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Making Progress

Thursday, 20 April 2017 | MYT 2:53 PM

Be the change you want to see in the world

Mahathma Gandhi remains one of the most iconic figures of history. Gandhi was a diminutive man with enormous fortitude; he stared down one of the largest empires in history and won India’s independence without firing a single bullet.

Satyagraha or non-violence is synonymous with Gandhi to this day. Gandhi is also famous for his quotes and quips and his most memorable that is etched into the minds of all Gandhi’s admirers is his exhortation to “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Last week I made a fairly non-political post on my facebook account and asked for ideas on topics I should write on. In the comments section, I received words of encouragement and support for my political values but I also elicited some negative comments, which is a mainstay of political life. Privately, I also received suggestions on topics I should write on and one suggestion caught my attention and I decided to write on it. The suggestion was on individual responsibility and how individuals can make the changes they want to see.

Change is a word that is overused. Obama popularised it but ended up delivering pretty much along the same lines of his predecessors. Trump talked of change as candidate for President of the United States of America (USA) but has acted in a bizarre way thus making some suspicious of change.

Changes in the global economic landscape due to globalisation has led to the rise of far-right and iconoclastic movements in Europe thus fuelling the rise of intolerance and nativism.

So change is not always easy and neither is it always good. Change can be messy and it can cause hardship and that is the reason why I always caution against change for the sake of changing and implore that change must be anchored on stability, beneficial interests and sound logic.

So, how do we become the change we want to see in the world? Allow me to illustrate.

If we ask Malaysians, or at least Malaysians in my social circle, what are their biggest concerns on the country; two issues constantly crop up are corruption and cost of living.

Let me deal with them individually.

Corruption is a problem the world over but most Malaysians like to portray the situation in Malaysia akin to living in a banana republic. Terms like kleptocracy and theft are often used to disparage government officials. Like all countries, we have our problems but as one can see the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has been active in bringing to book public and private individuals who they have found to engage in corrupt practices. Instead of ridiculing the MACC, we should cheer them on and ensure they act without fear or favour.

However, what can the average Malaysian do to combat corruption?

Three years ago, Gerakan launched an anti-corruption campaign with the tagline “Don’t Give, Don’t Take.”

Corruption only happens when there is a giver and a taker. If one does not give a bribe then one does not receive a bribe and there is no corruption. So Malaysians must first stop giving bribes if they actually want to tackle corruption. Whether it is driving without a seatbelt or under the influence of alcohol or pursuing a government project; if bribes are not offered then bribes will not be received hence there will be no corrupt practices.

Malaysians, accustomed to getting things done easily and effortlessly, have fuelled the bribery culture, knowingly or unknowingly. Instead of feigning indignation must embody the spirit of “don’t give, don’t take.” Change can always be bottom up and in ensuring it is such change will always be sustainable.

Next, the concerns over the rising cost of living; as a Malaysian, I have to admit I do feel a pinch. However, residents of Singapore and Thailand also feel the pinch. In fact, Kuala Lumpur has always been ranked as one of the most affordable cities.

Malaysia's national capital is the sixth most affordable city to live in and the ninth best in terms of conducting business, according to a benchmarking study of 30 leading global cities by financial services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

PwC’s Cities of Opportunity Index placed Kuala Lumpur at an overall 19th position of a report, which measured the social and economic health of 30 of the world’s leading business cities, beating Jakarta (28th), and Mumbai (29th) and just behind Beijing (18th place).

PwC is a reputed global organisation and fearlessly independent. So we have to respect their findings and not pour scorn over it.

Most Malaysians, do not live within their means. That is a fact and that is why household debt is very high, especially credit card debt.

According to a news report from November 2016, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (JPM), Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said stated that A total of 22,581 bankruptcy cases recorded by the Insolvency Department (MdI) between 2012 and September 2016 involved individuals aged between 25 and 34. There were  1,157 bankruptcy cases involved individuals under the age of 25, said. The minister also said that according to records, from 2012 up to September 2016, the highest number of bankruptcies involving 26,801 cases were due to failure to settle vehicle hire purchase loans, followed by personal loans (22,153 cases) and housing loans (18,819 cases).

Given the complexities of modern life and the financial pressures that it brings, it is important to have sound financial planning and management. Younger Malaysians who are addicted to consumerism lack the financial probity of their parents and grandparents.

Also, seeking further employment like a second job is not something wrong and it should not be frowned upon. If one is capable and able to work two jobs then one should.

There were times in my life that I had to work two jobs and I must confess it was not easy and I had to make sacrifices but it was worth it. I got to buy more things and go on more holidays besides increasing my savings.

In the end of the day, as Gandhi said, we must have the courage to be the change we want to see in the world if we want to change the world for the better.

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