Photograph: Kwong Wah Yit Poh
Debates on policy became a major focus of Malaysian public discourse after March 8, 2008. Although there is much still to be desired, this shift has helped move political concerns away from issues of race and religion. In election time, this new discussion takes the form of manifestos, at both state and federal levels.
By Tricia Yeoh
(First published in the Penang Monthly, May 2013 issue).
The 13th General Election holds a very real possibility of change in the federal government. Most important is the fact that never before have policies played such a prominent role in persuading voters one way or the other. The manifestos launched by both the Pakatan and BN coalitions at the national level have been hotly debated and discussed in public, especially so in the urban and middle class areas of Klang Valley and Penang.
A similar process can be observed at the state level, where both the Selangor and Penang governments launched state manifestos in mid-April, three weeks before May 5, This article compares the Pakatan state manifestos for the two states, and does not attempt to compare these to BN’s.
There are obvious similarities between the Penang and Selangor state manifestos. The top five of these will be focused on.
It comes as no surprise that providing affordable housing is an important element of both manifestos. The Selangor manifesto, for instance, plans to channel RM100mil into its State Housing and Property Board that will chart out housing policies in a more holistic way than at present, and prioritise affordable housing. It also plans to increase the number of council homes already being provided for city dwellers to rent. Specifications are also made for affordable homes, with a minimum area of 800sqft costing up to RM150,000 per unit. Apart from that, a People’s Housing Scheme will also be introduced for buyers finding it difficult to obtain bank loans, with the government allocating RM50mil a year or RM250mil in total.
Penang establishes housing as an important element and includes it as one of its 12 points, namely “Housing for all”. With complaints coming especially from the city centre of George Town and the island as a whole, Penang, in its manifesto plans to continue its RM500mil Affordable Housing Fund, will build 22,000 quality affordable housing units in six named districts throughout the state ensure all districts have rental houses for the poor; implement the State Housing Board and continue the allocation of RM50mil for the Housing Assistance Programme of Penang. The proposals are almost alike in both manifestos on the points of the Housing Board, rental housing and affordable housing funds.
A second priority that both those in Selangor and Penang emphasise is transportation. The Selangor manifesto promises to complete the construction of the long-awaited RM300mil third Klang Bridge; construct the Integrated Public Transport Terminal in Shah Alam; provide free public transport services like buses in Shah Alam, Petaling Jaya, Subang Jaya, Klang and Kajang; and finally provide bicycle lanes for new housing development estates in specific locations.
Penang’s Pakatan commits to implementing the Penang Transport Masterplan to reduce congestion, which includes a state-wide tram system as well as water taxis; an RM6.3bil traffic dispersal project through three highways; and the Undersea-bed Tunnel from Gurney Drive to Butterworth. It also plans to continue upgrading and constructing new roads with an RM60mil allocation.
The Pakatan national manifesto commits to lowering the prices of cars through the gradual removal of excise duties, which critics say would increase the number of cars on the road. Lower car prices need to be coupled with a focus on public transport, both at the federal and state levels, especially the development of new initiatives such as trams, local buses and the boosting of connectivity between transport hubs. These issues are therefore on the agenda at the level.
Photograph: Halal Penang
3. Economy, entrepreneurship and business
In Selangor’s battle for water ownership, a new proposal is slated in Pakatan’s manifesto, committing to ensuring that the people of Selangor themselves will be able to own and subscribe to shares in the Selangor water company (upon completion of the restructuring, and assuming the buyback of water concessionaires is successful, postelection). A Selangor Entrepreneurship Corporation will also be formed to create a conducive environment for education and training, as well as allocate five per cent of the state’s reserves to create a Lifelong Learning Fund for those who need to increase their skill sets. Small traders will be encouraged to be owner-operated through the means of building kiosks and stalls, and avoiding rentseekers. A state-level Halal Hub with Selangor Halal Certification will also be a goal in the next term.
The halal theme follows from Penang, which is committing to making Penang a Global Halal Centre; creating a High Technology Green Industrial Park; expanding the microcredit financial assistance with RM5mil more; empowering state SMEs; and establishing an aquacultural industrial zone in north and south Seberang Perai, abolishing boat and fishing licenses, and providing free nets annually.
Both states have made great strides in managing their finances successfully, which thus marks the minimum basic requirement for the term to follow.
4. Welfare assistance Both Selangor and Penang have proven that with good financial performance, increased revenues can be channelled back to the people through welfare schemes. Both manifestos spell out additional assistance policies. Again, the schemes are very similar in both states, targeting key marginalised groups that have either fallen through the economic cracks or that require more assistance than has been provided by the federal government.
In Selangor, this will include a Selangor Women’s Empowerment fund to improve women’s quality of life in terms of finances and security, providing free breast and cervical cancer tests, expanding microcredit schemes with special attention to single mothers and ensuring all government premises will have nurseries and kindergartens. Selangor also plans to provide free testicular and prostate cancer tests for men, set up a People’s Dialysis Centre worth RM10mil and increase the qualifying incomes of parents for the University Gift scheme to RM3,000, among other schemes including those for the differently-abled.
Penang aims to completely eradicate poverty through its Equitable Economic Agenda which ensures that every household receives a minimum monthly income of RM770, that various schemes for the elderly, disabled and single mothers are continued, that dialysis centres are established in every district, that there are free bus cards for the elderly and disabled, that district registration assistance is provided for stateless Malaysians and that RM600 a year is provided as service incentives to taxi drivers.
5. Arts and culture
Selangor commits to three Integrated Islamic Complexes that will include in each one a mosque as well as education and community centres, and will provide land for religious places of worship for all religions. Three cultural centres will also be built alongside the Klang River for the Malay, Chinese and Indian communities with public and private funding.
The arts is given a heavier focus in Penang, which will strengthen George Town’s status as a Unesco World Heritage site. ArtsPenang will be established as the coordinator and implementer of art and culture, and form the Penang Heritage Council and State Heritage Commission. Penang also plans to upgrade two halls as stages for international arts, the Dewan Sri Pinang and Town Hall, as well as empower the Indians through the Hindu Endowment Fund.
The manifestos include education issues as well, where in Selangor, the plan is to start a Menteri Besar scholarship to create a Brain Bank in the state for scholars who will eventually work in the state government and increase allocations to national-type schools at primary and secondary levels. Penang is ambitious in wanting to become a regional education hub and to establish five Penang Learning Centres and foster human capital through training and attracting talent.
Finally, there is the issue of decentralisation, which both state manifestos mention. Although in their first term in government both states were unable to implement local council elections, both manifestos now mention this as a goal they want to achieve. Selangor plans to pass the Selangor State Assembly Services Act to empower the legislative arm of government and make it independent from the Executive. Penang, in turn, is demanding the power to determine key policies such as public transport and freehold land status.
As people become more accustomed to knowing what roadmap either political side has in store for them and their future, governments will eventually become more accountable. A manifesto promises many good things, but more important is that they are conceived upon what is achievable and ultimately good for the people.