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Malaysia – big on form but truly weak in substance

Food inside the back of a lorry

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The day Malaysians put their foot down and play a collaborative role, taking responsibility to ensure our substance is commensurate with form, that is the day we will be the real ‘new Malaysia’, writes JD Lovernciear.

Is Malaysia big on form but really weak in substance? From institutions to businesses to attitudes and mindsets, how would we rate?

After six decades of a monopolistic Umno rule, the new government of the day is faced with a huge problem. Indeed, if you review the photos taken at the refurbished ‘Tebing’ (confluence of the Gombak and Klang rivers} that historically marks the heart of the federal capital city Kuala Lumpur, you have to admit that we have a huge deficit in substance.

We parade modern infrastructure. We proclaim our modernising skylines. We spend lavishly – in the process getting ourselves trapped in debt beyond our imagination.

But look at our food handling and eating out habits. If you take the ‘Tebing’ picture story, you see the contrast. A resplendent open space – ambitious development beside the majestic Masjid Jamek Mosque, skirted by rivers boasting modified water features.

Meanwhile, street hawkers transport their cooked food in a manner that leaves much to be desired. Lunch-hour crowds, however, have no qualms how low we are in substance. The form ie nicely laid-out food is good enough for us. Who cares how it is prepared and carted to the point of sale.

Enforcement efforts to raise the benchmark of food preparation, transport and display have all been buried by mere compliance to attractive facades, freshly painted frontages and decorated food in stainless trays. This stubborn weakness that never was addressed in the past decades has entrenched a national mindset and attitude of ‘semuanya OK’ (all OK) or as in local parlance, “tutup satu mata” (close one eye).

A nation cannot withstand the challenges of tomorrow if it lacks substance and is happy to indulge in mere form. As long as our attitudes and mindsets remain stuck on form, we will not be resilient.

The day Malaysians put their foot down and play a collaborative role, taking responsibility to ensure our substance is commensurate with form, that is the day we will be the real ‘new Malaysia’. Indeed, the way we prepare, sell and consume food should be the yardstick of all else from institutional reform to ethical business conduct to clean governance.

Malaysians must wake up to reappraise where we stand and examine our individual mindsets and values. Screaming about religion or race cannot improve our substance. It only window-dresses our form. It is time to stop hoodwinking ourselves and the world around us.

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.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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19 Jul 2019 10.28pm

So right!

Over 20 years ago, my Iraqi friend described Malaysia as “Strong on appearances, weak on essence” and nothing has changed as we head towards “developed nation status” in 2020 (postponed to 2024).

With regards dirty eateries with shoddy service, I find that many middle-class and even wealthy Malaysian consumers tend to disregard cleanliness of eateries, provided some dish is tasty or it’s cheap enough, and this culture is irrespective of whether we have a BN or Pakatan government, under which local authority enforcement has changed very much.

Quite frankly, I don’t know how the government can affect a culture change in Malaysians, especially when clean eateries may have to charge a bit more.

Teo Chuen Tick
22 Jul 2018 7.12am

Can we hope for a leadership by example of the PH govt.? This emphasis of form over substance has been the norm of all the umnoputra governments. Is it any wonder the culture has now become prevalent among the rakyat?
But it is not happening – at least not at the moment. Look at Haridas’s article about the ‘default culture’. It is but another manifestation of the form over substance culture!! Qualified rakyat are bypassed for big names of the Najib era – the very people who had stood idly by as Najib plundered our nation’s coffers!!

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