Citizens’ Declaration a sign that all is not well

The recent signing of the Citizens’ Declaration expressing concern about the state of the nation, including the rising cost of living, and the need for institutional reforms has been a major talking point.

Mar 10, 2016

By Anil netto
The recent signing of the Citizens’ Declaration expressing concern about the state of the nation, including the rising cost of living, and the need for institutional reforms has been a major talking point.

The declaration brought together former or sidelined BN leaders, opposition politicians and prominent civil society activists.

Whether you agree or not with the declaration, it has signalled that we are at something of a crossroads. Politically, support for the government has eroded in recent months as a slew of corruption scandals has been exposed.

Economically, the cost of living has risen, while the full impact of the GST is only now sinking in. Oil and other commodity prices have dropped for now, and the once dependable source of government income from Petronas is drying up. Thousands are losing or have lost their jobs, even in blue-chip firms like Malaysia Airlines and Petronas.

In terms of education, standards have plunged, and budget cuts in public universities have not helped.

As for our democracy, it is now increasingly fragile, with many political and NGO activists having been probed, arrested or charged. Critical websites, especially those dissecting 1MDB and related scandals have been blocked, as the space for freedom of expression has narrowed.

Along the way, the credibility and independence of our institutions of government has suffered; this erosion actually began a long time ago, in the 1980s. Ironically, some of those who signed the Citizens’ Declaration were in power then. Have they actually ‘seen the light’ and repented?

As for our environment, our model of development can hardly be said to be sustainable. Our forests have been lost to logging and plantations, unnecessary new dams are being planned in Sarawak, and many of our hills have been botak-ed, even cut.

In many instances, we have put profits before people. Think of how profits from bauxite mining have trumped quality of life considerations for the people of Kuantan and the surrounding areas.

So the coming together of a motley range of Malaysians is a sign that all is not well.

Whereas the movie Ola Bola showed us the kind of inclusive and moderate Malaysia which we once had, the reality today is that the forces of ethno-religious extremism and conservatism have been allowed to divide us. Somewhere, along the way, we have lost the plot.

Perhaps it is also a sign that we have neglected the spiritual, lost sight of ethics in our pursuit of material economic growth at all costs. The rampant corruption and easy money made by some of our political leaders may have encouraged others to take short-cuts to get rich quickly. Thus, might this not be a reason for the spate of burglaries and robberies? Imagine, some wise guys decided to use an excavator to wrench out ATMs from a bank.

Public money and public land worth billions of ringgit have been used to reap huge profits for certain corporations and individuals via ingenious wheeling and dealing — brains that could have been better used to actually uplift and empower the people through a more accountable use of public funds. All the while, the Common Good has suffered. One doctor told me there are not enough beds to meet the demand at a general hospital she worked in.

This could also be a sign of a spiritual disconnect. Make no mistake, this is not a question of any lack of religiosity. If anything, many Malaysians have turned to religion in larger numbers in recent years in the face of an uncertain future, maybe even economic alienation.

But perhaps Malaysians have been focussed on the ritualistic observances of their faith, while the larger call to love, generosity, compassion, reconciliation, simplicity — and yes, justice — have been neglected. We may have forgotten the exhortation to seek out and help the poor and the marginalised, the strangers in our midst.

Maybe we have not done enough to be stewards of creation, actually caring for the environment, as the Bishop of Rome has urged us, in this era of climate change, deforestation, air, sea and land pollution and depletion of natural resources.

Perhaps we have not even questioned our model of development that assumes that our natural resources are unlimited. It is a model that puts the needs of Big Capital ahead of the dignity of the worker and the natural environment. Hence, is it any surprise that, with capital reaping a higher rate of return, the workers’ share of national income remains low while the environment has been degraded?

Instead of tackling this, the solution we are given is to import more workers and pay them minimum wage levels — thus suppressing local wages — which are barely enough for a family to live with dignity.

It would not be trite to say we have lost our direction as a nation.

What better time for us than during Lent to reflect on our way forward. It is also a time to reflect on where we have gone wrong as individuals, if we have done anything to hold us back from realising our full potential as a nation, if we have failed to reach out to the marginalised or to our suffering brothers and sisters, whether Malaysian, migrant worker, refugeee or asylum seeker.

A new life beckons for the nation, but before we realise that vision of genuine peace, harmony and justice, we have to go through this period of suffering and cleansing along this journey.

Total Comments:0