A Federal-State Council on Health and Economy to fight Covid-19 more effectively

By Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau


KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia needs more than a new Prime Minister and new Government but new ways of conducting politics.

We welcome His Majesty’s Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s advice for inter-party reconciliation and an end to ‘winner takes all’ politics.

No government can be stable with just 111 seats or slightly more.

Neither do we need a unity government if the price is a bloated parliament or inter-ministry rivalry when parties that do not trust each other sit under the same roof.

What we need is Confidence and Supply Agreements (CSAs) that the government coalition or its dominant party sign with the opposition parties.

This would ensure the Government’s survival on the votes of confidence, no-confidence, budget and royal speeches in exchange for fair treatment of opposition and due consideration of opposition’s views in lawmaking and policymaking.

I strongly support the 10-point ‘Cross-party Political Stability Pact’ proposed by Bersih 2.0, ABIM, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) and Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH).
This package is much more comprehensive and well thought out than Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s seven-point reform package made on 13 July.

One glaring omission in the Muhyiddin’s package is nothing about decentralisation.

In comparison, the civil society’s package starts with “a tripartite Federal-State Council (FSC) on Health and Economy consisting of equal numbers of members from Federal Government, Federal Opposition and the 13 State Governments, assisted by top bureaucrats, military chief, police chiefs and experts from academia and civil society, should be set up to coordinate key decisions on pandemic and economy, similar to how the National Security Council (NSC) functions under the Emergency.”

All parties should recognise that fighting the pandemic and reviving the economy requires many difficult decisions that require the support of both opposition parties and state governments.

Unfortunately, decentralisation has been missing in the negotiation of government survival or formation.
Exclusion of state governments and opposition parties from key decisions has three detrimental consequences.

First, when interests of states and opposition supporters are not represented, policies are bound to have many blind spots which lead to public backlash and flip flops. For example, public health system and economic recovery challenges in Kuala Lumpur or Putrajaya are distinct from one in Tuaran or Sabah inland due to the geographical, population density and development level differences.

Second, as many necessary decisions are bound to be tough if not outright unpopular, if the political responsibility is not shared by all parties and both Federal and State Governments, the government may not be able to withstand public pressure to change course.

Third, states should be encouraged to pump in their resources to fight the Covid-19 pandemic where possible, not just in vaccination drive but even in building modular hospitals, but states are disincentivized from doing more because public healthcare is solely under the Federal Government’s control. An avenue where decisions are made together would encourage richer states like Selangor, Johor and Penang to do more, freeing up the Federal Government’s resources to other states.

Decentralisation is needed, not only for Sabah and Sarawak, but also all 11 other states in Malaya and the three Federal Territories.

It is not enough to have only inter-party collaboration at the Federal Level between the government and opposition.

We also need greater inter-governmental collaboration between Putrajaya and the States. States especially Sabah and Sarawak must be given more say in the direction of national policies.
The Klang Valley-centered ‘one-size-fits-all’ governance paradigm must be buried together with the winner-takes-all politics.

The New Government must be visionary enough to introduce a new paradigm of federal-state shared rule on health, economy and also beyond.

While the one-size-fits-all approach is doomed to fail in most fields as the world gets more complex, its failure in the fight against Covid-19 is more damaging. The proposed FSC on Health and Economy can be a good experiment.

If the FSC mechanism works, this can pave the way for an Intergovernmental Committee 2.0 to negotiate a Malaysia Agreement 1963 Plus and further re-structure the power and relationship between the Federation and Sabah and Sarawak, and also further Malayan states.

I will propose this FSC to the Pakatan Harapan (PH) leadership as part of our governance programme and I hope my brothers and sisters in Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) to do the same to the Perikatan Nasional (PN).

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