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Where is the good news for Malaysia?

It is time for an honest evaluation of where we are as a nation

Photograph: Geralt/Pixabay

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The strengths and weaknesses of a nation are best tested during a crisis. Truth surfaces when people’s suffering increases.

Hence, in the wake of this ravaging coronavirus pandemic, let us look truth in the eye.

If we still fail to evaluate where we stand, then we must prepare for a deeper plunge in a post Covid-19 climate. We will be unable to grasp the opportunities sprouting from the prevailing health, economic and social calamity. 

First, look at the rising number of people left to sleep along walkways, begging for a meal or even driven to steal food for survival.

Second, an increasing number of Malaysians are working as delivery personnel and operating roadside stalls. They are not innovatively capitalising on opportunities, as some would make us believe. They are doing so simply because they are suddenly out of work or unable to make ends meet.

Third, look at the growing number of businesses shuttering down or lying idle. In just under a year, they could not withstand the prolonged economic downturn. 

Fourth, despite the economic stagnation and financial hardships affecting the population, we still hear of grandiose ‘development’ plans like wanting to reclaim land in Langkawi and build an artificial island. 

Fifth, is our political landscape united and resilient enough in the face of a pandemic? Of course not. Since the infamous backdoor political coup in early 2020 just as the pandemic was setting in, politicking has plunged the nation into a desperate mess. Institutions of governance have become extremely vulnerable.

Against all this, what would an honest national evaluation reveal? Who will take the rap for undermining reliable, capable succession planning for the prime minister’s post? Musa Hitam, Ghafar Baba, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Anwar Ibrahim were stopped in their tracks. In their place, Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak took over, only to be abruptly removed.

And so it seems we needed a political coup to save the nation. But Muhyiddin Yassin is not earning brownie points either.

Amid this leadership vacuum is the hollow economy, which has fallen like cards during this global pandemic. We have heard the drumbeats of race and religion and seen how imaginary enemies are created – these have papered over the cancerous spread of corruption.

If we do not have the honesty and courage to admit that Malaysia is fast falling, we are not really defenders of this land.

As all the policies, grand plans and trumpeting over decades peel off like fake paintwork, what will save us?

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Can Malaysia’s economic fabric withstand the crisis? 

More locals and migrant workers, many of them jobless, are queuing up for free food to ease the burden on their families. From Johore to Perlis, Kuala Lumpur to Kelantan, can anyone say there are no homeless people on the streets? 

Many business operators are struggling even to pay the rental arrears for their shops and factories.

And how will parents manage the cost of educating their children? 

The cries for help are getting louder by the day. If only the media could freely report the reality on the ground. 

Meanwhile, it is the NGOs and lone philanthropists who are stepping forward to help within their means. But how much can they do, really? 

Where is our ministry of welfare? During this crisis, more people have been driven into the streets without shelter and food. Wouldn’t a strong, well-managed ministry of welfare with an adequate budget be more meaningful and effective? 

After six decades of chasing after ‘development’ and basking in the glory of turning a small group into millionaires or even billionaires, we have actually created an economy that cannot withstand a full-blown health crisis. 

Many analysts have reminded the government that our economic framework may be heading in the wrong direction. But have their warnings been heeded?

Today, financial help for the people is also coming from their meagre retirement savings, ie the Employees Provident Fund.

The lack of adequate control and long-term planning of the national housing situation also showcases how wrong our governments have been. 

It is not just the low-income segment of society that is growing larger. The middle class too are being stretched. Food prices keep rising while we suffer from having to accept government explanations that this is due to inevitable inflation. 

Where is our economic strength? Our nation is blessed with plenty of rain and sunshine, but we are suffering from rising prices of vegetables, fish and livestock. Thailand and Indonesia do not have a food crisis like this during this pandemic, despite having many times more mouths to feed. Why? 

We chased after industrialisation at the expense of agriculture. Now, we have to live with manufacturers leaving our shores. Why? 

Despite so many government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies, we end up struggling to feed, clothe and shelter the people in less than a year of the pandemic.  

Should the crisis continue for another year, can the government tell us what would be the likely outcome? 

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Importance of food science

As the world races to buy rushed vaccines at an enormous cost to national budgets, reports have emerged of nitrate oxide nasal sprays and a drug called colchicine houde used to treat gout as effective combatants against Covid. We will probably hear of more breakthroughs in coming months. 

Meanwhile, what we eat and how we eat is also important. Many have little understanding of food science.

If many diseases thrive on the low immunity of humans, then what traditions, common sense and medical science dictate must prevail. Improving our immune systems is the front line and most defining our defence.

Understanding and boosting our immune systems is not confined to the world of western medicine. Many eastern traditions have volumes of understanding about food science, which is key in erecting strong immune systems.

Yet the Malaysian education system is so flawed. After an entire generation of amateurish and political meddling, we have raised a population that is today far too ignorant about food science. We eat anything and everything that is tasty, and only affordability seems to restrict our daily food choices.

Some of the rich tout the benefits of eating quinoa, while the middle class indulge in processed and fast foods. Many of the lower-income group look for cheap backyard factory produce. Then, we have the recent fake halal meat scandal. 

Food science should be introduced in our education system as a compulsory subject, from primary school all the way to university. This will spawn an entire generation of more aware people, who will then influence food production, its related economies and domestic consumption.

In the long term, this knowledge and lifestyle will give Malaysia both a global and national edge. We will be healthier, and it will the nation will not have to spend so much on healthcare. We will be reliable exporters of produce (crops and husbandry) that the developed world is in short supply.

We will be not only be healthier but more productive, contributing to the resilient progress of the nation.

Unfortunately, we are more inclined to emphasise religious education and chase after industrialisation while neglecting our bodies, our minds and our environment and treating them irresponsibly.

Perhaps the learned among our academics should start the ball rolling by bringing such discussions into the hallways of policymakers.

Give me the good news, please!

I have been talking to many people from all walks of life but have not yet heard any real good news for my beloved country.

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I browse social media. That only gives me ‘shocking’ news. I can dismiss some of it as fake and mischievous.

Even online portals and some mainstream media have little news to celebrate.  

I try listening to opposition politicians – once the very ones who helmed the government. They too expose more and more wrongdoings that certainly do not make good news.

Then I try listening and evaluating the various ministers and their deputies. It becomes even more worrisome. Either they are failing miserably in accountability for their actions, or they are entrenching the general perception that they are not qualified for the job.  

Am I being negative and unpatriotic for not being able to see any good news?

But then, even doctors and frontline health staff cry out in the face of acute failures that they have to put up with as they combat the health pandemic.

Movement control orders and an emergency declaration do not seem to have brought down the Covid infectivity rate enough to revive a broken economy.

Despite the exposes of corrupt civil servants, politicians and business people – convicted or suspected – the thieving continues and seems more deeply rooted.

Foreign investments appear to be heading to other destinations, even though they are not spared the Covid scourge.

When the government counters with assurances that new investments are pouring in, we do not see their facilities, nor do we know the names of these specific investors, what their nature of business is and where they are located.

We are assured that we have enough food supplies to see us through for a good six months, but prices keep soaring.

Meanwhile, the working class share stories of pay cuts, severance packages and layoffs.

Retail outlets are told they can open at malls; they stack up their chairs, switch on the lights – and end each day with just a handful of customers.

A 10km radius travel restriction is put in place, but schools are opened and they often requiring longer commuting distances.

More and more nasi lemak, thosai and koay teow stalls are sprouting along many streets.  

Loan sharks, a decades-old scourge, are probably having a field day in the face of untold hardships.

Coup governments all over the world have rarely succeeded. Maybe Malaysia is different? If so, give me the good news, please.

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