By Kee Thuan Chye
I wanted to write something positive about the Federal Government. But I could think of only two good things that it has done in the last few months.
One of them – making English a must-pass subject at the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations starting in 2016 – I had written about at length before. The other is the introduction of financial education in the school curriculum starting next year with Primary 3 students and in 2017 for secondary schools.
This is a welcome move by the Education Ministry, although it is being done with the collaboration of Bank Negara, which seems to have initiated the idea. I wish we had this when I was in school; it would have helped me understand money and what to do with it. This is something important to learn from young, and I’m happy for our young that they will soon be getting that benefit.
If I had learned how to save, invest, manage my finances and plan for the future, I might not have squandered the money I earned in my youth. I could be owning numerous units of property now or earning substantial revenue from investing in businesses. Today, I wouldn’t still have to slog to eke out a living.
So much for that. But for my project, I figured that if I wrote only about this good thing being done for our young, I might manage just one-quarter the length of an article. That would be too short. But I did want to write something positive. So what could I do?
I decided to send an e-mail to about 40 people I know asking them to tell me what good things they thought the Government had done for the Malaysian rakyat in the last few months.
Many did not reply. And those who did gave me a crystal-clear indication of what they think of the Government. And how much confidence they have in the decision-makers in Putrajaya. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised.
Lawyer Mansor Adnan (not his real name – all the names mentioned here are not real, by the way, but they do reflect ethnicity) wrote back, “Have to really dig deep for this one, bro.” My reaction was, he was finding it hard too.
A few minutes later, he wrote again: “Frankly, I can’t think of any. That’s frightening, isn’t it? Or this could just mean I’m an incurable cynic.”
I don’t think he is. In fact, he’s one of those sensible, non-partisan, thinking Malaysians who care about the country. And he’s right – it’s frightening.
Kulwant Singh, a former civil servant, reinforced the frightening aspect when he wrote: “Will have to put on my thinking cap. More bad than good.” I asked him to try. He didn’t reply.
Burhan Fadzir, an arts practitioner, responded: “Search me. It was all only for the Malays.” Well, he is entitled to say that.
The most unconventional response came from Dean Khoo, a retired lecturer. He wrote a quatrain:
This government shall continue to rot
As a leopard does not change its spots.
It shall go on preying on people’s fear
Though the winds for change are near.
It didn’t quite address my question, but it encapsulated what many of my respondents felt about the Government.
Teacher Mavis Thomas sounded even more bleak: “Quite honestly, I can think of no good things this government has done for the rakyat in the last few months. In fact, tragically the rakyat have had to stomach an absent prime minister who never spoke up for ALL of the people. After a gruelling election in which people of all races voted for him, he appears to be only representing the Malays. Over the last few months, he has kept silent as members of his party spewed racist remarks against the minority races on an almost weekly basis. From a PM who kept saying Nambikkai to the Indians, all that has been proven in the post-election period is a prime minister and federal government that cannot keep a promise and seem incapable of doing the right and just thing. We are experiencing involution – a nation turning in on itself.”
My quest was beginning to look hopeless.
Then Tan Huat Seng, managing director of a company, responded: “If I trusted the Barisan Nasional government, I would say the removal of the sugar subsidy and the reduction of the one for petrol were brave and good deeds. But I don’t.” Well, despite the distrust, at least he did point out a couple of things. Nonetheless, he was probably worried that the Government might use the money saved from those subsidies for the wrong purposes.
Journalist Sim Saik Siong agreed with one of Tan’s mentions: “Removing the subsidy on sugar is the only thing worth remembering.”
Remus Leong, another journalist, thought of the increase in the real property gains tax: “I think one good step is that they have FINALLY taken steps to rein in the property speculators by raising RPGT and closing other loopholes.”
But even then, he expressed scepticism about the motive surrounding the move: “As we know, the politicians are in cahoots with developers for mutual benefit, so WHY are they taking these steps? Because of too many public complaints? I doubt it. Maybe because there’s a serious danger of a bubble economy and subsequent crash.”
It seems there’s always some ulterior motive behind every measure taken by the Government. Even the BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia) handout. You can sense it in the way retired executive Leman Lukman put it: “The good thing ... good for the gullible rakyat ... of course is the BR1M thingy ... fulfilling the promise although the amount is a disappointment to many.”
Although I see where Leman was going with his sardonic “good for the gullible rakyat”, I can’t agree that BR1M is good. It encourages the subsidy mentality, and it makes use of the rakyat’s money to buy the Government popularity.
Finally, one unconditionally good thing did come – from engineer Krishna Vasudevan: “I LOVE the UTC – Urban Transformation Centre – where they have centralised JPJ, JPN, Immigration, and it’s open EVERY day from 8.30am to 10pm. I had to renew my son’s and my own passport urgently in October and I went to the UTC in Sentul on a Tuesday night. Got it renewed in an hour! Then just this weekend, my son turned 12. Went to the UTC Sentul on Saturday morning to get his IC and also to change mine as well because it was fraying at the edges. Picked up both ICs on Sunday evening and then renewed my driving licence at the JPJ there too. Very impressed by the level of service – and it’s available on weekends and after hours too! So not all is bad la!”
OK, that sort of saved the day. And at least Krishna was enthusiastic about it. He didn’t see any prawns lurking beneath the rocks (er … transliterated from the Malay idiom udang di sebalik batu.)
Nonetheless, I discovered that on the whole, the respondents’ perception of the Government was far from positive. Still, I tried.
Perhaps you have your own examples of the good things the Government has done for the Malaysian rakyat in the last few months? Care to share them with me?
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.