Pakatan Harapan at a crossroads: Sin Chew Daily columnist

KUALA LUMPUR (SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) -The country is now facing a political dilemma whereby sensitive racial and religious issues are dividing the nation, while the government is bearing an increasing economic burden.

It is utterly essential for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration to implement resolved reforms to take the country out of the current doldrums. But, do our government leaders have the sufficient courage to bring about the reforms?

Take for example, some Muslim NGOs who have initiated a boycott on non-Muslim products through the social media.

The cabinet has so far only issued a mild statement to reject the call without taking the necessary actions against the involved individuals. This shows that the government is not tough enough.

The same goes for the government’s handling of controversial Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik.

Although Prime Minister Tun Mahathir slammed Zakir for causing the country’s interracial relationship to tense up, youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq later shared a photo of him enjoying dinner with the preacher and said no one was free from making mistakes and we should just move forward.

Jakim issued a statement to bar Muslims from participating in interfaith prayers. Sarawak has defied the edict and will continue allowing Muslims and non-Muslims to hold joint prayers together.

The thing is: why has the committee accepted the edict in its totality to promote interfaith harmony and understanding (JKMPKA) under the jurisdiction of the department of national unity and integration, prime minister’s department?

Tun Abdullah’s experience should serve as a valuable lesson for the PH government. Abdullah used to be a moderate and open-minded leader, but his “inaction” allowed then Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein to raise the Malay dagger at the Youth convention for a total of three times, while other delegates were delivering racist speeches.

As a consequence, Umno suffered a huge setback in the 2008 general elections.

To be honest, as BN (Barisan Nasional) already won the mandate of Malaysians of all races in the 2014 elections, there was no need for it to exploit racial issues at all.

Racism must never be condoned, and the PH government must draw up relevant laws to stop hate speeches in preserving social harmony.

The government is equally incompetent when it comes to streamlining civil service sector and cutting government payroll.

Public service department director-general Borhan Dolah pointed out lately that the government was exploring the possibility of stopping to hire permanent civil servants in order to lessen the government’s burden on pension payouts.

He also said the government planned to cut down the number of civil servants by 5% gradually over the next three years, namely 1% for this year, 2% for next year and another 2% for 2021, with the hope such a move can help the government save some RM5 billion (S$1.6 billion).

The remunerations and pensions for 1.7 million civil servants indeed make up a very large expenditure. Of the total RM314.6 billion (S$103 billion) set aside for Budget 2019, operating expenses make up 82.6%, of which civil service remunerations and pensions take up 31.6% and 10.2% respectively.

According to Borhan Dolah, some 40,000 civil servants retire every year, and the government needs to fork out additional RM1 billion for their pensions.

During BN’s time, the government was equally generous to civil servants in a bid to firm up their support for the ruling coalition, resulting in 10% increase in pension payouts annually.

Pension payouts stood at RM8.33 billion in 2006, rising to RM13.6 billion in 2011, RM18.8 billion in 2015, RM19.5 billion in 2016, and RM28 billion today!

Without cutting down such payouts, the government will not have spare cash to revitalise the national economy.

In addition, the PH government’s economic reforms also face powerful resistance from interested parties, but without taking the bold approach, the country’s economy will continue to be stagnant.

Former prime minister Najib’s failure in instituting the necessary economic reforms have eventually seen his administration brought down by frustrated voters.

Najib opted to abandon the new economic model in favour of racist model under the pressure of conservative forces, causing the people to lose their faith in his government.

The PH government is now at a crossroads. Whether it eventually manages to change the country’s destiny or repeats the same mistakes of the previous BN administration will very much depend on the wisdom of its leaders.

The writer is a columnist for Sin Chew Daily. Sin Chew Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.

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