Andrew Ong | Jun 18, 08 1:58pm ( Malaysiakini )
First 100 days Perak - the ‘silver state’ once synonymous with vibrant tin and rubber industries - has not only lost its shine, but has been relegated to the relative backwaters of the national economy.
However, the Pakatan Rakyat state government hopes to turn this situation around, following the unexpected mandate it received in the March 8 general election. Menteri Besar Mohamad Nizar Jamaluddin wants to spur economic growth “in order to put the state back where it should be”.He said a number of deals have been worked out with investors, but the details are being kept under wraps until July 7 - the date that marks the state government’s first 100 days in power.
“(Approvals for foreign investment in) various industries such as tourism, manufacturing and petroleum will be expedited. One such project has already been agreed upon. The ground breaking session will be held soon,” he said.
In an interview yesterday, he said the same investors had been turned off by “hanky-panky” involving the previous Barisan Nasional government, as well as by strict conditions that were imposed on them.
“They had to go under-counter and over-counter. Just you imagine... (but we’re telling investors) that Pakatan is investor friendly,” he said.
As part of the growth strategy, Nizar will head a committee on increasing revenue, to overcome a four-year deficit left by the previous administration. The committee is currently tracing the source of arrears amounting to RM170 million that is owed to local authorities and district offices.
“We would like to appeal to all residents who owe the government money for (land) premiums and quit rent to complement (our efforts) and help the government. We need their assistance,” said Nizar.
Asked to comment on the state’s relationship with the BN federal government, he described it as “very, very good” and that a visit by the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER) panel was proof of this.
“The state government would assist in any way possible to enhance the NCER, particularly (the) mega-projects,” said Nizar.For starters, the state government will help the federal government to complete the double-tracking of railway lines and the creation of several ‘high-tech parks’.
Meals on the go
Before taking questions, Nizar launched into an 18-minute speech that revealed the long working hours that he and the executive councillors have experienced since taking office. Road trips to the nine districts usually start at dawn and run up to midnight, while day-long ‘meet your exco’ sessions are held on Tuesdays. Wednesdays are set aside for a full-day exco meeting.
“That is why, for the first time, you can see exco members having nasi bungkus (takeaway meals). There is not enough time to go out. We just have about 10-minute break - kao liao (that’s enough, in the Hokkien dialect) - and then we start our meeting again,” he said.
He stressed that the weekly exco meetings have been held without fail, saying “this shows that we have a commitment towards solving outstanding problems (faced by the public)”.
An engineer by training, Kampar-born Nizar, 51, has quickly impressed constituents with his command of Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, Tamil and English, in addition to Malay.
Under the austerity drive pledged since Day 1 of his administration, the state government has foregone new vehicles although the previous government had approved the budget to replace the current fleet of “boneshakers”. “Even if (the cars are) slow, we (still) reach our destination,” he quipped.
The vehicles are not the only slow element in the state - there was initial inertia from civil servants who had adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ approach towards working with the Pakatan government.
“We made it clear in our visits to each district that the government needs their complete allegiance. If not, we would not hesitate to tell them bye-bye!” he said, noting that they are slowly warming up now.
End to discrimination
Nizar alleged that elements of discrimination had surfaced in the previous government’s treatment of the public, and vowed that this would not recur under his leadership.
“When we analyse the problems (raised by the people), when we look at the documents they bring to us, there is always an element of discrimination..... I want to tell (the public) that Pakatan Rakyat doesn’t tolerate any discrimination. Not based on race, creed and religion. None.”
Similarly, he expressed hope that the media would treat his administration with fairness, saying that it has not even covered his distribution of cash and food aid.
“I did not have the privilege of seeing a picture of us giving (aid) to the hardcore poor. Please bear in mind that is partly our right,” he said.
He claimed that insufficient press coverage has also forced him and the exco to hold ceramah at night in each district, in order to communicate information to the public.
“We often lose our voice because sometimes we have to speak at seven functions (a day),” he added.