The government after its foray into the automotive industry costing billions, multimedia and biotechnology fiascos, still wants to pick winners. Floating ideas about a new national car and flying cars will not reform the economy. Tolls still remain on roads keeping up the costs of domestic transport. The petrol subsidization scheme is still in place costing the government billions, and import licensing (Known as APs) still in place. Some markets are still duopolies rather than open to all comers and federal and state government owned corporations compete in the open market with private enterprise. Many, if not most of these state companies are cess pits of corruption and loss making, bringing inefficiency to a supposedly market economy. Regulatory hindrances are preventing entrepreneurial start-ups in the cosmetic, direct marketing, herbs, and food industries. Malaysia is falling behind the rest of the region where these obstacles to nascent entrepreneurs don’t exist in the other ASEAN economies.
The Pakatan government has not provided any specific world view that foreign policy would be based upon. Foreign policy is firmly in the hands of Prime Minister Mahathir, who has primarily reverted to his own personal world views. The look East philosophy has been re-mooted, and some of the old disputes with Singapore re-ignited over water, aviation and maritime waters. Dr. Mahathir’s speech to the UN Assembly last year brought up the same issues of Israel and Palestine, free trade and palm oil, and reaffirming Malaysia’s non-intervention approach to problems within other ASEAN countries, as he did in his last stint as premier. There have been criticisms to the ad hoc way the government has handled its negotiations through informal intermediaries with China over a number of deals, indicating that foreign policy, like the last administration is still being handled in a ‘fix it if it needs it’ manner.
The bottom line is that other than a continuation of the policy of Ketuanan Melayu-Islam, the Pakatan Government is just fudging it through. This is just the same as the last Barisan Nasional Government did.
The civil service is still inefficient, bloated and housing bastions of heavily defended mini empires. The civil service is a human resources tragedy. Cronies are still being appointed to plum jobs in agencies and GLCs.
The DAP is effectively muzzled and has much less influence in government than many hoped for. The DAP is now subservient to the interest of Malay based parties. It will be interesting to see how voters treat the DAP next election on this premise. The only thing saving the DAP from a strong backlash is that there is now no effective alternative party for Chinese to vote for.
How much Mahathir himself is to blame is questionable. In his defence, Mahathir has transformed himself from ‘dictator’ Mahathir to ‘mentor’ Mahathir with some left over quirks from his previous reign as Prime Minister. However, even as a workaholic in his later years, controlling the processes of the government is now much more difficult for him, especially with the infighting within the Pakatan coalition.
The PM in waiting Anwar Ibrahim is himself a product of the system and is unlikely to change the paradigm the government is now locked into. Anwar is not a great administrator and his philosophical position on policy is populist rather than visionary.
It appears that the only thing that has happened is that Team B has replaced Team A as the managers of government. There is no effective real change in policy, other than a few trimmings.
The ministers need to take a closer look at the processes of government before any reform can take place. No one seems to be doing this. Worse still no one even seems to be talking about this.
Finally in the words of the prolific writer and political commentator Azly Rahman ‘Our government is still clinging to the straight-jacket of our own apartheid system, still clinging onto the idea that only Malay-bumiputera have special rights’. This is a tragic paradigm.
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