Zero-sum game of old school politics


  • It's Just Politics
  • Sunday, 29 Mar 2020

MPs and allocations: When MPs are not equally supported, it is the rakyat that loses. File photo of the Dewan Rakyat.

When some MPs are made less equal, it is the rakyat that loses.

Not all YBs are made equal.

Some Members of Parliament and assemblymen receive a government allocation for their constituencies. Some get less or don’t get anything at all.

Take two-term MP Wong Chen. When he was the Kelana Jaya MP from 2013 to 2018, as an Opposition politician from PKR, he received zero operational budget and zero community funding from the Barisan Nasional federal government. The then Barisan MPs received an operational budget of around RM150,000 and an additional RM5mil to RM6mil a year for community spending.

When Pakatan Harapan formed the federal government in 2018, Wong, who won the parliamentary constituency of Subang (the new name for Kelana Jaya), received RM300,000 annually for an operational budget and RM3.5mil for community spending. The Pakatan government gave Opposition MPs RM100,000 a year for operations and nothing for community spending.

Now Perikatan Nasional has come into power, all operational and community funding from the federal government has stopped for the Subang MP.

Then there’s two-term assemblyman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai. When Bangkuai was the Kiulu assemblyman in Sabah from 2013 to 2018, as a government politician from Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS; which was then a Barisan component party), he received RM1.5mil a year from the Barisan state government. The then Opposition assemblymen in the state received zero allocations.

When Parti Warisan Sabah/Pakatan Harapan/Upko formed the state government in 2018, Bang-kuai got zero allocation. Now that PBS is with the Perikatan federal government, there’s an indication that the Kiulu assemblyman might get some allocation from Putrajaya to implement minor projects in his semi-rural constituency near Kota Kinabalu.

Is it fair that – to paraphrase George Orwell in his novel, Animal Farm – all MPs are equal, but some MPs are less equal than others?

Politics in Malaysia, according to political analyst Dr Abdul Latiff Mohd Ibrahim, still seems to be stuck in the old school style – “Where those who wield power still want to use their power to prevent challenges as well as block any potential threat that may come from opposing forces, ” he observed.

“While the PH government, when it held federal power, relaxed this and was moving towards a more equitable system, hence providing allocations to Opposition representatives at that time, with its collapse the practice has more or less come to an end and it is back to old school politics.”

Abdul Latiff added: “By denying allocations to Opposition representatives, they (the government in power) may gain more political support when constituents blame these representatives for not delivering, especially at this time of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Let’s be fair, noted Bangkuai, who is PBS information chief, this also happened during Barisan’s time in power. It is simply because when you are in the government, you want to control the implementation of development in Oppo-sition-held constituencies. “They want to show that Opposition assemblymen can’t do anything if they are not part of the government, ” he said.

But, the Kiulu assemblyman said, it did not mean that there was no development in Opposition-held constituencies. Even if an Oppo-sition assemblyman doesn’t receive any allocation, politicians have various channels via state assemblies and the media to voice the needs of the people, he said.

“If the government fails to deliver what we voice out, which is the suara (voice) of the rakyat, why must the people vote for a government that is not sensitive to trying to solve their problems? Just because we are in the Opposition, the people should not be punished, ” he said.

Wong said that when the government denies any MP an operational budget, it makes the politician less effective as a parliamentarian. The MP, he said, can’t possibly do all the work and research alone. “By making it hard for an MP to do his job, it hurts the rakyat first and foremost, and also makes the MP less electable in the next general election, ” he said.

However, the Subang MP is not too concerned about a community budget because “the whole principle behind it is just wrong”.

“MPs should be doing their job legislating, policymaking and scrutinising the budget. Their job is not to play Santa Claus and distribute money. All mature democracies see ‘community spending’ as an exercise in vote-buying, ” he said.

For instance, he explained, in Britain, if a poor person visits the MP asking for money, the MP will help the person apply for welfare from the government. “He can’t take out £100 and hand it to him. That’s just plain wrong, ” Wong said.

The way forward, according to Wong, is to make Parliament financially and operationally independent from the control of the Prime Minister. All current operational and community spending allocations for MPs come from the Prime Minister’s discretionary powers, not Parliament, he said.

“So we have had a longstanding political culture whereby prime ministers blocked resources to Opposition MPs to achieve their political goals, simply because that is within their discretionary powers, ” he said.

“We need to take away that power from the Prime Minister and give it to an independent Parliament. An independent Parliament can then ensure that all MPs get the same resources and allocations.”

This begs the question of why Pakatan did not do so when it was in power?

“How did we get into this mess?” Wong wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

“When we won in 2018, the PH leadership decided to ‘punish’ the then Opposition by limiting their operational budget and denying them community funds. Why did we do this? Who knows?” he wrote.

“Maybe some in the leadership wanted ‘revenge’ because that was what happened to us prior to 2018. Maybe some in the leadership wanted to ‘starve’ the Opposition to entice them to ‘frog jump’ to us.”

Whatever the reasons, Wong said Pakatan missed the opportunity to do the right thing, which is to provide equal resources to all elected MPs.

“We could have made politics less of a zero-sum game. Now that the tables have turned, we can expect the same, if not worse, treatment from the new government, ” he said.

Bangkuai contends that government and Opposition MPs should get the same allocation for their constituencies.

“It is about time. When you are the elected as a representative, the government should give you the support to develop your constituency. That should be the way because we were elected, so respect the mandate from the people, ” he said.

When some MPs are made less equal, it is the rakyat that loses.

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