Becoming The Angel We Know

Posted on March 27, 2016


Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2012 said that it is better to vote for the devil you know (Barisan Nasional) than the angel you don’t (Pakatan Rakyat). He must be regretting what he said now that the devil he knows has ousted his son Mukhriz as the menteri besar of Kedah.

In my opinion Dr Mahathir was rather insightful of some voters’ fear, it is the fear of the unknown. For some, this is the overriding fear that determines their choice of political coalitions, even if they know that the current one is corrupt, dictatorial, bankrupt of ideas and use divisive politics to stay in power. For them it is a case of better the devil they know than the angel they don’t.

Now that the federal opposition coalition of Pakatan Rakyat/Harapan has been given their second term to govern two of the most developed states in the Federation – Selangor and Penang – come the 14th general election (GE14) they should no longer be the “angel you don’t know” but one that has proven their ability to govern well for the benefit of the people. Now is the time for them to shine and do so brightly.

Despite in power for only seven years and working with a Federal government that does not want to see them succeed, the Pakatan state governments of Selangor and Penang have performed admirably.

With stricter control over corruption and wastages, fiscal standings of the two states are vastly better than when they were under the Barisan Nasional (BN).

Selangor’s state reserves hit RM3.5 billion in 2015 compared with a total of RM1.4 billion accumulated by BN over almost six decades of rule. Penang too demonstrated similar fiscal prudence, accumulating up to RM880 million in reserves compared with the RM373 million in over five decades under BN.

On good governance, Selangor is leading the way for Malaysia by making the State Legislative Assembly an effective check and balance to the Executive through the setting up of 10 select committees to date for a variety of areas.

Most notable of these was the Special Select Committee on Competency, Accountability and Transparency (Selcat) tasked with the eradication of corruption and impropriety in the rank and file of government agencies and departments.

The other important committee established was the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to ensure transparency and accountability in government financial operations and the state assembly amended the Standing Orders to require the opposition leader to chair this important select committee. In Selangor’s case, it fell on Umno to chair and to serve as an effective check and balance but alas, they declined the post.  The 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal could not have happened in Selangor with such measures.

Penang implemented the Competency, Accountability and Transparency (CAT) as a statewide policy to improve governance and to eradicate corruption. It eliminated the previous culture of crony capitalism where contracts are awarded in secret and genuine business people are held to ransom for bribes by government officials.

While the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Transparency and Integrity, Datuk Paul Low said that too much openness is akin to promoting pornography, the Selangor and Penang state government showed that it can be done by enacting the Freedom of Information Act in their states to allow the public to scrutinise the decisions of the government.

While what has been done by Pakatan is truly commendable thus far, I believe more can be done and must be done, especially those programmes or policies that can be seen daily and benefit the inhabitants of their states because at the end of the day, it is about the public’s perception of good governance.

Both state governments have done some of these to directly impact the lives of the people.

In Selangor, programmes to reach out to the bottom 40% of low-income households through affordable housing schemes like Rumah Selangorku, the exemption of assessment for low-cost homes and the waiver of licensing fees for traders are being carried out.

The Penang state government has set aside up to RM1 billion to build more affordable housing in the state. Also, the topping up of household incomes that are below the Poverty Line Index of RM790 has in effect wiped out hardcore poverty in the state.

To reinforce the public’s perception that the Pakatan governments are truly more effective, the local councils must be on the ball. They handle the licensing or permits for traders, provide basic amenities, maintain public facilities, handle collection of rubbish/waste, resolve local issues and are also responsible for planning and development.

While some institutional and policy reforms have been implemented in these Pakatan states, they do not score high on the perception scale of good governance. The ordinary citizens are concerned with good services from government departments and from their local councillors.

Residents of these states want to walk on properly maintained pavements, drive on roads that don’t have potholes, see rubbish collected, trees planted, traffic congestion eased and Ah-Long stickers removed.

The local councils and councillors are the true face of good governance for any government. They are the last line of defence or the frontline for offence, where the rubber meets the road. If they do not perform their duties well, all the other boasts of reforms would mean little to the public.

If Pakatan wants to be the “angel that we know” by GE14, it has to really put more effort and more money to literally clean up the states which they are governing.

It is like polishing your brass to a shine ready for inspection by the voters not just in your states but for those in other states as well to drool over and say, if only we could have a Federal government that is as good!

First published in The Malaysian Insider on February 8, 2016.