After anti-ICERD rally, how to allay old insecurities

After anti-ICERD rally, how to allay old insecurities

Dec 14, 2018

So the Dec 8 Pas-Umno rally to ‘celebrate’ Putrajaya’s decision to back off from ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (ICERD) has come and gone.

Thankfully, the rally took place peacefully and some of the rally-goers even cleared the streets of litter after the event.

Contrary to the fears of many, perhaps due partly to their prayers, the event passed peacefully under the watchful eyes of security personnel. For this we should be grateful. All those involved, including the government and the security personnel, deserve credit for upholding the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. But it was disappointing that the Suhakam rally had to be postponed by a day.

An even bigger casualty was the UN convention itself, which has been signed or ratified by the vast majority of countries of the world, including 55 out of 57 member nations of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Underlying the resistance to the convention is the insecurity that affirmative action policies would be removed, leaving many ill-equipped for full-blown meritocracy — even though the convention allows affirmative action policies.

Unscrupulous politicians, many of them facing a litany of corruption and money laundering charges in court, have shamelessly milked and manipulated such insecurities and fears for their own political purposes. And they must have been encouraged by the turnout at the rally, which was estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000 — still smaller than some of the Bersih rallies of the past.

The wheels of justice in the courts must turn a bit faster without sacrificing fairness, so that more and more people will realise who they should trust or otherwise. After all, “justice delayed is justice denied.” And people should see for themselves that crime (or corruption especially involving public funds) does not pay. It does not help that many areas of our lives have been affected. Neoliberal economic policies have slowly crept in over the years so that we have almost two-tier system in education and healthcare — while new homes in cities and towns are priced beyond the reach of many.

The upper middle class and wealthy are able to afford expensive education in international and private schools and prompt, modern treatment at private hospitals. Even in housing, those in gated neighbourhoods are cut off from the rest of society, living largely separate lives.

To reduce insecurities among the lower-income group, the government must prioritise education and healthcare with not only larger financial allocations but also skilled teachers, lecturers, doctors, nurses and specialists. Schools and government hospitals serving low-income communities must be improved and given better facilities and skilled and motivated personnel. This calls for significant improvements in teacher training and pedagogy and the education of nurses and doctors.

An enlightened education system, including religious education, is so important not only to remove insecurities and fears but to enable all young people, including the children of refugees and other foreigners in our midst, to fulfil their real potential. They should be taught about the realities of living in a multi-ethnic and multireligious society where diversity should be celebrated, not feared.

There is absolutely no reason why the teaching and treatment in government schools and hospitals should not be able to match what can be found in private schools and hospitals (minus the high fees and under-utilisation of expensive equipment). This can be done without the need for a national health insurance scheme.

Throughout the nation, a high quality public transport scheme must also be introduced with affordable fares so that more people can ditch their cars and save their money by using public transport. Of course, this will also help to reduce pollution and gas emissions.

If people don’t have to worry abut expensive higher education, medical costs, housing loans and car loans, the money they save can be used to improve their quality of life. A minimum living wage would also help.

More parks and green spaces should be created so that people do not have to hang out at malls and can instead explore Nature, exercise or go for a picnic by the park. Research has shown that people who live near green spaces have improved mental health. So the government has to focus on these four areas to remove the insecurities of the ordinary people: education, healthcare, public transport, genuinely affordable housing and the creation of the green spaces.

Investments in all these areas will generate meaningful jobs, including in rural areas, thus stemming rural-urban migration to increasingly congested cities.

Social benefits and a strong welfare system should be introduced for those retrenched, disabled, sick and needing care.

The bottom 40 per cent of the population, irrespective of their ethnicity and whether they are urban or rural, must be assisted and be given a hand up on the understanding that they too should put in an effort to improve their situation, wherever possible.

If serious thought is given to the lower-income group and their lives, in turn, see a sharp improvement, we might be pleasantly surprised to find that many of the old insecurities will slowly evaporate.

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