LAST week I had the good fortune of meeting a senior minister face to face over breakfast in a very congenial setting. I took the opportunity to ask him a few (im)pertinent questions, the first of which was “How’s everything Tan Sri?”. He answered it candidly and at length but there were moments when I thought he seemed frustrated.

Part of the minister’s unease and that of his cabinet colleagues is the growing perception among the electorate that the Pakatan Harapan government has not fulfilled its election manifesto nine months into its political takeover. To the rakyat grounded in simple equations, this is indeed a far cry from the promise that the 10-point manifesto will see outcomes within the first hundred days.

While giving his assurance that the government is committed to fulfilling its pledge to the rakyat, the good minister stressed the need for people to understand that tackling the areas of concern would take more than a hundred days or even nine months as some of the issues are huge.

The message to the Semenyih and other by-election voters is, Pakatan Harapan will deliver the rakyat’s hopes and dreams in due time as some of the nation’s problems are deeply entrenched and delivering results would require concerted efforts. The plea is, give the government a fair chance to resolve them.

Besides, as media reports reveal, digging into the issues themselves has brought out cans of worms from some of the greatest cases of corruption and malfeasance Malaysia and the world have ever seen. While knowing that the nation’s pockets were picked by unscrupulous individuals and their cohorts, the new government did not realise the extent of the financial robbery. It would take a long time before the wrongdoers are caught and the agencies and institutions reformed, and Malaysia’s piggy bank is respectably filled up again.

Indeed, the main needs of voters at the grass roots is ringgit and cents. Their worry is how to make ends meet with the economic slowdown and escalating costs. Among the B40s and the poor in both urban and rural areas, expectations still lie in government handouts in cash or kind. BR1M still rings in their minds and they wonder what the fuss is in changing the acronym to BSH. The objective is still to provide them with a social security net in cash.

This is decidedly the plight of the poor, underprivileged and marginalised in any society, that is those whose playing field will never be leveled with the rich and affluent; those for whom affirmative action policies and programmes are a right in the paradigm of human rights. Even then, is equality or even equity achievable?

Which brings me to my second question: Are there any negative developments in inter-ethnic relations to be scared about?

There’s nothing to be scared about answered the kind minister. People should not worry unnecessarily as the multi-party, multi-ethnic PH coalition is operating well and understand what division of power and resources entail. At face level I felt comforted but I suspect all is not well on the ground and behind closed doors.

It appears from media and online discourse that the sore point among non Bumiputera Malaysians is the Bumiputera agenda which keeps morphing into different forms. One is of course the upfront bargaining of privileges in race-based politicking whether in parliament or on the streets. Another is the rise in the number of strident voices pushing for meritocracy and a truly egalitarian, fair and just society.

My point is, did the rakyat start off equal in the first place? Has the rapid modern development the nation has undergone since independence been balanced to bring about the promised equality? I think not.

My last question: What is being done about the breakdown in the nation’s value system? What are the country’s ulamas and religious leaders doing about restoring not only faith but more pragmatically, ethics and morality in society?

There is indeed something to be scared about. One should be worried that anti-corruption and integrity will soon become clichés when people’s attitudes and belief systems do not change; when religiosity, spirituality and morality are measured by the number of times one prays in mosques or other houses of worship, or by the number of times one goes on a pilgrimage.

To all the dear PH ministers, please mobilise the right individuals, committees and groups to help you (re)build a nation that is great not just economically but ethically and morally too.

A more important call is for you to set up the right governance standards and integrity values to ensure Malaysia is indeed a model nation that is respected by its own people and its global associates.

Only then will the rakyat be inclined to say “Yes Minister”.

* Datuk Halimah Mohd Said is the President of Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE).

** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.