and welcomed.

Malaysia has in the past year moved up to the top spot in terms press freedom in Southeast Asia. Admittedly at its current 122nd place it still has long way to go. Yet a good start has been made.

The paramount importance attached to the Rule of Law is particularly commendable. Most of us would appreciate the stand taken by the government in promoting human rights in general and would urge the government to continue efforts to make Malaysia a signatory, with reservations if need be, of all United Nations Conventions in force.

The most recent appointments of a new Chief Justice and a new IGP signal a substantial  rather than a symbolic break from the opacity and arbitrariness of a lost decade.

The Civil Service’s rebooting must continue to ensure the people of Malaysia are assured of impartial, efficient, equal and unbiased service. Our publicly funded health and medical service is the best in Southeast Asia and it operates on a not-for-profit basis.

A short sojourn in our Hospital KL convinces me that the professionalism, dedication and caring nature of our specialists, medical officers, nursing and supporting staff is most impressive and yet our best kept secret. I was shocked to discover that many of these specialists are not quite there or in the lowest rungs of the premier JUSA hierarchy. The Public Services Department which is much overloaded with self serving JUSA appointments has an obligation to ensure that our professionals in the medical, health, engineering, law, academic and other specialised fields are amply rewarded so that this talent pool is retained and recognised.

The Education system and its deservedly bad image is a cause of concern for all. After a year of stocktaking and evaluation there is an obligation to proceed cautiously on revamping the entire system. We cannot be a number one democracy in Southeast Asia if we do not address the weaknesses in our education provision.

A Cabinet minister had alluded some weeks ago to a reactionary “deep state” clique which suggests influence bordering on iniquity in almost all branches of the our polity. Without so much as a witch-hunt there is a need to identify them and re-educate them to embrace the change that the PH government embodies.

The stand taken by the government in protecting and promoting workers’ rights has to be followed up with the promulgation of new laws and the setting up of better enforcement and monitoring mechanisms. The importance given to the plight of our workers during the recent May Day commemoration is unprecedented in our country. Obviously the perennially very low wage structure derived from a colonial mercantile era is unsustainable

That our beautiful country had become the dumping ground of plastic and other toxic waste is a classic sideshow of the recently demised 1Malaysia. The mechanisms that allowed for this surreptitious acts of treason have to be dismantled and the criminals involved should be prosecuted. Penalties for such activities must be enhanced to provide for mandatory long terms of Imprisonment.

The role of Jho Low and Paul Stadlen in facilitating fraud and larceny and festooning it in favourable light was an undisguised form of State Capture. We have to go back to the basics in relying on vetting and due diligence when unelected, unauthorised nonentities are employed to handle information and vital assets.

The country also needs reassurances that the prime minster in an quintessentially prime ministerial-centric system is no longer capable of committing all those egregious criminal acts attributed to a former incumbent in that position. Perhaps the Multimedia Department should be tasked with coming out with a set of pointers which would highlight the central but diminished role of the prime minister in our new Malaysia.

On balance I am happy that PH, in spite of persistent reports of its declining popularity has not experienced any defections from its ranks. Instead accretions it has had especially in its parliamentary strength are a sign of strength, not weakness.

Amazingly PH has survived frequent, ferocious friendly fire but continues to function more fully than fitfully.

Most of us may not readily acknowledge it but rather unobtrusively since May 10, 2018 state authority is not based on coercion but more on consensus and the consent of the people. For instance the authorities did not bring out water cannons to break up the orchestrated agitation against ICERD!

For the corrupt, serial lawbreaker, the wealthy who can’t explain their inordinate good fortune and the tax-evaders the PH Government would prove irksome. That is not a bad thing.

There should be no respite in the fight against corruption and abuse of office.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.