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So Aunty, So What?

Published: Wednesday March 25, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday March 25, 2015 MYT 7:36:09 AM

Winter (of discontent) is coming

If we haven’t been able to shake off last year’s national malaise, it’s because we still have too many unresolved issues.

SPRING is coming to the northern hemisphere but it feels like winter in tropical Malaysia; a winter of discontent, that is.

While the phrase from William Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York” is said to mean “the time of unhappiness is past”, in modern times, it has a darker meaning.

The phrase was used by the British media to describe the winter of 1978-79, when the United Kingdom was plagued by social unrest brought about by widespread union strikes which paralysed the nation during the coldest winter in 16 years.

More recently, commentators see the once hopeful Arab Spring of 2011 drifting in a “winter of discontent” four years on. For us, rather than social unrest, it is enormous social discomfort we are feeling. Our misery is brought about by several issues of national concern.

Foremost in our minds is how Kelantan’s amendments to the Syariah Criminal Code II, 1993, will fare in Parliament. We are waiting with bated breath for the Prime Minister’s statement on Barisan Nasional’s official stand on hudud.

Actually, it is Umno’s stand I am interested in. Since all 12 Umno state assemblymen unanimously voted for the amendments, will Umno MPs do the same in the Dewan Rakyat?

Even former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam was galvanised into issuing a statement on Sunday asking his party to make a clear stand on the matter.

“Umno must take a firm stand. This national issue has very long implications to the country, both domestically and internationally,” he pointed out.

Hudud is not the only religion-related issue that’s causing a lot of anxiety and tension.

More and more, the police are uncovering the Islamic State’s influence seeping into our civil service and schools. The thought of the IS’ violent and ultra-conservative ideology taking root here is scary to all peace-loving Malaysians.

Then there is the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on April 1. Despite the massive efforts to educate the people that this is a fairer and more transparent method of taxation than the existing sales and services tax, the fear remains, especially among the lower income groups and small businesses.

GST critics say it is the wrong time to implement it as the economy is badly hit by plunging crude oil prices which have resulted in another issue of discontent: our shrinking ringgit.

While the weak ringgit may be good for our exports and attracting foreign visitors and students, it’s bad for our imports and those who want to travel abroad and with children studying overseas.

I know I am reconsidering my ambitious holiday plans this year. I even gave the last MATTA fair a miss because of the sickly ringgit.

Of course I am upset, especially when former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin linked the weakening ringgit to the 1Malaysia Development Bhd’s debts.

Yes, this is another burning issue that has riled up many citizens and is used by the Opposition to reinforce the negative perception of GST, that is, it is to squeeze more money out of the rakyat that is already feeling burdened by rising costs, to cover bad debts and leakages.

It is a relief that the Auditor-General has been tasked to look into 1MDB’s books. Even the police are getting involved. On Sunday, IGP Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said the Commercial Crimes Division, assisted by the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, would investigate all information and reports on the issue.

One cannot emphasise enough how super-duper important it is for the Government to be completely transparent on the allegations of financial mismanagement which have purportedly led to 1MDB accumulating debts of RM42bil.

This is after all a “government-owned strategic development company” – as described by national news agency Bernama – and we citizens have the absolute right to know, once and for all, if public funds have been misused and siphoned off by unscrupulous parties. Even more importantly, if wrongdoing is proven, we must see the culprits brought to court, as promised by the Prime Minister.

Politics and the economy aside, there are other longstanding issues that add to our discontent but I will pick two: dengue and water woes.

Dengue cases have reached near epidemic proportions in the country. There has been a 105.6% increase in the number of deaths due to dengue this year so far, compared to the same period last year, according to Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah. Although Selangor is hardest hit, the disease is spiking throughout the country, including Sabah.

I think many people are spooked enough to want to do their part. I tried to buy a popular brand of larvicide at my local pharmacy and it was completely sold out. That’s a good sign, but are we doing enough?

Finally, water. Right now, it’s raining outside but it does little to assuage my deep worry over my water supply.

Even without the ongoing spat between the Federal and Selangor governments over the water deal, dams in the state are not holding enough water to meet demands.

As The Star reported on Feb 22, the water level in the Sungai Selangor dam which serves 60% of the Klang Valley, is receding so fast we may not have enough reserves to last the coming dry season. Dams are also drying up in several parts of the country – Johor, Negri Sembilan, Sabah – for a variety of reasons: over-development, illegal farms, climate change, pollution and so on.

It was around this time last year that thousands of people suffered water cuts during the drought season and in this column I urged the authorities to consider other water saving methods like those practised in Australia, because rationing only reduced usage by a mere 7% .

One year on, it doesn’t look like anything has changed, just expect water cuts and rationing. And maybe cloud seeding.

It may seem the wrong thing to say when people are already grappling with higher costs of living and GST, but I think we should pay more for our treated water and I am absolutely against giving it free to anyone.

It may have been a populist move by the Selangor government in the past, but it is idiocy now. As long as this commodity is not treated as precious, it will literally go down the drain.

So just how long will our winter of discontent last? It will depend on the kind of tough decisions and actions we are willing to take as leaders and citizens. Meanwhile, try to stay calm and keep warm.

> The opposite of “discontent” is “content” which means “in a state of peaceful happiness”. Aunty hopes that is still within our reach. Feedback: junewong@thestar.com.my.

>The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.



Tags / Keywords: hudud, national issues, happiness

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