Malaysia Dateline

Hannah Yeoh’s dream: A Malaysia where all children are protected.

Malaysia has just passed the one year anniversary marking the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government. It hasn’t been an easy ride for Malaysians, in the midst of a global health pandemic, the political instability caused by a coup has caused severe economic repercussions.

As usual, it is the poor communities who are already suffering that will face the brunt of selfish decisions made by certain politicians.

In addition to causing a resurrection in Covid-19 cases, many have argued that Perikatan Nasional has not done enough for Malaysians who have been most affected by the pandemic. YB Hannah Yeoh agrees with the general sentiment.

In an exclusive interview with Malaysia Dateline, the former deputy minister of Women, Family and Community Development gave us her unfiltered opinion on all things political.

MD: What were your most memorable achievements during your time as a minister?

Hannah: In terms of our child-centered policies, there is much to be proud of.

We started the child sex offender’s registry, which was the first of its kind in Malaysia. We appointed the first children’s commissioner under Suhakam, we ran several very successful campaigns so children can identify and report sexual abuse, and we worked tirelessly to reduce the cases of baby dumping in Malaysia.

We were also working on a road map to abolishing child marriages before we had to leave.

In addition to that, I’m also happy with the extensive work we did with other communities under our purview such as special needs individuals (OKU) and senior citizens.

MD: In terms of your former portfolio, how would you rate your successors?

Hannah: In the first place, there isn’t a KPI, so we can’t measure their effectiveness.

There is no commitment to reform. We haven’t heard much about their ideas for their ministry. How do they want to improve the lives of Malaysians? What changes do they want to make? No one knows.

It is also troubling that there seems to be very little communication and coordination within the department. Kak Wan (Wan Azizah) and I had a very close working relationship. We had the same vision. We were very policy-centered and we tried our best to cut down on costs so that more money could be allocated to programs that would directly benefit Malaysians instead of money being wasted on administrative costs or on lavish ceremonies.

I also don’t see much attention being paid to the issues affecting our children in Malaysia, which is what saddens me the most to be honest.

MD: What advice would you give PN ministers regarding their role?

Hannah: KPWKM is a wide portfolio; there is no harm in engaging NGOs and even members of the opposition in creating and executing programs. We are all here to help. At the end of the day, the well-being of Malaysians is our collective goal.

I’d also advise them to put more effort into the protection of children. Children are helpless, they cannot fight for themselves, we have to fight for them. More initiatives must be put into place to ensure no child gets left behind. Our work can never get done until all children are protected in Malaysia.

MD: What has been your main focus after leaving the ministry?

Hannah: In addition to my ongoing work in my constituency, I still fight hard in my capacity to voice out issues that may be affecting all those who need help.

In fact, we were still able to push the government to provide childcare for frontliners, and we successfully managed to reinstate RM30 million in 2021 for this purpose.

Lawyer and journalist, Karim Raslan once wrote that Hannah was beloved by voters because of her sincerity and hard work. Unfortunately, these traits have also made Hannah a target to those who are threatened by her popularity.

One of the most common attacks that Hannah and her peers in DAP face is one that is meant to create tension and fear in the hearts of Malays. For decades, DAP has been accused of being an anti-Malay party.

MD: What do you have to say to those who claim DAP is anti-Malay?

Hannah: The work we have done, and the issues we have championed is testimony enough that we fight for all Malaysians, regardless of race, religion, or creed. Demonizing DAP is an election strategy that has been going on for years. I believe more Malaysians are seeing these attacks for what they are, an election strategy.

Hannah is right. In 2018, DAP’s Secretary General Lim Guan Eng who served as the Finance minister under PH, actually approved a higher budget for Islamic Development in comparison to the previous Barisan Nasional government.

It’s unfortunate that efforts like this will never be highlighted by DAP’s rivals as it would jeopardize the narrative they have spent years carefully developing.

MD: Speaking of elections, is PH ready to face GE-15?

Hannah: Frankly speaking, we are not quite there yet. We need to move away from this constant debate on who should be PM and move forward as a team, a cohort of younger leaders with a fresh vision for Malaysia.

Once that is settled, then we can truly say we are ready to face GE-15.