It is axiomatic, I suppose, that many politicians take voters for granted once elections are over. At election time, they stand before voters and make their spiel about all the wonderful things they are going to do. They promise to be honest, attentive and responsive to the needs of the people.
Once in office, however, the YB-syndrome kicks in and it’s a different story. It has happened many times before, of course, but few expected to see it happen in Malaysia Baru, and so quickly too.
The wheeling and dealing in Putrajaya has returned; cronies – old and new – are back. The jockeying for power and position is gathering pace. Transparency in government, a hallowed cry of many PH leaders while in opposition, is now in full retreat. Talk to insiders and you might well be nauseated by some of the things that are going on.
The interest of the people, it seems, is the last thing on anyone’s mind in Putrajaya these days.
The government talks about grand development plans and impressive-sounding visions but what does it all really mean for hard-pressed Malaysians in the B40 group who have to cope with rising costs? How many ordinary Malaysians, for example, will actually get to share in the so-called “Shared Prosperity Vision 2030” that was announced with so much fanfare?
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir is always scolding the poor; they are too lazy; they don’t save enough; they should work harder and not depend on assistance, he says. But how many of the cronies that are big names today would have made it without the sweetheart deals, the privileged connections, the concessions, monopolies, special licences, approved permits, etc., courtesy of the government? Perhaps, if people in the B40 group got some of the breaks that these cronies enjoy, they, too, might become successful.
Malaysians are not lazy; it’s just that they are up against a corrupt economic and political system that squeezes them at every turn, that keeps wages low, that allows the elites to exploit them in a myriad of different ways.
Every time a utility bill or toll or basic food staple is paid for or bought, a crony somewhere gets a cut because of an unfair advantage. Every time a big government contract is signed, you can be sure that a crony is going to make a killing at the expense of the taxpayers. They say it’s Bumiputera empowerment but in truth, it is simply a way of enriching their cronies.
People hoped for change but its business as usual in Putrajaya. Mahathir used to poke fun at Najib over his “cash is king” comment, but make no mistake, money talks just as loudly today.
In other areas too, the voice of the people increasingly counts for little. Take the Lynas issue for example. The people have spoken. They don’t want another hazardous rare earth processing facility in our country. They don’t want our nation to become a hazardous waste dump. They don’t want to see our ecology ruined or our health and well-being jeopardized. But this government is impervious to the concerns of the people. The interests of Japanese and Australian businessmen seem to matter more to the prime minister than anything else.
What’s more, reports indicate that the Perak state government and Putrajaya have now signed a deal with a PRC company to undertake the exploration of rare earth minerals in the state. Did they learn nothing from the Bukit Merah catastrophe?
Recently, the nation was also shocked by media reports of Orang Asli foraging in garbage dumps. Instead of the finance minister or the economy minister or the rural development minister getting involved, they send the minister in charge of national unity to visit them! What’s he going to do? Gather everyone together and sing Kumbaya?
This same lack of empathy for the poor can also be seen by the government’s decision to cut millions of ringgits in subsidies and assistance to farmers and fishermen who are among the poorest groups in the country. The Finance Minister has no trouble finding billions of ringgits to buy over highway concessions or fund major infrastructure projects but has little to spare when it comes to farmers and fishermen.
And look at what’s happening in Penang where a massive infrastructure masterplan is being hastily pushed through despite strenuous public opposition. It’s another white elephant, another ECRL in the making. Economists assert that it is not economically feasible. Environmentalists have expressed serious concern about its ecological impact. Fishermen are worried, and with good cause, about the loss of their traditional fishing grounds.
Credible individuals and groups are simply exercising their rights as ratepayers and voters to express concern and demand answers. Instead of listening to them and working with them, state leaders attack, belittle, demonize and taunt them. There was a time, not so long ago, when the DAP fought for the rights of the common man; now they are behaving like bullies.
People everywhere are, in fact, just fed up with overdevelopment. They are dismayed and disgusted that land designated as green space, forest reserve or reserve land suddenly ends up in the hands of well-connected developers; they wonder how bigger and bigger buildings are allowed to take shape on smaller and smaller parcels of land; they are enraged that their voices count for so little with these politicians we voted for.
There was such great relief among the people of KL and PJ in particular when former federal territory minister Tengku Adnan was booted out of office. People honestly believed that finally they would get local authorities who would be responsive to the concerns of residents.
Instead, we see the same old situation continuing. PH ministers respond by blaming everything on the former government, that their hands are tied. Tied to whom? Thankfully, there are still those – like Hannah Yeoh and Fahmi Fadzil – who are willing to champion the rights of citizens. That is what we expect of our members of parliament.
In the meantime, over in Selangor, the PH state government is making plans to develop some 930 hectares of permanent forest reserve in Kuala Langat to make way for mixed-development projects. When questioned, the Menteri Besar says that it’s all really about preventing bush fires. How stupid does he think we are?
No one denies, of course, that the government faces daunting challenges after decades of BN mismanagement, corruption and abuse of power. So much needs to be done. But how long do they need to say no to Lynas or engage dissenting voices or help the Orang Asli? How long will it take to show they really care about the people who put them in power?
Perhaps if they were not so busy fighting for position and power or dreaming up big projects of dubious value or chasing after flying cars, they might find time to serve the people. Whatever it is, one thing is sure: the day of reckoning is coming.
[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |Friday 21st February 2020]