Agenda Daily


In a bid to leave behind a legacy, the Prime Minister is pushing through several reforms and working to promote racial harmony before he steps down in March. Meanwhile, his anointed successor is already attracting some controversy pertaining to the privatisationof the National Heart Institute. Do Malaysians have more to worry about in the future?


IN A BELATED MOVE TO PUSH THROUGH HIS long overdue reform promises, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi presented a series of Bills to the Dewan Rakyat starting early December.

Among them were the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC),the Witness Protection Bill and the Judges’ Ethics Committee Bill.

When the Lower House ended the year’s session on Dec 19, two of the Bills – the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) Bill – were adopted.

The debate on the Witness Protection Bill and the Judges’ Ethics Committee Bill, which had been tabled for the first reading, has been deferred to next year when the new session begins.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Parliamentary affairs Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz was quoted as saying that the Special Complaints Commission (SCC) Bill is expected to be tabled next year.

The SCC is the product of the Abdullah administration’s wavering stand on the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) recommended by the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police.

The commission, which was established in the runup to the 2004 general election, was supposed to have signaled the beginning of Abdullah’s ambitious reformation movement.

The IPCMC was one of the key proposals among the Commission’s 125 recommendations. The Commission also recommended the amendment of the Internal Security Act (ISA) to make it more transparent.

Abdullah initially welcomed the IPCMC proposal but withheld his support when it was openly objected to by the various associations representing the rank and file of the Police.

When Opposition Members of Parliament, led by the Seputeh Democratic Action Party representative, Teresa Kok, in 2005 produced a videotape allegedly showing a female Chinese national being stripped by

the Petaling Jaya police, Abdullah once again told the Press that he would proceed with the formation of the IPCMC.

Abdullah also dispatched the-then Home Minister, Datuk Azmi Khalid, to Beijing to apologise to the Chinese Government. It later turned out that the victim was not a Chinese national but a pregnant

Malay woman identified as Hemy Hamisa Abu Hassan Saari. She has since filed a suit against the Police and the government.

Two years ago, the government presented a Bill purportedly based on the IPCMC recommendation but was withdrawn when it was opposed by Opposition MPs, and several members of the Commission openly disassociated themselves from it.

The adoption of the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Judicial Appointments Commission is a moral victory that Abdullah sorely needed.

By presenting the Bills, Abdullah has successfully put the Pakatan Rakyat’s lawmakers in a tight corner.

Although they were not totally happy with the Bills,they were forced to support them because the reformation of the ACA and the judiciary was their agenda too.

Working for harmony

At about the same time, Abdullah announced that he would spend the remainder of his tenure patching up the differences among the various races.

Any effort to calm the nerves and tone down the debate on ethnically contentious issues deserves the support of all peace-loving Malaysians.

But three months may prove to be too short a time for the Prime Minister to make his effort a success.

But there is no harm in trying and Abdullah owes this to the people.

The mushrooming of racially-biased and ethnically motivated debates and protest movements took place in the months running up to the March 8, 2008 general election when the Barisan Nasional (BN)

government was perceived to be weak and Abdullah was seen as having failed to make good his reform promises.

The demonstration in Kuala Lumpur by the now outlawed Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) in late 2007 and more recently, the threat by the United Chinese School Teachers’ Association to hold a ‘mammoth demo’ should the government decide to continue teaching Mathematics and Science in English has rekindled racial and ethnic issues.

Abdullah’s plan to spend time patching up racial differences reminds me of the time when I was with National News Agency Bernama and followed the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra up and down the length and breath of the country to report on his muhibah campaign.

Traumatised by the May 13, 1969 racial riots, Tunku, who had once famously described himself as the happiest Prime Minister in the world, made the promotion of goodwill his final crusade in the last few months of his rule.

It can be noted that Tunku had by and large lost all power in the aftermath of the riots. Parliament was suspended and the country was run by his deputy, the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, via the National Operations Council (NOC).

In not so many words, Tunku, in his book May 13 Before and After, acknowledged that his tolerance for criticism and his decision to allow a campaign period lasting almost three months had been abused and contributed towards the outbreak of the riots.

Abdullah too has been touted by the media as open-minded and tolerant. Like Tunku, he lost the two-thirds Parliamentary majority. But unlike the aftermath of the 1969 general election, Malaysia remains generally peaceful after the 2008 general election.

Short-term gains…

IT would seem that neither Abdullah nor his anointed successor, Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak, have learnt anything from the 2007 hugely controversial merger of three Permodalan Nasional Bhd plantation companies under the Sime Darby banner.

The merger, which was touted as a huge success, including creating the world’s largest oil palm plantation company, has since suffered a number of setbacks as palm oil prices plummet.

Its share price has taken a beating, falling from thehigh of RM13.40 on Jan 14, 2008 to RM5.50 on Dec 18 as palm oil prices plummeted from their peak ofRM4,486 a tonne in March to RM1,510 in December as global demand falls.

The once diversified company now depends on plantations for as much as 70% of its earnings.

In the latest episode, Abdullah and Mohd Najib have had a hard time trying to defend the proposal to privatise the Treasury-owned National Heart Institute (IJN) to Sime Darby Bhd.

Initially, both men defended the proposal, saying it would be approved if IJN’s new owner could guarantee that poor patients would continue to enjoy low fees.

But after a public outcry and negative response from the institute’s doctors, the Cabinet, on Dec 19, postponed the decision on the takeover.

Many observers thought the decision was alsoinfluenced by the upcoming Kuala Terengganu

Parliamentary by-election where the BN is fighting to retain its narrowly won seat.

As I stated in my blog on Dec 19, the suddenness with which the news of the privatisation proposal appeared in the media suggests that a conspiracy of sorts is at work.

We have heard this line of argument used by theGovernment to justify selling public assets to enrich selected individuals and companies before in the past.

We have also seen how the original Pantai Hospital was allowed to list on Bursa Malaysia on the condition that it continued to provide emergency treatment to all and provide assistance to poor patients.

Did it happen? It’s a million-ringgit question. Instead, we heard of the hospital being awarded the franchise to manage the nationwide health screening of foreign workers and provide hospital services to government hospitals.

The company itself had been bought and sold several times to generate massive capital gains for its controlling shareholders — the last to Singaporebased Parkway Holdings.

Upon realising that he had allowed the company tofall into foreign hands, Abdullah, who was then Finance Minister, hastily ordered Khazanah Nasional Bhd to buy it back at hefty premiums.

That Sime Darby is a government-linked company is neither a guarantee nor a comfort that the poor will continue to be charged low fees.

Sime Darby already owns and operates the SubangJaya Medical Centre. How many poor people are beingtreated there at low fees?

Why the need to sell IJN?

WHY the sudden need to consider selling IJN?

We have not heard of the institute suffering any kind of financial problems.

Yes, we know the institute is suffering a bit because its world-class specialists and supporting staff are being poached by private hospitals.

But making it another private hospital will not solve the core problem of growing staff shortage, which in the first place is caused in part by the proliferation of private hospitals.

If the government makes the habit of selling premium public assets like IJN to the private sector for short-term gains and narrow political consideration, the ordinary rakyat will never get to enjoy world-class services.

They will forever be condemned to poorly equipped and staffed government hospitals, which are being deprived of specialists and good doctors on a daily basis by the profit-motivated private sector.

Instead, the government should impose levies on private hospitals and their rich local and foreign patients and use that revenue to train more doctors and build more well-equipped public hospitals

Mohd Najib, the son of the man who was at the forefront of the democratisation of health services with his Rural Health Project should start being more truthful to himself and to the great legacy of his father.

He should think more seriously about the welfareof the masses like his late father did instead of pushing the country towards exclusivity for the sake of profits and short-term gains. He can start by keeping IJN a public hospital.

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