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All I want for Christmas is…

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Mustafa K Anuar shares with us his unorthodox wish list for Christmas pressies.

It's the season to crack down on corruption - Image: unodc.org
It’s the season to crack down on corruption – Image: unodc.org

It may seem a bit too early for me to wish for a Christmas gift.

But then, come to think of it, it isn’t really if one were to consider the many goodies that have been dished out to my fellow Malaysians by the “ruling Santas” since many months ago, particularly when the citizenry have been gripped by the frenzy of the forthcoming general election.

For starters, I wish for the national enforcement agency that is tasked to combat the endemic corruption in the country to have more teeth, and sharp ones at that, and be independent enough so that it can cast a wider net over the bigger fish, apart from catching the small fries.

Here we’re talking about those big fish being entangled in millions of ringgit worth of financial scandals that have brought about leakages across the country.

In other words, there must be a conscientious, committed and concerted effort to do anything and everything to ensure that taxpayers’ money is well managed for the benefit of the majority of the people in society — and not find its way into the pockets of a few. Otherwise, this moral and financial disease will persist till the fat lady sings.

And in line with this spirit, I wish that all government contracts, especially those that are worth millions — if not billions — of ringgit, are awarded on an open tender basis. After all, the last time I checked the dictionary, this is what is meant by transparency in governance so that financial hanky-panky can be avoided. Besides, this governance approach would ensure — as far as humanly possible — that the right company with the appropriate expertise gets the contract.

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You and I know that the money that can be saved from such an open tender system can be used for the benefit of the larger community, such as in the construction of hospitals, state-run crèches, schools and low-cost houses. These would be great infrastructural projects for all of us Malaysians, projects that are rightfully ours.
In this regard, I also wish that the implementation of any development project for the benefit of the larger community should not be upon our voting into power the politicians concerned. Let the people make their own independent assessment of their political leaders — and not be weighed down by assumed gratitude — before deciding whom to vote for.

It is also imperative for me to wish for all the important institutions in society such as the judiciary, police and other government agencies as well as the media that they guard their independence jealously and work without fear or favour. It goes without saying that an institution that lacks these vital qualities would have an adverse impact upon the well being of the general populace.

Moreover, a less independent institution puts a heavy strain on the national coffers when, for example, a royal commission of inquiry is instituted primarily because the depth of investigation and findings of the law enforcement agencies concerned is found wanting by the general public.

And the strain is equally felt with the issuing of cash handouts, which have become one of the hallmarks of the present leadership of the country. Financial assistance is predictably a welcome relief particularly for the needy and the downtrodden of society. However, help of this nature is ephemeral in its feel-good sensation as opposed to well-thought out strategies and policies to address socio-economic problems through, for instance, technical training for the young, scholarships for bright but poor students and seed money for small businesses. You would need something more than just fleeting joy especially in the face of, among others, growing economic disparities, the unabated rising cost of living, unemployment, the escalating prices of houses and the challenges of globalisation.
Besides, such protracted cash handouts can have the ironic effect of harming a person’s self-esteem and dignity as a human being.

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And I also wish for government policies that are well-defined for ordinary mortals like us to understand and appreciate. It doesn’t help anyone if we’re told that a policy is consciously left “vague” so as to be inclusive enough to allow for various interpretations by various stakeholders over a period of time.

What really ought to be done is for the ruling politicians to go to the rakyat and listen attentively to their responses, grouses and ideas prior to crafting and implementing a policy that is supposed to have wide and deep social implications.

Another wish of mine is that frogs remain amphibious and not turn into politicians whose professed political independence betrays the votes that were originally gained from their respective constituencies. To insist on their political independence is as insulting to our intelligence as the hare-brained statements and proclamations of certain politicians (and also government functionaries) that often smack of political conservatism, extremism and bigotry. Of course, nothing could be worse than trying to make a political statement by simply wagging one’s bum in public.

Equally, if not more, important is the wish for a Malaysian society in which civil liberties, freedom of expression and information, and the rule of law are respected and celebrated by the powers-that-be as well as ordinary Malaysians.

Living in a sustainable physical environment is another wish. I hope that governments at both federal and state levels would pay serious attention to problems of environmental degradation through industrial pollution and toxic waste, and unchecked housing development and construction of commercial complexes that could leave an ugly trail of cut hills, felled trees and the demolition of green lungs – resulting in a concrete jungle.

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I believe this list of wishes, which isn’t exhaustive, is not too demanding considering the fact that this country of ours, or at least Peninsular Malaysia, has gained independence from the British some 55 years ago and thus we should reap the fruit of such independence. So I gather it should be Ho-ho-hokay!

This piece first appeared in the Malaysian Insider

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