Shared destiny: Removing exploitation and renewing the nation

Now that the general election is around the corner, we can expect the various political parties to jostle for attention and canvas voters in the weeks and months ahead.

Sep 27, 2017

By Anil Netto
Now that the general election is around the corner, we can expect the various political parties to jostle for attention and canvas voters in the weeks and months ahead.

What we need is wise discernment and consciousness. We need to see, judge and act.
Before we decide what party to vote for, we need to think of what kind of country we want.

It is of course easy to think in terms of voting for a politician who will save the nation from its monumental problems. Sure, many of us recognise that the country needs change and reforms to move ahead.

In some ways, the followers of Jesus had the same limited vision. They wanted him to assume the mantle of a political saviour to free them from all their worldly problems and liberate them from their oppressors.

It was tempting for Jesus — he was tempted in the desert to assume worldly power — to provide a quick fix for all earthly problems and then enjoy the adulation of the multitude.

But Jesus realised that there was no quick fix if he was to get to the root of what ailed the world. So he focused on an alternative value system that challenged the domination system of the world.

He focused on the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed, lifted them up and empowered them with the dignity that was theirs — which in turn challenged the dominant discourse of power and money.

In overturning the money-changer tables, he turned the tables on the prevailing value system that used religion to exploit the masses.

Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, he exhorted the people. Love one another, show compassion, share what you have. Heal the sick and share your resources to provide food to the multitude who are hungry.
So it is with us, in our time. It is time for us to take responsibility for the direction of the world, the nation, and our local situation.

We need to discern why so many people are finding it difficult to make ends meet in a country with bountiful resources: fisheries, agriculture, forests, oil, gas, hydropower. What has gone wrong?

How did the income and wealth inequality grow over the years? Who gained and who lost or did not gain as much in the process? Which groups were marginalised along the way?

Perhaps our discernment will focus on what is exploited along the way in the accumulation of fabulous wealth and extraordinary power — the exploitation of natural resources, workers, the ordinary people through burdensome taxes that made some people very rich (no wonder the tax collector in Jesus’ time was hardly the most popular guy around).

In recent years, we have seen how the exploitation of nature — the sea (for fisheries and land reclamation), the hills (for property development), the forests (for timber and unnecessary mega dams), open green spaces (for luxury high-rise towers) — has made a small group extraordinarily wealthy.

At the other end of the scale, workers are squeezed through downward pressure on wages arising from the outsourcing of work to labour contractors and contract manufacturers who use cheap and easily exploitable migrant workers or ununionised local workers.

Aggravating this exploitation is sheer greed and corruption, including large-scale money-laundering and siphoning public funds via off-shore tax havens.

So we need principled leaders and politicians and political parties who will work in the interest of the ordinary people to restore economic justice and integrity to the system — politicians who will not cynically exploit issues of race and religion to divide and rule.

We also need politicians who will work for those who are voiceless and ineligible to vote. Think of the millions of documented and undocumented migrant workers in our country who have no one to speak up for their interests — about 15-20 per cent of the population fall in that category. Think also of the interests of the refugees in our midst, often hidden from view. Will our politicians and political parties protect their interests?

Finally, think of the silent cry of the Earth, which cannot cast a ballot. Who will protect Nature — will its interests be included in political party manifestos and the pledges of the politicians? We need to develop a new kind of ecological spirituality and ecological citizenship.

At the end of the day, we cannot leave it to the politicians and political parties. All of us have a stake in the nation. And the elections are just one step along the journey. We cannot stop there.

We are called to be the salt (fertiliser) of the earth — to nourish and nurture all that lives in our land so that the harvest is plentiful. We must all get involved and not just leave it to the politicians, who have their own roles to play.

Stand up and be counted, make your voices heard and roll up our sleeves. Work to renew the face of the Earth.

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