Ten things Najib should do for Malaysia

Malaysia’s sixth prime minister, son of the second, has a golden opportunity to stamp his mark on the country for the better.

P. Gunasegaram, The Star

WELL, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak became Malaysia’s sixth prime minister yesterday. And following upon the ten things he could do for business, which we outlined in these pages last week, we now outline ten more things he should do for Malaysia as a whole.

That by extension will naturally help businesses too for anything that helps countries can only be beneficial to business as well. We have not repeated the earlier 10 items but no doubt, there will be some overlap between them.

Much of the 10 measures that we outline this time deals with politics, social issues and with the overall maturing of Malaysia as a country where people can discuss and deal with important issues, give their voice and participate in the process of change instead of being led by the nose.

Here are the 10 in no particular order of importance.

1. Expand the democratic space

Calls for clamping down on legitimate expression are completely misplaced and will backfire at the next polls if that is done. Najib has to take what his predecessor has done to new, uncharted levels and seriously look at rolling back repressive legislation such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), Printing Presses and Publications Act, University and University Colleges Act and the Official Secrets Act among others. Detention of people without trial under the ISA must be stopped and those who have flouted laws should be just prosecuted – not detained indefinitely – even if it is done under camera.

2. Eliminate money politics

This problem persisting from the time of the Mahathir administration must be got rid off once and for all before it completely destroys Umno and its partners. The only way to do that is to invite the police and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Council in to investigate abuses and bring those guilty to account without any fear or favour whatsoever. Anything less will mean letting this scourge and its nefarious influence to continue and grow unabated and become an even greater menace in future.

3. Get rid of the quota system for party elections

This can be easily done by changes to legislation, which the opposition is likely to support, by requiring all societies and organisations to stick to standard legal procedures for voting and elections.

The legislation will take precedence over organisation rules and procedures which have been changed not only in Umno but also in other component parties like MIC to make it extremely difficult for incumbents to be dislodged from power.

4. Get more capable and straight people into Umno

From where Najib is perched at the top, if he takes a look at all that is below him, he, like us, is likely to be discouraged by the dearth of honesty, talent, capability and competence, not just in Umno but most, if not all, component parties. He needs to remedy that in a great hurry in Umno and pull in and develop respected and respectable leaders pretty quickly. He needs a succession plan.

5. Push for change in Barisan Nasional.

There was a time when Umno could rule by itself. Now, that is no longer possible. Najib has to change his mindset accordingly. He must think of himself as leader of Barisan first, of which Umno, is but one, though important, part. He is entitled to push for change, competence, capability and honesty in other component parties. Indeed he must as the leader of them all otherwise he will not be able to recover support from key communities and in particular the Indians who swung heavily to opposition in March last year.

6. Introduce legislation against party hopping.

The Government will get feedback from Bukit Gantang about what the public feels with respect to the overthrow of the Perak state government through defections. Irrespective of that, it must be recognised that party hopping is undemocratic and destabilising.

For the sake of democracy and stability, both government and opposition must eschew this form of politics altogether and enact legislation to firmly prohibit this. There must be tacit agreement that the will of the people will be honoured. Let’s play fair.

7. Get in a credible, clean and competent Cabinet.

Najib must not make the mistake his predecessor made by reappointing pretty much the same people back into the Cabinet. You need new brooms to sweep clean and you need people who will consider need (of the country that is) before self-interest and politics when implementing policy. There is a strong case to put in as many technocrats as possible who will do the work of running the government and the country, leaving the politicians to, well, politic. This is a pretty good way too of eliminating corruption by nixing the nexus between business and politics. If his component parties can’t nominate acceptable ministers, he should propose his own.

8. Put the glory back into the civil service.

The halcyon days of the civil service are gone. Ask any old-time civil servant. They have gone because politicians usurped their roles, told them what to do and who to give projects to. Get good people in, reorient the old back to the old way of doing things, get the expertise up, and make honest-to-goodness assessment of things without the evil influence of greedy businessmen and their political cohorts. Essentially, put the professionalism back into the civil service.

9. Have a formal council of economic advisers.

Oh, please, let’s not have inexperienced, even if they are bright, people making major decisions. We are still suffering from the huge one-off oil price increase. Oil prices have come down but other prices remain sky high. Najib needs an extremely bright, respected, able and experienced economist as his chief economic adviser who in turn relies on a small core group of like people and support staff to make key policy decisions and how to implement them. They can come from within government, bodies like Bank Negara and of course from the private sector too. He must not make the mistake of having a council of 50. Five with the necessary support staff, will do very nicely, thank you.

10. Have the guts to do the right, if politically incorrect things, as and when.

Najib must not make the mistake of his predecessor and listen to those who urge him to tread too lightly. Tough situations call for tough decisions – you can’t run away from them and expect problems to be solved. You can’t please everyone – the guiding philosophy must always be what’s best for the people and the country. And if it’s tough, do it anyway.

Not for a moment do we think that Najib will have an easy time – not at all. But we believe he has the necessary intelligence, wit and presence to understand the real problems facing him. And he does not have much time, the next general elections are due in less than four years.

That means he must start with a bang. Let’s see what he does.

Managing editor P. Gunasegaram believes there is always hope.