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With the completion of its first 100 days in office, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has quite naturally come under scrutiny as citizens and commentators alike take stock of its achievements.

Amazing changes

Whether or not one is satisfied with the government’s performance, there is no doubt that our nation has already seen some amazing changes in these last 100 days.

Our anti-corruption agency is at last beginning to flex its muscles and respond to reports of corruption. The theft of public funds which has been a millstone around our collective neck for years might finally be coming to an end.

We have also seen some groundbreaking appointments in the judiciary and the cabinet. And we now have a cabinet that is more representative of our ethnic and religious diversity and one that is based on a greater measure of power-sharing than at any other time in our  history.

The process of institutional reform – of parliament, the judiciary, the bureaucracy and the police force is also underway. Controversial agencies including BTN and JAKIM  are being dismantled or reformed. Parliament is being strengthened with the appointment of a genuinely impartial Speaker, the implementation of a committee system, and oversight of key agencies like the Elections Commission and the Office of the Auditor-General.

And of course, there is now a new sense of freedom to criticise the government, to stake out positions on public issues and to take public officials to task. The voice of the people is finally beginning to count for something.

Not fast enough

These are all very welcome developments and must not be minimised in any way. However, the pent-up frustrations over decades of  bad government will not be so easily assuaged. It has left many impatient for change and unaccepting of needless delays.

There’s a real fear that if we don’t seize the moment to decisively break from the past, to decisively change direction, it will be lost to us yet again.

It makes no sense to tell voters to withhold judgement until the next elections, as some PH politicians are suggesting, because by then it would be too late. Tomorrow is promised to no one; every single day counts. We either seize the moment to irrevocably transform our nation or lose the momentum.

Change takes time

Of course, voters understand that change takes time.

The new government will need time to learn how to switch from opposition to governing mode, to get a feel for the issues and determine the best course of action. It is no mean task, as well, to take charge of the cumbersome machinery of government and bend it to the will of the new cabinet. And of course, they need time to deal with legacy issues like the controversial infrastructure projects with China.

Allowances have to be made consequently, for missteps and blunders as ministers learn the ropes. The point is we shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations after a mere 100 days,  not after 10,000 days of corruption, abuse of power and institutional decay.

Signs of discomfort

That is not to say, however, that the unease with some of the government’s decisions is unwarranted.

Like it or not, the Harapan manifesto is a sacred compact between PH and the people, the premise upon which support was given.  People are willing to make sacrifices, willing to put their hopes on hold even, provided there is a clear sense that everything is being done to fulfil promises that were made, and that the country is firmly headed in the right direction.

It certainly doesn’t inspire confidence in the government when newly minted ministers start offering excuses why certain abusive laws are  still needed, why local council elections cannot be held sooner than later,  why UEC recognition must be subject to yet more years of study or why certain people still remain beyond the reach of the MACC.

And neither is it encouraging when holdovers from the past – men and women who failed to live up to public expectations during their time in office – are recycled into positions of power and influence in the new government.

Trust but verify 

In a way, the rumblings of discontent we are now hearing are to be expected as the  euphoria of May 9th gives way to a more sober assessment of the government’s performance.

And that is perhaps a good thing: citizens ought to always have a healthy scepticism of government. Power corrupts and we, who have lived through the corrosive and corrupting influence of power for so long, have particular reason to be wary.

In the 1980s when the US and Russia were negotiating a nuclear non-proliferation framework, President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying,  “trust but verify.”

A similar approach might not be a bad idea for citizens of the new Malaysia – trust the government to transform and reform our nation but watch them like hawks. Give them the space and the time they need to implement their manifesto promises but constantly demand progress reports, if not in a hundred days, than every hundred days.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 21st August 2018]