100-day Aspirasi Keluarga Malaysia – a case of letting the fox guard the henhouse

As the ‘Keluarga Malaysia’ Cabinet toots their own horn and basks in the triumph of a job well done after the first 100 days of the first Cabinet meeting, let’s put things in the proper context.

Key performance indices (KPIs) comprise three components.

There’s the evaluator or assessor – the ‘boss’ who lists down the key performance targets upon which the employee is judged. In the private sector, failure to meet these targets would result in a lonely desk in one corner of the office basement, next to the coffee vending machine.

In the context of the ‘100-day Aspirasi Keluarga Malaysia’, the rakyat is the boss.

The second element would be the list of key performance targets drawn up by the ‘boss’.

Since this is the KPI for the ministers and ministries under the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the list, logically, should consist of key areas affecting the daily lives of everyday Malaysians, such as cost of living, general state of the economy, housing, healthcare, education, and so on.

Naturally, the ‘boss’ – that’s you and I – would be the ones drawing up the list of key performance targets for the ‘employees’.

The ‘employees’ in this case – the ones being evaluated or appraised – are the ministers and their respective ministries, since they are essentially public servants.

When Ismail Sabri announced his Cabinet’s performance would be evaluated after the first 100 days, the response was overwhelmingly favourable.

Many thought that there would be a back-and-forth between the ministries and the stakeholders to identify key areas that needed to be worked on. Sadly, this did not happen.

As such, the 100-day ‘Aspirasi Keluarga Malaysia’ KPI exercise is just that – an aspiration devoid of substance, since the ‘boss’ – the rakyat – had been completely taken out of the decision-making process.

Instead, the ministers were given a free hand in choosing whatever metric that was easily achievable, convenient for them, and offered the greatest chances of success without having to break a sweat.

This is akin to letting SPM candidates set their own questions and grade their own papers.

For the rakyat, the proof of how effective Ismail Sabri’s administration is in governing lies in their day-to-day struggles to survive.

From Dec 1, the price of a loaf of Gardenia bread shot up by 45 sen. On Nov 15, the cost of building materials such as cement, steel mesh, copper wiring and PVC piping began edging up, driving up the prices of homes and affecting the construction sector.

Next to go were the prices of vegetables – broccoli that used to go for RM8 shot up to RM20 a kilo, bok choy went up threefold – from RM3 to RM9 a kilo. Others followed suit – cabbage, red chilis, green chilis, string beans, the list seemed endless.

Other essentials also registered a hike in prices – onions, eggs, chicken, cooking oil. The minister in charge offered a multitude of reasons for this surge in prices – from the weather to the alleged existence of a ‘cartel’ of middlemen, engaged in price gouging.

His solution? ‘Plant your own vegetables’.

What is perplexing is that Malaysia has pretty much enjoyed the same weather cycle, year in, year out. It is predictable. Funny that after all these years, the ministry still does not have a game plan to put into effect each time the monsoon comes a calling.

The economy has also taken a beating.

On Nov 13, the Department of Statistics revealed that the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped to a slower pace of 2.7 per cent in the third quarter of 2020, from the 17.1 per cent contraction in the second quarter of the same year.

This marked a negative growth for the second consecutive quarter. That means that the country is in a technical recession. Malaysia’s ringgit is also languishing against the greenback, hovering at RM4.23 to the US dollar.

On Oct 29, a Friday, Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz unveiled Budget 2022, in which he announced the one-off ‘cukai makmur’ (prosperity tax) proposal.

On Monday, the market reacted by wiping out a cumulative value of RM33.8 billion off of the market capitalisation of stocks on Bursa Malaysia in a knee-jerk response to the proposal.

The one-off prosperity tax of 33 per cent on corporate earnings of more than RM100 million for the assessment year 2022 was among several proposals announced in Budget 2022 to raise the government’s revenue.

The tax proposal was seen to have a negative impact on the earnings of a host of listed companies, and investors reacted to this by selling off their shares.

But, it is not all doom and gloom.

With the coronavirus not showing signs of going away, the Health Ministry tabled the National Trust Fund (Amendment) 2021 Bill to fund the four aid and stimulus packages – Permai, Pemerkasa, Pemerkasa Plus and Pemulih.

It also tabled the Temporary Measures for Government Financing [Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19)] (Amendment) Bill 2021 to increase the ceiling cap for the Covid-19 Fund from RM65 billion to RM110 billion.

Ismail Sabri negotiated a ‘ceasefire’ with the opposition following a historic memorandum of understanding between the Federal government and the opposition coalition (Pakatan Harapan).

The move was to spur economic confidence and increase foreign direct investments.

The prime minister also unveiled the RM400 billion 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025), an increase of 61 per cent compared to the actual expenditure of RM248.5 billion for the 11th Malaysia Plan.

The 12th Malaysia Plan hopes to boost the socio-economic conditions of the lower-income groups.

There is still plenty of work to be done. And Ismail Sabri has his work cut out.

Hopefully, the next 100 days will bring us better fortunes and see the country recover from the misfortunes of the past two years.