PKR to moot civil service, higher education and transport reforms in GE13

(The Malaysian Insider) – PKR’s election manifesto for the next federal polls will tackle higher education funding, civil service wages and land transport — areas that have caused unhappiness with the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).

The party, whose de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) pact’s prime ministerial candidate, will hold  a retreat from February 24-26 before finalising its manifesto for polls that must be called in the next 14 months.

For the first time, the retreat will involve not just the party’s top leadership but also leaders from the 70 federal constituencies the opposition party feels it can win in the 13th general election.

PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli told The Malaysian Insider a draft of the manifesto will be presented at the retreat to “test the waters” with grassroot leaders before being finalised in March.

“As a reformist party aiming to take over Putrajaya, we cannot go into an election with the same old. There must be new ideas,” said Rafizi, who has been tasked with preparing the polls manifesto.

Deputy president Azmin Ali also told The Malaysian Insider the party’s election committee will go on a nationwide tour to ensure “each division has ticked each box in the checklist.”

“All preparations to launch our election strategy will be ready by the end of March,” said Azmin, who is also election director.

A former deputy prime minister, Anwar led a loose alliance of PKR, DAP and PAS to record gains in Election 2008, with PKR becoming the largest opposition party in Parliament after winning 31 federal seats.

At that time, the three parties had yet to form a solid pact but managed to work together and deny BN its customary two-thirds control in Parliament.

Together, PKR, DAP and PAS won a total of 82 federal seats and swept into power in five states, including wealthy Selangor and Penang.

The opposition coalition now believes it is ready to form federal government but political observers note the parties have continued to be plagued by infighting.

However, PKR hopes to capitalise on unresolved issues that it believes will swing voters to its side amid an uncertain economic outlook.

The 1.4 million-strong civil service’s unhappiness with the new Public Service Remuneration Scheme (SBPA) has forced the government to order a three-month long review of the scheme that was to take effect at the beginning of the year.

The Malaysian Insider had reported last month that the SBPA would have seen 36 top-tier civil servants in the “Premier Service” category earn a basic salary of RM36,000 per month while those in lower pay grades receive an increment as low as RM1.70.

The Chief Secretary to the Government will get RM60,000 a month under the scheme that Cuepacs, the umbrella body for public service unions, says was drawn up without its involvement.

The Higher Education Fund (PTPTN) has also disbursed over RM40 billion in loans to about two million students, 132,801 of whom have defaulted on their loans as of November last year.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has mooted plans to write off the loans but Rafizi has said that the focus must be to eliminate tertiary education courses that do not result in wages that allow borrowers to pay off their loans.

He also told The Malaysian Insider that PKR will present a National Automotive Policy (NAP) and break up public transport monopolies such as the practice of renting out taxi permits, which he said goes into the pockets of a select few without adding value to cab drivers or passengers.

Anwar has vowed to issue individual licences to taxi drivers if PR comes into power, a move the pact says will eliminate RM1,500 per month paid to rent the licences from taxi companies.

Despite the establishment of the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) in June 2010, public transport continues to be plagued by problems including disputes of land acquisition in the high-profile RM40 billion Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project.

Cityliner bus services in Selangor were also terminated by Konsortium Transnasional Bhd (KTB) in December, after the company cited massive losses.

Up to 80,000 commuters in Selangor were hit by Cityliner’s suspension of services, forcing the government to pump in RM400 million to assist stage bus companies facing financial problems in continuing their operations.

State investment arm Khazanah has offloaded its 42.7 per cent stake in Proton to DRB-Hicom after the national carmaker struggled for years to grow its share in an increasingly competitive domestic market.

Efforts by the government to tie up with a global car maker including talks to form a partnership with the likes of Volkswagen were unsuccessful.

Rafizi also said these ideas will then be communicated to PR partners ahead of federal polls, which will be the first time BN’s uninterrupted rule since independence is under threat.