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Malaysia – a nation once blessed now struggles to find its way

The bottom line in achieving national unity is the eradication of corruption


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First, let’s take a peek across the causeway: Singapore’s latest water treatment plant, its fourth, which can produce 30 million gallons of drinking water daily, has earned accolades.

The plant began operating on 29 June 2020, amid a global pandemic. It is operated by Marina East Water Pte Ltd under a 25-year concession from 2020 to 2045 in a design-build-own-operate arrangement with the republic’s national water agency, the Public Utilities Board.

Not only did the plant come into operation within budget, it was also on schedule, despite the coronavirus pandemic. It is further testament to the resilience of the Singaporean determination.

On this side of the causeway, can we say the same?

Take the sad, heart-wrenching case of the Tebrau Residence in Johor Bahru under the 1Malaysia People’s Housing Programme (Prima).

Originally promised to be delivered to hopeful buyers in January 2020, it has been postponed several times and is now scheduled for vacant possession in April 2021.

This is causing untold hardship to the people.

Likewise, while we have abundant rivers, dams and rainfall here in Malaysia, incidents involving the poisoning of our precious water sources are not rare.

Water cuts have become a way of life too. Look at the many cases of unsafe drinking water detected owing to wilful pollution or the many times we hear of pipelines bursting or treatment plants breaking down.

What is it that makes Singapore succeed with lighting speed and determination, whereas we in Malaysia keep stumbling?

Will there not come a time when Singapore will kiss goodbye to its need for Malaysian water supply?

With Singapore’s latest marvel of seawater desalination, the tiny nation has now added a fourth practically limitless source of clean water for consumption and drinking.

Lest we forget, we in Malaysia were sold the ‘Look East’ dream decades ago by our political leaders.

We spend millions of taxpayers’ money for countless lawatan sambal belajar (study tours), globetrotting in the name of making Malaysia even greater.

We privatised the gift of water but are still struggling to provide guaranteed, uninterrupted, clean, safe water to every household nationwide.

Singapore stuck with its national Public Utilities Board and has planned far ahead into the distant future. Today, the island republic has proven capability in treating both seawater and fresh water, thus beating even nature’s weather dictates.

Malaysians must stop being sucked up into the worn defensive mindset that was often the prescription dished out by a former two-time prime minister – that Singapore’s success cannot be compared with Malaysia’s situation, ie the former is only a tiny island with six million people compared to Malaysia’s population of over 30 million.

It is not about comparing apples and oranges. It is about national will, political direction-setting, leadership and above all, zero tolerance for corruption.

If we are willing to learn from this ‘Singaporean determination’, we can reform our ailing Malaysia.

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What Singapore has achieved is an inspiration for other Asean nations.

Putrajaya’s power – bane or blessing?

The grandiosity of Putrajaya would mesmerise any new visitor to the federal capital. Countless buildings spread out in what appears to be a sprawling playground of the powers that be.

Putrajaya has become powerful not only in its looks but also in its revenue control. As pointed out by Tuaran MP Wilfred Madius Tangau, the unfair redistribution of revenue collected by Putrajaya has left states like Selangor and Penang feeling short-changed.

As a result, resentment is growing over Putrajaya’s control of revenue collection.

The serious side effects of this centralised arrangement of the country’s wealth from tax and revenue is explained by Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow. He points out that taking loans, issuing bonds and raising funds are areas controlled by the federal government.

And because the federal government wields authority over the collection of taxes and wealth from all the natural resources of Malaysia, the states are left with limited options to collect their own much-needed revenue to provide services and benefits to the people.

People may then look at their own state governments unkindly, even though it is the federal government that is largely responsible for the development, wellbeing and progress of the states.

Because of this arrangement, the consolidation of power in Putrajaya can be deemed more a bane than a blessing.

And when you have perhaps the world’s largest cabinet in power, such absolute control of a nation’s wealth may only further erode the blessings that could otherwise be showered over all the states. Putrajaya’s dominance has forced states to rely on, if not exploit, their natural resources to find their own money.

Perhaps the moment has come for a thorough review of Putrajaya’s might.

Loss of greatness

As the Lunar New Year unfolded recently, we realise that four festive celebrations have flown by past us, robbing us of the great Malaysian spirit of rejoicing in each other’s celebrations.

Hari Raya, Deepavali and Christmas joy was dampened as we struggled with the movement control orders put in place to combat Covid-19.

During the recent Lunar New year celebrations, we were restricted to a 10km travel distance, and thus many were unable to fulfil filial obligations.

It has been a year since many Malaysians had a break from the din of the workplace. And now, loss of work has become a nightmare for a growing number of Malaysians.

As we ponder on the robbed opportunity to celebrate the greatness of being Malaysians, along with our many festivals, have we overreacted with the variety of shifting movement control orders or ever-changing government decisions?

Were the restrictions enforced over the four festive periods the wisest of decisions? Will we ever get pass all this in the months ahead, after having declared a state of emergency that shuttered the house of democracy, Parliament?

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As the restricted movements over the Lunar New Year cast a shadow over the nation, how long more will humanity remain prisoner to the Covid scare? Could we have done any better without having to sacrifice the greatness of being Malaysian?

Maybe yes, if we hear the various experts correctly. Maybe no, if we accept the repeated warnings from our unelected government.

Why do Malaysian politicians dabble in shares?

For ordinary working-class people, including even professionals, the idea of politicians holding shares in listed companies to the tune of millions of ringgit is hard to imagine.

Why do many of our politicians have a string of shares in companies that often conduct mega-bucks businesses, sometimes involving government contracts.

The son of a prominent politician recently disposed of millions of shares in a listed firm. If that’s not enough, his wife’s company was reportedly selling a large stake as well.  

In a democratic, capitalist world, anyone can hold shares and remain free to deal with them as they please.

But when politicians, especially those with silver-spoon political connections, are known to hold multimillion ringgit worth of shares in companies that land contracts for large projects, should we fault those who raise eyebrows?

How do some politicians and their family members get that kind of money to hold substantial shareholdings in companies?

If politicians get involved in business, how will they give 100% focus, dedication and time to politics (ie governing)? Do they have the time, expertise and passion to dabble in businesses?

And why are some of them involved in businesses that have government contracts, even if secured through open tender? If politicians can dabble in business, what stops business people from meddling in politics?

Corporatised Malaysia seems like a place where politicians may reap huge wealth and then dispose their stakes as they please.

What we see is politicians having large stakes in businesses – some of these stakes are now known, with perhaps many more still under wraps.

Should such stakes not be reserved for the people through institutions empowered to create wealth for the people, with full accountability and transparency?

In these turbulent times amid an economic slowdown, ordinary people are fighting desperate battles owing to job losses and pay cuts. Many of them are experiencing financial nightmares – without substantial relief aid from the government.

Then they see a politician and his spouse disposing large stakes in a listed company and wonder if the money they receive will be used to ease the people’s suffering?

It looks as if more politicians subscribe to the “cash is king” philosophy than we naive people would have guessed.  

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Muhyiddin’s national unity programme

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on his first day of work after the Lunar New Year called for a national unity response as he launched a national unity plan and a national unity action blueprint for the coming decade.

It is noble of the PM to highlight that we are a multiracial nation with diverse traditions, cultures, beliefs and multiple religious beliefs, and we need sustained efforts to forge and strengthen national unity.

In launching the blueprint, however, he cautioned the people to be wary of politicians playing the race card.

For decades, Malaysians have been harping on this dangerous political agenda of politicians peddling the race card. Many even recall Muhyiddin himself declaring, “I am Malay first!’

So, if Muhyiddin wants to advise us to “stay clear of politicians who try to raise their political stock by exploiting racial sentiments” (as streamed over his Facebook), he must either retract his political sloganeering not too long ago and make a public apology or disqualify himself from his call to support the recently launched government agenda for 2021-2030.

It is comforting to hear from him that the government will not compromise on matters that threaten unity. But he must reassure us that policing such politicians should precede taking action against ordinary people’s expressions on social media.

The PM must be lauded for stating unequivocally that “the quest for unity is a journey not a destination”.

But he also needs to be told unequivocally that that “journey” may not have a destination, at least, not in the near future. So the journey needs milestones to ensure we do not keep shifting goalposts along the way like we have done all this while.

The bottom line in achieving national unity is the eradication of corruption. Enhance and institutionalise transparency and make accountability the yardstick to decide which politician stays and who gets fired without delay.

The PM is not wrong in calling upon all stakeholders (ie the people, NGOs, community leaders and religious leaders) to help make the blueprint work. But he is duty-bound to tell us upfront what he will do to fight deep-rooted political, religious and racial bigotry with all the political will and help from the corridors of power that he can muster.

If he can speak in plain language on how he will fight corruption and do away with race-based economic and social policies, Malaysians may forgive his “Malay first” proclamation and be willing to move forward in the interest of nation-building.

The people have had enough of threats, enough of nicely worded blueprints and enough of too many undelivered promises.

It is time for action. It is the right season to mean what you say and say what you mean, Mr PM.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
22 Feb 2021 2.01pm

Yes, JD we were a nation blessed but why are we struggling to find our way now.
JD, you have written well but our leaders are like ostriches with heir heads in the sand – they refused to see to see the writing on the wall and the good example Singapore gave us as to good governance.
Why? Shall we put away niceties this time – just look at the composition of the civil service. To admit their failings is to admit our nation’s bureaucracy failed us!

Mr PM , please don’t do a cakap sama bikin routine to JD’s call to you!!

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