WHILE most Malaysians welcome the large and varied goodies promised in both the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan election manifestos, there is considerable doubt as to whether these political promises are realistic, feasible and financially viable.
Budget proposals are announced in Parliament and backed by legislation while manifestos are publicised politically without legal backing and can, and indeed, be forgotten once the elections are over.
Scrapping the GST and road tolls are attractive proposals that can win votes for the Opposition. Similarly, the proposed significant increases in BR1M and a big raise in the salaries and allowances of the over 1.6 million civil servants and pensioners can garner huge voter support.
But the burning question will remain: Can future budgets take the strains imposed by either the Barisan manifesto’s 364 initiatives under 14 major thrusts or the Pakatan manifesto’s wide concessions? It would have been more reassuring to the approximately anxious 15 million voters if the Barisan and Pakatan manifestos had given them some estimates on the cost of all their generous giveaways. After all, it’s the rakyat and the taxpaying public that will have to bear the costs of these vast handouts.
The manifestos should also have outlined the impact on the national budget and the five-year economic plans, and the viability and sustainability of these huge expenditures allocated to benefit the rakyat. But there is no point in giving away so much without informing voters about the financial implications on budget deficits, rising national debt and productivity as well as the other long-term implications on the economy.
There are other major public concerns over both manifestos that also need to be addressed.
1. On the positive side, credit must be given to both parties for focusing on the bottom 40% income group of the population even if the middle-income group seems to be relatively neglected. Furthermore, it’s a pity that the top 20% income group has been left to enjoy and increase their wealth with liberal government support. Is it because, like in many countries, the rich provide the political funding to prop up their preferred election candidates? Neither side has mentioned this major weakness. Why?
2. Structural transformation policies have been mysteriously missed by both the government and opposition political parties. For instance, they promise to fight inflation and the rising cost of living by raising subsidies and allowances but fail to address the basic causes of price rises. The real causes of inflation are low productivity, corruption, wastage of public funds, inadequate competition and weak innovation due to the high brain drain! And what about the vast influence of the government-linked companies that often crowd out the private sector and which may not be so competitive? What and how much have the two manifestos said about these fundamental structural issues and actual structural weaknesses?
These are some of the big elephants in the room that are not seen or are avoided due to political sensitivity in the search for votes! It’s true that the economy is moving forward quite well as of now but how long can it go on without faltering?
3. The two manifestos hardly address the large elements of the New Economic Policies. What about the New Economic Model that was introduced some time ago? Has it fallen by the wayside to be ignored by all the political parties? Are we going to have more of the same protective policies in the next five years from both sides?
If that is so, what then are the fundamental policy differences between these political manifestos? Are both parties putting almost the same drink but just in two different bottles?
4. Why are the basic international concerns of the 17 UN Sustainable Goals and the UN Human Rights not highlighted in these two important manifestos? Are these concerns not important enough for Malaysia’s long-term progress and sustainability? Our records in both spheres are by no means impressive so far. There has to be strong government and political will to push these UN agendas forward more forcefully, otherwise we will lag behind!
5. There was little priority given to strengthen our national institutions. Most Malaysians believe our national institutions like the Election Commission, judiciary, police, civil service and the MACC have declined in quality. Good governance in general is widely perceived to have deteriorated. This perception must be corrected as a matter of priority. We cannot afford to ignore these widely held detrimental views at home and especially abroad.
The manifestos, though not fully satisfying, are nevertheless somewhat welcomed. Although they are necessary, they are certainly not sufficient to meet the rakyat’s essential needs and legitimate expectations. The wide range of fine and hopefully workable election promises must now be expanded where possible and, most importantly, monitored closely.
This must be done by an independent ombudsman or parliamentary manifesto monitoring committee, which could report faithfully and transparently to the Parliament and the rakyat once every four months. Only then will the rakyat be able to check on the honest and effective implementation of the pledges and promises.
Finally, we appeal to all registered voters to cast their votes wisely because our beloved country’s future and our own future are at stake.
I would add that if you can’t accept any political party, then please vote for the candidate who is capable, diligent, honest and cares for his or her constituents, our country and posterity.
We all hope for a free, fair and peaceful GE14.
TAN SRI RAMON NAVARATNAM
Asli Center of Public Policy Studies