As reported in the NST today, PM Abdullah addresses his critics. Lets examine some of his answers and see how well he did to shut up his critics.
On the economy:
What the cynics say:"There has been this perception that the prime minister has made good promises. Now they say, we would like to see what you’ve done. They say, ‘Pak Lah, we’ve read about the 9MP, we understand it, but what are you going to do about it now?’"Some wonder whether the 9MP will succeed and say that Malaysia is good in planning but short on implementation.’’
The prime minister’s reply:"We are committed to the people and we have a job to do. We want to ensure it is done effectively. The cynics, there will always be people like that. "I know that people want to know about the implementation of the 9MP, but there are certain limits in trying to hurry up."
My verdict: What are the limits? Tell us how we can help you to overcome these limits? The lack of confidence in the 9MP is justified. The government is seen as throwing money over bad programmes, which some have called them handouts. The government has not presented its economic strategy in a convincing and precise manner. What PM Abdullah should do is to be transparent on his policies and implementation methodology. We need to know your milestones.
On the stock market:
What the cynics say:"Talk of inefficiency of the stock market has been going around. Some people say that there is no excitement in the stock market because there are no good projects. "The perception is that what’s happening here is not good."
The prime minister’s reply:"We’ve announced many things but some people have their own attitude. Today, there is better market sentiment. But I don’t want to see a yo-yo effect. I would like to see steady growth".
My verdict: It means that the government is suffering from a serious credibility issue if the foreign and local investors are not responding to these announcements. PM Abdullah should look into the quality of these announcements. Mergers and acquisitions will not tempt big regional investors if they do not have a good perception of the country's mid-term and long-term prospects. The government should focus no building core competitive strengths in courting these investors e.g. reform the education sector, promote meritocracy, ease red-tap, review the corrupted licensing regime and start to preach globalisation. We do not have a choice on either to accept or reject globalisation. It is more of a choice of progressing or regressing within the globalising world.
On the fight against corruption:
What the cynics say:"It is all about perception. If a certain person is not investigated by the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA), they say that person is being protected by the government, or somebody told the courts and the judge not to try the person. If he’s convicted, then they say he’s not a friend of the prime minister. "How can you do work with this kind of people around?"
The prime minister’s reply:"I’ve asked the ACA to improve itself. We’ve increased the number of officers. Recently, the ACA added 300 more officers. I want them to go to the ground. "Begin their investigation as soon as possible without having to wait for the police report. Investigate, get the proof, bring them to court."
My verdict: PM Abdullah is again off-the-cue on his much publicised anti-corruption campaign. If his party still insists on protecting someone like Zakaria Mat Deros and other corrupted party leaders who flouted the law and abused their power, then pointing his finger at the ACA would not help to shore up people's confidence of his administration. The (mis)administration of justice on several high profile cases such as the recent case involved Abdul Razak Baginda, a highly connected political analyst, does not augur well on the justice system of the country. It gives a perception that the judiciary and the ACA are being influenced by the politicians.
On not netting the big fish:
What the cynics say:"They always say we don’t catch the big fish, that we always go for small fish."
The prime minister’s reply:"When a person commits a small offence of corruption, it’s easy for the ACA to investigate and convict him. When some people say, what about the big fish, well, big fish are not easily caught. But the ACA is doing its best."He also told the ACA to be more careful when handling corruption cases, as "it is not right if they drag people to court just to show that they (ACA) are doing something". "If the prosecution does not get a conviction, the person’s reputation would have been spoilt, his life would be in a mess and his company would not do well any more as the people would already have a negative perception of him."
My verdict: On the contrary, small and menial borderline offences are much harder to prosecute. Prosecution is evidence based. The PM should not be too worried about whether a person reputation would have been ruined or not if he is not convicted. Quite opposite, it will provide a person with a good platform to clear his name and ended up more credible after the whole process.
Overall, the PM's response to his critics is not convincing enough. There is a huge difference between deflecting criticisms and answering them. It appears that PM Abdullah has chosen the former.