Four years of PR in Selangor
Writer: Tricia Yeoh
Published: Fri, 09 Mar 2012
In the private sector, change management refers to a structured approach to the shifting and transitioning of organisations from a current state to a desired future state. In a rapidly changing environment, it is crucial for companies to react quickly and ensure all players within are single-mindedly focused on achieving a common goal.
This concept can be similarly applied to the running of a government. And even more importantly so when it is a new government whose change needs to be wisely managed.
Four years ago, Selangor voters chose to end the reign of the only political coalition they had ever known, thereby electing a new government in its place. The Pakatan Rakyat coalition (Pakatan), as it was later named, was made up of its three component parties: the Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Parti Se-Islam Malaysia (PAS).
Three parties with seemingly disparate views to begin with would now work hand-in-hand in making their new state government work. (Other state governments that were won by Pakatan Rakyat include Penang, Kelantan and Kedah. Perak was wrested away by the Barisan Nasional coalition (Barisan) some time after).
Despite initial challenges, namely learning to work closely with the civil service which had only worked with Barisan, having to face constant political arrows shot from the other side, as well as working out internal differences within and amongst the parties, Pakatan has fared well in Selangor.
Before we explore the many areas that Selangor has initiated policy and programmatic reform, it is an important reminder that the state of Selangor was and is the most hotly contested state in the country.
This is because it is rich in natural and human resources, contributing almost 20 per cent to the national gross domestic product (GDP).
Hence, a greater, and more intense battle is bound to have taken place.
Second, the makeup of the Selangor population is the most representative of that of Malaysia. In terms of ethnic, religious and cultural proportions, Selangor mirrors national statistics.
Likewise, its problems and challenges are reflected therein. In fact, national and state issues are sometimes blended together, with locals confusing one with the other.
At the forefront of Selangor’s approach to managing its new government was to develop an environment of greater democracy, a principle embraced by all component parties, and a clarion call during the election campaign trail.
Having had a previous government that was always shrouded in secrecy, measures of transparency and accountability were priorities.
The legislative assembly formed a Select Committee on Competency, Accountability and Transparency which conducted several high-level proceedings to investigate alleged corrupt practices of the previous government.
One of the more memorable was the uncovering of how Balkis (Wives of Selangor Elected Representatives Association) misused funds it received from the state government.
In line with the transparency approach, the Selangor state government was the first in the country (either at the state or federal level) to enact a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Although this would apply only to state government-linked companies and its subsidiaries, and state bodies, this is a revolutionary move. It certainly sets an example that other states can follow, and more importantly, that the federal government should emulate.
For so long the nation has faced the Official Secrets Act, and changing the culture to ensure greater data transparency will ultimately help citizens claim their rights.
The Selangor exco has also steadily released information on past deals that were shady, releasing previously classified documents with the intention of ensuring the public was getting access to unfair deals.
Selangor has also been in negotiation with the federal government to restore local council elections, an effort which unfortunately has hit a dead end following negative response from the Elections Commission.
Nevertheless, the state has had constant interaction with the Coalition for Good Governance (CGG, a coalition of non-governmental organisations working on various governance issues in Selangor) in order to work out a roadmap toward a potential pilot local election.
Despite this hiccup, the state proceeded to carry out local village elections in three Chinese new villages, and is also the first state to conduct mosque committee elections state-wide.
Of course, managing government at state and local levels has not necessarily been smooth-sailing given that federal government powers are so strong.
The country’s centralisation of power has been one of the banes of any opposition state government.
Almost all major policies are decided in Putrajaya, leaving states to handle natural resources, roads, drains, local councils, Islam and a smattering of other affairs. Even something as localised as water services is a shared duty (in the concurrent list of the Federal Constitution), which accounts for the long-drawn water battles still gone unresolved today.
Servicing the Public
As mentioned above, the water saga in Selangor was quite a tell-tale story of previous government errors, where either the past government was unable to work out a fair deal for itself – and therefore, its people – or it intentionally did so.
In either case, the water services industry was left in shambles, needing severe cleaning up by the new Pakatan government. Long story short, the private concession company Syabas was (and is) in debt, but has not been willing to sell its company because it considers the Selangor offer too low.
The Selangor government, in wanting to reverse this process of privatisation by returning the rights of water back to a state-run entity, is trying to stop cronies from profiteering at the taxpayers’ expense.
Privatisation can succeed but not the way it was done in the Selangor water industry, where certain concessions were granted without the necessary expertise nor experience required to run the business concerned.
Running a state involves all kinds of local issues, where at times the mundane tasks of daily administration may not be exciting – but this is where the proof is in the pudding.
How well states run their solid waste management, housing, sanitation and environment speaks volumes for their governments.
Here, Selangor has made tremendous efforts in resolving housing projects previously abandoned by former developers facing financial difficulty.
Managing a multi-religious society is no easy task. Although numerous issues cropped up over the past four years (recall incidents of the Hindu temple relocation, church burning, sale of alcohol), at times testing the state government’s ability to handle matters, the issues were eventually managed without a break in power ranks.
Managing the Economy
Economic policy is managed by the federal government in almost all respects, governed by the Economic Planning Unit with other major decisions made at the highest of levels.
Selangor as a state, however, is a jewel in the nation’s crown, and it has been said many times that Selangor ought to be supported. Without adequate support or co-operation, it would be as if one is cutting off one’s nose to spite the face.
Thus, because of the inability to make very many key policy changes, the state governments are at time relegated to disbursing funds where deemed appropriate.
In this case, it is an evaluation of the best “bang for your buck” – is your ringgit being invested or given out to those worthy of it?
Here, an increased allocation was given to those previously with relatively little: Tamil and Chinese vernacular schools, sekolah agama rakyat, increased allowanced for kafa religious teachers, and CCTV cameras for safety in the streets.
The Pakatan government’s economic philosophy is not given a particular label but the most appropriate might be a social democratic one, in which business is thoroughly encouraged to promote fair and rigorous competition.
However, this does not mean the weaker and lower-income groups are abandoned – on the contrary, they are assisted through financial aid and more importantly through training and empowerment programmes like those offered by the state government.
Selangor’s “MES: Merakyatkan Ekonomi Selangor”, or the People’s Economy (loosely translated), a slew of nine and growing packages to assist the underprivileged communities have creative ideas, one of which involves investing RM100 into a fund for every child born in the state, after 18 years of which he can claim a larger amount.
In the conventions jointly attended by the four Pakatan states, the leaders have often made it clear that they intend to work closely together in formulating common policies and programmes.
Managing the largest and most lucrative state may seem a walk in the park. No matter what you do, investors and businessmen will surely set up shop in Selangor. Even the Kuala Lumpur International Airport is deceptively named since it is located within Selangor.
On the other hand, those involved would know for sure the tough challenges that lay in their paths of managing the state government.
Selangor has had to contend with the federal government and opposition political parties’ antics and continuous arrows, baggage from the previous government, a civil service where the bulk still reports to Putrajaya, as well as internal conflict that unfortunately is washed as dirty linen in public.
Given this context, it is for all intents and purposes a miracle that Pakatan has achieved this amount for its time in government. Of course, complaints are ever aplenty. Some claim business is slower than before, since previously bribes could be paid to speed things along, whereas this seems impossible now.
Although a faster and more efficient administration is always preferred, Malaysians have to also choose between transparency and corruption, the former of which may slow things down slightly to ensure due process is given.
As Selangor citizens sit back to reflect on the successes and failures of the Pakatan government, perhaps it will be a useful exercise to imagine what things would be like under a Barisan government all over again.
Finally, one crucial point to note is that under Pakatan, the process of getting things done has been a lot more people-oriented. Consider for example the many public hearings organised by the state government during controversial and heated cases such as the Subang Ria incident, the temple relocation affair, Bukit Botak, and most recently University Malaya Medical Centre’s health metropolis in Petaling Jaya.
Obtaining feedback from residents in the geographical area concerned is considered imperative to the state government.
Where previously one would have had minimal interaction with their councils or state government, today the state government has set a standard practice to follow.
It has also compelled Tenaga Nasional and Prasarana to conduct similar public hearings for federal government projects, an example that surely benefits only the community in the short and long run.
After four years of governing Selangor, it is clear the state has had both achievements to be proud of and challenges that caused minor bumps along the way.
However, it has also accomplished a whole lot, given the heightened political context and circumstances.
Note: Tricia Yeoh’s book “States of Reform: Governing Selangor and Penang” will be published and launched in May.