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Confidence tricks in Sabah politics

Former Chief Minister Harris Salleh's latest comments
are indicative of how disengaged Sabah leaders, both
past and present, are from the man on the street.
KOTA KINABALU: Ask almost anyone in Sabah, especially those in the Chinese business community, and they’ll tell you the state’s economy is in a bad way and will be so for the foreseeable future.
Sabah’s prized assets are in greedy hands. Its golden crop – oil palm – is losing its lustre in the commodities market, its tourism lure is messy, the prices of goods and services have gone up, property prices have sky-rocketed and where jobs are available wages are low and the infrastructure remains creaky and basic.
With all this pointing to deepening economic woes, you’d think that the state’s politicians who have rarely been so unpopular would be cautious about throwing stones at glass houses that they are living in. But no, its still business as usual.
The constant government boot-polishing goes on as though these things don’t matter.
Have the state’s leaders become disengaged from the people? Are they out of touch with what the man in the street thinks?
Former chief minister Harris Salleh, who never misses an opportunity to give advice though he was unceremoniously booted out of government more than 27 years ago, gave some insight into the state politicians’ thinking this week by heaping praise on what most would view as failure and incompetence.
Speaking as though he was giving the state a Christmas present, Harris predicted more of the same from the Barisan Nasional and Chief Minister Musa Aman for Sabah after the looming 13th general election. He said BN will win in Sabah without breaking a sweat.
The prediction came with the usual boot polishing and though couched in the language of the confident, sounded like a plea when he said there was a possibility that the BN might lose a few seats, especially in the urban areas where people were more in touch with what was going on.
An indication that the former chief minister is aware that the ruling coalition is facing a tough time.
Explaining what it has done with the years it has been given to develop the state, Harris said: “… changing from Barisan Nasional is just like the English saying jumping from the frying pan into the fire” and the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat was without “real leaders”.
As though reciting a mantra, he added: “Sabah under Musa has done very well. It is a well managed state. This was confirmed by the Auditor-General’s report that Sabah has the best accounting system in Malaysia. Musa has also jump-started the Sabah economy from the top to the bottom. This is almost completed.”
But the former chief minister also said that further pain was necessary for all Malaysians for this “top to bottom” economic revamp being put in place heroicly by the current chief minister with a little help from a BN government in Putrajaya.
“After this election Musa will jump-start the economy from the bottom if the federal government adopts the policy to abolish all subsidies, education and medical fees and in return pay a cash allowance of RM300 to every person.
“This will immediately trigger the development of abandoned rural lands. It will also create hundreds of thousand jobs for Sabahans,” he was quoted as saying.
That distribution of cash, which has always been one of the former chief minister’s monetary policies since his days helping Berjaya, has always led to head-scratching among the more economically prudent and will again bemuse most.
Observers noted that Harris who has given candid advice about state and national governance has not dared to point out that Musa has done nothing out of the ordinary and can instead be blamed for allowing poverty to flourish during his tenure.
The man who signed over Sabah’s oil and gas rights in return for 5% royalty and controversially ceded the island of Labuan, which used to be part of Sabah, to the federal government, making it the second Federal Territory in the country, sees the writing on the wall for the BN and is hoping he can help starve-off defeat and perhaps protect his legacy.
Sounding as though he was pleading to Sabahans he said: “With another five years there is ample time for Najib to reform both the government and Umno.
“With the plan to reform, it will give time to Najib to jump-start the economy from the bottom. This means that everybody – the rural people will be given opportunities to improve and sustain their economy forever.”
Harris talked of “well-planned” programmes for the cultivation of both cash and permanent crops that have to be introduced in the rural areas to jump-start the economy from kampong-level and raising to the top.

‘Halt all subsidies’

This, by itself, he said, would create employment for the locals apart from reducing import of agricultural produce and creating cash-flow in the small townships or districts.
All this, however, borders on an insult to many who have made the best they can with poorly planned and delayed infrastructure development in the state, including in healthcare and educational services.
The most controversial of the former chief minister’s suggestions was that the government halt all subsidies as, he said, these were creating an artificial sense that the living standard and cost of living in Malaysia is cheap.
“Another reason is that the subsidy does not benefit everyone. It should be abolished completely. Also needing to be abolished is the education and medical fees and, in return, the government will have to pay a monthly cash of RM300 per month to everybody for 12 months only.
“The payment of RM2 billion a month is cheaper than the subsidy and easier to administer as well as not prone to abuse. It will also create awareness among the rural people to be self-sufficient in at least agricultural products and cultivate their empty land.
“By abolishing the subsidies and replacing it with the payment of RM300, it will have great impact on Malaysia’s economy as well as creating (sic) millions of self-employment,” he said.
He reminded Sabahans that when they voted for PBS in 1985 which governed till 1993, Sabah was near shambles, the people lost their 15 acres of agricultural land given them by the government, they lost Yayasan Sabah shares that were given by the Usno government, Sabah lost 90% of its open spaces, children playground in the towns, many government properties were sold off cheaply.
“This resulted in Sabah being the poorest country in Malaysia, whereas in 1980s Sabah was the second richest country in Malaysia behind Selangor.”
The former chief minister, by banging an old war drum, is admitting that the disapproval rating of the BN government in the state is high.
But if Sabah’s past is an indication and its politicians who are promising everything now short of the moon refuse to fulfill their side of the bargain, the coming election will be a case of déjà vu and voters might just as well stay at home.

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