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A few weeks ago, our capital city was once again inundated after a heavy downpour. Floods, like Covid, are endemic now. 

The government’s response was predictable: blame unusual weather patterns, heavy runoff, sedimentation, etc.  and promise all sorts of master plans, flood mitigation schemes and new projects. 

KL mayor Mahadi Che Ngah, for example, announced that the city will spend RM10 million under a new “Flash Flood Mitigation Plan 2022” to tackle the problem.[1] Perhaps if the mayor had promised to resign should the city be flooded again, I might be convinced he means business this time around. But this is Malaysia where neither politicians nor public servants are known to take responsibility for their failures. They’ll eagerly lay claim to the titles, the perks and the opportunities that come with the job but rarely the responsibility.

To be sure, we are feeling the effects of climate change but there’s no doubt that stupidity, avarice and incompetence are immensely complicating the situation. When a nation is facing unpredictable weather patterns, it ought to protect its forests, not destroy it. It ought to pay particular attention to things like maintaining drainage systems, pumps and flood retention ponds, not neglect them. It’s not rocket science; it’s just common sense. 

In truth, the floods are but a symptom of a far deeper malaise. The clogged drains and the confused and ineffectual responses are signs of a nation in disrepair, a nation that has lost its way. The floods speak of an absence of honest and capable leadership, a failure of government, of bureaucratic incompetence. It exposes an indolent, corrupt and clueless political regime that is no longer even capable of adequately administering the country.

Honestly, I am edging towards despair over the sorry state of our nation today. In writing my recent book – Paradise Lost: Mahathir and the End of Hope[2] – I came to the sad realization that the nation I was once so proud to represent as ambassador is no more. 

Former Bank Negara deputy governor Sukudhew (Sukhdave) Singh said as much too when he wrote, “The reign of honest men in this country has come to an end. The days now belong to the wicked”.[3] What a sad commentary of a nation almost 65 years in the making.

But how did we go from a nation on the cusp of greatness to one that cannot even keep its capital city from being regularly inundated, one in which the days belong to the wicked? 

If you are prepared for an ugly truth, look no further than the Ketuanan Melayu ideology – that reprehensible notion that only a small, select group of Bumiputera politicians and their cronies have a divine right to rule. That is what gave rise and legitimacy to the immoral, incompetent, corrupt and self-serving regime that has continued in one form or another despite changes in government.  It is now an albatross around our necks; it impacts every Malaysian in a myriad of ways and it is dragging us further and further down with each passing year.

Instead of bringing out the best, Ketuanan-Melayuism has entrenched the worst, most mediocre, most bigoted, most insecure and most unfit coterie of men and women in high office. They talk about ‘bangsa, agama dan negara’ but it’s all a sham. Under their watch, our negara has become a grand kleptocracy, a nation of cartels and syndicates, a misogynistic, racist, dysfunctional state that is gradually succumbing to the whims of religious extremists.

The cumulative destruction Ketuanan-Melayuism has wrought upon the nation in the name of ‘bangsa, agama dan negara’ is stunning. 

In their quest to fend off challenges to their power, they destroyed the very institutions that are critical to our success. They undermined one of the finest judiciaries in the region. They emasculated an outstanding civil service. They dumbed down a sound education system. They gerrymandered and malapportioned their way to power and then turned a promising democracy into an apartheid-like, quasi-religious state. They took a country which was just beginning to cohere into a tolerant multicultural society and irrevocably divided it with their racism and religious fanaticism. And they turned a nation that once prided itself on character, integrity and public service into one which shamelessly honours criminals and sends abroad boorish men to represent the nation.

And if all that wasn’t bad enough, they now make a mockery of the rule of law. Those with the right connections can avail themselves of sweetheart deals and escape the consequences of their criminal behaviour. Once sound institutions now pander to cronies and criminals. All the big trials that are before the courts today are only happening because, for a brief moment in time, Ketuanan-Melayuism was dethroned. It’s an aberration; it is unlikely to happen again.

Now the rush is on to convince the public that the man who was found guilty of stealing billions is actually the best prime minister we’ve ever had, one who certainly deserves to be heard, debated, honoured and pardoned. Surely, a royal pardon for someone who so massively betrayed the trust of the nation, who so vilely abused his power, would be the ultimate repudiation of the very ideals upon which our nation was founded. And yet, it has not stopped the momentum to secure such a pardon.

Everything that Ketuanan-Melayuism touches invariably ends up tainted with scandal and obloquy. Under their watch, corruption festers in every corner of the nation and at every level. Nothing is sacred or sacrosanct. Our nation’s defences are compromised because they loot from defence procurement projects. Our borders are no longer secure because immigration and customs officers and their political bosses are easily bribed. Our roads are not safe because RTD officers are on the take. GLCs are failing because cronies are not called to account for their misdeeds. Our cities are congested and our green spaces ravished because city halls across the country have succumbed to corrupt developers. Our personal data has now been compromised. Even halal food is not safe from their depredations. 

In their scramble for riches, they have acquiesced in the rape of our forests, the pollution of our rivers, the fouling of the air we breathe, and they turn a blind eye to imported toxic waste and garbage. They don’t care about the well-being of the people or of the generations yet to come. Indeed, they feel no remorse for the evil they do to this nation of ours, to the land and to the people. 

Sir Walter Scott may have had them in mind when he wrote: Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land!

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 20th May 2022]

[1] KL City Hall to implement 14 interim measures to tackle flash floods |Malaysian Insight, 09 May 2022

[2] Paradise Lost: Mahathir and the End of Hope, Dennis Ignatius, DJI publications, August 2021

[3] https://www.linkedin.com/posts/sukudhew-sukhdave-singh_in-the-best-voiceover-from-the-lord-of-the-activity-6923884265801715712-Y387?utm_source=linkedin_share&utm_medium=android_app