Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Playing cat and mouse with the law

A few weeks ago, as I was passing, there was a surprise raid by city officials on the hawkers at the premises of the Masjid Jamek LRT station. Within minutes , the hawkers made their rushed ‘getaway’, clearing the area of their makeshift counters and culinary spreads.

Since then, I note the resilient hawkers and vendors are back, even in greater number, it would seem to me. Well…it kind of set me thinking. Not that most of us are unaware of this phenomenon, but I am curious as to its nature, dynamics and the rational of it all.

This is not to say, I am unsympathetic towards the small man trying the earn a living, for I would consider myself as one naturally inclined towards the underdog of society, rather than the spoilt and decadent of the upper class or ‘the big boys’ of business. But then the issue I am raising here is not of sectarian interests, but a point of law and governance, or concerning ‘mismanagement’ perhaps? It raises questions too on the effectiveness of the law and its enforcement.

Now I am sure the vendors are not unintelligent lot. They must and do calculate their risk, gain and losses Wouldn’t it be reasonable for me to conclude that somewhere in their reckoning, they find it still ‘worth it’ to persevere playing cat and mouse. How do they come to resolve thus? The penalty is not severe enough so as to deter, the trade is lucrative, the officials can be persuaded to be lenient, there are possible loopholes in the law and implementation that one can avail oneself of? Or simply, the law is really a farce and not to be taken seriously?

What make me curious rather is the stand of the law enforcement agency. Now given their goal of outlawing such businesses, as evident in their periodic raids, haven’t they come to the conclusion by now that their action had been ineffective? Or can it be this is not an issue altogether with them? The point to them is periodic demonstration of power or authority, a ritual of sort which needs to be performed?

I know this much. In places like Singapore, reputable for its law and order, law and enforcement had been diligently crafted to underscore one principle, that ‘it is not worth the  risk doing it’. This message would be clearly signaled in the formulation of the law, as well in its implementation. When and if necessary, the penalty would be costly enough to deter would -be adventurous and high-risk takers. Don’t take my word for it, check out the relevant court cases. By and large, I think the law and enforcement work over the causeway because the law is strict in words and cannot be negotiated or compromised in enforcement. It has nothing to do with the natural law abiding instinct of Singaporeans. Well you can apply this to littering and driving offences as well.

Playing cat and mouse with the law is a well-known modus operandi in Malaysia. In parts of Kuala Lumpur city, it is public secret that illegal vendors, say of pornographic materials or pirated goods, can move in steps with raiding city officials, avoiding confrontation with much precision. Very much like the Filipino bamboo dancers, jumping in an out in time, avoiding being ‘cornered’. It is often alleged as soon as the officials turn into the next street, the vendors would be back, as a matter of routine really.

We can of course develop this phenomenon into an even wider picture, of greaer significance. Playing cat and mouse can get bigger with much higher  stake. Hence we note with much regret, illegal logging goes on for decades in the country. Given the nature and scale of the business, this is not easy to manage without complex organization and nimbleness at playing cat and mouse. The government knows, the officials know, the laws are there, and yet the game continues. The same with corruption in high places, the laws are there, sometimes enforced with much fanfare. But somehow ‘the players’ have reasoned that ‘it is still worth the risk’. Is it a case of lenient law, or of lax enforcement, making the risk low enough as to be worth taking? Or putting it in other words, making corruption and wrong doings most tempting and still rewarding?  After all they may reason, ‘ no risk no gain’? Could it be they find it to be not risky at all? So they continue playing.

What is wrong with our law and enforcement? Or is it more the case of our civic mindedness, public ethics? Is it purely a question of integrity and morality? I very much doubt it. I think if we all could be saints, there would be no need for the police, the court and even the law. But the reality is that all of us are not saints! Hence we still need good strict laws, diligently enforced, in addition to good incorruptible leadership paving the way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

To die over a leaking water pipe!

On 28 October 2009 I posted on this blog a short article entitled ‘Our Little Sacrifices-The Tragedy of Kuala Dipang, Kampar’. Therein I criticized a certain callous mentality besetting our national life, characterized by the following traits: lacking maintenance mentality, the capacity of anticipating dangers and taking preventive measures, and lacking respect for the sanctity of human life, subverting it to other short term or immediate gain. In the particular context of my article, sloppiness led to the loss of three young lives.

Part of my article reads: ‘The tragedy of Kuala Dipang maybe unique in manifestation, but I believe the same principle is at work throughout our national life. Sloppiness reigns supreme everywhere, exacting heavy human costs. It is not necessarily a bridge the next time, could be a bridge, a building, a condominium, even a whole section of a road, just anything really’.

On the way to work today, I picked up a free copy of the Sun at the LRT station. The front page headline reds: ‘Landslide report declassified’. The article covers the findings of the technical committee report on the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide disaster on December 6, 2008, which claimed five lives and destroyed 14 bungalows. The Selangor state government had decided to make the report available to the public and interested parties, especially those  affected.

My memory flashed back to the time of the disaster and the news coverage of the event. I remember distinctively the statements made by parties deemed responsible then, all seemingly leaning towards the natural disaster theory, sort of ‘an act of God’ kind of explanation and rationalization. On the whole the tenor was defensive, dismissive and rather evasive of responsibility or blame.

Now with the declassification of the report, we have the story. The main cause of the landslide was ‘a leaking water pipe along a row of abandoned houses’ which according to the analysis ‘caused moisture build-up and weakened the slope’. Other factors contributing to the disaster included the loosening of the soil during development, the lack of maintenance, damage and lack of maintenance of the drainage system in the areas surrounding the landslide’.

Wow! In short, sloppiness strike again then, costing lives, human suffering, as well as huge losses. Just imagine, people actually died because of ‘a leaking pipe’ as the main cause behind the tragedy! Then it was top by callous development, presumably driven by the profit motive, with no regards for safety and sanctity of human life. Make special note of the lack of maintenance for the drainage in the area mentioned, which says a lot on the attitude towards public accountability and social responsibility.

Few points strike me further on this episode. The area hit was an up-market residential area and not the cheaper public housing category. So it would seem to me, even the upper class of our society are not being spared falling prey, victim or even sacrifices to sloppiness. It makes me wonder also just how many more of such stories of sloppiness devouring human lives remaining buried. In this instance we get to know only because the report had been declassified by the Selangor state government.

Well, if even the rich or the affluent are not spared (one tend to assume their greater affordability perhaps could buy better service and quality of life), how can we be sure where sloppiness will strike next! And with the creepy thought of people actually dying due to a leaking water pipe, compounded by general sloppiness, how can anyone sleep peacefully at night or feel safe at any time for that matter!

PS: On page 5 of the same Sun edition referred to above, there is news of a landslide near the Cheras Awana Flats, with the caption ' Three cars, motorcycle buried in landslide'. There is a gruesome picture of a car 80% buried by landslide.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Soccer wrath, street demos and moral indignation

I heard today’s news over the radio. The Kelantan Football Association had been slammed with a fine of $50, 000 over the behaviour of its fans in Kuala Lumpur after the finals between Kelantan and Negri Sembilan, when Kelantan lost 3-1.

So the Kelantanese fans swooped down on the capital, braving the flood water, and outwitting the disruption of public transport, determined to be there in support of their beloved soccer team. Their historic hope of bringing home the cup were soon dashed convincingly by the gallant knights of Negri Sembilan. High hopes quickly turned into extreme frustration, demanding outlet and venting. So they went on a rampage, throwing fireworks and missiles into the field, hitting even officials. The more agitated vented their wrath on the properties of the stadium, setting fire to plastic seats in the stadium.

Now I find that amazing! I kind of admire the intensity, passion, commitment, but how I wish such anger or wrath could be diverted to the betterment of our nation. If only we Malaysians, leaders and citizens, could transform such intensity of passion into a moral indignation against all forms of backwardness, sloppiness, wrong doings, injustice, I am confident Malaysia would be a formidable nation respected by the world.

By this, of course I do not mean it should take the form of our increasingly frequent street protests and demonstrations, despite the laudable messages on the placards and t-shirts, the militant headbands, and the rebel rousing rhetoric of its leaders. For quite beyond these icons and symbols of righteous cause, the soccer wrath and street demonstrations share many traits in common. They are both amenable under circumstances to get out of hand, both ephemeral explosion of frustrations and anger, quickly subsiding after the event, both are more in the nature of mob action, pliable to manipulation, and above all both are not really constructive of the cause they champion, neither improving soccer nor nation-building.

Our leaders should take heart. The Malaysian citizens are not without passion, intensity of purpose and commitment. The challenge for leaders is to transform and sublimate such passion into constructive nation-building. If leaders are creative and genuinely committed to nation-building, they should be able to do so, and in doing so they would have a formidable force in their hand to work with.

I am reminded (faintly though) of a teaching in Chinese philosophy, but universally shared by all great civilizations, particularly in Islamic philosophy.  A nation may find itself in one of  three possible situations in history. First, the people are bad, but the leaders are good. In this case there is hope for the nation, for the good leaders will educate and make the people good. Secondly, a nation may have good people but the leaders are bad. In this case there is still hope for the nation. The good people will throw out the bad leaders and appoint good ones in their place. Thirdly, we have a nation where the people are bad and the leaders are bad too. In this case there is no hope for the nation. In this case the people and the leaders simply deserve each other! I wonder how do we figure in this scheme, first, second or the third?

Of one thing I am certain though. With good leadership and citizens capable of moral indignation against all injustice and wrongdoings, frowning on all forms of backwardness, Malaysia would be a formidable nation. Malaysia would not only be world class, but truly a great nation deserving the respect and admiration of the world!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Comment on Dr Mahathir: We don't even have the minimum!

 I read with interest Dr Mahathir’s statement on the need for a single stream national education system in Malaysia., published by Bernama dated 4 Nov 2009. I am in complete agreement with his cold logic on the matter.

I have always considered it to be one huge gap in our efforts towards nation-building, a gap which makes all the other efforts seem like an exercise in social niceties or self-delusion, sweeping real problems under the carpet while mouthing pronouncements on nation building and the beauty of national unity.

Can a people be a nation, in the sense of one people sharing one common destiny, without crucial meeting points, education being a vital one? I note with interest, Dr Mahathir emphasized ‘at least’ we should have the people in their formative years going to the same school. Now, the plain logic is that currently we don’t have even the minimum prerequisite for nation building, yet we indulge ourselves in the rhetoric of it.

Dr Mahathir pointed out on the uniqueness of our situation, being the odd one out in the world without this one important pillar of a nation, one single stream education system based on the national language. Unfortunately this one ‘uniqueness’ does not speak of our originality or boldness, but simply of our serious omission and failure. We have not embark on this one fundamental step towards nation building.

I am in agreement with Dr Mahathir when he pointed out that Malaysia has always been deferential  of cultural diversity in the country, and that the move towards a single stream schooling is really asking for the ‘least’, the minimum, that is if we care at all being a nation.

Well, I have been surfing the last few days following comments and responses on this issue. I find some of the remarks by those opposing the suggestion for one stream missing the point. One response from Dong Zong vehemently rejected the idea outright, zealously defending the multi-stream vernacular education with the argument that Malaysia is a ‘multi nation-state’ and not a single ‘nation-state’. The view considers Malaysia a ‘multi nation-state’ because of the presence of its various ethnic groups. Just pure cacophony of sound! There is no such thing as ‘multi nation-state’. A ‘multi nation-state’ would be many separate nations and not one single nation. That’s why a nation is of essence always associated with 'oneness' and  ‘a common destiny’, never of multiplicity and divergence!

The same response also vehemently mobilized for all to oppose any attempt towards ‘assimilation’ of our citizens. Now, the process of nation-building demands a people to ‘assimilate’, at least in national sphere or space. National education is one of such vital space to be zealously and jealously guarded by us the Malaysian citizens. If we argue in a vague, unthinking manner against a blanket ‘assimilation’, we have to conclude there is no real understanding of what nation-building is really all about, or even worse what a nation is!