Is PH becoming tone deaf?

The coalition that now holds the levers of government no longer listens to calls for integrity and openness.

K. Parkaran, FMT

Recent events have deepened widespread suspicion that Pakatan Harapan (PH) is no longer the coalition it once was — one that fought for integrity, press freedom and ethics.

The recent award of a state government contract to the spouse of a minister and a perceived decline of press freedom in Malaysia have not helped its cause.

Many Malaysians will remember PH leaders yelling for heads to roll whenever government contracts were awarded without open tenders to family members or cronies of those in power.

All hell would break loose when relatives of Barisan Nasional or Perikatan Nasional leaders were involved, whether directly or otherwise.

I remember vividly PKR’s Rafizi Ramli saying during a political ceramah that PH must be “whiter than white” when it comes into power.

So, there were gasps of disbelief and utter disgust when the PH-led Selangor government defended its decision to award a transport contract to a company co-founded by the husband of youth and sports minister Hannah Yeoh.

The important thing here is that the protests are justified.

Yeoh’s husband, M Ramachandran, is the CEO of Asia Mobiliti Technologies Sdn Bhd, one of the companies selected. The other is Badan Bas Coach Sdn Bhd.

In its defence, the Selangor government claimed that both firms had “presented satisfactorily” to the state transport committee, which led to their appointments based on their experience in rolling out their proof of concept earlier.

Apparently, the selection was also approved by the land public transport agency and federal regulators.

This argument has only made matters worse given that Yeoh is a member of the cabinet.

Even if she had not lobbied for it, which I would like to think so, a nod at the federal level and selection at state level of her husband’s firm will be mired in claims of nepotism and cronyism. After all, she was part of the Selangor government from 2013 to 2018.

This raises a pertinent question. Should firms directly linked to politicians or their close family members be excluded from such projects, even if they can deliver?

My view is that the appointment would have been more acceptable – to a certain extent – if it was made following an open tender, although claims of nepotism and favouritism would still likely be heard.

But we should draw the line when it comes to the spouse of a minister or senior politicians in a position of power, as such awards would court controversy and, by PH’s own standards, amount to an “immoral” practice.

Rafizi himself, now the economy minister, had in the past blown the whistle in many instances, exposing the awarding of contracts to family members of politicians in power.

The public cannot be faulted for assuming that such appointments are a conflict of interest.

Rather than spend time and energy putting out fires, the government should avoid lighting the flame in the first place.

We are still not over such entrenched practices which evolved over 60 years of BN rule. It was a culture against which PH had fought hard.

Many PH leaders, led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, had in the past castigated several Umno leaders for indulging in the practice.

But now some hardcore supporters of PH, especially DAP of which Yeoh is a member, are asking, “so what?”

They say Ramachandran is just another businessman making a bid for a government project.

But, as everyone knows, there was no open tender for this project. It was a negotiated contract. This means everything was done behind closed doors.

This is a departure from PH’s previous philosophy. Back when it was in the opposition, transparency in the award of government projects was its clarion call.

Freedom of thought

Another case in point is Malaysia’s 34-spot plummet to 107 in the Press Freedom Index.

While PH had loudly condemned the government even for a drop of a few rungs in the past, it appears unperturbed by this year’s massive drop.

Jaws dropped when communications minister Fahmi Fadzil said it was not so bad compared with previous years.

“Being at number 107 is still an unsatisfactory achievement, but it’s not too bad either. In 2021, we were on the 119th rung while in 2022, we were ranked 113th,” he pointed out.

He even implied that media freedom is not always in line with the country’s “eastern values”.

This is a major turnaround for a man who used to personally arrange for Anwar to be interviewed by the foreign media premised on his view that the local media was completely throttled by the government.

Has Malaysia come a full circle? Are controls that existed when BN was in power now being subtly reintroduced into the administration? Those questions require much discernment.

PH leaders must realise that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done!