Handouts more powerful than we imagined

[Aliran published an edited version]

France is known for frequent strikes — the sort of freedom some locals might covet. In Sweden, strikes are remarkably less frequent — not that people are not allowed to, but that discontent is usually taken care of well before it gets any chance to brew.

Malaysia is distinct in that groups receive payrise and goodies even without any strike, any crisis or any commissioner’s report. It is unfortunate that the various goodies handed out in the run-up to the general election have been sporadic, ad-hoc and incoherent. They do not follow from any policy or appraisal-reward criteria. They do not seem to fit any larger picture.

Goodies handed out by the federal and some state governments have already been tabulated in Bersih’s laudable demand against abuse. Goodies were handed out under broad daylight and posed for the camera without hiding.

Handout recipients may decide to start going for 5-star spas rather than 4-stars, spend on eateries more classy, invest in schemes more risky, buy an SUV more trendy, or whatever.

Those goodies, however, can also be channeled in slightly different ways. Here are some ideas:

  • cabbies can divert the goodies they receive to a common reserve for bailing out members in times of crisis such as illness or unemployment in the family
  • civil servants in support and admin roles can use their surprise increment to set up a housing cooperative
  • folks in Perak if they get the extra two-day off can organise a state-wide gotong-royong to clean up rivers and waters around Perak
  • teachers can divert their double increment to a common pool to invite experts from abroad to provide training in inclusive classrooms where children of varied abilities learn together
  • academics can divert their double increment to set up centres for youth ejected from schools
  • medical professionals can use their increment to fund medical cover for refugees who have no access to healthcare.

The list goes on — basically any initiative to channel personal gains to a central pool for the greater good, particularly in areas missed out by recent developments. Note that the very cabbies and civil servants who contributed might one day draw from the same pool, if and when the need arises. This is solidarity. This is very different from donation (to those ‘poor things’) which can be as sporadic, ad-hoc and non-commital as the governments’ handouts we condemn.

Let us also take the chance to get back to focus and put idle resources into efficient use:

  • We need a housing solution which doesn’t increase household debts. We don’t need to build more homes. There are already too many homes where nobody lives in. We just need to stop the speculation game where people buy homes for ‘safe-keeping’, waiting for the price to shoot up.
  • Healthcare and education are hardly being mentioned by those shouting for reform. These only get mentioned, in passing, to populate the long list of the government’s sins. Why? Because those who are loud and noisy have no genuine interest in improving healthcare and education. They have their 5-star hospitals, private schools and foreign universities. They don’t tell us about idle resources sitting under-used in 5-star hospitals e.g. PET (positron emission tomography), expensive resources acquired only for advertising e.g. Cyberknife in radiotherapy, and how patients without clinical indications are tactically referred to be scanned and treated on such machines just to break even and make profit.

Not taking the bait

Initiatives channeling personal gains to a central pool for the greater good, such as those suggested above, would make a very strong statement that the ordinary citizen from all walks of life

  • is not taking the bait (of handouts and goodies)
  • prefers the solidarity option of top-quality healthcare, education and housing for all residents, and, to make that happen,
  • is happy to contribute to a common pool via a fair tax system.

Whoever wins the election and takes the future federal and state governments, the same message applies.

A big net (made possible by a common pool) is safer than many tiny nets. A big catch-all safety net would be more cost effective and robust compared to a loose collection of tiny nets too flimsy even for protecting an individual. A big safety net is realistic and achievable, unlike tiny nets where security never seems to appear in the horizon.

More powerful than ever

A citizen’s statement of this sort would be far more powerful than any rally. No approval from the authorities is needed. There is no risk of detention, nobody will kena tangkap (be detained). It can never be interpreted as fake news or hasutan (sedition). Nobody will be able to stop initiatives of this kind.

A citizen’s initiative of this sort can be very powerful. Offering a new handle to democracy potentially more powerful than the vote in our hands. Particularly so, now that voting is no longer the sovereign handle to democracy as it used to be, due to factors already outlined in an earlier article.

Given the local circumstances of our time, this can be the ultimate people’s power. See the dangling carrot?

That is, if people are willing

If, however, people jump, “What? No way, that’s my money! And that is just a tiny bit of what I should have been getting. So many undeserving rakyat and corrupt politicians are getting so much more.” then that’s the Malaysian identity only Malaysian ourselves can define and sign our names on — the identity that every Malaysian finds himself most deserving, and that he always deserve more.

Rosmah and Najib are Malaysians too, so are Mahathir and Mukhriz. Bangsa Malaysia. Sebangsa tapi tak seperjuangan. Sehati tapi tak sejiwa. Not as different as we thought. A bird cruising our skies wouldn’t be able to tell the difference — Malaysians are just a mass of people scrambling for riches for themselves.
Both sides of the divide are integral parts of a nation feeling short-changed by each other, a nation identifying a robber in each other.

One side of the divide is more caring towards rural communities, not by any inclusion principal but rural communities just happen to be the targeted catchment. This is the side possibly less guilty of Cambridge Analytica sort of dirty games, not by any ethical concern but the targeted catchment happens not to be the most fervent Facebookers and Whatsappers.

The other side is powered by the middle-class movement. It is for their supporters, feeling so high and angelic of themselves, to take a step back from the catch-the-thieves sing-along — to start insisting that any thief-catching pledge must be backed by a corollary never to replace that corrupt-bersih gap with widening rich-poor, urban-rural, loud-voiceless gaps.

Blank cheque too risky

Now as PSM contests under its own logo, we lose even that minimal balance in Pakatan. PSM is where the good guys are. Pakatan has every tendency to widen the rich-poor, urban-rural, loud-voiceless gaps. We see the manifest in Penang.

Without a firm commitment not to widen gaps, a vote would be a blank cheque too risky. It is a pity that supporters, including some radicalised religious leaders, spent years singing along, missing the point and missing their duty to defend the voiceless.

This is the only duty I can discern, despite having received so many messages carrying the rider, “I have done my duty forwarding this to you. It is now your turn to pass this on.”

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