THE intense debate on giving government contracts to political leaders in return for support is healthy. It is a sign that there are leaders within the government who are determined to see that the political patronage system that was pervasive in the old Barisan Nasional administration is dismantled.
However, the task ahead is monumental. Nevertheless, it has to be done if governance in the handling of public funds is to be upheld. And for political parties to stay relevant and endear themselves to voters, a system where leaders are chosen based on political patronage will not work.
The reason is because political patronage does not necessarily translate into support from voters. It is evident from the current pathetic position of Barisan, which after a 61-year rule based on a multi-party coalition, is now reduced to only three parties. Worse still, morale is low and there are doubts if it can recover in time for the next general election.
Voters are not foolish. They know and can see when political patronage starts to breed in the government. The patronage system leads to corruption, something that voters detest. It led to Barisan being thrown out of government.
The current government, led by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was voted in on the platform of wiping out corruption. So far, he has made all the right moves, given the constraints, as far as structural reforms are concerned.
Since July this year, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency, which is a key agency in combatting corruption, has been placed under Parliament and is no longer under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). According to a report, seven other agencies are also no longer under the PMO and instead are independent bodies that report to Parliament.
The seven are the Election Commission, the Judicial Appointments Commission, the Public Services Commission, the Education Service Commission, the National Audit Department, the Human Rights Commission and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
The eight agencies were moved out of the PMO and made independent entities answerable only to Parliament with a single stroke of the pen. The order was signed off by former Chief Secretary to the Government, Tan Sri Ali Hamsa, on June 26 this year.
It only took a letter from the Chief Secretary to place these important entities under Parliament.
On that score, in future, it would only take a letter from the person holding the position of the Chief Secretary to put these agencies under the purview of the PMO again.
To put it in a nutshell, the changes so far can be dismantled easily by the next Prime Minister. The reforms made so far have to be cast in stone. They have to be made secure to the extent that it would require two-thirds support from Parliament for any change.
For instance, for the Public Prosecutor’s Office to be truly independent, there has to be a separation of powers in the current functions of the Attorney General.
Article 145 (93) of the Federal Constitution states that the Attorney General functions as both the legal advisor to the government as well as the head of Public Prosecution overseeing criminal proceedings in cases.
This means that the Attorney General is also the lawyer for the government and decides on whether criminal proceedings can be pursued in cases that come up to the chambers. This conflict is something that has to be separated.
Considering what is provided for in the Federal Constitution, there are questions being asked in the legal fraternity whether the Public Prosecutor’s Office is truly independent.
Dr Mahathir is right when he says that so far only 30% to 40% of the work to reform the government has been done. With regard to his, it is good that the Prime Minister-in-waiting, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, has said that Dr Mahathir should be given space to do his work.
There are some more key changes that have to be made. For instance, limiting the terms of the Prime Minister, mentris besar and chief ministers.
In the present scenario, only Dr Mahathir can push through the reforms.
He commands the support of the people, irrespective of race. He speaks his mind on matters affecting the state of the nation today – from issues associated with royalty to leaders within the Pakatan Harapan coalition.
For instance, no leader dares to speak on matters such as members of the royalty engaging in the business of soliciting contracts for their close associates. Dr Mahathir has made it known that this practice cannot continue.
The previous two Prime Ministers dared not speak up for the Federal Government.
The topic of political patronage in Pakatan is the elephant in the room that many in the business community are watching closely. It was raised at the delegates meeting and Dr Mahathir spoke out against it.
Endorsing political patronage is a massive step back for Dr Mahathir’s government. Hence, it is easy to fathom why Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman got the backing of the party’s top leadership after his speech slamming some leaders within the party asking for contracts to be given to Bersatu division heads to ensure that they remain in power in the next general election.
Syed Saddiq, who has come under fire, has said in an interview with Utusan Malaysia that he will not back down.
Syed Saddiq gets an “A” for his forthright plain language in reminding Bersatu division heads of the very basis of forming the party. In essence, he is saying that Bersatu should not be turned into Umno 2.0.
Bersatu turning into Umno 2.0 can happen in the future. Political patronage can breed in the party.
The checks and balances are with the civil administration. The only way to ensure that governance is intact and the civil administration is allowed to carry out its duties without the fear of being sacked or intimidated by royalty is to ensure that the reforms are cast in stone.
This, only Dr Mahathir can do, for now.
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