On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Long jobs list for Pak Lah to tackle

That decision would be written in the history books as
Pak Lah's first duty as prime minister, although his actual working day begins
tomorrow. Appropriate to his image as a leader who keeps close contact with
kampung folk, the country's fifth prime minister will visit flood-hit farmers
in his constituency in Penang and in Kedah.

The two states were the worst affected early last month. They lost not only
their homes and livestock but an entire season's planting.

It will be his second visit to these flood-hit areas and, hopefully, the
politicians and hangers-on accompanying him will be as concerned with  the plight of these farmers as he is.

In Kedah, at least 20,000ha of padi fields are estimated to have been damaged
by the floods. On average, 30- to 45-day-old padi seedlings were completely

Last month, The Star reported Abdullah's annoyance when he saw a convoy of 40
cars occupied by politicians and election hopefuls following him when he
visited several flood relief centres in Kepala Batas and Tasik Glugor.

Worse, it was reported that the smartly dressed contingent did not even get out
of their vehicles for fear of wetting their shoes when they realised it would
be a long trip.

He also questioned the progress of the RM350mil flood mitigation programme
along Sungai Muda, initiated under the Eighth Malaysian Plan following
recommendations from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency.

Abdullah's concern is understandable because the Kedah Drainage and Irrigation
Department had said that flooding caused by the annual spring tide was not
expected to relent until next month. He obviously understands the pulse of the
Malay heartland well, especially in Kedah. Besides the social and economic
cost, there are political consequences if no urgent steps are taken.

Long-term plans have been drawn up, including a RM1.5bil allocation to build 85
flood mitigation projects throughout the country to help padi farmers.

As he spoke to us about the situation, it was clear he wanted us – Kuala
Lumpur-based journalists with no inkling of the impact of the floods – to
understand the predicament of the farmers.

Abdullah's next priority would be to accelerate the nation's pace of
development and keep up the economic growth, which are on the minds of many
people. He would certainly want to channel his energies into attracting foreign
investments and to bolster our economic competitiveness. One of his immediate
foreign stops would be Japan,
a visit scheduled for next month.

As a former foreign minister, Abdullah understands the co-relation between economy
and international ties. He would surely use his diplomatic skills to sharpen
our economic attractiveness to foreign investors.

There are challenges ahead for Abdullah, including gearing up for a general
election and consolidating Umno and Barisan Nasional component parties to
ensure continued political stability.

It is good that senior Umno leaders have pledged their support for him despite
calls from some members for Abdullah to name his deputy immediately. Obviously,
he needs a deputy to help ease the burden of running the country.

But based on previous trends, Abdullah is unlikely to do so over the next few
days or weeks. Previously, when Datuk Musa Hitam quit as Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir
Mohamad's deputy in 1986, Ghafar Baba was only named to fill the post six
months later.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was appointed deputy prime minister only four months
after he won the Umno deputy presidency. In the case of Abdullah, he had to
wait four-and-a-half months before being named to the post following Anwar's
sacking from the party and government.

No doubt there has been speculation but it would only be fair that Abdullah be
allowed to name his deputy in his own time.

While party members may be keen on knowing Abdullah's choice as deputy, the
general public's wish is that he continues to forge national unity, fight
communalism and improve the quality of our civil service.

Among others, they want our civil servants to truly serve them, they want our
policemen to be alert and responsive, and they want corrupt officials,
especially the big fishes, to be brought to book.

Expectations are certainly high for Abdullah but it would mean little if we do
not give him our full support in taking Malaysia
to greater heights.

Mr Prime Minister, we wish you well in making Malaysia