Contradictheory: Are we ready for a new approach to governing?


  • Living
  • Monday, 21 May 2018

It's a new dawn, it seems. It has been about a couple of weeks since I did my duty as a citizen, dipped my finger in the ink, and made a cross on the ballot paper. And, forgive me people, my adrenaline is still running high.

It wasn’t just me, of course. Looking at the steady stream of election news on Twitter, occasionally kicked on by the afternoon press conferences, it has indeed been a fine time to feel Malaysian. Except, instead of gossiping at the mamak shop, the whole thing has gone 24/7 on to social media.

But me being me, I felt the need to puncture some of the euphoria and say, let’s not get too excited. There’s much work to be done.

For example – and this is me being a lone voice among some of my friends, by the way – I don’t think it’s a good idea to replace GST (goods and services tax) with the sales and services tax (SST). There are many practical reasons to maintain GST (it’s broader base and easier to manage), but the rationale given for the move – that it will lower the cost of living – is misleading.

It’s true you will no longer see a 6% line on your receipts any more, but SST will hit the manufacturers and be passed to the customers, so you will deduct some, and then add back a little. Yes, there will be a drop, but informal conversation with an economist I know puts this number at slightly less than 2%. My advice: Keep track of your expenses from now, in six months’ time gauge how it has really affected your day-to-day spending, and be prepared to write to your local MP.

But all this is rather swept aside because GST is representative of the previous era, and we are getting rid of the old – ironically to get back to an older time.

Other issues, my friends and I find some parity on. Like, the ease with which some MPs party hopped, for example. Even the new Prime Minister condemned those in Sabah who seemed to abandon Party Warisan to form a BN government, getting people to cross over “by using money”.

But when others from Upko and Umno shifted back across to support Parti Warisan, the complaints were much quieter – and there were no accusations of corruption or bribery.

I have absolutely no idea what the motives were, but can we just agree that MPs who say they are shifting over because “the people have spoken” are rather missing the point that being a leader means leading people, not being led by them.

Meanwhile, if some people were complaining about MPs who were trying too hard too please, others had a go at Rafizi Ramli when he criticised Pakatan Harapan leadership.

His gripe was warranted, if it’s true that his party was not consulted when the leadership was deciding ministerial posts. But many said he should have made his point behind closed doors and not let dissent spill out into the open. They have conveniently forgotten the criticism that the previous government was composed of yes men whose leaders could not be criticised, or even be challenged in internal party elections.

And to be honest, the rationale for selecting the ministers should have been criticised too. Not every minister needs to be a technocrat, but the only time I’ve ever seen a chef in charge of a battle ship was when Steven Seagal starred in the movie Under Siege (1992).

Why are we giving the three most senior Cabinet posts to the three most senior party members? Is a ministership a reward for doing well in the elections?

One criticism I’ve seen of the past government was when civil servants were sometimes promoted because “they were due”. Don’t we want the best people we have for the job rather than the assignment of duties based on how “important” they are?

On the other hand, the one thing everybody seems to agree on is that the Council of Eminent Persons and the Committee on Institutional Reforms are chock-full of highly respected individuals.

The latter in particular will have an important job. One thing six-plus decades of watching the previous government at work showed is that the real failure is how people gradually lost their trust in our institutions because they looked as if they worked for the government when, in fact, the courts, the national bank, the anti-corruption agency should all be clearly distinct and separate.

The one good thing we could do to set Malaysia off in the right direction is to make it harder for the executive branch of the government to interfere with the operation of these institutions, and reboot them with good men at the helm.

People talk about this election as an opportunity to “wipe the slate clean”. I’m not entirely sure this is always a good idea (as with GST) or that we haven’t even rubbed out the more obvious problems (appointment by capability, not seniority), or that we are even ready for a fresh approach (openly criticising our leaders).

But if we are able to hold each other accountable for our hypocrisies, and lead others by doing, not telling (or following!) then yes, it’s a beautiful dawn indeed.


In his fortnightly column, Contradictheory, mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi explores the theory that logic is the antithesis of emotion but people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions. Write to Dzof at star2@thestar.com.my.

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