Civil society optimistic about Pakatan’s first 100 days, but want more consultation

Boo Su-Lyn
4PAM president Ajit Johl said he wants to see more public transport user representation in government transport bodies.― Picture courtesy of Ajit Johl

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 17 — Civil society groups generally approved of Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) first 100 days in office, but urged the new government to regularly seek their feedback before making policies.

Malaysian Public Transport Users Association (4PAM) president Ajit Johl said he wants to see more public transport user representation in government transport bodies.

“What we’re seeing is policies on land transport etc which is good, but the users’ input is always taken at the very last minute or hardly considered,” Ajit told Malay Mail.

He said 4PAM has asked for a public transport tariff review committee, which should review tariffs for buses, trains or taxis against certain KPIs, and a public transport users’ tribunal to address safety issues, such as when express buses get into accidents.

4PAM also called for the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) to be abolished and for a new commission to regulate the transport industry as a whole — air, land and sea.

Although 4PAM welcomed a review of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project and the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) 3 project over cost, the group opposed the government’s third national car project which it deemed “regressive”.

“We want the government to spend more on public transport,” said Ajit. “People are warming up to idea of public transport.”

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib stressed the need for reform in drug procurement amid a purported monopoly of medicine supplies for public hospitals. — Picture by Ham Abu Bakar

Health

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib said the health sector has generally remained free from political interference, but noted systemic problems like inadequate health care coverage and disparity of costs and availability of drugs between public and private hospitals.

“The government needs to demonstrate firm commitment in tackling double digit medical inflation which is projected to be around 17 per cent this year.

“It needs to make a deliberate move towards improving the level of consultation and inclusion of relevant stakeholders in key policy decisions,” Azrul said.

He also stressed the need for reform in drug procurement amid a purported monopoly of medicine supplies for public hospitals, saying: “the practice of granting decade-long drug procurement concessions must end.”

Citizens’ Health Initiative (CHI) — a group of doctors, public health specialists, and economists among others — opposed the government’s proposal to implement a national health insurance system.

“CHI strongly urges the Health Minister to convene a town hall meeting to engage with all stakeholders on what is arguably the most important policy issue on the national health agenda, with far-reaching consequences for the next several decades.

“In our view, SHI (social health insurance), let alone VHI (voluntary health insurance), is a regressive replacement for a tax-financed healthcare system, a position that is supported by extensive empirical evidence from countries that have made the transition in both directions,” CHI member Dr Chan Chee Khoon told Malay Mail.

He urged the government to double public health spending over the next five years to about 4 per cent of the GDP, compared to the current 2.1 per cent.

Cancer advocacy group Together Against Cancer highlighted a study that found that 45 per cent of cancer patients treated at public hospitals experienced financial catastrophe within 12 months after diagnosis.

Together Against Cancer vice chairman Dr Lim Teck Onn urged the government to explore new ways of making health care affordable, such as by abolishing regulations on the supply of health care goods that is pegged to prior approval in developed countries like the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia.

“Companies should be allowed to freely import from any large countries with a pharmaceutical industry including India, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Taiwan, Korea, China, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina etc, so long as the same healthcare goods are approved by authorities in those countries,” Dr Lim said.

He also suggested breaking the link between public finance and public provision of health care, as most tax-funded treatments are largely channelled through Ministry of Health (MOH) providers.

“All who are eligible for specific tax funded treatments should be able to access them from any qualified providers.”

PAGE chair Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said suggesting ideas like adopting Finland’s education system was superficial if the mechanism was not thought through. ― Picture courtesy of Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim

Education

Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) chair Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim called for Education Minister Maszlee Malik to be given a chance, as education policies had to be sustainable.

She said suggesting ideas like adopting Finland’s education system was superficial if the mechanism was not thought through.

“The whole world wants the Finland system,” Noor Azimah told Malay Mail.

“You need a lot of money. You want teaching assistants and smaller classrooms — that needs a lot of money. By all means, dream and keep dreaming, but until we see the money to move things, nothing is going to happen.”

Noor Azimah proposed getting rid of double-session schools first, as this made it difficult for families with children in both sessions.

She also urged the government to quickly assess and approve schools applying for the dual language programme (DLP) for next year, noting a delay last year and lack of clarity about which schools had been approved for 2018.

“At this point in time, mid-year, there should be another batch of schools applying for DLP starting first of January,” said Noor Azimah.

Dong Zong chairman Tan Tai Kim said Maszlee should not be viewed as a politician because the latter was well-informed in education and has proposed several reforms. ― Picture courtesy of Tan Tai Kim

The United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) called for development allocations in the government’s Budget 2019 for Chinese independent secondary schools, national-type Chinese primary schools, and national-type Chinese secondary schools, as well as financial allocations and land provision for the expansion of 16 national-type Chinese primary schools.

“Incorporate Chinese classes of national-type Chinese secondary schools into the school curriculum, thus to address the issue of Chinese not being in SPM and STPM testing subject list,” Dong Zong chairman Tan Tai Kim said.

Dong Zong also urged the government to amend the Malaysia Education Act 1996 to practise a “pluralistic education policy”, to correct the 2013-2025 Malaysia Education Blueprint that is against the dissemination of mother tongue education, and to include expansion needs for Chinese and Tamil primary schools in the 11th Malaysia Plan.

The Chinese education group also told PH to allow the expansion of Chinese independent secondary schools that use the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) school-leaving certificate.

Tan said Dong Zong has yet to meet Maszlee, despite meeting Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching on July 13 who promised to schedule a date with the minister. Tan said Maszlee should not be viewed as a politician because the latter was well-informed in education and has proposed several reforms.

“But the tricky part being how to internalise and incorporate these education theories into real life practices,” Tan told Malay Mail.

According to Tan, Teo said on August 10 that the Education Ministry would form an independent committee to collect data on the UEC, but it was still in the process of appointing members.

Housing

Chang Kim Loong urged the government to adopt the rent-to-own concept as one of the short-term solutions to the 'housing crisis'. ― Picture courtesy of Chang Kim Loong

National House Buyers Association (HBA) general secretary Chang Kim Loong said it was better to gauge the PH government’s performance after at least one year.

Chang also urged the government to adopt the rent-to-own concept as one of the short-term solutions to the “housing crisis”, where lower — and middle-income earners, particularly young people, cannot afford to buy property.

“The Pakatan Harapan government needs to increase the supply of affordable housing,” Chang said.

He defined affordable housing as properties priced between RM150,000 and RM300,000 that must be differentiated from “social housing” like low-cost or medium-cost housing priced below RM100,000. Affordable housing must also be at least 800 sq ft large with minimum two bedrooms.

Chang recommended the government provide incentives to developers to build affordable housing units like alienating land at below market price in exchange for building affordable properties on 70 per cent of the land, or reduce tax rates on profits from affordable properties.

PH promised in the 2018 election to build one million affordable homes within two terms of office.

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