Shafie Apdal neither the PM we deserve nor need

SABAH Chief Minister Shafie Apdal is the opposition’s prime minister designate. He must be over the moon right now because finally someone had the pluck to nominate a politician from East Malaysia.

He is, of course, Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) pick. His deputies will be PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim and Mahathir’s son Mukhriz. At this stage, it just stinks to be Anwar, but we’ll save that for another day and time.

Ditto discussions about Mukhriz whose charisma can’t even move a pebble and who has yet to come out of father’s shadows.

Mahathir has denied that he propped up his son for the deputy prime minister post. Sure, that may be true. But in Malaysia things work for influential people without them needing to ask directly.

Now, an East Malaysia prime minister is refreshing. Thumbs up for diversity. But if Mahathir and PH really cared about diversity, then Shafie would be last on the list for obvious reasons.

Ever since Shafie took over the Sabah chief minister post, the state has been lagging reform-wise. For example, he is still the state’s finance minister despite a source close to him saying in 2018 that this temporary double-hatting was meant to stabilise the state government.

Clearly this means the man has yet to shed his Umno ways.

He has an uninspiring track record, too. Shafie was investigated in 2017 over allegedly abusing RM1.5 bil meant for rural development projects. He purportedly siphoned the money when he was rural and regional development minister between 2009 and 2015.

Back then he was remanded for eight days and released on bail on Oct 27, 2017. But he was cleared of the charges on Aug 28, 2018, after PH won the general election in May the same year.

And his tenure as rural and regional development minister deserves more scrutiny. The second series of the 2013 Auditor-General’s Report, for instance, flagged a number of rural water supply projects in Sarawak.

Initially, a total of RM2.4 bil was allocated for 314 of such projects but only 115 or 36.6% were completed at a cost of RM1.43 bil.

Of the 314 projects, 69 required the construction of water treatment plants and connection of major water pipes worth RM1.71 bil.

The A-G only audited 13 of the 69 projects, but it found several weaknesses including preliminary studies that were not comprehensive enough, the quality of the construction work was not satisfactory with visible leaks on the water tanks, and four out of the 13 failed to be completed after being given a few extensions and only two were completed ahead of time.

Also, the audited projects cost less than the amount allocated with RM388.03 mil spent instead of the projected RM463.4 mil.

People close to him have also been charged by the MACC. One of his generals, Peter Anthony, has been charged with multiple rounds of corruption and abuse of power.

Among others, money laundering involving RM8.75 mil between 2014 and 2016 and embezzlement of more than RM15.5 mil involving land deals linked to the Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (Risda) between 2014 and 2015.

Anthony, who is the state’s infrastructure development minister and Melalap assemblyman, pleaded not guilty to all charges.

If anything we’ve learned from the past is that political expediency is costly. PH co-opted Mahathir and friends who supposedly led to the victory of the coalition during GE14 but also gave birth to the “Sheraton coup” and the collapse of the government that Malaysians voted for.

In its wake, Muhyiddin Yassin is now prime minister and his Perikatan Nasional coalition is the government of the day. And they are moving at warp speed, placing loyalists on government-linked corporations, delaying Parliament, threatening the free press and doing all the things that irk many as if they are in a hurry to do whatever it is best known to them.

Sadly PH never moved as frenetic or concerted as Muhyiddin and his team. But such is the “scheme of things” that really calls to question whether we would see a change in government in the short-term given how PH or whatever the country has for an opposition is in shambles.

So what does Malaysia need for an alternative? We need politicians with lesser baggage than the lot who are leading PH right now. That’s a start. But we also need more women and more millennials to step up – such as Nurul Izzah Anwar. PH is not short of them.

Some would say that this is not a wise political strategy, citing surveys and findings cooked up from every nook and cranny. But the young ones in PH can afford a 10-year struggle.

The old ones cannot. But this isn’t about the old guard and should no longer be. Malaysia has to move on beyond Mahathir, Anwar, Lim Guan Eng and their ilk.

And this is a reflection of what is happening the world over, where women and millennials are taking charge of government. If we aspire to be a “developed nation” it’s high time we act like one, aside from being obsessed with income per capita or GDP growth.

What about the East Malaysian? Sure, but let’s not have a token East Malaysian. Shafie is in Mahathir’s orbit and therefore comes off as a puppet.

The East Malaysian hopeful too has to be someone different but also someone who can navigate the intricacies of the royal houses in the peninsula – an ever-present political pressure point.

More importantly, with the younger ones running the government, we can also finally have stronger institutions. Remember that Shafie’s corruption charges were dropped by MACC when PH took over the government.

That is something that should not be repeated. Because that means we have never truly improved from the past and a successive government like Muhyiddin’s can use that advantage to its fullest – cue Musa Aman and Riza Aziz.

So Shafie is neither the prime minister we need nor deserve

By Emmanuel Samarathisa – FOCUS MALAYSIA

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