Despite having more than a month to thoroughly scrutinize the Pakatan Rakyat Manifesto – Pakatan Harap Rakyat – the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s Manifesto, which was launched to great fanfare on the 6th of April, shows that it is a coalition that is fundamentally opposed to and incapable of introducing significant and much needed reforms in the country.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
While we have no problems with the BN trying to incorporate our ideas into their own manifesto, it is laughable to see that even this copying is half-hearted, like many of the so-called transformation initiatives of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
The BN promises to reduce car prices by 20%-30% but stays absolutely silent on the unfair and opaque system of Approved Permits (AP) allocations that have been given to many BN cronies.
The BN promises to expand the Rapid Bus System to every state but does not allow the state governments or the local authorities to provide their own bus services.
The BN promises to increase the number of PDRM officers but does not want to reallocate special branch officers to crime fighting.
More seriously, the BN Manifesto once again is a reminder that as a coalition, headed by UMNO, which has been in power for 56 years, it is fundamentally unwilling and incapable of reforming the country in any significant way, shape or form.
I will merely highlight five important areas here.
Firstly, the BN Manifesto is deathly silent on the issue of Electoral Reform.
The huge turnout for the third Bersih Rally and the brutal police crackdown on the participants forced Najib to call for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform.
This is clearly an issue which many Malaysians are deeply concerned with especially after the evidence from the Sabah Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) revealed that hundreds of thousands of ICs were given out to foreigners for the purpose of padding the electoral roll.
And yet, there is no mention of cleaning up the electoral roll as part of a larger process of electoral reform in the country.
One cannot but think that the BN is fearful that if a free and fair electoral system is implemented, the chances for BN to remain in power would be reduced to zero.
Secondly, the BN Manifesto lacks credibility on the issue of Corruption Eradication.
It is all well and good for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to have its own powers of recruitment through a Service Commission.
But if the institution itself and its heads are still not independent, these new-found recruitment powers are useless.
The very fact that the current MACC does not even dare to prosecute the Chief Minister of Sarawak Tan Sri Taib Mahmud despite the stacks of evidence gathered and made public is testament to the still-born nature of any initiatives on the part of BN to eradicate corruption.
Despite signing the Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) Elections Integrity Pledge, Najib himself dares not lift a finger against the Chief Minister of Sarawak, fearing that this would lose the BN seats in the “not-so-fixed-deposit” state of Sarawak.
Thirdly, the BN Manifesto is shockingly hypocritical on the issue of Economic Competitiveness.
While the BN talks the talk in wanting to implement ‘pro-growth policies’ and the ‘divesting of non-strategic GLCs’, the reality from the past four years is vastly different.
Public divestments of non-strategic GLCs have been given to only a small number of players, most notably Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, who was allowed to buy over Proton, Pos Malaysia and the Penang Port, just to name a few.
At the same time, other GLCs have bought over private companies such as SP Setia (by PNB) and Sunrise (by UEM), thereby decreasing the role of the private sector in the construction and property industry.
The largest 4G-LTE spectrum was allocated to Puncak Semangat, a company with no experience whatsoever in the TELCO industry but is linked to Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary.
Prime land parcels in what will be the Tun-Razak Exchange (T-REX) and the Sungai Besi TUDM airbase was ‘sold’ at below market prices to 1MDB, an opaque fund whose activities have been called into question by many newspapers and opposition politicians alike.
Fourthly, the BN Manifesto gives false assurances on the issue of Environmental Protection.
The BN promises to allocate more space for green lungs within major cities. And yet, it is allowing PNB to build a 118-storey tower on the site that was once an important public park – Taman Tun (also known as Taman Merdeka Negara). It is allowing parts of Bukit Kiara and Bukit Gasing to be handed over the private parties for property development.
The BN promises to revitalize rivers and streams and prevent deforestation and yet the aggressive dam building and illegal logging activities continue unabated in Sabah and Sarawak.
The BN promises investment in more renewable green energy and yet, the majority of the quotas for solar power were given to politically-connected individuals and companies.
The BN has no qualms about using the people in and near Kuantan as guinea pigs in exposing them to the potential dangers of the LYNAS plant.
The BN has no serious plan to investigate and resolve the problem of cyanide poisoning in Bukit Koman in Pahang.
The BN has done no serious EIA and SIA study on the multi-billion ringgit RAPID project in Pengerang, Johor.
Fifthly, the BN Manifesto gives scant respect on the issue of State Rights.
Malaysia is a federal state in its constitution but the federal government holds a disproportionate control over revenue and government policy.
While Pakatan has promised to decentralize more authority and autonomy to the state governments, the BN wants to continue the tradition of dominating and dictating policy through Putrajaya.
No matter how BN spins its Manifesto through the BN controlled mainstream media, the people of Malaysia won’t be fooled. The BN does not have a leg to stand on when it comes to being able to deliver on fundamental reforms because this will be detrimental to the self-interests of the BN.
If Prime Minister is serious about having a national discussion on the BN’s Manifesto, then I call upon him to have a ‘live’ debate on public television and streamed through the internet with the leader of Pakatan Rakyat, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim so that the people of Malaysia can genuinely compare and contrast the promises of both coalitions.