COMMENT | A new government has been installed. It has been in place for more than a year. The expected collapse of the opposition Umno has not taken place. Under the new liberal regime of New Malaysia, the opposition is enjoying more freedoms than was available previously when it was in power and has used them well.
The opposition has succeeded in throwing the inexperienced government on the defensive. The promised reforms have been slow in coming. And there were embarrassing U-turns on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The multi-racial character of the government and its vision of shared prosperity has brought about a convergence of opposing forces described by one Pakatan Harapan minister as the "deep state".
The marriage of Umno with PAS is particularly worrying as they pursue very extreme politics of race and religion. There is so much dependence on the very experienced but also very old Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Time is of the essence. This is a battle for the hearts and minds of the people.
Here is a suggested short-list of things that must be done urgently.
1. Engage the civil service in the reform agenda. Enough of the criticism of the civil service. Trimming it down is for the longer term. For now, get the civil servants to buy into the proposed reforms. This requires an intense, well-thought-out programme. We must assume that there is ongoing work taking place in all government departments.
Each minister must come out with his or her plan for change. That plan must have been developed with his top civil servants. That plan must have been reviewed by the cabinet and approved by the ministers. Publish the plan so that the public may also express their views. Then proceed to implement the plan.
Review those plans and adopt them with whatever adjustments the Harapan government may consider necessary. Not all of the initiatives of the previous government were bad. In fact, some were good. Nothing will be achieved without the civil service being fully engaged (Daim Zainuddin has made the point very strongly). The challenge is a great one, especially for the DAP ministers. Stop being opposition-minded. Win the civil servants over by the brilliance of your ideas and by your passion to make the lives of all Malaysians better.
2. Revamp the police force. Help the new Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador make the police force one of the best in the region. Review their salaries. Increase the quality of new recruits. Make the police academy or academies among the best in the world. Send good candidates to the best training academies in various parts of the world, including Singapore, Japan and South Korea. All have low crime rates and high detection and conviction rates.
Give the police the equipment they need. Boost their morale. As with the civil service, enough of slagging them for corruption and incompetence. We need them to look after us.
3. Restart village rehabilitation and extend it to urban areas with low-cost apartment rehabilitation. Poor people must see an immediate improvement in their lives. Low- and medium-cost housing will take some time to catch up the demand. In the meantime, living conditions for the poor are dire. Make sure that roofs do not leak, lifts and rubbish chutes work and water and electricity are supplied. Also, keep the gangs and the drug traffickers under control. In many areas, they terrorise the poor. This is easy to do and will have an immediate impact.
4. Food rationing. It is not beyond the resources of this country to make sure that all our people have adequate nourishment. Whether it is through food coupons, food banks, budget supermarkets and cash allowances, the poor must be fed. Schools must ensure that all pupils come to school on full stomachs. Food packets must be available for children who do not eat before coming to school. There are too many stories of families surviving on one meal a day. Inadequate nourishment results in stunted physiques and other ailments. Some conditions like Spina Bifida result in lifelong impairment.
5. Establish community centres. Get developers to assist. Have a nation-wide plan to build community centres in the poorest parts of our country. These centres will house libraries, reading rooms and facilities for sporting activities. If possible, there should be gymnasiums and swimming pools. Poor children must have access to resources that occupy them constructively and build them up physically and mentally. These centres will also bring the young of all races together.
6. School rehabilitation. The government has announced a programme for the rehabilitation and construction of schools. That programme should be intensified. Thought should be given to the setting up of more boarding schools throughout the country, particularly in Sabah and Sarawak where access to schools is a problem. Of course, more non-Malay children should be taken in then.
7. Get local councils going. Engage with people at every level. Make them responsible for looking after some aspects of their community. Harness the talent, experience and passion of our people. Race will not be an issue. Malays have become an urbanised people. All must look after all. Again an opportunity for cooperation among the races for the benefit of all.
8. Use the engineering corp of the military to carry out some of the urgent civil engineering works required, especially in the rural areas. China uses its military for relief work. The army should be deployed all the time. Engage them positively and constructively with the community.
These are some ideas for things that can be done quickly. There may be other things that the government can do. The government must engage with the people. The government is the civil service, the police, the army and the local councils. It must make an immediate difference in the lives of the very poor. It will be money well spent. The object is to bring changes to the lives of people as quickly as possible. And to make race irrelevant by demonstrating directly and immediately that all races can work and look after each other.
DAVID DASS is a lawyer and Malaysiakini subscriber/commenter.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.