Public funds are expected to be spent judiciously by the government with the supposed priority of improving the living standards of the common people, especially the needy and marginalised.
Financial prudence is obviously necessary, especially when resources are scarce or limited.
That is why it raised an eyebrow recently when former Sabah chief minister Shafie Apdal alleged that the sitting Sabah government had spent millions of ringgit on “Sabah Maju Jaya” (Let Sabah Prosper) signboards across the state.
The state motto Sabah Maju Jaya is to indicate the Sabah development plan for 2021-2025.
It would be a rude irony if the government had indeed spent lots of money just to flaunt its intention to develop a state that happens to be one of the poorest in the federation.
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Surely, the money spent on such outdoor advertising would be better spent on uplifting the people’s living conditions.
An intention is as good as the signage – which is not enough. After all, isn’t the proof of the pudding in the eating?
As rightly pointed out by Shafie, who incidentally had governed the state in the past, the money could have been spent on, say, preventing frequent power cuts in Sabah, such as the recent case at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Such occurrences could be harmful to those with serious ailments.
To be sure, this is the state where 18-year-old Veveonah Mosibin had to climb up a tree in her Sabanalang Pitas village to get an internet connection in order to sit for her exams. Soon after, ruling politicians scrambled to come to her aid.
But despite that incident, communications in terms of the internet and telephone lines remain a problem for the common people.
For example, interior villages such as Kampung Long Pasia, Kampung Long Mio, Kampung Ulu Bole, Kampung Meligan and Kampung Iburuh recently faced internet connection problems and phone line disruptions after the power generator of the telecom towers in Kampung Long Pasia and Kampung Ulu Bole was damaged.
An improvement in Sabahans’ living conditions certainly requires more than just feel-good signage. Good infrastructure is essential.
School children from Kampung Nangkawangan, for instance, reportedly have to risk their lives daily to cross a river near their homes after the suspension bridge was washed away by floods last month.
They use bamboo rafts or a “zip line” to cross the river at their own peril. This is obviously not a sign of a state that has progressed smoothly ever since it helped form the Malaysian federation.
To be fair, such a feel-good signage phenomenon is not peculiar to Sabah.
In the past, there were signboards in the peninsula that informed the public about certain community projects, such as community halls or bridges, to be undertaken by the federal government, although not as expensively crafted as the ones purportedly constructed in Sabah.
Some of these well-publicised projects unfortunately never saw the light of day in the peninsula. Only the signboards are still standing as a grim reminder of development projects that were not fulfilled.
People’s genuine expectation of development should not be fed with expensive publicity, which is, as intimated above, a waste of public funds.
Accomplished development projects are the best testimony to a sitting government’s good intention. – The Malaysian Insight