Haze symptomatic of country’s malaises

Haze symptomatic of country’s malaises 

19 August 2005

publishedby www.malaysiakini.com

The recurrent haze with its ill-effects on the country’s economy and public health is a preventable catastrophe if only those responsible do their jobs properly. What happened in the wake of the 1998 haze and to the joint regional effort to tackle and solve the problem?

The rains may eventually save the day but the underlying problem will not disappear unless there is a concerted regional effort to stop open burning of huge tracts of land both in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Why conceal the API from public view after the 1998 catastrophe? To release it now defeats the purpose. Why didn’t the authorities act earlier or when the API readings were cause for concern? To not frighten off the tourists? But don’t the locals matter? It is puzzling that anyone is more concerned for its tourists than citizens. Or is there some other more sinister reason?

In this, I agree with KJ John’s perspective on the NEP. Truth never hurt a good cause and the truth is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow. When rich Malays qualify for government handouts while poor non-Malays miss out, how do we wean them off the taste of easy money? How then do they justify a policy meant to re-distribute wealth to the poor? 

The plan to give 30 percent of the national wealth to the bumiputeras is fundamentally flawed. How do you know when they have reached 30 percent and how do you ensure they maintain it? After all, asset worth is not a static figure but dynamic, always changing, even by the second.

This artificial control of wealth ownership contradicts the notion of a capitalist society. The more equitable and effective strategy is to eradicate poverty across the racial spectrum and equip the people with the knowledge and skills to be economically productive and independent of government aid. It should be the government’s goal to ensure every Malaysian has a decent standard of living.

It may require minimum wages for workers, financial aid for destitute families, positive measures such as a mixture of Malays and the other races in economic ventures where skills are transferred between ethnic communities and financial incentives given to non-Malay businesses for training Malay workers.

The Ali Baba syndrome where bumis pawn off their licences and permits and become passive financial beneficiaries of government handouts is the reason why they will never become skilled in business. But genuine partnerships between Malays and non-Malays in business will be more fruitful. The Malays must be actively involved in learning the ropes of doing business if they are to be self-reliant.

The APs controversy is the tip of the corruption iceberg. Perhaps it’s a controversy that is a blessing in disguise if it leads to reform. It highlights the need for a total revamp of how government contracts, grants, etc are distributed.

It is time to bolster the Auditor-General’s Department if financial improprieties and waste are to be curtailed. Corruption must carry long prison terms. The proceeds of crime must be confiscated. In China, they execute corrupt officials. The Syariah law demands that a thief’s hand be chopped off. I don’t support those extreme methods but I think they make a useful point.

Pak Lah has made the country relatively more open and transparent, but he needs to avoid the same pitfall of his predecessor of aspiring but not attaining. I am not suggesting Dr Mahathir Mohamad did not achieve anything. He definitely did, and one which was a watershed achievement was bringing those with blue blood within the reach of the law and for them to be sued by commoners.

But his name would have been etched in gold and acclaimed for many generations had he used his time in government to leave us a legacy of an open, honest, efficient and transparent government. Then he would not have had to cross swords with his former protege to pry loose from her iron grip that elusive list of AP recipients. Better late than never.

The haze may be a natural phenomenon albeit the result of human folly. But it’s scourge over the land is the fault and failure of those whose job it is to prevent it. It is symptomatic of the malaise in this country where botches due to dereliction of duty or corruption are the norm. Still there are stirring signs that change is on the horizon even though it is distant. 


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