Wednesday, April 1, 2020


by Chandra Muzaffar                                 

At this time of crisis the people are most concerned about the just and effective implementation of the 250 billion ringgit  Prihatiin  Economic Stimulus Package. (PESP). They would like to see the PESP benefit directly those who are most needy in our society.

While Malaysia as a whole has done better than many other societies in Asia, Africa and Latin America in ensuring that development reaches the targeted groups, we have also had our share of deviations and distortions. If we had performed better than others especially in the first 19 years of Merdeka, it was partly because we had as our Deputy Prime Minister and then Prime Minister an extraordinary visionary-administrator who was totally committed to the effective implementation of people oriented policies and programmes. Tun Abdul Razak Hussein not only strengthened processes and procedures that delivered the goods to the people but also nurtured a generation of multi-ethnic civil servants imbued with knowledge and skills and a deep  sense of dedication to the public good. Unfortunately, over the decades the quality of the civil service core has declined and mediocrity reigns today.

This is why so soon after the launch of the PESP, allegations are emerging of wrongdoings. Aid recipients are being short changed, according to some sources. It is said that in some rural communities there is pilferage. Complaints about the wrong people benefitting from assistance programmes it is said are not being investigated by the authorities.

There are also videos showing rice bags with portraits of certain political leaders emblazoned on them being distributed to the poor in certain parts of the country. In some instances, the name of the leader’s political party is also highlighted. This is crude and vulgar if it is authentic. Aid for the people even if it is funded by a certain individual or party should not be exploited for cheap publicity. The identity of the person or the organisation should not be put on display. Civil servants may not be responsible for such misdeeds but they should try to discourage such practices among politicians.  

They should also advise political leaders, ministers included, not to don on personal protective equipment which are in short supply in any case just for the cameras at a time like this.  It is the sort of posturing that we can do without if we are serious about concentrating upon the people’s well-being.

To ensure that both politicians and civil servants display good behaviour as required by the Rukunegara, the panel that has been established to oversee the implementation of the PESP should be given the necessary powers to act. It should not only look into the various programmes under the PESP but also recommend action against errant implementers.  This means that the panel should not just comprise politicians and civil servants from the government.

At least 3 independent members should be appointed to sit on the panel. One could be a representative of a small and medium enterprise (SME) outfit who can speak with authority on behalf of his/her constituency; the second could be a representative of the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) since the current crisis has a strong health dimension; and the third could be the leader of some respected consumer body. Since the three proposed representatives will be in a panel overseeing implementation of the PSEP they can alert the government to problems at the outset itself.

More important, the panel should present a preliminary report on issues of implementation to parliament when it convenes on the 18th of May 2020. It should be a ‘no holds barred’ report revealing all the challenges faced by the government in two months of the PSEP’s implementation.  Both sides of the Dewan Rakyat should contribute towards finding solutions. It could well be the beginning of the process of the government and the opposition working together for the larger good of the nation in the midst of one of the most complex national emergencies we have had to face in our 62 year history.                    

 Dr Chandra Muzaffar.

Kuala Lumpur.

1st of April 2020.


by Chandra Muzaffar

When a nation is in crisis, it is the duty of its citizens to increase their scrutiny of the deeds and words of those who wield authority and power. Such scrutiny is perhaps all the more urgent when the nation is confronted by a triple crisis--- a health crisis; an economic crisis; and a political crisis. Citizens should not only be alert and evaluative but also wise and reflective.

The need for such an approach becomes apparent when we examine three aspects of governance which have come to the fore in recent times.

One, the paramount importance of inclusiveness in addressing our multiple crises. There is no need to emphasise that our very demographic demands inclusiveness. Notwithstanding the current composition of the Federal Cabinet, a product in a sense of a bizarre political crisis, the Muhyuddin government has attempted to be inclusive in certain respects such as its allocation of critical tasks to senior Ministers from different parties in the Coalition. It has also established a degree of rapport with the Civil Service by projecting the Director-General of Health as the primary interlocutor with the public on matters pertaining to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.  The role of the Yang Di Pertuan Agong  in articulating the central message of the fight against the pandemic --- a role that is above party politics --- also underscores inclusiveness in governance. Inviting celebrities to reinforce that message  enhances inclusiveness.

Perhaps the time has come to give greater meaning to inclusiveness in dealing with the health crisis by bringing in Opposition political leaders to also play their role. They should be given space on our television networks to persuade a segment of the populace to comply with the Movement Control Order (MCO). Since party loyalties are a major cause of divisiveness in society, the sight of opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders on TV urging their followers to stay indoors or to observe “social distancing” could help curb the spread of Covid 19 and serve the public interest.

Two, the government has also increased the allocation for personal protection equipment (PPE) for medical frontliners and for other facilities needed in the battle against Covid 19. PPEs in particular should have been given priority from the outset. It is sad that in some instances our health care providers had to make “their own PPEs using plastic bags, dustbin liners and other paraphernalia…” 

It is not just getting priorities right. In the procurement of equipment and in ensuring the viability of the supply chain, there has to be absolute integrity. The middle-man as we had observed in an earlier analysis and the so-called ‘facilitator’ should be eliminated. Let the Covid 19 crisis set the stage for a meaningful transformation of our entire health-care system.

Three, the government has also sought to lessen the burden of the poorer segment of society through a variety of measures in its most recent economic stimulus package. This is commendable.  However, its proposal to enable EPF contributors to withdraw up to 500 ringgit monthly for 12 months to make ends meet in these difficult times has run into opposition from a number of groups including trade unions. EPF money is the workers’ money meant for their retirement. It is not right to use it as a source of income to alleviate transient hardship.  As PKR president, Anwar Ibrahim has pointed out it would be more sensible to draw from our national reserves to help the poor and disadvantaged at this time. It is not just EPF contributors who will benefit. Because the national reserves belong to the people as a whole, a lot of the marginalised, including fisher folk, smallholders and petty traders will also be entitled to the fund.

Ideas such as these about how best to tackle the people’s woes in the grim situation that confronts the nation should be accorded the attention they deserve by the government of the day. For the Muhyiddin government which while legal is still struggling with its moral legitimacy, an open and accommodative attitude towards ideas and individuals outside its circuit of power is one way of strengthening its credibility. Given the multiple crises it is facing, enhancing its credibility is a fundamental pre-requisite for its survival and success.

Chandra Muzaffar

Kuala Lumpur

25 March 2020.