Social equity’s the new buzzword

  • Letters
  • Monday, 14 Apr 2008


WITH Umno embroiled in a monumental leadership squabble, the Pakatan Rakyat’s various state administrations have largely been left to their own devices.

This turn of events is very lucky for them and unfortunate for Umno and the Barisan Nasional, who’ll have to deal with a relatively well-prepared Opposition when they emerge from their period of mutual self-destruction.

Still there are challenges for the coalition to overcome, for example, former corporate chieftain Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim is discovering the awkward differences between the CEO’s suite and the Mentri Besar’s office.

While there is no doubt that as a CEO he has all the intelligence, determination and decisiveness to drive a corporation forward, his energetic and lead-from-the front style may not work so well for a coalition administration that’s still finding its way.

The Pakatan Rakyat’s political milieu is clearly one of consensus and compromise, and his recent run-in with the NGO Suaram over a proposal to levy RM9 per month from overseas workers in order to fund programmes for unemployed youths puts him in direct conflict with key supporters from within his own political camp.

Indeed, Khalid himself acknowledges this, albeit indirectly: “I’m fortunate. I have managerial experience. I’m used to managing people and funds. Nonetheless, I do recognise that corporations are very different from state governments and I will need to assimilate myself more into the system.”

DAP Senior Exco member Theresa Kok (who herself sparked off – albeit unwittingly – another separate controversy over a pig-farming project in Kuala Langat) remains appreciative of Khalid’s corporate background saying: “He has vast experience in business and because of my responsibilities in the state government he wants me to be with him when he meets businessmen.”

When asked specifically about the controversial agricultural project and the speed with which the issue escalated, Theresa, who is well known for her candour and thoughtfulness replies frankly: “Resolving the issue is a two-way flow. We both need one another to explain and talk to the different communities.

“On a personal note, I guess I have to learn to be more careful about my statements as well – even things on my blog!”

Over the past month, the Pakatan Rakyat’s Selangor coalition has slowly but steadily been finding its sense of balance.

Indeed it’s arguable that the two controversies – the first over foreign workers and second over pig-rearing – have been an inevitable part of the political learning process forcing the parties and players to understand the responsibilities of being in power, the need to compromise and work together for solutions.

Interestingly, as I asked Khalid about the initial formation of the Pakatan alliance in the days immediately after the election, he mentioned a particular piece of advice that he’d received from the Sultan, namely, that progress had to be worked for on an “evolutionary rather than a revolutionary” basis.

In fact he used the phrase specifically when our conversation touched on the delicate issue of religious freedom and places of worship.

“As Mentri Besar I have to stress that I’m here to serve all the people of Selangor irrespective of their political affiliations. While there are times that I’ll be wearing my political hat, I will be serving everyone.”

Khalid’s enthusiasm when it comes to economic issues is infectious: “My task is to sustain and enhance Selangor’s growth. We have the resources – human and infrastructural – to be bench-marking with Singapore.

“I look at Subang airport and Port Klang Free Trade Zone and I see opportunities for revitalisation and development.

“However, in all these areas we will need to work with the Federal Government just as the Federal Government should also support us.

“Firstly, Selangor’s contribution to the nation is so large; and, secondly, because we both have vested interests in each others continuing success.”

When asked how he would make the state’s growth more pro-rakyat and ensure a greater “trickle down” of opportunities and benefits, he answered quickly: “Growth is critical. With growth I can have distribution. The challenge will lie in ensuring greater participation in that growth. We need the rakyat to be more involved, in part to lower the high levels of unemployment among the youth.”

Similarly his arguments with regard to the NEP are worth mulling over.

“My approach is to move away from focusing on the disparities between the races,” he said.

“There are too many leakages, and the ‘rentier’ class is too well entrenched. We need to focus on those who really need to be helped. If we do that, then the Malays who require 'support' will not be left out.

“Certainly we’ll need to reassure the Malay community as we move ahead with this issue. We need to stress the importance of hard work and discipline. We can’t depend on subsidies henceforth.”

As long as Umno remains inward-looking, the Pakatan Rakyat will have the time to gain in strength and resilience.

Khalid’s shoot-from-the-hip style may cause some problems but the man’s raw energy will propel this key, strategic state forward.

Moreover, Selangor’s transformation could well lead to a major shift in the nation’s political economy as issues of social equity – the rich and the poor, distribution and participation – rise to the foreground and race and religion become less central.

Whether or not Umno can respond to this shift in political discourse remains unclear.

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