By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
Like everyone else I looked forward to some welcoming news ahead of 2018, as I am a true believer that good things only happen at the end of the show. But it was one disappointment after another as 2017 came to a close. Topping my list of disappointments was the unravelling of the scandal behind Felda’s Jalan Semerak land deal. It was clearly a fraud committed by those responsible for the wellbeing of the many settlers of the once-promising land development scheme. Today Felda (Federal Land Development Authority) is fast becoming a farce with billions of the rakyat’s hard-earned money being siphoned off by crooked officials and politicians.
The scandal involves the transfer of four pieces of prime land belonging to the agency, located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, by the appointed developer to an entity which the developer has an interest in. The current market value of the land is in excess of RM2 billion. However, it was “sold” for RM270 million, a fraction of what it is on the market. Felda, unfortunately, did not receive a single sen from the transaction although it was finalised in December 2015.
Incidentally, scandal-ridden Felda is embroiled in many other financial fiascos that have surfaced over the last few years. What many find puzzling is the silence on the part of the Prime Minister’s Department who is responsible for the agency’s management. Was there complicity or perhaps a hidden hand behind the numerous “dubious dealings” that had incurred considerable loss to the government and the settlers? Obviously, those entrusted to manage and administer the agency are not what they are but wolves in sheep’s clothing. To pacify the settlers they, from time to time, are given handouts worth pittance in exchange for their loyalty, patience and trust. This sucks.
Newly-appointed Felda chairman, Sharir Samad, is at a loss trying to untangle the mystery. Although the Police and the anti-corruption commission are hard on the heels of the culprits, a solution is impossible with the present hierarchy. Meanwhile, the crooks are spending their ill-gotten gains without an iota of guilt. The country’s pride and credibility are being badly affected by these irresponsible people.
I thought Felda’s problem would be the finale of a tumultuous 2017 only to be jolted by another shocker nearer home. The notice on the door of Ipoh City Council’s Perak Tourism Information Centre adjacent to iconic Ipoh Padang had many in stitches. The centre was closed on New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day. Its closure on a significant public holiday was not the issue here but the hastily written notice in English was. The Menteri Besar had attributed the blooper to oversight and had faulted the writer for having used the popular online application Google Translate to create his “masterpiece”. The notice was full of grammatical and spelling mistakes. It would make any sane visitor to the centre that day squeamish.
In 2012 when the first Visit Perak Year was introduced I dropped by the centre to have a first-hand look at things on display there. I was told that captions of posters and written illustrations were poorly worded. This would reflect badly on Ipoh City Council. I offered to correct the mistakes, pro bono, thus saving the Council money and time. My well-meaning gesture was never taken seriously, as those responsible persisted in doing what they felt was right. So whatever happened came as no surprise to me. But the fact that the glitch had gone viral on social media had everyone, from mayor to Menteri Besar, on their toes, speaks volumes of the importance of the English language.
If we want foreign tourists to continue coming Ipoh’s way, good spoken and written English is a must. In this instance, the fault lies with the department head not the poor counter staff who took it upon himself to write something which he is ill-trained for.
However, on hindsight, the capacity of senior government officers is also suspect. How many of them can write and converse in English? I have come across many who simply cannot string a simple sentence in English let alone write anything legible. Our education system has degenerated to what it is today thanks to the many nationalistic leaders who insist that English is the language of the penjajah (colonials).
Notwithstanding the gloom, there was one event that helped brighten the tail end of 2017. It happened at Ipoh’s airport on Thursday, December 28. A young man went out of his way to win the hands of his beau. His elaborate marriage proposal plan cost him a whopping RM10,000 to execute but it was worth every sen. He got the girl of his dreams and the couple walked happily into the aircraft that took them to Singapore and back.
So, what is in stock for us in 2018? There are five official long weekends (one has already gone) and 11 public holidays to contend with. The icing is of course the much-anticipated GE 14. No definite dates are in the offing yet but, rest assured, the mother of all elections is set to rock the nation to its foundation. I am not making any predictions but remain optimistic of an upset given the current political climate.