Now for a revolution in our value system in the new Malaysia

These are exciting, breathless days indeed as we witness the blistering pace of reforms along the path towards greater justice and freedom in our quest to build a model democracy.

Jun 22, 2018

By Anil Netto
These are exciting, breathless days indeed as we witness the blistering pace of reforms along the path towards greater justice and freedom in our quest to build a model democracy.

The country was abuzz with excitement recently over the appointment of Tommy Thomas as the new attorney general despite some uncertainty over whether it would actually go through. But in the end it did, thanks to the will of the people solidly behind the popularly elected government of the new Malaysia.

Tommy is an excellent choice for his expertise in the law and understanding of human rights — just what the nation needs at this time. It is a sign that the country is willing to make tough decisions to push through much needed legal reforms and enhance Malaysia’s credentials as a democratic nation that respects the rule of law.

Meanwhile, the chief justice, appeals court president and Electoral Commission are on their way out. Perhaps we can now expect progress to be made and justice to be finally delivered in a string of sensational high-profile cases — though this could take longer.

For now, the process of legal and institutional reforms are in the safe hands of Tommy and the Committee for Institutional Reforms comprising distinguished individuals like Shad Saleem Faruqi, KC Vohrah, Ambiga Sreenevasan, Mah Weng Kwai and Mohamed Arshad Raji.

The process of recovering stolen wealth; eliminating extravagant spending, mind-boggling salaries and perks; plugging the loopholes that allowed rampant corruption and rent-seeking profits to take place is also underway. Heads have rolled and more heads are expected to roll in the coming days.

The stage is being set for the 1MDB trial, which should be riveting stuff.

But all, commendable as it is, is not enough, if we really want to build a new Malaysia that will stand the test of time. We may have gone down the path of justice and freedom, but the biggest test lies ahead: creating real solidarity for the common good, which is a fundamental tenet of Catholic Social Teaching.

“The message of the Church’s social doctrine regarding solidarity clearly shows that there exists an intimate bond between solidarity and the common good, between solidarity and the universal destination of goods, between solidarity and equality among men and peoples, between solidarity and peace in the world.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church).

For this link between solidarity and the common good to be strengthened, we need a revolution of our entire value system and for the roots of this solidarity must sink deeper.

This solidarity covers the vertical and the horizontal. We have to be in communion with God; we have to be in solidarity with our innermost soul; we have to be in solidarity with our neighbour; and we have to express in solidarity with our common home, the natural environment.

If any of these bonds are frayed or broken, if anyone of these links are damaged, then our overall solidarity is breached and we cannot be in solidarity with our neighbour if the top 1 per cent or top 5 per cent grab a huge share of the national wealth. So, the economy will need to be remodelled to ensure that wealth is distributed more fairly. Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself is on record as saying he would like to see everyone having a fair share in the nation’s wealth. So that is heartening – though easier said than done.

The disagreements would lie in exactly how we go about achieving this and at what cost. It cannot be business as usual.

For instance, is the revival of the idea for a national car the best way forward — especially after what happened the last time we tried that? Such a project would not be in the best interest of the country given our limited resources and huge debt. It would also be a step backwards in promoting sustainable mobility including the greater use of public transport.

We cannot be in solidarity with our neighbour if we exploit our workers, disregard the social needs of the bottom 40 per cent.

Even those who are already staying in low-income state-run flats are finding it difficult to pay their monthly rentals. We have a serious problem when the minimum wage of RM1,000 is simply not enough for a family to live in dignity.

The other serious issue we have is a tussle between social inclusion vs xenophobia.

Most of our policies (housing, hospitals, pedestrian walkways, public amenities) are designed for the mainstream with little thought given to the urban poor, senior citizens, people with disabilities and migrant workers, refugees and asylum-seekers.

Many of us voted for a new Malaysia — but then we forgot that the new Malaysia also includes migrant workers and refugees. Some six million of them in a population of 30 million.

Many us would want social inclusion, to be given equal opportunities if we were to live or work in the West. But then we feel uneasy if migrant workers live near us in our own country (expatriates are fine, it would seem). Why is that? What basis is there for this fear of the other? How is this loving our neighbour?

We cannot be in solidarity with one another if we destroy the environment, our common home. Among Christians, how many have really bought into the Church’s concern over the alarming degradation of the environment and the Church’s vision as reflected in the Bishop of Rome’s encyclical Care for our Common Home. Why aren’t we even talking about it?
Take for instance the simple choice we come across every now and then between chopping down trees to make way for more road-widening — or preserving our trees and improving public transport.

What are the safeguards to protect the environment from being sacrificed in the name of ‘development’ and ‘growth’?
Building 30,000 (probably expensive) homes in the eco-paradise of Langkawi was not a great idea, especially when many Malaysians among the bottom 40 per cent of the population are finding it hard to afford homes.

Everyone should listen to the song Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell. Part of the lyrics goes like this:

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
These are some things we have
to ponder and reflect on..

We have to thank God that the new Malaysia was ushered in without a violent revolution. But what we need most now is a revolution in our value system to live up to the aspirations of this new Malaysia, built on a foundation of democracy, human rights, economic justice, social inclusion (for marginalised and hidden groups) and care for our common home. For that to happen, we will have to strengthen the bonds of solidarity in so many different ways.

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