This week, Selangor approaches 100 days of Pakatan Rakyat government since Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim was sworn in as menteri besar on March 13. In the Jules Verne novel, Phileas Fogg managed to go around the world in less than that, but taking over a state after 50 years of Barisan Nasional rule is far more challenging.
Like many Malaysians, most of us were surprised at the outcome of the election. Personally for me, it was about managing expectations, having seen how difficult it is to overcome the BN machinery in previous years in spite of the apparent desire for change among the people. I preferred not to set my expectations too high, only to be disappointed.
But change Selangor did. As the night of March 8 stretched into the next day and the EC still not wanting to verify the results, we feared the worst. I had to speak to our anxious supporters, telling them, “If we can wait for 50 years, we can wait for the next few hours.” Keadilan garnered 15 seats, DAP 13 and PAS 8. As a result, the Pakatan Rakyat government has a comfortable 16-seat majority over BN.
While on the day of March 9 itself, I immediately had obligations to fulfill – the funeral of a BN local leader as well as the wedding of a supporter – I was immediately asked by Tan Sri Khalid to help him in the preparation to take over the state government on March 10. It felt surreal.
We had to work with the civil servants to form the government; there were mixed responses initially as some seemed uncomfortable, although many seemed genuinely happy. Once Tan Sri Khalid was installed as MB, we set down to work.
In terms of absolute revenue, Selangor is the richest state in the federation by far. Although mines used to be the mainstay of the state economy, Selangor now relies mainly on real estate, industries and commerce.
True, some short-sighted ministers are trying to make things difficult for the State government, yet it is hard to imagine they can do anything remotely in the same magnitude as taking away the oil royalties of Terengganu following the 10th General Elections. After all, Selangor contributes 25% to the Malaysian GDP. Hurting Selangor would inadvertently hurt the federation.
Having said that, as we spent more time in government, we realised we inherited a big mess from the previous administration. Privatisation agreements were almost always one-sided, to the benefit of the “entrepreneur”. A joint venture project involving a State GLC and the private sector developing state land with a gross development value of RM36 billion only brought RM1 billion back to the state.
Many of the state departments were dysfunctional as even the smallest decisions were made only with blessings from the politicians, often all the way to the top. Many of the low-cost housing areas were badly built, as a result of the zero squatters scheme of the previous administration, fermenting tension (often with real potential of becoming racial) and social ills in the estates.
With all these factors in consideration, combined with the higher living costs suffered by all Malaysians, the state government set to work to implement its manifesto for the people. The focus was to bring back the economy to the people: “merakyatkan ekonomi”.
From the beginning, the MB wanted to deliver the free 20 cubic metres of water to households in Selangor, and despite the numerous challenges that stood in his way the policy was implemented on June 16, with a rebate for usage up to June 1 to fulfill our pledge of free water by June 1.
The Pakatan government wants to do better in low-cost housing.
The government has also decided to reduce political interference in the administration. Previously there was a district land committee to provide direction to the district officer on land matters, which consists of state assemblymen. The new state government has disbanded the committee, returning the power to the district officer.
At the same time, realising the messy state of affairs with regards to land, the state government has appointed the former deputy minister for land and cooperative development Datuk Dr Tan Kee Kwong and the former secretary-general for the ministry Prof. Datuk Dr Nik Mohd Zain to head the land task force to look at problems and suggest solutions.
Moving forward, the state will announce an array of initiatives, partly based on our election manifesto, to further realise the vision of a people’s economy in Selangor on our 100 days event on June 20.
This will include a trust fund for newborn children, assistance for university admission, senior citizens’ insurance and many more. They will be available to all Anak Selangor regardless of race. Combined with the free water policy, this illustrates our sincere approach to relieve the burden of the people.
We are not advocating a welfare state in the traditional sense of the word, realising the need to embrace market economy and provide room for initiative – but what we advocate is realigning state policies to benefit the people as a whole, not the powerful as in the past.
Contrast this with the federal government that raises the price of petrol at the last minute while maintaining subsidies for the independent power producers and allowing lucrative contracts for toll concessionaires. We believe this is the signal of intent of what we can do when we become the government of the federation.
Now, as we are about to pass the 100-day threshold and enjoy a good working relationship with the civil servants, it is time we work harder to deliver for all the people of Selangor. Challenges will be there, but if we persevere to put the interests of the many at the forefront of the few, this can be the start of a long-lasting change not just for Selangor, but for Malaysia as a whole.