PAS’ inheritance from BN in Terengganu

Firing up the religious sentiments of the people will not make PAS any wiser. Mere religious rhetoric and highlighting petty personal crimes committed by offenders in the state to show that they are “holier than others” is not going to boost the state economy and resolve the economic and social problems in the state.

Moaz Nair, Free Malaysia Today

This is the third time since independence that the state of Terengganu has been under PAS rule. PAS ruled the state for the first time between June 1959 and November 1961. Later on, it was the “Anwar black eye” episode that helped PAS wrest the state from Barisan Nasional (BN) in 1999. The PAS government performed miserably during this period of time when the oil and gas royalty was not channelled directly to the state government. Without the oil and gas royalty, the state was left with minimum structural development.

The oil and gas royalty became “wang ehsan” (compassionate payment) and was channelled to Terengganu Umno leaders to develop the state. Nothing beneficial to the state was done by Umno, either. Devoid of economic income from other sources and failing to bring any progress, PAS lost control of the state in March 2004. In the 14th general election, PAS came to power again after riding on the unpopularity of the BN regime under former prime minister Najib Razak. The Alliance Party and BN ruled the state of Terengganu for 55 years in between.

Terengganu is still a poor state. It has been estimated that there are over 230,000 poor people in Terengganu. Terengganu’s income ratio to population is not in line with that of other states. Based on reports, the income of 21% of the people in Terengganu is far below the poverty level, at RM780 (income per month) and less. More than half of the state’s population is living below Malaysia’s urban poverty line of RM3,000 monthly household income.

The poor are found in almost all districts in the state due to unfavourable characteristics like lower education and more family members. Many are unemployed or ungainfully employed with low paying wages. The state has a population of about 1.2 million.

Investors would think twice before venturing into Terengganu

Lacking visionary leaders, the first thing PAS did when it took over the state in May was to bring up the oil and gas royalty issue. It was the discovery of oil and gas off-shore in 1974 that became the state’s economic trump card. The state, regrettably, is among the poorest in the country despite the revenue it has been getting from oil. It seems like without the oil revenue, the state is unable to stimulate the economy. More than 90% of the state’s present budget allocation comes from the federal government partly through oil revenue, of which a certain portion is allocated for the state as oil is produced off the Terengganu coast.

Unfortunately, the oil money went into many dubious mega projects that brought no economic benefit to the state during its time under BN rule. It was the oil money that made the state under the former BN government embark on unwise, wasteful luxury projects. The failed projects include the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium in Gong Badak, which saw its roof collapse in 2009; the Aquapolitan project in Seberang Takir; the Besut-Setiu Agropolitan project; the Kuala Terengganu City Centre; the Garden of Knowledge in Tembila, Besut; the duty-free zone in Tasik Kenyir; the Kemaman Zoo; the Crystal Mosque in Taman Tamadun Islam; amphibious buses and the swimming pool complex in Batu Buruk.

Tens of millions of ringgit was poured into the Monsoon Cup, first held in 2005 and last held in 2015. The event brought nothing much to the state coffers and was finally stopped. A duty-free complex on a remote island and a stadium that cannot be used are among the three wasteful mega projects in Terengganu. The projects are still not completed although millions of ringgit have been spent over many years. The Garden of Knowledge cost RM320 million at the initial stage and is still uncompleted after 14 years. The former BN state government failed to successfully carry out all these projects.

The Gong Badak sports complex near Kuala Terengganu shot up by RM250 million to RM450 million due to postponements but the facility still cannot be used today. The Garden of Knowledge was initiated during the administration of former BN menteri besar Idris Jusoh, and was supposed to be completed in March 2009. As for the duty-free complex, it has caused a lot of controversy as the site chosen was located on a remote island in the middle of Lake Kenyir. More than a decade after work on the project started, it is still not completed and questions have been raised on whether a feasibility study was conducted on the project.

These mega projects have not generated any sizeable income for the state. It all boils down to lack of foresight, inefficiency and bad management by the previous state government under BN – so much so that Terengganu has earned the shame of being labelled “a failed state” due to its decadent culture, irresponsibility, lack of accountability and bad governance. Surprisingly, no one was held accountable under the previous government. PAS has now inherited all these failed projects – the scraps and crumbs left by the previous BN-led state government.

Expertise in economic matters

Terengganu under PAS rule is now under tremendous pressure to reform the state economy. A lot of money was spent on projects by the previous BN government that failed the state. Poorly maintained or abandoned lavish projects under the previous BN government costing more than RM2.5 billion have damaged the reputation and socio-economy of Terengganu. Urging the present PAS-led state government to undertake remedial measures for these projects is going to be an uphill task. The state has no funds to rehabilitate these projects unless it is aided by the federal government which is also facing debts that run into the trillions, inherited from the previous BN regime.

The rubble left by the previous state government has become the burden of the present PAS-led state government. Without support from the federal government, the state government will not be able to salvage the mess left to it. It looks like these extravagant and wasteful projects will be left abandoned under the present state government as well. Most of these abandoned projects have been vandalised as they are not secured. Left abandoned, they have become ideal dens for drug addicts.

PAS may be good at religious rhetoric and speeches but it has displayed less expertise in economic matters. It is now groping in the dark, looking for ways to stimulate the economy without only depending on oil and gas royalty. Religious grandiloquence alone is not going to help the state. The more religious zeal displayed by the state leaders, the more difficult it will be for future economic investments by outsiders.

The lack of quality leadership is further dragging the state into the cesspool. No PAS leader can articulate with some degree of intellect or possesses economic credentials that could give weight to the state leadership. This has failed to bring in foreign direct investment, and failed to attract oil and gas-related industries and new job opportunities.

With the religious facade all too common among PAS leaders, prospective investors would think twice before venturing into Terengganu. This is going to adversely affect the state’s socio-economy. For that matter, since taking over the state after the recent general election, PAS has even failed to promote the tourism industry effectively to compete with many other states in the country. But again, PAS is more into religious dos and don’ts that are not helping the tourism industry.

Drug menace

Like many other states in the country, Terengganu is not without its share of social problems. PAS has inherited another serious problem in the state, which is substance abuse among its populace. The National Anti-Drug Agency (AADK) believes there are more than 10,000 drug addicts in Terengganu. This is just a rough estimate of those they are able to monitor. The number could be more. The 10,000 figure is based on an estimate by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that there are four unregistered addicts for every registered addict.

Terengganu AADK found that most of the drug addicts take ecstasy pills and substances such as cocaine, ketamine, marijuana, Eramin-5, yaba, syabu and heroin, believed to be obtained through Kelantan. According to research in substance abuse studies applying spatial analysis in the ArcGIS software to determine the spatial distribution of drug users in the country, Terengganu has one of the highest number of drug addicts in the country, with Kemaman being the most chronic district for drug addiction, followed by Dungun, Kuala Terengganu, Besut, Marang, Setiu and Hulu Terengganu.

The Terengganu branch of the AADK in 2016 revealed that the number of drug abusers detected and monitored was just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, independent observers have found that those involved in substance abuse can be found in almost all villages and housing areas in the state. This drug menace has led to rampant incidents of theft and house break-ins. While PAS leaders are preoccupied with criticising beer festivals organised in some other states, they have failed to look into the drug menace and other social problems afflicting the youth in PAS-ruled states.

Intravenous drug use, overdose deaths and cases of sexually-transmitted diseases have reached alarming levels among fishermen in the east coast – Terengganu, Kelantan and Pahang. The drug plague has ravaged a significant number of east coast fishermen in Terengganu. A study carried out in 2017 in collaboration with the Malaysian AIDS Council and the Centre of Excellence for Research in AIDS with the support of WWF-Malaysia revealed a worrying prevalence of HIV cases among these fishermen. The study found that many of them contracted HIV through the sharing of syringes and unsafe sexual practices. Out of 127 fishermen surveyed at random, 37 admitted to using drugs within the last 30 days. More than half of the respondents (56%) said they had never used condoms during penetrative sex with their primary partner, while 16 fishermen said they had had intercourse with sex workers.

Transforming failures into success stories

The oil and gas sector is already shrinking in importance. Politically and traditionally, the state has been known to have a history of insubstantial leadership. The Terengganu state government does not seem to have any clue about how to formulate a development plan that is centred on oil and gas industries. It lacks the necessary knowledge to educate, train and imbibe the skills to the people and embolden them to participate in this new sector.

The present PAS-ruled Terengganu, too, seems to be at a loss about transforming failures into success stories. With only oil money to depend on and with no tangible efforts and expertise to stimulate the economy plus the void of modern educative and social rehabilitative measures to rein in the rise in social problems in the state, it’s not going to be plain sailing for the state to bring the much desired reforms.

Despite the continuous religious fervour displayed by the state government, youths in Terengganu continue to suffer from drug addiction, considered the number one enemy in the state for many decades. Religious rhetoric and a spiritual approach doesn’t seem to have worked for these drug abusers.

Too much politicking between Umno and PAS has diverted the state from any economic and social agenda to benefit the people. The religious agenda is prioritised over economic activities to benefit the people. This has resulted in the lack of development, very few economic activities and an absence of employment opportunities for the local people. There is even a lack of oil and gas-related infrastructure opportunities for the youth.

Firing up the religious sentiments of the people will not make PAS any wiser. Mere religious rhetoric and highlighting petty personal crimes committed by offenders in the state to show that they are “holier than others” is not going to boost the state economy and resolve the economic and social problems in the state.

PAS has to rise above politics and religion and look into feasible ways to stimulate the economy, such as by being more investor-friendly instead of just depending on the oil and gas royalty.

Left with heaps of rags from the previous BN government, PAS has yet to demonstrate the necessary prowess to govern the state. Its lack of experience is gradually being exposed, as it is unable to come to terms with religion, power and governing mechanisms.

If it fails to do so, PAS will risk losing the state to Pakatan Harapan in the next general election.

Moaz Nair is an FMT reader.