Grappling with gender, race and religion

I TOOK some weeks off to see how the Pakatan Harapan government was coming to grips with power and I must say, it suits them well enough despite the initial hiccups.

That being said, the first sign of friction over appointments in the new government was not over whether or not Tommy Thomas being a non-Malay, non-Muslim could become attorney-general.

A question came up earlier with the appointment of Lim Guan Eng as finance minister. If the Straits Times from Singapore is to be believed, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah objected to the appointment because the minister “needs to be a Malay”.

The second sign that this issue would come up was when Hindraf 2.0 asked for places in UiTM and Felda to be offered to the Indian community. Now, this is a tricky one. Apparently, Hindraf and Hindraf 2.0 are different entities. And you also have Makkal Shakti, the MIC and the Indian Progressive Front.

I have no idea how many more organisations represent the Indians.

Again, this triggered another outbreak of detractions from UiTM and its large alumni. For myself as an alumni member, I’m still wondering why we would open up the university to foreign students to meet ranking standards before admitting Malaysian citizens of other racial descent.

And now, on news that the King and the Council of Rulers had reservations about the AG’s race and religion. To their credit they also brought up their preference for someone with judicial experience.

But here we come up to the more than 60-year-old issue that everybody wants to change, but nobody wants to change themselves to accommodate it.

Do we want to remove the privileges, special treatment and segregationist policies based on race and religion?

Bear in mind, this won’t just be about opening up the bumiputra university, or even giving Mara loans to everyone. It would also mean abandoning the UEC certification, ending all vernacular schools and integrating all of these into one school system.

I include religious schools under vernacular schools. Thus, a total reformation of the education system without segregation by race and religion. No more Chinese or Tamil schools, no more Islamic schools, as this will also be absorbed into the national school system and be open to everyone.

It will be either a national public school or a private school as well as either a public university or a private university.

Can this be done? Would everyone accept it? Why or why not?

The argument against abolishing Tamil and Chinese schools is that they aren’t racially exclusive. Well, fine. Then they should not have any problem being absorbed into the national school system.

If it is about language, then have language classes in national schools. If it is about syllabus, then update the national school syllabus and see if there can be similar results nationwide.

If it is about salaries and support, then call for a review to match the salaries, and for the government to give the equivalent amount of support.

Thus, there should be no objections in achieving such equity in the school system.

At the same time, racist and religious discrimination should be taken out of the working world as well as the property market. No more bumiputra discounts, and no more racial preference in renting out properties.

This is a lot harder when it comes to the fact that it will then be more of a covert discrimination which would require people to then entrap would-be property owners and future employers to show racial preference and discrimination.

But let’s face it, there is an underbelly of racism when we talk of employment and even renting out a property, or even an office for that matter. It is easier to look at the racial discrimination of listed companies if there was a requirement to show a diversity report on every level of their human resources.

Now we come to the issue of merit over gender, an issue highlighted by a quote from Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz: “No matter the gender, go for the merit”.

Sadly, this raises a question. Half of our population are women. Yet, women make up close to 30% of corporate Malaysia.

And in that three out of every 10 Malaysians, we cannot find a similar ratio of women with merit in the workforce? Or is it the sinister fact that women are looked down upon and discriminated against for long maternity leave requests, as we saw earlier this year with the Malaysian Employers Federation?

With that, we must go back to addressing the three elephants in the room – gender, religion, and race. This will take more than just a change of government and a donation drive, I’m afraid – it requires a renaissance.

The writer is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Ramadan reflections

TYPING this at 4.30am on a Thursday, there is a lot to reflect on in the spirit of Ramadan. If anything, this month of fasting for Muslims is also a month of reflection, but more importantly self control.

And for myself, that control is sorely tested over two things – coffee and cigarettes. Early warning, there will be withdrawal symptoms, and I won’t be the only one.

Consider it the month of a test of patience among all Malaysians, awkwardly enough drawing in non-Muslims as well. How, you may ask?

Well primarily, the Ramadan bazaars will be a feast for the eyes, the tongue and sadly the wallet of everyone who ventures there. The seasonal foods of the month are a main attraction.

That would be the positive side. There is sadly a negative side as well as some would have experienced. In the last decade or so, we have seen the religious authorities raid eateries serving non-Muslims and aiming for those of a certain skin tone on suspicion of being Muslims eating in the open.

I know it’s an awkward thing to experience when you go out and tapau food for a late lunch only to end up being harassed by a guy in a vest with four letters clearly marked, demanding your identity card for the simple act of eating.

At the same time, expect tempers to flare up a bit for the most irrational little things, such as eating a curry puff on a platform while waiting for a train, or watching a waiter being yelled at by fathers and mothers for being slow in taking orders, or even demanding they be given priority to be able to break fast on time.

Even newspapers are not exempt from the silliness. Thankfully this year’s Raya Aidilfitri will not coincide with the Chinese New Year, thus avoiding the need to promote alcohol as a wrap advertisement which could yet again trigger another fiery reaction.

Yes, I’m sure many reading this are starting to see the silliness behind all of it – and yet in the last five years, these have actually happened on social media and mainstream media alike.

So, reminder number one – for the Malaysian Muslims who are fasting, non-Muslims are not supposed to cater to all your whims, whines, wants and needs just because you are fasting. And that also includes the restaurant staff of the eatery you choose to dine in to break your fast.

You will not get a guarantee of priority treatment just because you’re breaking fast and those around you aren’t. At the same time, the test of fasting also applies to your itchy fingers in snapping photos of people with food and haranguing them for your ability to see it while they’re hunched over eating like it’s some secret cache to stop themselves from being lynched for eating.

Another aspect of fasting, and let’s be honest here, is the need to also fast from overspending on food. While this year may have less corporate buka puasa events or maybe more, with the change in government after 60 years, there is a need for some semblance of self-control.

June will see petrol prices maintained, GST zero rated and a budget review, all of which might point to the ability to spend more as consumers while the government foots the bill to keep the price of goods low like the “good old days”.

But at the same time, it also opens up to the need to consider wastage, to see whether or not we will inevitably create more waste of unfinished food because the percik chicken was too salty, or maybe even the Ramadan halal roast duck sold at the Shah Alam stadium bazaar being no longer crispy.

Or perhaps even the variety of colourful kueh bought the night before is taking up too much space for the incoming platter of treats for the next. I kid you not, this has happened. Though thankfully, this happened less and less with a consumption tax imposed in the last few years which will be defunct soon.

In the end, the fasting month is not just to emulate the life of the less fortunate in terms of wealth, but also to emulate the joy of ending the day after frayed nerves and patience throughout the day among those you care most about.

So, have a blessed Ramadan everyone. Good luck to the smokers and caffeine addicts, may the Maghrib prayer time be ever in your favour.

And hopefully this time around, we won’t go through any of the embarrassing flare-ups of the past – or at least avoiding one triggered by curry puffs on a train platform.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

A new govt of hope

MALAYSIANS have proven that the country can in fact change hands. And I spent two days eating crow and humble pie. I have made my peace and apologies for the words said if it offended anyone.

There were about 2.5% spoiled votes in this election, a lot less than what I expected as an #UndiRosak campaigner. But on the other hand, 15 out of 222 parliamentary seats had more spoiled votes than their majorities.

Was this due to the spoiled vote campaign? There’s no way to tell.

Among those who lost their elections due to this were former Perak MB Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir, former religious affairs minister Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom (no, we’re not related) and Amanah candidate Khairudin Abu Hassan in Jasin.

It also impacted the elections of Liew Chin Tong and even Jeffrey Kitingan – both of which I personally feel some regret.

I stand by my decision of spoiling my vote and not voting for either side, because I do not believe in either side. I’m sure that many are glad more Malaysians thought otherwise, and to some extent I am too – but I am wary.

It is now up to Malaysians to do two things – keep being the critical monitors of your elected leaders and voice out your thoughts louder than you thought you could.

And if anything, we are seeing that voice of dissent now forming in Sabah since the state government is being formed by BN.

A lot of questions still linger, particularly if the Hudud bill will still go through. Islamic party PAS has in fact become the state governments in Kelantan and Terengganu, and hold both Kedah and Perak in their sway.

Similarly, with the promise of oil royalties to be paid to both Kelantan and Terengganu – both now under PAS – it will be necessary for the federal government to keep its word.

At the same time, there are 10 promises by Pakatan Harapan to be done in 100 days, which means the end of the goods and services tax. Also, the Printing Press and Publications Act Fake News Act and others will be reviewed.

I believe the police will now face an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission.

This is a time needed to rebuild bridges among Malaysians. A heated election has frayed many a relationship – friends and even families have somehow ended up in disarray over politics.

Brothers should make peace among themselves. Parents and their children should do the same. Friends need to sit down and have a drink together and leave the shame and insults out the door and move on.

More importantly, we will be living in very interesting times where it will be differences of opinion between the liberals and conservatives, the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural, and the multiple races and ethnicities – need to come together to once again push this country forward.

This new government, is an opportunity for Malaysians to once again end the division wrought by politics and religion for far too long.

To Pakatan Harapan and their supporters, I wish them congratulations and good luck running the government. I have hope that they will have the expertise and people to do what is necessary to take this nation to further heights as promised, even if I’m wary of how they will do it.

To PAS, I congratulate them on beating the odds that many thought they would be wiped out.

For Barisan Nasional, it is time, in the most ironic of ways – for a reformation. There will be an exodus among their membership, but they must retain their most loyal cadres and push for better leadership with the hope that they become an effective Opposition.

And to all Malaysians, this victory is yours. Stand tall and be proud of our country. Keep faith in our Jalur Gemilang, people.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Drama in Shah Alam

HAVING grown up in Shah Alam and stayed there for 33 years, I often joke that as a person from the city that we don’t get fooled by politicians.

Why? Because we are well versed and trained to handle roundabouts.

Another joke is that nothing interesting ever happens in Shah Alam. Of course, there was that one time some people marched with a cow head from the mosque. And yet, the general election may change that.

Shah Alam became an opposition seat in 2008, when Khalid Samad ran as a PAS candidate under the Pakatan Rakyat alliance. It was the time when the majority of voters in Selangor decided to change the ruling coalition.

And unlike what happened in Perak, we did not flip flop.

Although, some believe that the “important announcement” at PWTC in September last year of Tan Sri Muhammad Md Taib joining Umno again was rumoured to be a coup in Selangor after certain elected representatives decided to switch sides.

I guess many of us will never know about that one.

Analysing the past results for Shah Alam, Khalid Samad increased his majority from 2008 to 2013, from a majority of 9,314 to 10,939. My view is that it was also because in 2013 BN did not take Shah Alam seriously by picking Zulkifli Noordin to be the candidate.

However, a lot has changed since 2013. But we must note that Shah Alam did not fall under the “Malay Tsunami” in 1999 when Keadilan (now PKR) contested the seat.

For one thing, there is now a schism between Pakatan Harapan and PAS. And contrary to popular belief PAS has strong support in some urban areas like Shah Alam, Gombak, Kota Raja and Sepang.

PAS has announced that Mohd Zuhdi Marzuki, the head of its internal research centre, will be contesting against Khalid. Barisan Nasional has yet to announce its candidate.

For me – and I am a very, very liberal Malay – Shah Alam was the hometown where you got away from distractions and just relaxed. Many see Shah Alam as boring for its lack of entertainment outlets and even cinemas.

Yet another Shah Alam joke – if you have a cinema, you’re probably not recognised as Shah Alam.

But there is plenty of irony. Nobody knows how to describe Section 8. No alcohol or booze is sold in the city openly, yet a brewery is on our doorstep and it perhaps houses the only bar in Shah Alam.

More importantly, Shah Alam has a conservative Malay majority, and many students from private and public universities.

It is a showcase of young versus old, conservative versus moderate, a growing consumerist society judging by the malls being built and higher-income housing. Yet it also has a population that now gets angry with traffic congestion.

It is a city that has a police contingent, religious authorities right across the state mosque, and is the mamak restaurant capital with many becoming places for the youth to socialise while watching wrestling or football telecasts.

It is a city divided by class, with clearly marked out middle class, wealthy and poor areas.

Similarly, the industrial zones and the residential areas are segregated. It is made up of civil servants, police personnel, hospital staff from the government hospital and the state-owned Darul Ehsan Medical Centre.

Many residents are lecturers at UiTM, Unisel, Medina University, the PTPL College and MSU in Section 13.

GE14 will see a three-way fight between PAS, Umno and Amanah – it will be interesting to see whether the PAS old guard still holds sway or the grassroots has shifted its support to Amanah?

Or, will the split between the two benefit Umno enough to swing victory its way? It is an open question that has many worried.

But hey, why would we need a cinema in Shah Alam with this drama. Hold on to your seats and stock up on your popcorn. It’s going to be an exciting election.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Lacking logistics costly for everyone

WELL, that was a big surprise, wasn’t it? Who would have thought the Electoral Commission would decide to host the election midweek, right after a three-day holiday period?

And with the 14th general election to take place on Wednesday May 9, the most glaring lacking in Malaysia. And no, it’s not common sense – I know many were thinking, it has once again reared its head. We see it every time Malaysia goes through a holiday, but it was oblivious to many.

And that is the lack in logistics connecting Malaysians nationwide for travel. While we could see it during a Raya celebration or even Chinese New Year and Christmas, it was one that was properly planned. People would time their travels and take enough leave to time it out for everyone’s benefit. You can’t do that for an election day in the middle of the week, with no public holidays in sight.

But more importantly, is it even affordable? Do we have enough planes, trains and roads to make it accessible for everyone to arrive on polling day or the night before? In fact, does every constituency even have enough lodging for the circus that is to ensue?

Due to the constrictions with flights, however, the prices have gone up exorbitantly while airlines such as MAS, Cathay and even Malindo have made it cheaper by waiving some fees. Yet, with no price controls, which I mentioned Malaysians needing (March 5), it has gone up to RM600 and above – even higher than a flight to Bali.

However, AirAsia has taken the lead in lowering ticket prices for the election. Tan Sri Tony Fernandes took to Twitter to acknowledge the problem of high prices and has chosen to lower ticket prices for flights on May 8 and 9.

At the same time, it took 24 hours for all the tickets of the intercity KTM trains to be fully booked. One can’t argue that the election makes good business for the ailing train system, which will hopefully be upgraded with more trains in the future.

That being said, everyone without their own transport and relying on the bus, will probably be in the same dilemma of high prices and long hours on the road. Which brings us to the next problem – traffic congestion on all highways heading East, West, North and South, basically everywhere.

But this has also shown Malaysians pulling together to do something beautiful – to bear the burden of lowering costs of travel for voters wanting to go home to vote. Initiatives have been aplenty on Twitter and Facebook to collect funds to subsidise costs.

While I’m not going to argue why people living in the Greater Klang Valley decided to keep their hometown address for voting, what we should be discussing instead is how to make it easier for them to travel without needing to drive their own mode of transport.

Thus, my personal stance is the need to improve our mass transport networks across the nation and also, to keep it affordable for everyone. This means pushing further with rail networks and increasing intercity buses to allow more access to local transport.

It is one of the reasons I support the East Coast Rail Line all the way up to Tumpat. We have been too focused on our side of the Peninsular and have abandoned the rail lines for ages and focused instead on highways, which get congested once or twice a year during festive periods.

And it has to be affordable – which is why flight tickets locally within Malaysia, including between East Malaysia and the Peninsular should be priced lower than international flights. Yes, it’s not a “free market” solution, but it’s also because we’re a nation divided by unique geography that needs to be brought together.

We need to understand that for far too long, we have abandoned the need to actually take ourselves out of our individual cars and minimise our need for comfort space, from a car fit for four people to a simple seat on a plane or a chair on a train.

For far too long, we have been spoiled with the need for space – and those days are over. With increased traffic comes congestion, and with congestion comes waste in the form of burnt idle energy from your petrol tanks and maintenance for the wear and tear of your cars.

While we can argue about politics in this heated election season, we need to do something that brings people closer together face-to-face, not via a Skype call or Facetime, but by making it easier for a person to travel back and forth to their loved ones in the rural areas from the urban jungles. Or even the other way around once in a while.

As our nation ages, it becomes necessary to point out that in due time even the elderly will need an alternative mode of transport other than driving, and needing only to take a car or a Grab to visiting their families in the city.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Your choice is your own

WITH Parliament dissolved and campaigning in full swing for the 14th general election, I’ve just got one request – let’s keep it civil.

With the Anti-Fake News Act in place, anyone and everyone can take a tweet, a Facebook post, a WhatsApp message and even a recorded video to the police station and report it as “fake news”.

In the run-up to the election, people will become more zealous in their beliefs, more passionate in their mockery and perhaps more careless with their words and actions. It’s a given, considering the passion we have for politics. Please restrain yourselves.

The truth is never self-evident because it is layered, framed, omitted and sometimes obfuscated to support one side rather than the other. You have to dig deep into what is being said by politicians and supporters. Do search online and verify what you read or hear.

Media itself has a tendency to lean to one side or another, so you are safer reading all sides before coming to a conclusion.

Have a care before sharing posts that you cannot prove – it’s the season for slander and libel. Ask for a source link. It’s the internet, information has to come from somewhere even if it’s a WhatsApp print screen.

Read the party manifestos and reason out what you support, what you don’t, and even what you want any side to clarify. This will at least allow you to make an informed decision of what to expect. While manifestos are not binding in a court of law, don’t worry, it’s pretty much binding in a court of public opinion.

I will also say – don’t trust politicians. The duty of a politician during a political campaign is to get you to vote for them by any means. They will poke your buttons to trigger anger, resentment, and sympathy without having to prove why they are fit to rule for five years.

Prod them on their plans, tell them what you want and ask them how they can deliver or why they cannot do so. In short, push them to be as honest as possible. The campaign period is a time for politicians to promise the Moon and the stars, even if having either crash into the Earth would kill us all.

So, promises will be aplenty but ask them how they will deliver them. The time frames, the cost, the impact on the environment and wellbeing of people, as well as the cost of living. There is no excuse for any side not to know the mechanics of implementing their promises.

Now with all that in mind, understand this. In the last eight months, either side has only managed to convince some 200,000 Malaysians to register as voters. Some 3.6 million citizens over 21 have yet to register as voters.

At the same time, you might well know where I stand in the next general election as an #UndiRosak advocate.

No, there is no goal in this campaign, nor do I hope it reaches critical mass to change the outcome of the election. It is about sending a message that political parties need to let go of their past and let the younger generation lead, or die out.

So yes – vote for whatever you believe in, be it staying with stability, wanting a change, a belief in a socialist future, a belief in a religious government, or even the want to rage against the machine. All are acceptable choices in this democracy of ours.

More importantly, your choice is your own. Some will argue to vote for your country, your god, your race. My advice, is to vote with your head and heart. I really won’t bother influencing you because I believe each Malaysian can make an informed decision without influence by just reading up and asking questions.

Don’t mind the mockery, don’t mind the hate and arrogance, just don’t sink to the same level.

Whatever dreams may come in GE14, it’s in your hands.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

We deserve the Fake News law

MY reaction to the Fake News law, was one of celebration. I mean, how can you not take solace in the fact that I can now report every single tweet and Facebook post of lies and slander regarding the #UndiRosak movement, and just shove everyone in jail or make them pay a fine?

It’s brilliant! It’s vengeful! It’s oh so lovely vindication, retribution and revenge after three months of facing down lies and slander from all sides of the political divide.

Right?

Wrong.

The Fake News Act not only looks at your WhatsApp messages, your Facebook posts and messages and even your tweets, it also analyses the style and way you write.

In other words, it could even police sarcasm and cynicism – and those two are characteristic of my personal style of writing.

I understand why the government wants to pass this bill, and I’m sure we all do. The reason for it is because the internet and social media have become breeding grounds for misinformation and hatred. It triggers racial and religious discord, and dogmatic supporters end up using fake news to bolster their arguments.

And let’s face it, politicians and their supporters are rather dogmatic in their pursuit of a win come the 14th general election, to the point that objectivity has been deleted.

Safe to say, we now like Bush have adopted the stance of you are either “with us or against us”. Everyone wants either a change at all costs, or remain the same at all costs – and the first thing they’re willing to sacrifice is objectivity.

But all this being said, a Fake News law does nothing other than to entrust a monopoly on truth to a person outside of the news industry. I’ll give you an example.

Let’s take Invoke’s latest survey that indicated Malay voters no longer favour the government and Pakatan has the ability to win five states.

The survey pointed out the following regarding Malay votes: 28.5% back Barisan Nasional, 14.1% back Pakatan Harapan, 18% backing PAS, 22.3% refused to answer and 17% were undecided.

This was used to say Pakatan could take five states in Peninsular Malaysia.

But, can I also say that it shows 39.3% of Malaysians are so disillusioned that they might boycott the election and even support #UndiRosak?

Of course I can. The data is vague in that sense and if that does happen among the Malay voters, whatever pointed by an optimistic pro-Pakatan survey could instead well be in support of us few calling on millions to boycott both sides.

Thus, even the news itself is open to interpretation, and not fake. It’s just framed differently, narrated differently and angled differently by news portals to attract eyeballs and hold our attention. The average attention span is estimated to be 15 seconds.

So, can we actually say the news is fake?

Let’s consider another example. Since I’m a chain smoker, I know this much, vaping is harmful. Is this statement true? Yes.

But if I say vaping has been proven to be 95% less harmful compared to regular smoking – is this true? Yes, it is also true. Neither of these are false statements, but both can call each other misinformed or damaging to the other’s cause.

Now, allow me to point out one more example: a 93-year-old man calls an 83-year-old “senile” for running in an election in 2013, and calls a 70-year-old “too old” to become prime minister in the same year. And yet, in 2018, he’s running for prime minister.

Misleading? No. Fake? Nope – you can actually Google the videos and articles to find it. Hypocritical to the core? Very much so.

And this is the problem with fake news, politics and Malaysians in their passionate support for whichever side – we are oft too invested in wanting what we want that we would embrace lies, hypocrisy and even close an eye at whatever proves us wrong, branding it “fake news” when it clearly is not.

So, if a Fake News law is passed, it will be a sad critique that Malaysians have lost the objectivity to judge news and instead require a judge to keep them in check.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Why settle study loans

BEFORE we talk about the National Higher Education Fund Corp (PTPTN), let’s understand that it is primarily a rolling fund. This means it can only dish out money that it gets back.

Thus, if borrowers don’t pay or service their loans, it will reduce the amount available for the next batch of students. In other words, those paying their PTPTN loans are not just servicing a loan, they are also putting a freshman through college.

In March 2017, 660,000 Malaysians had not paid a single sen of their PTPTN loans. And by last November, PTPTN announced that 410,500 Malaysians had not paid a single sen, amounting to RM6.84 billion.

For last year until Sept 30, the amount collected was RM12.13 billion, instead of the full amount of RM18.97 billion. This means there will be less for students this year. Thus, with more student pursuing tertiary education with less funds for loans we will see more households bearing more costs.

This was made worse by announcement of a further extension for repayments to 12 months during the tabling of Budget 2018. Also announced was an extra RM200 million for the Bottom 40 (B40) group of households.

We were also informed of a tax exemption of up to RM6,000 for those saving in 1Malaysia Education Saving Scheme.

There was an announcement for discounts and rebates for people to pay back their loans. All of these will further erode the ability of PTPTN to cope with increased costs of students to eke out a living, perhaps even triggering another starving student (Mahasiswa Lapar) movement.

Pakatan Harapan manifesto has a promise to allow Malaysians to start servicing their student loans when they earn RM4,000 a month. This raises a few questions.

First, for the period between a student’s graduation and the time he gets a job and earns RM4,000, will the PTPTN loan be subject to compounded interest per annum?

Will there be an increase in minimum payments to cope with the increased amount in their loans?

What’s the duration for a working class borrower to start earning a RM4,000? I ask because that is how long we will be exempting more Malaysians from paying a single sen and reducing funds for students.

So a Pakatan Harapan government will delay PTPTN repayments and regularly inject funds into it to allow future batches of students to gain access to the loans.

If it is yet another government backed loan, injecting more funds will increase national debt, and while the compounded interest on the loans to students working to earn RM4,000 will also increase individual or household debt.

The manifesto will also allow Malaysians to buy a car without getting flagged by bad credit scores, get assistance from the government to buy a house, and fly overseas without being blacklisted.

Consider a few things that come to mind.

First, how do we view debt? Do we see it as something serious to the point that we consider it something that must be paid as a monthly cost, or do we see it as an elastic cost that should only be paid when you have disposable income?

Should debt be elastic without a time period, without penalties? After all, you can’t take back a graduate’s degree or diploma to make them repay their loans, can you?

What’s your stance on debt?

Now, if you have answered that question, I will put forward another?

Do we believe PTPTN should assist students who don’t have parents with high incomes – the middle and lower-income groups, at no added costs to manage the debts, payouts and paybacks, or even interest rates which will eventually allow the funding of future students?

Or, do we believe in the government pumping in more money to fund future students while allowing debtors to not have to pay their dues for three or four years?

Or, do we believe in writing off billions and let the government foot the bill and making tertiary education free?

Have a hard think.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Public transport ideas must make sense

WITH the launch of Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto, there seems to be a disconnect between what the coalition wants in terms of public transport.

On one hand, they are suggesting some interesting developments such as increasing accessibility and connectivity to rail lines, increasing cooperation with small bus companies and school bus companies, even promising to provide an additional 10,000 buses.

This is on top of the suggestion to introduce an RM100 monthly unlimited pass for rail links – which I’m hoping excludes the ETS trains.

However, on the other hand, they are promising some really bad ideas to help the automotive sector. One is an exemption from excise duties for the first family car for households earning below RM8,000.

For another, there is this promise of petrol subsidies for cars under 1300cc. And on top of all this, the end of toll payments for all highways in phases.

Permit me to say this – these policies in the manifesto go against any move to encourage public transport. The way to make public transport more viable is to increase the cost of driving, which means introducing a congestion charge for city centres.

On top of that, you are supposed to stop making petrol cheaper, especially in the Greater Klang Valley. This was even argued by Prof Jomo Kwame Sundaram when Pakatan launched their shadow budget last year.

Instead, you are supposed to be taxing petrol and using that revenue stream to buy your 10,000 buses and even increase the number of trains. You are supposed to make cars more expensive to make people consider driving a privilege and no longer a necessity.

Logically and rationally, let me ask this – what is the point of having 10,000 buses on the roads, if the roads are jammed with cheap cars running on subsidised petrol? It won’t help. The roads are even jammed up now without the incentives to make cars cheaper.

Traffic is traffic, and unless Pakatan proposes building Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems which reserve a lane on roads for buses, all we will have are buses further delayed and stuck, making it unfeasible for people to switch to public transport.

Sadly, there isn’t a mention of the implementation of BRTs in the Pakatan manifesto. At the same time, some questions arise when it comes to management of public transport.

This is due to the coalition promising to devolve federal powers to local city councils – and this would include giving local councils power over public transport. And thus, how will this work since the current networks are managed mostly by Prasarana Negara Bhd’s RapidKL?

Will we be seeing the public transport company broken up to serve each local council? Does this mean that the Shah Alam City Council will manage its own stations, while Kuala Lumpur City Hall manages its stations separately?

Does the revenue from buses and trains then go back to each city council? Do future projects such as the LRT3 and even the MRT Line 2 have to be renegotiated to include some form of profit sharing and change in ownership with the local councils?

Do bus routes now have to be undone and controlled by local councils as well, and how would you manage intercity and intracity travel from any city in Selangor into Kuala Lumpur now under RapidKL?

Will there be a 50-50 profit share on advertising revenue of each station between Prasarana and the local councils?

Similarly, with RM100 for a monthly unlimited public transport pass, how much revenue would Prasarana lose? Has Pakatan calculated a rough amount of how much this will cost?

And after all the brickbats Pakatan had for Prasarana and MRTCorp not making a profit, does this policy mean they are all right with the two transport companies going further into the red?

I would like to know an answer for this, since Pakatan has a history of whacking public transport projects as unfeasible, increasing national debt and being unaffordable. Thus, is their solution to make it cheaper while letting the debt grow?

Thus, isn’t that pretty much another hypocritical decision of Pakatan after its lawmakers’ past statements on the growing public transport network? Will they all retract their statements?

It is now left to voters to ask Pakatan candidates in their constituencies to explain their manifesto promises and suggest things to make it better.

This is a populist budget that raises a lot of questions that require answers which they must now provide, and there is enough ammunition for Barisan Nasional to point out the hypocrisy of their past statements.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Cut fares to Sabah and Sarawak

A FRIEND asked what my thoughts were on domestic air fares. I thought it a strange question because I would have thought flights between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak were cheap and subsidised. I was wrong.

He said: “Last election, I had to take a flight to Kota Kinabalu, and only reached my area at 3am. I was back in Kuala Lumpur after voting, before noon.”

The cost? “Almost RM500, I guess,” he said, adding that flights overseas could be cheaper.

If an election is called on March 27, flights to Kota Kinabalu and back to Kuala Lumpur will be close to RM500 if I were to book it at the time of writing on March 2.

Now, I’m all for airlines practising free market policies along with supply and demand determining pricing, but does it have to be at the expense of our citizens from Sabah and Sarawak?

One can only imagine what those working in the peninsula have to save for festive seasons and even if a relative were to get married on short notice.

Thus, perhaps there is a need for government intervention when it comes to ensuring we actually act like a nation and bring those prices down. After all, this is the government that promised a “1Malaysia, 1Price” campaign listed in their 2013 manifesto.

Bringing down air fares between Malaysian states, even one separated by the South China Sea, could be part of their promises for 2018. Surely we can have a policy on price reductions for Malaysians who are from Sabah and Sarawak.

Would it be perceived as a campaign gimmick? You bet. But what isn’t in the lead up to the general election?

How much would such a policy cost, and who would bear it?

Valid questions, but seeing as how there are also citizens from Sabah and Sarawak living in Peninsular Malaysia who pay taxes like the goods and services tax and duties on cigarettes and alcohol, it would be returning and spending that money on them.

More must be done to bridge this geographical and cultural divide between the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak.

The idealist in me wants student exchange programmes where tertiary and secondary school students get to interact for three months in a unity exchange programme.

Another idealist thought is to have a huge power plant and a power supply backbone between Sabah and Sarawak, subsequently a high-speed rail coupled with a fibre optic backbone which links to the peninsula. Of course, these are also for profit projects that can be connected to Kalimantan in Indonesia and even Brunei.

These are things the federal government has had or is planning to have for the peninsula, and there should be a plan to have the same in Sabah and Sarawak as soon as possible, rather than treating those Malaysian citizens’ needs as a “backburner” project to implement in 20 to 30 years time.

Let’s be honest, Sabah and Sarawak have not been given top priority for far too long by past leaders who reaped the cash and left it bare.

However, these should be done with an addendum – let Sabah and Sarawak be Sabah and Sarawak.

For some strange reason, there seems to be a misguided notion that the states in their multicultural, multi-religious and diverse culture need to be “saved” – and that is honestly far from the truth.

If anything, the harmonious interaction of the people of Sabah and Sarawak, in relation to their racial and religious diversity, needs to be adapted here in the peninsula.

Look at race relations in the peninsula compared to both states, the ability to live our lives without religious fervour taking a priority over harmony, and ask yourselves who needs “saving” to remain a united nation.

A lot must be done for Sabah and Sarawak to be at par with the states in Peninsular Malaysia; from infrastructure to the prices of daily necessities to job creation and increasing wages, all the way up to fostering national cohesion among Malaysians.

But let’s start with a reduction in domestic air fares.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com