APRIL 12 — “We promise to be good, and we will share the love”
That’s probably the gist of Barisan Nasional’s manifesto for the upcoming elections, which is long on general intentions and short on actual deliveries, or at least measuring them. So in the end, they can be achieved in parts and boasted in full.
Precious little has changed in the way they promise.
For example, the pledge to move all parties to the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement through consensus.
Set up to help BN Sabah and Sarawak campaign on the sore subject of lost protections and benefits, but remains minimalist in its ambition, therefore not upsetting the centralists inside the coalition who prefer the assimilation of Borneo rather than submitting to autonomy demands. Which is why as it lacks exactness, it can be read as and how any party wants to.
Which defeats a core purpose.
Promises have to be difficult, otherwise what is the point of endeavouring them? Promises upset some groups, because there is opportunity cost. A fund for this group reduces resources for another group, such is the nature of resource allocation.
When they are a series of benefits with no boldness to articulate what is sacrificed to realise the former. If there is no way to tell who is losing out, it ends up as a middling proposition.
While their critique of Pakatan Harapan’s “throwing goodies” now appears hypocritical, there is no hiding that as far as manifestos go in the country, it is about giving and not about leading.
Both coalitions struggle to distinguish themselves in this regard.
The moves to forgive Felda settlers’ debts and channelling RM222 million to Felcra, Kesedar and Ketengah, are about shoring up the rural votes.
The long term attractiveness of palm oil is now doubtful following the European Union’s sanction; this problem could have been answered by the manifesto. Instead, the palm oil planters will be mired in getting fish rather than lessons on fishing.
The Al Quran University is a thinly veiled attempt to tempt votes from the religiously minded. Though, Mahathir did set the tone decades ago when he promised one university per state in order to satiate satellite states. BN continues the culture of pork-barrel politics without care for the actual effect of “spiritual” institutions.
Will they be more employable? How have the graduates of University Sains Islam Malaysia and the slew of Islamic colleges got on with their careers? Couple that with the thousands of graduates returning from state-funded studies abroad.
Setting up a university with no long-term viability and relying on its long-term symbolism can be accused of being opportunistic.
Housing receives its usual spotlight, in that there will be more homes at better prices. However, this will be judged by the success of previous deliveries of PR1MA homes and PPR (low-cost housing) projects in the last five years.
The promises will only appeal if there is broad approval of the projects completed and pending. Voters are always on top, in terms of evaluating, how well housing promises are kept.
It has been a generation of promises when it comes to the electronic age. Before this 25 per cent digital economy idea, there was the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) with the prized Cyberjaya township as its front tip.
“Build it and they will come” approach has faded as more and more accept physical infrastructure is insufficient when there is an intellectual capacity deficit.
This promise of turning a quarter of our economy to be digital based is bold without substance.
So is the amorphous decision to review both income and corporate taxes in order to keep them competitive regionally, is a non-promise at best. Governments are supposed to review their tax rates, the voters really want to know the tax rate upfront. Not the promise it will be reasonable.
Right at the top is to radically reduce foreign labour to 15 per cent, or less than one in seven employees. Since the 1980s, foreign labour has been a pivot of our economy, dislodging it requires more than just a statement of intent.
It is not a real promise, just a good soundbite for the ceramah circuit, and to feed our general xenophobia.
Just as much, the RM2 billion for Borneo’s telecommunication without stipulating the outcomes from it. There is no doubt the amount can be spent, the real question is, what on?
Promising 30 per cent of the Senate to comprise women may become a reminder of the rubber stamp stature of females in the country. For decisions are made in Cabinet, and Dewan Rakyat — the lower house — has the power to chide bills and resolutions but not shape them. Down the food chain, almost as an afterthought, the Senate, it’s only there for show.
If the promise was attached with steps to increase the legislative power of the Senate, then it is real devolution of power to women. This as it stands in the manifesto, is about public relations.
Copycats & curious things
Clear rip-offs from Pakatan’s manifesto and administration among others are monthly travel passes, minimum wage of RM1,500 (which Selangor government has been on for eight years at least), recognising the UEC from Mandarin medium institutions and RM1,500 to children of BR1M recipients heading to university.
With us topping the Asian obesity chart, it is great to promote sports for those below 12 in PPRs and rural areas. But will they do it? Sports play by our young has downward spiralled over the decade and is backed by the poorer health status ratio for the group. It is a priority issue, but one which will slip from notice once the election ends.
BN will increase the ratio of Borneo history in our curriculum. About bloody time, and this column has been championing this initiative for years. Perhaps, BN does listen, or perhaps read in this instance.
The SL1M programme and soon to be fair work commission, are trying to fit round pegs in square holes, if not matched with honesty about higher education in Malaysia.
Indulging public relations projects disguised as universities, using "live" test animals in the form of our youth, is not only unproductive, it results in millions of our young cheated of hope and floored by student loans.
There is a stench in our over-politicised and badly run universities, nothing short of a shocking reform would change the fate of our average graduates.
It is welcome the installation of CCTVs in all lock-ups across the country. Let’s hope there is funding for maintenance too.
Stability and prosperity
There was a time when manifestos were window-dressing.
If there is a win from this election, it appears both coalitions are taking manifestos far more seriously than they have in the past. There is still much to be achieved.
BN has increased clarity in objectives but still remains generalist in outlining the outcomes.
This does not scupper their chances of victory since neither coalition will rely on the manifesto to win. But here’s to wishing.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.