By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
Time Magazine had rightly declared 2011 as the Year of the Protestor. It was dedicated to the men and women of the Arab Spring and elsewhere in the world who rose to challenge their tyrannical governments. The Arab uprisings invariably led to regime change in Tunisia and Libya and the ouster of Egypt’s unpopular and long-serving President Hosni Mubarak. Rallies and street demonstrations are on-going in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Despite the loss of innocent lives, the intensity is growing by the day.
The quest for change is gaining momentum not only in the under-developed parts of the world but in the developed parts too. Fiscal uncertainties in the Eurozone countries and the United States of America are bearing down hard on the administrators. Obama’s second term in the Oval Office is in doubt, given his lacklustre performance.
Kleptocracy, defined as a form of government corruption where party officials enrich themselves by embezzling state funds, has long been the bane of Third World countries. This is the root cause of dissatisfaction. Capital flight is a definitive sign of a kleptocratic government going astray, as corrupt leaders secretly transfer public funds to foreign banks for safekeeping. Between 2000 and 2009 Malaysia lost an estimated RM900 billion to capital flight making it the fifth largest source of illicit money in the world. This does not bode well for the country.
At home, Ambiga’s Bersih 2.0 rally for free and fair elections hogged the limelight far longer than expected. It was headline news for a good part of the year till well past the July 9 show-down.
The shut-down of Kuala Lumpur by the Police left many KL-ites fuming. Their discontentment was not directed at the protestors per se, but at the authorities for over-amplifying the fear of a possible economic disruption brought about by civil disobedience.
The fear of losing foreign investments is overtly exaggerated to cloud the minds of the rakyat and cow them into submission. That is among the favourite messages constantly drummed to the masses besides the oft-repeated stoking of racial and religious tensions by the irresponsible. Fortunately, the public is not easily influenced by crappy news these days. Thanks to alternative media which have made an impact here and around the world.
Defence spending is one area that is seldom highlighted due to reasons of security. For the last few decades our government has been spending on purchasing capital equipment as if, in the words of a local analyst, Col Tommy Pereira, the country has “a bottomless pile of money”.
Tommy asserts that “no level of military sophistication would guarantee us safety”. Recent events should serve to remind us “that it is the unity of our citizens which will ensure a safe nation within which every citizen will be allowed to prosper.”
“We can own any number of submarines, modern fighter aircraft and tanks, but if a true aggressor wishes to do so, all of them could be taken out within a short time. At the end of the day it will be the collective will of a united nation which will turn the tide,” Tommy insists.
A classic example is Iraq, even with its wide array of weaponry and its bountiful arsenal, capitulated within matters of weeks to the combined might of America, United Kingdom and pro-Western Arab nations during the 2003 Gulf War.
However, if a nation spends on providing amenities to its people, ensuring good infrastructure, proper education, health care and creating job opportunities, the less likely its citizenry will forsake the country in times of emergency. Germany, Italy, and Japan learnt a bitter lesson for their belligerence in the last century and Iraq in this century.
In Ipoh, our backyard dalliance with city council to bring about changes in our city, has affected our impression of local authorities. Cleanliness is still a lingering problem in spite of the Mayor’s fondness to turun padang. Nothing much has changed, prompting the Menteri Besar to chide the council for “creating a state within a state.” This is a good enough warning for the council to start pulling up its socks.
With January fading into oblivion and Chinese New Year fast approaching, my wish for the Year of the Dragon is for the nation’s leaders to take heed of developments in the world and make amends where possible. For the Mayor, go slow on publicity and concentrate on making Ipoh great. Your tenure in office is not the issue here. Remember, Ipoh was once the cleanest town in the country.