After a breathless ride through October that left us wondering what’s next, Prema Devaraj urges us to continue to support efforts which will bring about change.
What a month October was.
Many Malaysians mourned the passing of Muslim scholar, poet and writer Kassim Ahmad. His passing was said to have left “a gaping hole in the country’s intellectual life and religious understanding”.
Aliran’s young writers Jefry Musa and Barathi Selvam contributed two pieces on the late Kassim Ahmad which gave an insight into the man he was. While sadly missed, we look to the writers, activists and scholars who have benefited from the late Kassim Ahmad’s teachings and writings to carry forward his legacy of critical thinking.
Meanwhile, Francis Loh in his piece on religious extremism and bigotry shows how chauvinists continue to try and fracture our society into a politically manufactured Muslim and non-Muslim divide. The absence of outright condemnation over this from the government is alarming and speaks volumes of the powers that be. But a statement from the Malay Rulers, who took a stance on tolerance and moderation in Islam, gave many hope.
Then we had Bank Negara telling us why we could not afford housing – but no real surprises there about “not having enough income and houses being too expensive”. Earlier, Aliran member Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj had written about the need for pro-people housing policies and suggested seven steps to achieve this. In the meantime, affordable housing continues to remain an elusive dream for many.
Aliran member Charles Hector wrote a three-part series on the labour movement in Malaysia, beginning with the history of the labour movement in Malaya, moving on to how the British supressed the labour movement in Malaya and ending with the weakening of the labour movement in post-independence Malaya. Labour through these pieces and you will be rewarded with a wealth of information which contextualises the labour movement in the country.
Workers’ rights, especially those of migrant workers, was brought up yet again when a hill-slope collapse took place at a construction site for affordable housing in Tanjung Bungah, Penang resulting in the loss of 11 lives, mainly migrant workers. A Tuan Yang diPertua Commission of Inquiry into the disaster will hopefully shed some light on how this happened.
We must also recognise the tragic loss of lives in this tragedy. Responsibility for this and steps to ensure no such incident takes place again must be taken. We sincerely hope that the families of those who died in this tragedy, both migrant and Malaysian, will receive some form of compensation – although we are aware that loss of life can never ever be sufficiently compensated.
The lack of rights of migrant workers to not only decent wages and housing but also to safety at work sites and the right of redress continues to be an issue. Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals is on decent work and economic growth and Specific Target 8.8 states that we need to “protect labour rights and promote a safe and secure working environment for all workers including migrant workers in particular women migrants and those in precarious employment”. Both national and sub-national levels of government must be working towards this standard.
Penang Forum, of which Aliran is a part, held its eighth public event – Penang Forum 8, a public dialogue on floods – on Sunday. While the presentations on flood mitigation and hill-slope development were informative, some of the comments from the floor were heated, reflecting the frustrations on the ground. The session was a reminder of the importance of constructive engagement premised on facts, compliance with standards, and accountability to stakeholders.
The 2018 budget is out with disbursements for various groups of people. Some have called it an election budget but the fact remains that poor governance, lack of accountability and leakages are issues which continue to plaque our nation.
As we continue to wonder what’s next in store for the country, we urge each and every one of you to keep the faith – that change is possible – and continue to support efforts which will bring about that change.
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
1 November 2017