A ‘benevolent father’ as govt

  • Through Many Windows
  • Sunday, 14 Apr 2019

FOR the past two decades, my friends and I have been promoting what we call the “Rapera movement” – essentially to emphasise the values of thinking and compassion.

We often hear that some people are compassionate and some are not. That is true like saying some people think and some just don’t.

However, we must not overlook the fact that just like thinking skills can be learnt, so too can compassionate skills. Once we are aware that within each of us exists the latent talent or seed of compassion, we can awaken it and practise it in our daily lives.

Compassion is a conscientious, humane, emotive and cerebral reaction to a situation. Compassion is the understanding of another person’s suffering followed by the desire to alleviate or reduce that suffering.

I strongly believe that compassion is one of the fundamental values that a government must have if it is going to serve the people properly.

Governance refers mainly to the establishment of policies and the continuous monitoring of their proper implementation. In the context of the government, it includes the just, efficient, honest and compassionate use of the nation’s resources and its equitable distribution.

It also includes ensuring the independence, quality and effectiveness of the key institutions in the country that serve the people, such as the civil service and enforcement agencies.

In all these activities of governance, compassion is fundamental.

First, the Cabinet is the most powerful body in the country that determines policies that affects the lives of the citizens on a real time scale.

Each of the Cabinet members oversee a ministry and have to decide on a list of priorities that need to be achieved within a given time. Surely its priority should be to alleviate the sufferings of the rakyat by reducing unemployment or conditions of unemployability, increasing real incomes and promoting healthcare, among others.

The government is also responsible for ensuring an efficient delivery system and policies that increase and sustain their general welfare. When we speak of delivery system we think of the civil service because they are the ones in the forefront serving the public.

They can literally facilitate the public’s life or make them suffer unbearably. It is the civil service that deals with the general populace on a daily basis, from processing various applications such as birth certificates, passports, business permits to overseeing pension matters.

Can you imagine the suffering that will be caused if the civil servants do not process say a certificate or business licence efficiently and compassionately?

I know of many cases where some children of Malaysians had to carry a permanent resident status for years due to the apathetic attitude of some civil servants.

Civil servants and enforcement agencies are given discretionary powers by the law. These discretionary powers ought to be exercised with compassion to mitigate any avoidable suffering that may ensue from the use of that discretion.

Second, the traditional thinking of increasing welfare of citizens was confined primarily to focusing on economic growth.

Contemporary economists understood that while economic growth does have its benefits – creating higher standards of living, reducing extreme poverty, contributing to the government’s coffers,accelerating other sectors of the economy – it may, however, come with severe disadvantages both in the short and long run.

What determines the growth and how it is sought to be achieved will be a key determinant of the extent of costs that has to be borne by the general populace.

For example, economic growth may only benefit a few and result in huge income disparities, which in turn will certainly cause major social problems in the society.

The Gini coefficient which measures income inequalities is therefore, in another sense, a measure of our compassionate approach to economic solutions.

The growth may have been achieved by diverting resources away from efforts that could increase social welfare and people’s well-being.

A compassionate policymaker will take into consideration the negative externalities associated with economic growth and mitigate them. Everything in life cannot be measured in monetary terms such as pollution, sustainable environment, collective happiness and so on.

Third is the government’s very important role in creating a sociopolitical environment which uplifts the dignity of a human being.

A human being who cannot live with dignity is almost living dead and when the system denies him this right, he suffers from oppression. I believe central to a dignified life are the civil liberties enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

Briefly, a citizen must be allowed to live life as he chooses to the best of his capabilities so long as it does not directly impact the quality

of life of others in the negative sense and does not cause physical injury or create actual public disorder.

I believe this is only possible in the long run if the government actively assists in bringing about the culture of compassion in the country. For this to happen, the government must not be afraid to broaden the pool of wholesomely educated citizenry who are imbibed with a culture of thinking, compassion and love for knowledge.

Fools and ignoramuses fear to think and do not understand that diversity and quality of thoughts are major factors that will influence the civilisational progress of a society.

A compassionate government cannot allow the growth of tyranny by the majority and a psychological subjugation of the minority.

There is always the tendency of the majority to want to dominate the minority in various ways. A compassionate government must be conscious of this and take remedial steps so that the dignity of the minority citizens are not trampled upon.

Fourth is the management of the country’s resources and the designing of the nation’s wealth. It is a complex issue but there is a basic principle underlying it which is non-negotiable: the political government is in a position of a trustee and “benevolent father”.

As a trustee, the government cannot loot the nation’s wealth at the detriment of the rakyat. For the first time in Malaysian history, you have a record number of political leaders facing criminal charges in court and this obviously makes the rakyat more wary of political leaders in power. A compassionate government will not be corrupt or abuse their power to unfold sufferings on the rakyat.

As a “benevolent father”, the attitude of compassion will remind the government to look at the bigger and wholesome picture of how wealth is to be distributed among the citizens.

In such cases, affirmative actions for certain segments of the family of Malaysia may be needed, not based on ethnicity nor religion but on pressing human needs.

The new Malaysia is a perfect chapter in our country’s history to shift the political mindset towards compassionate governance.

The current government had been the opposition for decades and as an opposition they would have had the greatest opportunity to know the sufferings on the ground.

While it is still fresh in their memories, they now have the avenue to translate them into policies since they are now the government of the day.

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