THEMED “With BN for a Greater Malaysia”, the Barisan Nasional manifesto launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is, without a doubt, one of the best manifesto which BN has ever unveiled. It is indeed, realistic, holistic, inclusive and forward-looking.
It is crafted to reflect a pro-rakyat, pro-growth, pro-business and pro-environment government. More importantly, the focus is on nation building.
With 364 initiatives clustered under 14 thrusts, the manifesto seeks to turn Malaysia into a high-income, developed nation where no one will be left behind.
BN’s manifesto will complement other government documents, such as the National Transformation Programme, the 11th Malaysia Plan, the National Transformation Plan 2050 (TN50), and previous and future annual national budgets, which will bring greater and more comprehensive transformation for Malaysia, not just in the next five years, but for decades to come.
It is difficult to find shortcomings in this manifesto. Every challenge the country and the rakyat face, whether in the short or long term, has been addressed.
It is a well-thought-out and well-planned document with a clear vision of where the country should be headed.
Consider the issue of the spike in the cost of living. This is clearly a structural problem which needs long-term solutions, such as improving market mechanisms, increasing the number of affordable housing, transforming the agricultural sector, reducing the dependency on low-skilled foreign workers, reforming the education system, and increasing the productivity level of the labour force. All of this is covered by the manifesto in some detail.
Not forgotten also are what I call the “quick and now” solutions, such as a higher payout of 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M). On top of that, the raising of the minimum wage in phases to RM1,500 from RM1,000 is another crucial step in boosting further purchasing power.
In the medium term, the promise to minimise the involvement of middlemen in the agriculture and fishery industries is a laudable move as it will help reduce the prices of vegetables and fish. And, no doubt, once this is done, incomes of farmers and fishermen will increase too.
The proposal to establish a Fair Works Commission is another commendable measure in the manifesto. This will ensure equitable salaries for those in the private sector. It is hoped the commission will see to it that there is no discrimination in salary levels, be it in terms of gender, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.
More importantly, salaries must be able to at least compensate for the overall rise in general prices so that people will have at least a comfortable living wage and lead a productive life.
The BN manifesto is also a realistic document. Take the case of BRIM payments. It is clear that the government does not want the recipients to be dependent on this scheme forever.
The plan is for the BRIM recipients to move up from the bottom 40 (B40) to the middle 40 (M40), and from M40 to the top 20 (T20) household income groups.
Hence, the proposal that this scheme needs to be restructured in the manifesto by making the disbursement conditional on their behaviour, such as involvement in skills training and ensuring that their children receive immunisation, is admirable. And, with BR1M payment now doubled, this money can be properly used to improve their children’s nutrition, healthcare, education, and the skilling and re-skilling of the beneficiaries so that eventually, the social returns to BR1M can be optimised.
Another initiative that needs to be highlighted is the government’s move to provide affordable housing for everyone.
The move to introduce a single federal authority to be in charge all affordable projects housing is indeed a step in the right direction.
One has to admit that the root cause of unaffordability is the mismatch between supply and demand for affordable houses in the market. With better coordination and collaboration from interested and relevant parties, supply-demand imbalances can be significantly reduced.
In addition to this, the incentives given to encourage the use of the Industrial Building System (IBS) technology is commendable. With IBS, more large-scale, low-cost houses can be constructed in the near future.
With more than 60 years of experience in running the country and with the track record to prove it, BN is all set to make Malaysia great again.
Dr Irwan Shah Zainal Abidin is director of the Asian Research Institute of Banking and Finance, Universiti Utara Malaysia, and visiting research fellow in Islamic Finance at OCIS, Oxford University