After 7 months — Pakatan Harapan govt seeks to walk the talk

It’s just over half a year since Pakatan Harapan came into power, and nowthe question lingers as to how is the govt doing in keeping its promises?

By SHAZNI ONG / Pic By TMR File

AS THE saying goes — “promises are like babies: Easy to make, hard to deliver”.

Pakatan Harapan did make a lot of promises before it trumped its rivals in the 14th General Election on May 9 last year.

After about seven months, many are beginning to question if the coalition is on track.

After all, the manifesto could easily be among Pakatan Harapan’s winning points that also saw its chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad creating history when he was sworn in as the country’s seventh prime minister (PM) on May 10, years after he left the political scene.

Dr Mahathir and Pakatan Harapan defied the odds with vows to make sweeping changes by ending Barisan Nasional’s (BN) 61-year rule.

“This book contains so many promises that we will fulfil once we get to Putrajaya,” said Dr Mahathir at the launch of Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto in March, barely two months prior to the polling day.

Pakatan Harapan unveiled 60 promises in its manifesto including 10 that the coalition expected to fulfil in the first 100 days after taking over Putrajaya from BN.

Nevertheless, it has been just over half a year since Pakatan Harapan came into power. Now, the question lingers as to how is the new government doing in keeping its promises?

The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) takes a look and revisits some of the promises.

Abolish GST, Reduce Cost of Living
Goodbye GST, hello SST. The abolishment of the unpopular Goods and Services Tax (GST), which was introduced by the previous administration, saw the tax being replaced with the Sales and Services Tax (SST).

The government reintroduced the SST on Sept 1 last year, after a three month tax holiday period to ease the transition process for businesses from the former to the latter.

As expected, local consumers had cheered the move to abolish the GST, which was believed to be among the reasons for the higher prices of goods and services since its implementation in 2015.

While certain quarters have called it as a populist move, the government insisted that it was what the rakyat wanted.

According to Council of Eminent Persons chairman Tun Daim Zainuddin, the reintroduction of the SST would generate RM30 billion in revenue for the government.

In 2017, the BN government projected that its GST collection for last year to touch RM43.8 billion.

Although this would lead to the current government earning less revenue from the tax collection, it remains committed to addressing the matter as well as taking measures to reduce the cost of living, especially those in the bottom 40% (B40) income bracket.

Among the steps being taken is the cash grant programme to the group, known as Bantuan Sara Hidup, which would benefit about 4.1 million recipients.

In a Bernama report last month, Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Amiruddin Hamzah said a study by the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs revealed that the prices of 291 items from six categories have gone down since the return of the SST.

The categories include fresh goods; dry goods; packaged goods — cans, packs and bottles; beverages; food and baby items; and hygiene items.

Amiruddin also said the government collected RM4.5 billion in SST from Sept 1 to Dec 17 last year.

Stabilise Fuel Prices, Introduce Targeted Petrol Subsidies
The previous administration abolished petrol subsidies in 2014. Many quarters have since argued that this has led to a sudden hike in petrol prices and angered the consumers, especially those in the B40 and lower M40 groups.

Many believe that the increase in petrol prices have caused higher transportation cost for goods, which in turn affecting the cost of living and impacting the groups.

According to the manifesto, the Pakatan government will provide targeted petrol subsidies at an appropriate rate every month to those who qualify. This will be targeted to those who use motorcycles below 125cc and cars below 1300cc.

However, in Budget 2019 which was announced in early November, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said eligible vehicle owners driving cars with engine capacities below 1,500cc can receive the subsidy of up to 100 litres per month, while eligible motorcycles owners below 125cc would be able to enjoy RON95 petrol at a lower subsidised prices for 40 litres per month.

The initiative is expected to benefit around four million car owners and 2.6 million motorcycle owners with an allocation of RM2 billion.

In November, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said the trial run would commence a month before the implementation of the fuel support scheme.

The initiative is expected to be rolled out in stages from the second quarter this year.

Currently, the price of RON95 petrol and diesel have been pegged at RM2.20 and RM2.18 per litre respectively, while the price of the premium RON97 petrol is subject to a float system.

As fuel prices are known to be sensitive and volatile, Saifuddin said adjustments are needed to ensure that the implementation mechanism would benefit those who are eligible.

As such, the government, via the Ministry of Finance (MoF), has issued a request for proposal on Nov 19 for interested parties to study, develop, test and implement the targeted fuel subsidy system.

Last month, TMR reported that the MoF had received more than 50 proposals to develop the petrol subsidy distribution checking and monitoring system.

A source close to the development said the government would need time to review all the proposals after the tender deadline ended on Dec 10, 2018.

The proposals have been submitted by individual companies, consortium and joint-venture partners.

Equalise, Increase Minimum Wage Nationwide
The pledge to equalise the national minimum wage and to increase the minimum wage is arguably one of the most interesting promises set by Pakatan Harapan in its electoral manifesto.

According to the manifesto, the minimum wage will be raised to RM1,500 per month nationwide in the first five year term of the government, with the rate to be reviewed every two years.

However, the parley to increase the minimum wage in the country has long been a talking point for people from all walks of life, especially between employers and employees.

This is in due with the point of setting the suitable minimum amount of wage, which has been disputed between the two parties.

Currently, the minimum wage is set at RM1,000 monthly for Peninsular Malaysia, and RM920 for Sabah and Sarawak.

Last September, the government announced that it would implement a standardised minimum wage across Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak beginning Jan 1 at RM1,050.

Certain quarters such as workers unions, however, have since criticised the government saying that the RM50 hike, especially for Peninsular Malaysia, is meaningless.

When tabling Budget 2019, Lim announced that the minimum wage would be raised to RM1,100 nationwide beginning Jan 1.

Despite the government’s move to implement the new minimum wage, it did not go down well with certain quarters as they view the matter as inconsistent or flip-flopping.

Nevertheless, while the bump was a small one, the government should be lauded for the move as it would help and improve the needs of those from the B40 group.

Many parties are hoping that the government would review the minimum wage again, when it is deemed appropriate, in order to fulfil the expectation of the RM1,500 promise.

Set Up RCI on 1MDB, Felda, Mara and TH
The 13th promise in the manifesto stated that the government will establish Commissions of Inquiry to investigate — separately — the misdeeds in 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) and Lembaga Tabung Haji (TH).

While there has been much progress by the government in investigating 1MDB, it is expected that the setting up of a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) is unlikely to happen soon as it would result in conflict with the ongoing investigations by various enforcement agencies and institutions.

Over the past several months, there have been many expose by the government on the alleged misdeeds and misappropriation by individuals in the previous administration, relating to cases involving Felda, Mara and the most recent one, TH.

Last month, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa revealed that TH had been illegally paying dividends to its depositors since 2014.

Prior to that, the pilgrims fund had lodged police reports against its former top officials over past transactions.

On Dec 14, former Felda chairman Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad was charged at the Kuala Lumpur (KL) Sessions Court with one count of criminal breach of trust and nine counts of corruption, involving more than RM3 million, in connection with a hotel purchase by Felda Investment Corp in Kuching, Sarawak.

Meanwhile, a White Paper on Felda, which was supposed to be tabled in the recent Parliament sitting, has been postponed to the next one due to certain legal issues needed to be resolved first, according to Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali.

In August, the government announced that it would present a White Paper on Felda following a management disorder and high debts.

The White Paper was expected to expose the financial and management conditions of the institution.

However, the ministry was advised by the Attorney General’s Chambers to reconsider the proposed tabling of the White Paper.

It is hoped that the government would adhere to the promise of setting up an RCI soon, as much of the rakyat remains on the lookout for it.

Initiate Comprehensive Review of All Mega Projects Awarded to Foreign Countries
There are several mega projects initiated by Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak during his tenure as PM such as Bandar Malaysia and the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX), the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), and the Mass Rapid Transit Line 3 (MRT3).

While some of these projects are considered to be viable and help boost the country’s economy, the current administration beg to differ.

Pakatan Harapan’s sweeping reforms since coming into office in May ran the full gamut from personnel changes at top government agencies to fiscal policy.

Nowhere have these changes been more evident than in the infrastructure space as the billions worth of projects have been deferred, suspended or cancelled altogether.

This is part of the current administration’s plans to cut back on spending in view of the country’s outstanding debt of over RM1 trillion — a situation expected to take at least three years to resolve.

Three mega projects were axed earlier this year. The ECRL was among the first casualties of the government’s review of mega projects, followed by the RM9.41 billion Mult i-Product Pipel ine and the Trans-Sabah Gas Pipeline.

The RM55 billion rail link was undertaken by China Communications and Construction Co Ltd, while the other two by China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau.

The government has also agreed with Singapore to delay the construction of the KL-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) to May 31, 2020.

While the government has agreed to pump in an additional RM2.8 billion in assisting the completion of TRX, it has been all quiet on the Bandar Malaysia front.

The future is bleak for the multi-billion Bandar Malaysia project as the 197ha site was meant to be the main hub for the eight-station KL-Singapore HSR. Difficulties in securing developers and links to the controversial 1MDB have left the former Sungai Besi air force base idle since it was first mooted in 2011.

The cancellation of the HSR would be perceived as the final nail in the coffin for the mega development.

However, not all mega projects in the country suffered suspension or deferment as several infrastructure developments were given the green light after cost-cutting efforts.

The third line of the light rail transit, for instance, is to proceed after its cost was brought down from RM31.65 billion to RM16.63 billion on reduced capacity. The project is set to serve two million residents from Bandar Utama to Klang by 2020.

Meanwhile, in October last year, the MoF announced that MMC Corp Bhd and Gamuda Bhd would continue the MRT2 (Sungai Buloh-Serdang-Putrajaya) project with a larger cost reduction for the underground works.

This came after the consortium agreed to give a larger cost cut of 21.5% or RM3.6 billion, which is RM1.47 billion more than the reduction of RM2.13 billion it previously offered, following a renegotiation between the consortium and MoF on Oct 22.