SELANGOR is considered among the wealthiest states in the peninsula, and control of its government has long been seen as crucial to the Barisan Nasional (BN). Within its borders lie the administrative and national capitals of Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur. It is also home to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and the nation’s most important port, Port Klang.
It’s no wonder then that Selangor’s fall to the opposition parties in the 2008 general election rankled the BN so. But unlike in Perak, where the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) held only a slim majority and thus fell prey to BN’s machinations in the February 2009 coup, the PR has 36 assemblypersons to BN’s 20 in Selangor. Indeed, it would take more than a few defections to bring down the PR Selangor government.
Still, this has not stopped the BN from doing its best to upset the PR state government’s apple cart. Menteri Besar (MB) Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, especially, has become a lightning rod for the BN’s criticisms about the way the state is run. He has also had to fend off attacks on his integrity.
In the second and final part of a 45-minute interview with The Nut Graph on 29 April 2009, Khalid, in measured tones, shares his thoughts on the possibility of a Perak-like coup in Selangor; Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak; and Khalid’s nemesis, former MB Datuk Seri Mohd Khir Toyo. He also outlines his vision for Selangor.
TNG: After the fall of the PR government in Perak, there were plenty of rumours of something similar happening in Selangor. There were rumours that some PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) assemblypersons would cross over to BN. How did you deal with such uncertainty?
Khalid: Those [were] rumours.
I think BN has not forgiven us for taking over Selangor, Perak, Penang [and Kedah]. They don’t mind losing Kelantan, because they are traditional losers there. But they won’t forgive us for the rest.
So we were never given a free chance in Selangor. There have been a lot of disturbances and noise. I think it has started to level off, but their intention of trying to gain back Selangor, and other states, is well announced.
Do you think the recent announcement that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is going to personally helm the state Umno is a strong indication that the party will focus on “reclaiming” Selangor?
Well, yeah. We are delighted to have him. Selangor Umno is quite weak. Let’s see.
We’d like him to work together with us to give more development to the people of Selangor. To show that BN is a mature party that can tackle things together (with the PR).
Like in Australia. You could have the Labour Party in Canberra, and the Liberal Party in New South Wales or Queensland. And still they can work together.
So we expect that.
With Najib as PM, how do you foresee the state government’s relationship with the federal government? Will it be more cordial?
Our relationship with the federal government is quite reasonable now. For example, in the case of water, the federal government would like us to have a cordial discussion. We are establishing a joint task-force to handle this.
Are you optimistic that an amicable solution to the water deal will be found?
It should be resolved for the sake of the people of Selangor, and for the future of the Water Services Industry Act, as envisaged by the federal government.
Over the past year, you’ve been involved in a running battle with former Selangor MB Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, and been embroiled in controversies such as corruption allegations over the maintenance of your Lexus and cows for korban. An NGO, Gerak, has also made police reports alleging abuse of power on your part.
It never crossed my mind that my car, and cows, would become part of the political debate.
It made me very angry, in the beginning. If they want to play tough, the tough will get going. And we proved to them how transparency in government can help to reduce these so-called noises.
When we developed Selcat (Select Committee on Competence, Accountability and Transparency to probe the financial dealings of Balkis) we can see that the previous state government had not been doing something [in the right manner], taking into consideration that this money is the people’s money. And that’s how you should be managing it, with your conscience.
I think former MB Khir Toyo didn’t have a reasonable level of political training. He shouldn’t waste his time trying to throw stones at people. In the end, our current community, after many years of good education, has told him that — with that level of political style — nobody would give any support to him.
This is reflected in the survey done by the Merdeka Centre. It found that people feel that Khir Toyo is not acceptable, politically. Another survey, done by Sin Chew (Daily), found that the current Selangor government has a 75% acceptance level. This is very high, by any standard of the imagination.
I’m quite happy for Khir Toyo to continue to do this. It exposes more of him than me. The task of answering him now falls to our young political group including my political secretary. I do not think he deserves my answer.
What about the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Committee probe into your alleged abuse of power. They had previously come out with a strong, and some would say damning, statement about you, but have since gone quiet. Have you heard anything?
Nothing. But that doesn’t really matter. They should check their facts first.
They should have checked whether we followed the procedures or not. And the state followed procedures, and therefore we can use it. There are a number of MBs, in other states, who also use their own cars. The state provides the maintenance of the car: including petrol, tyres and all that. Not major repairs — that would be done by the owner. After all, that car is a state car.
It is not strange. All these things are not strange.
In terms of giving cows to the poor, it’s been done, not only in Selangor. There is no benefit to the MB at all. By giving cows you get elected? I think there’d be a lot more cows being distributed all over the country.
I think MACC’s concern is quite far-fetched.
Are you surprised at how long the investigation into the case has dragged on for? They were surprisingly quick off the mark in concluding investigations into Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin‘s corruption case.
That’s the standard of MACC’s conduct. Some people think that the voters are not intelligent enough to understand all this.
But that’s good for us. I don’t regard this as a negative thing.
If you want to enter the political world, you have to face this type of thing. It may hurt you, in terms of “How on earth could people have used this against me?”, and trying to belittle you because of your conduct.
It may hurt me, but as far as I’m concerned, at the end, my conscience and my attitudes are very clear.
What’s your vision for Selangor? Under Khir Toyo, it was Selangor reaching developed status.
Even though Selangor is a developed state, we are moving to a higher platform. The federal government talks about stimulus packages. Selangor says that they are talking about concepts. We are talking about the practical things.
We just came out of a very productive discussion on how to harness our river assets. Mind you, Khir Toyo could have done this four or five years ago. Maybe he is short of capacity or vision.
If you read their reports in the last four years, versus our one-year-and-two-months report — I think we have done far, far more tangible things than this group of people who thought that they managed the state.
Fortunately, you can have a fool to manage the state, and yet the state will grow, because of its momentum. But you need a much more skilled visionary if you want to move the state onto a higher level. That’s where I intend to take the state.
Now people will see how the Klang River will be transformed into a beautiful river — as it was before. That’s imagination that has not, till now, been discussed.
And they have not seen the way we are looking at transportation. The use on public transportation is only 10% now. We want to increase this to 25% so that less private transportation will be used.
That’s where PR comes in. We prove to people that we are far, far more resourceful and proactive than the BN. They know how to spend the money, but they don’t know how to create wealth.
Will all this wealth trickle down to the people?
Of course! That’s why we talk about Merakyatkan Ekonomi Selangor which has various people-centric programmes. And then from our economic stimulus package… could you imagine, the Klang River is not only one location, but it is 120 km long. Everybody will benefit. Even the people of KL benefit out of our activity.