By P Ramakrishnan
Let’s set aside political rhetoric and rigmarole and become sensible and serious. We cannot – and should not – play politics at the expense of our national well-being to score meaningless political points. What should be uppermost are the nation and its people.
The Pakatan Opposition Leader, Datuk Seri Ibrahim Anwar, has come out with his 100-day plan to transform Malaysia’s economy for the greater benefit of Malaysians. His transformation plan for the country, according to him, will cost the national budget RM19 billion.
Our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak, has pooh-poohed this plan. His caustic dismissal of Anwar’s plan won him a round of applause from the party faithful. They laughed and felt good that Anwar was being bashed.
Najib, in evaluating Anwar’s plan, questioned where the fund was coming from for this grandiose transformation and contended that if this plan were to be implemented it would bankrupt the country in two years and reduce it to the pathetic status of Greece.
On the other hand, Anwar had countered Najib by claiming that RM28 billion can be recouped from corruption and leakages the country suffers as a result of poor management as estimated by the Auditor-General in his report. By waging a relentless war against corruption, the government can recoup this colossal amount and use it for the benefit of the many instead of allowing a few connected cronies to reap profit through graft.
Anwar talked about saving RM19 billion from the subsidies given to the Independent Power Producers and another RM4 billion by overhauling the toll concession system. We are not sure how successful Pakatan would be in these two areas considering the legal implications involved.
However, recouping the money lost as a result of corruption and poor management is a real possibility. The Pakatan-led Penang government has shown that prudent and stringent management of public coffers can indeed save millions of ringgit for the benefit of the people. Not only has the Penang state government provided various benefits for the people, it has also accumulated more reserves – a fantastic achievements within three years.
Anwar has stated that he is prepared to defend his transformation plan and has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging Najib to a national debate. This is a golden opportunity for Najib to expose what he claims as Anwar’s irresponsible and irrational plan that is not achievable. If Anwar is fishing for votes with plans that are attractive to the voters but which will spell doom for Malaysia, Najib has a responsibility and duty to expose this hog-wash which is presented as a national plan.
We are not interested in the views of BN politicians, one or two economists and academics who tend to parrot the Prime Minister and deprecate Anwar’s plan because they are people who are expected to flatter the Prime Minister. Their role is as expected, to toe the official line.
We are not interested in Umno Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin or Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz picking up the gauntlet to debate Anwar. They don’t measure up to the Prime Minister’s status or stature to stand in for him and therefore do not qualify to debate Anwar. Anwar did not challenge them to a debate; he challenged Najib. It is as simple as that.
Anwar is the Leader of the Opposition; Najib is the Leader of the BN. Anwar is the Prime Minister-in–waiting; Najib is the serving Prime Minister. Both are top leaders of their respective parties. They are equally matched to take on each another.
Apart from that, the issue involved is a matter of grave importance to the nation. The economy is the cornerstone of our survival; it is what will ensure our success and well-being. That is why a national televised debate is all the more crucial for the people to make an informed decision.
This matter concerns not only the party faithful of both parties but also all citizens. They have a right to this debate. They want to know where the economy is heading to; they want to know what is in store for them and for the country.
Let the debate take place and let us set a precedent for debating all issues concerning the nation. Let this be the trend for the future.
It is a real pity that Najib has turned down Anwar’s challenge to debate their economic policies. Najib’s decision has not taken anyone by surprise but Malaysians are disappointed that Najib has failed to justify his criticism of Pakatan’s plan through a national, televised, public debate. He could have nailed Anwar and projected the BN’s economic policies as superior and deserving the people’s support. He failed himself and let down the BN government terribly.
Najib’s justification “that voters did not need such an exercise to decide if they wanted Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat in Putrajaya” does not hold water. If a referendum was taken to ascertain whether such a debate was necessary, without a doubt a vast majority of voters would welcome it.
Najib does not make sense in stating, “If we want to debate, there must be an outcome from the debate. I do not see one and what is important is public opinion.”
Indeed, if there was a debate there will be an outcome. Malaysians will be able to judge whose economic policy is superior and who deserves their support. Malaysians are clamouring for this debate.
We should consciously cultivate the culture of public debate rather than having a mindless mob at our doorsteps or turning up at the police station to make innumerable reports that amount to nothing.
P Ramakrishnan is president of Aliran