Pakatan says reforms not castles in the air

By Yow Hong Chieh and Shazwan Mustafa Kamal

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 10 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders denied today that their 100-day reforms pledge was “too good to be true”, and said it would be funded by cutting back on what it claimed was the wastage and corruption associated with Barisan Nasional (BN).

DAP national advisor Lim Kit Siang said keeping a lid on needless government expenditure was “one of the major things” PR could do to pay for the promised reforms should the PR seize federal power.

“Put a stop to all the waste and corruption. We’ll release funds for a lot of things we are proposing,” he told The Malaysian Insider today, adding that poor governance was bleeding the country of billions of ringgit.

Transparency International’s (TI) Global Corruption Report 2009 released in June last year estimated that corruption costs Malaysia some RM10 billion every year.

The Auditor-General’s Report, also released last year, similarly said that the government lost a whopping RM28 billion to leakages, mainly due to the practice of direct negotiation.

PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli said PR could carry out reforms even without depending on the billions that would be saved through better governance simply by removing gas and toll subsidies.

“There’s more than enough to fund everything,” he said. National oil company Petronas spends RM19 billion each year subsiding independent power producers (IPPs) and Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) with gas sold at prices fixed below the market rate, he pointed out.

Rafizi said that if this subsidy — which he called “the biggest subsidy there is” — could be diverted, PR could easily afford to give subsidies to the underprivileged. He also said the current cost of fuel subsidies could be reduced from RM11 billion to RM4 billion if they were targeted at the needy and not applied in blanket fashion to big business as well.

Rafizi added that another RM4 billion could be saved by eliminating compensation to toll operators by getting Khazanah Nasional Bhd and the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) — which already own significant stake in the concessionaires — to take over highway assets.

PAS vice president Datuk Mahfuz Omar said Prime Minister Najib Razak’s statement today calling PR’s 100-day reforms financially irresponsible was proof that Umno had failed the people for the past 53 years.

Najib claimed the “Pakatan Agenda” would bankrupt the country in two years. He said that BN could not understand how PR could afford to undertake such reforms because the ruling coalition had always used up state resources for its own needs and not for public good. “It’s all about managing state money. If you can manage it well, there will be enough for everyone, not just for the Umno elite,” he said.

Mahfuz added the fact that opposition states were able to give financial aid to senior citizens and single mothers was proof of PR’s efficient handling of state finances.

“We have given the impossible, by cutting out wastages… In Penang, we have a state government which is not led by a Muslim, but yet is able to set aside money for religious schools, and for single mothers,” he said.

“The resources of the state are meant to be enjoyed by all, and that is what we aim to push for in our reform plans.”

Najib today labelled PR’s widely-publicised 100-day reform plan as “populist” and “irresponsible,” claiming that the opposition had failed to take into consideration the limitations of the country’s finances.

“We cannot take such a populist approach to the point where we sacrifice our country’s future. We cannot afford to do that, it would be irresponsible to the point where our children and our grandchildren will pay the price and suffer,” he had said.

“As a matter of fact, we do not even have to wait for our children or grandchildren, according to our calculations, if these promises are implemented without taking into account the country’s finances, it would just take two years.” PR’s policy framework, titled the “Pakatan Agenda”, is seen as an answer and solution to questions surrounding the opposition’s administrative plans in comparison to BN.

Speculation is rife that a general election will be held as early as this year although BN’s mandate does not expire until May 2013.

Among the instant reforms promised by the PR coalition, within the first 100 days of taking over Putrajaya, is acknowledging the role and sacrifices of civil servants by studying the current pay schemes and increasing the incentives for teachers by RM500 a month.

PR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has claimed that a PR federal government could afford to pay for a proposed allowance for teachers — projected to be RM3.2 billion annually — by eliminating the “wastages” of the BN administration.

Other “instant” reforms include the repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA) as well as offering free wireless Internet access to those in urban and semi-urban areas.

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