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.
1st of April 2020.