COMMENT | Before any general election, both sides will say pretty much the same thing: More prosperity, more financial assistance for the poor, more reforms, a more efficient civil service, more money for Islam, and so forth.
To me, there is only one meaningful manifesto: How to deal with kleptocracy, and what we as a country must do to prevent its recurrence.
I urge Pakatan Harapan's manifesto to be clear and specific as to its promises, but very detailed when it comes to the kind of government and the type of leaders we will have.
The Harapan manifesto must be able to show that Harapan leaders have a different DNA from that of BN, and that they are willing to make promises BN leaders will never be able to do.
In other words, they must be willing to deal effectively with kleptocracy. For this, they must tell the people what they will do to ensure never again will Malaysia be a haven for its leaders to enrich themselves.
Let me give you a few examples:
1. BN will never promise the people that all government contracts, especially government-linked companies, will only be done by open tender. Harapan must strive to do this. We will never be able to deal with corrupt leaders and civil servants unless something drastic is done in this regard.
A public sector act must be passed wherein not only will the government practise accountability and transparency, but the current rules and applicable general orders are revisited to ensure effective supervision and to provide for severe penalties for those in breach.
2. A promise that the office of the public prosecutor will be separate from that of the attorney-general will go a long way towards telling the people that, at last, the criminal law of our country will be applied fairly, both for the kleptocrats and ordinary people; and for government leaders and leaders of the opposition.
Such a separation will bring an end to the embarrassing scenario that has made our public prosecutor a laughing stock in the eyes of the world.
A promise that a law ministry will be created as a separate ministry (instead of being part of the Prime Minister’s Department) will tell Malaysians that justice is a priority for the new government and that it will undertake whatever reform is necessary for the good of the country - and not merely to protect the prime minister.
3. A promise that the Official Secrets Act 1972 in its current form will be repealed will tell Malaysians that corrupt leaders can no longer hide behind draconian legislation.
If this act is repealed, our ministers, top civil servants and police chiefs in future will no longer be so filthy rich to steal as they like. It will tell the people that those in the government will not be able to classify documents as official secrets at whim.
With this act of revocation, those who have stolen government property will find themselves facing the attention of the world.
4. A promise that Parliament will have final say in the appointments of top officers like the chief secretary to the government, police chief, the attorney-general, the head of MACC, and top judges will be a first for the country. This is far-reaching and such a promise Najib will never do.
Harapan must make this promise a priority, and go to the people on this promise. The people will support the change because they are all very tired of the present system. The Harapan manifesto must be clear and incisive on how to set the rotten system right.
5. There are many promises we can make but we must remain steadfast in our seriousness in removing all the excesses of the present government.
The promise of amnesty for lower-grade officers is generous but the message Harapan must give is that it will prosecute with utmost vigour all those in the upper echelons of power who have been complicit, directly or indirectly, in supporting criminal actions and or abuse of power by the leaders.
The people expect no one to be spared. These promises must be printed in bold letters and distributed to all parts of the country.
6. This government favours the rich and the elites, and we must change this once and for all. Those who suck the cream of this country are left untouched whilst ordinary people (even for minor offences) are given harsh sentences, ostensibly as a deterrent. It’s a farce.
It’s about time we promise no one will be sent to jail for stealing food or toys (valued less than RM1,000) for their children. Fines should be enough.
This will tell the people that the new government empathises with the poor. It shows that the new government understands the problems of the poor, and so it won’t be surprising if such a government also builds shelter and provides adequate subsidies for food.
A manifesto promising children will get free immunisation against rotavirus (500,000 children die worldwide from it) which costs less than the expenses of the meeting between Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and US President Donald Trump recently, or adequate free drugs for cancer patients, will send a message that the government intends to provide enough money for public health and welfare.
Promises that the new government is willing to provide a wider social safety net will be viewed favourably.
If we can have this, then chances are this kind of government will not take away land from villagers or Orang Asli. It will also protect green lungs such as the park in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, without anyone even having to ask.
7. Present a different manifesto; one that resonates with the people who are dying for a cleaner government, and a caring one.
Harapan must be able to present an action plan to deal with kleptocracy and the kleptocrats, otherwise, the battle cry of 1MDB is hollow and meaningless.
As a country, we have lost billions of ringgit to the kleptocrats, and now is the time we promise the people that it will never happen again; and urge them to give full support to reform the institutions of government of this country.
ZAID IBRAHIM is a former law minister and Umno politician. He is currently a member of DAP.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.