Preserving – not squandering – national resources

The economy is opening up, the judiciary is asserting its independence as leaders, while former leaders face trials for corruption in our post-kleptocracy era, and the nation is peaceful.

Sep 23, 2022

By Anil Netto
As we celebrated Malaysia Day on September 16, there was much to be thankful for.

The economy is opening up, the judiciary is asserting its independence as leaders, while former leaders face trials for corruption in our post-kleptocracy era, and the nation is peaceful.

However, dark clouds hover over the land. Corruption still flourishes, the ringgit remains weak, the cost of living has soared, and many are struggling. Race-based policies and an exclusivist way of thinking drags the nation down.

Politically, more parties and coalitions have entered the fray since the last general election and it is not certain if any of them will be able to win the coming general election with an outright simple parliamentary majority.

The old order — the political certainty of the past, for better or for worse — has vanished. Instead, we have entered a period of uncertainty, unsure of where we are heading as a nation.

This is a wealthy nation, rich in natural resources, lush forests and fertile soil and a conducive climate. Sadly, much like the Prodigal Son, certain quarters have squandered the wealth that God has bestowed for short-term pleasure and profit.

Now the country is left heavily indebted. Just the interest to pay off the borrowings represents a huge opportunity cost lost – imagine the schools and universities and hospitals that the nation could have improved with all that money lost. Imagine the kind of robust social safety nets we could have put in place had the corrupt not squandered our national inheritance.

Some analysts say the country is now at a crossroads — or at least, we have reached a fork in our journey as a nation.

One path leads to an exclusive, race-based, religion-based, exclusivist nation, where the minorities will only be bit players. If we take this path, in the future, the diversity in our society could be seen as something to be suppressed or made more uniform.

The other path takes us down to a more inclusive future, with opportunities for everyone to harness their potential. In this vision for the future, the diversity in our nation would be seen as an asset to be treasured and indeed celebrated.

Which path will we choose in the next general election? Much depends on the people.

It is not as straightforward as that. We have to contend with other factors – climate change, a heavily centralised federation, the lack of local council elections. Water supply constraints and the threat of flash floods due to heavier rains, overdevelopment and loss of green spaces pose new threats.

Most of the political parties have not paid serious attention to these issues and if they have, chances are, it would probably have been lip service.

In some ways, the squandering of a nation's wealth and resources can also be seen in the pages of the Gospel.

When King Herod ruled the land, much tangible progress was seen. Grand monuments were erected and the trappings of progress could be seen. The jewel of the time was the project to expand and renovate the Temple. Another ambitious project was the construction of a port at Caesar Maritima.

However, at the same time, heavy Roman, local and temple taxes were imposed on the people. Some independent farmers fell into debt and lost their family land. They were forced to become casual workers. Their land was gobbled up by large landowners who consolidated smaller plots into large estates for cash crops to be exported around the region.

Many ordinary people struggled to cope in these new harsher circumstances. Around them, they saw the signs of progress in the form of new Greco-Roman towns, but the urban residents there lived a wealthier, comfortable lifestyle.

The aristocratic folk, the Roman rulers, the high priestly families at the top of the hierarchy, the Sadducees, really lived it up.

The result: in this land of milk and honey, many ordinary people were reduced from independent livelihoods to heavily taxed workers. Lack of balanced nutrition resulted in people being prone to disease. This in a land of fertile soil, especially in Lower Galilee.

Dissatisfaction simmered and rebellions frequently broke out. A major power struggle broke out when King Herod passed away around the time Jesus was born. Some of Herod’s children made a beeline to visit Emperor Augustus in Rome to plead their case for power and territories. The land was then carved out: Archelaus got Judea, Samaria and Idumea; Herod Antipas took charge of Galilee and Peraea; Philip received the areas north and east of the Jordan while Herod’s daughter Salome was given a small area around present-day Gaza. Eventually, Judea fell to direct Roman rule.

A land which had so much going in its favour was torn apart through greed for power and imperialism, oppression, economic exploitation, corruption and nepotism.

It was into this milieu that Jesus entered. Jesus pointed to a different way of life, a new kingdom not governed by greed, corruption and craze for power. Instead of punitive justice, he pointed to a model of distributive justice; instead of exploitation and violence, he advocated for love and compassion.

This has many lessons for society and what kind of values should drive a nation. A nation built on compassion and social justice will ultimately thrive, while one built on greed and obsession for power and position will slide into suffering and despair.

Let’s pray that the people of Malaysia will make the right choices for the future.

(Anil Netto is a freelance writer and activist based in Penang. He believes we are all called to build the kingdom of God in this world.)

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