Year of half-bridge, half-past-six govt and half-witted leaders

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mahathir and badawiMartin Jalleh looks back at the last 12 months and highlights the Mahathir-Abdullah spat, the Umno keris affair, Proton and its can of worms among others. But alas, 2006 was also a year when Pak Lah and his “half-past six government” functioned only at half throttle, with half-measures and half-hearted efforts. 

The citizens of Bolehland ended the year 2006 in high spirits. Even though things did not quite fork out for the "work-with-me" Prime Minister (PM), the government of the day took us to great heights in various ways.

We were also kept high-minded by former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamed (Dr M), who instead of riding off into the sunset, got on his high horse and refused to come down from it – even after his manhood had been questioned.

Dr M felt it was high time to highlight to the PM that the latter had sold the country, stooped before his neighbours, stopped listening to ‘My Way’, stabbed him in the back and scrapped his pet projects…He was not interfering, merely asking Pak Lah to step down, that’s all.

It was difficult to differentiate between the annual haze and Dr M’s high-end smokescreen. His past ‘sins’ were shrouded by his sensational high-drama series of a crooked-half-bridge, cancelled projects, crooks and cronies – with him playing the lead role as a reluctant saint.

Part of the drama was an arranged peace talk, during which Pak Lah kept his peace and Dr M talked with his high-hat on. The ‘old man’ gave the PM higher ‘doses of venom’ for his blistered image. The latter took down the long prescription…and left everything to God.

As sparks flew, venom spewed and divisions grew, it became clear that the high-impact and the historic spat between the two had much more to do with the four issues raised by Dr M or his insinuations of the Oxbridge-trained people on the 4th Floor of the PM’s Office.

It was about the elite in Umno jostling in high-gear with one another for the control of the country’s resources. It was about privileged people in high places sinking so low in outdoing one another in their chauvinism and arrogance, and high rollers gambling away the country for high stakes.

In the name of Malay Supremacy and with the help of Executive Supremacy, the elite in the dominant party exerted their ‘supremacy’ over one another. They were at one another’s throat whilst screaming at the rest not to question their state, status, and of course, superiority.

 

High hypocrisy

Pak Lah’s chime of change and his high-sounding anti-corruption cheer and chant continued on in 2006. He proved himself capable of producing the same old ‘tap-and-dance routine’ synonymous with his predecessor.

He displayed such ‘high tolerance’ for certain people in high places in Umno. For example, he held up high scandal-ridden former Klang municipal councillor Zakaria Md Deros as a ‘good leader’. He told ‘close-one-eye’ Jasin MP Datuk Mohd Said bin Yusof to close his mouth and assured him that he will be given a ear.  

On the eve of the Umno General Assembly (GA), Pak Lah dished out an additional RM600 million (of the rakyat’s money) to spearhead rural development. The ‘bonus’ will go to 191 parliamentary constituencies (read as ‘Umno divisions’), excluding Sarawak  (where there is no Umno).

Lim Kit Siang rightly called it ‘political corruption of the worst kind’. Dr M said it was ‘very wrong’ and that it ‘has to be given to everybody’. But Pak Lah was not listening. He would roar very religiously that he was disappointed over the lack of debates on corruption during the GA.

One cannot help but think of the highly hilarious statement of the occasionally-wise de facto law minister Nazri Aziz who declared with a straight face: ‘Money politics in Umno…do not involve public funds or public projects.’ How naïve can Nazri be?

By the end of the year Pak Lah had nothing to show – no high-profile individuals to be prosecuted for graft – not even amongst the unknown 18 of high standing on the corruption list.  Mukhriz Mahathir was absolutely right – Pak Lah had offered nothing new at the GA – and neither had anyone else in Umno in 2006.

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‘Good governance’ reigned in many local councils in 2006. A good number of politically-appointed councillors made good money in good time for the "good of the people". They built for themselves palaces, bulldozed the homes of the poor, blasted holy places of worship and bullied the marginalized.

The rakyat began to doubt  their "tell-me-the-truth" PM. His explanations regarding his son and son-in-law were treated as half-truths or outright lies. We asked him to tell the truth, but he would instead speak of his son-in law’s rice bowl and of Dr M’s children having been awarded far bigger projects than those given to his son.

Ferreted out of his ‘elegant silence’, and realizing it was time to play high-ball Pak Lah stuttered, stammered, stumbled and strained for ‘the truth’ to shore up his shaky defence against Dr M’s accusation that Bolehland has become a ‘half-past-six country which has no guts’.  

Indeed, Pak Lah’s half-past-six government often appeared at sixes and sevens – with either his ministers and officers contradicting one another, making u-turns, or with almost everybody free to pronounce policy – from minister to mufti to the mob and to the multitude…but he would still insist ‘I am in control’.

Sharing Pak Lah’s prize for hypocrisy was Dr M who complained that he had been denied  the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and that he was a victim of a police state – a legacy which he had so proudly left behind.

He even very humbly claimed that he never had anyone arrested under the ISA for political reasons and blamed the mass arrests of Operation Lalang in 1988 on the police. A highly-incensed Kit Siang reminded Dr M, who was also the then Home Minister and Justice Minister, that he was the ‘mastermind’of the 1987 dragnet.

He complained that the mainstream press had spurned him and spiked his statements. He even alleged the existence of spin doctors. Dr M was given a taste of his own medicine. It must have been difficult to swallow the fact that he was no longer the darling of the mainstream press.

The seasoned politician was pepper-sprayed when he arrived for one of his wayang kulit roadshows in Kelantan. However, proving he was worth his salt, he bounced back peppering the government with his snide remarks and sarcastic swipes.

It was also a year when the chickens came home to roost. Ani Arope, ex-chief of Tenaga, enlightened us on the role Dr M played in the higher electricity rates we are paying for. Anwar Ibrahim highlighted Dr M’s contribution to Bolehland’s RM30 billion loss as a result of forex speculations.

One-time corporate high-flyer Tajuddin Ramli disclosed details in a court document regarding his ‘national service’ duty to Dr M. Former High Court judge Syed Ahmad Idid and former Lord President Salleh Abbas provided more disturbing information on the 1988 judicial crisis and other scandals in the judiciary which still stink to high heaven.

The PricewaterhouseCooper Report on the Mismanagement of Proton Holdings (1996-2005), which The Edge had called ‘Proton’s Can of Worms’, provided a revealing glimpse into the worsening saga faced by the auto industry in Bolehland and exposed how the rakyat had been taken for a ride.

 

High and mighty

2006 also saw the high-performance in Bolehland of half-witted leaders and politicians. Leading the pack were some of Umno’s high-profile ‘heroes’, often engrossed in putting up a desperate act of either denial, diversion, damage control or demonizing another race, party or person to demonstrate their superiority.

For a start, the ever-cautious and calculating Deputy PM Najib Razak made it clear that the NEP would be a Never Ending Policy. He declared during the Umno GA to a thunderous applause: “In this struggle for the Malays, it must be firmly said that there is no time limit within which we must achieve our targets.”

He preached that ‘the Malay mind must be sharpened’ yet in the ASLI controversy, he chose to shy away without ascertaining the truth with the help of experts with regards to the methodology in calculating wealth held by different ethnic groups. The people should no longer question the government’s findings, was his methodology of a sharp mind

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At one moment he would challenge the Malay with an agenda for reform and at another he would be obsessed with the Malay Agenda which would result in the Malay clutching on to their crutches, clawing at their privileges and clamouring for more handouts.

He struggled to rebut the contention of Penang Education and Economic Planning Committee chairman Dr Toh Kin Woon that the NEP was ‘only for the elite, especially those who are close to the leaders’, by generating generalities like: “Many non-Malays have received the spillover and contracts from the government and also certain approvals.”  

Najib obviously ran out of fuel in trying to justify the government’s decision to increase the price of petrol when he meekly said: “Malaysians should change their lifestyle and adapt to the inevitable fuel price increase.” The indignant rakyat pointed out to Najib the shameless high lifestyle of the Cabinet ministers and the political elite.  

Najib chastised Deputy Higher Education Minister, Ong Tee Keat, for alleging that there might have been corruption in the Ministry of Education in the utilisation of a special fund for upgrading vernacular schools. Tee Kiat was proven right. But Najib did not want to ‘discuss the facts of the issue’. He insisted that the case be closed. Notice his ‘methodology”’again.

Umno Youth chief, Hishamuddin Hussein, (who is also the Education Minister) proved yet again that his intellectual prowess lay very much in his kris-kiss-brandishing stunts at Umno Youth GAs. Ever wondered why gangsterism is rife in our schools and universities?

The keris may indeed be a “pivotal part of Malay culture”. But when an Umno delegate at the GA asked “when is he (Hisha-muddin) going to use it” – it became evident that Hishamuddin’s act had nothing to do with Malay culture but came across as part of the bullying and bankrupt culture of Umno.

Then there was Khairy Jamaluddin, the PM’s millionaire son-in-law, and a supposedly brilliant Oxbridge graduate who showed that he was willing to be ox-brained and to play the racial card, in order to promote himself as the PM-in-waiting.

He said: ‘Chinese were taking advantage of the infighting in Umno to ask for more rights’ – without mentioning that he was the major cause of the infighting. ‘Malays in Penang are being marginalised’ – yet ‘Khairy has done nothing concrete to alleviate the problems faced by the Malays in Penang’, as Dr M had correctly pointed out.

Khairy called Anwar Ibrahim a traitor for saying that the New Economic Policy (NEP) was no longer needed. He forgot that his father-in-law had said almost the same thing at the Umno GA a year earlier:  ‘The government cannot play the role of Santa Claus, perpetually handing out gifts’.

De facto Law Minister Nazri Aziz helped enrich the script of the PM’s anti-corruption charade by declaring that the ACA ‘has no powers to initiative investigations on reports and charges of money politics and bribery within Umno…because these offences are confined to political parties and not public transgressions’.

A lawyer well-versed with the Anti-Corruption Act 1997 showed how nascent Nazri was with the law: ‘…to say that money politics does not affect the public in the sense that it does not involve public projects and public funds is spinning the spin. More so, when the minister was a former advocate and solicitor.’

These and many others who worked with Pak Lah, were called ‘apple-polishers’ by Dr M – though the latter’s humility did not allow him to acknowledge the fact that he had a lot to do with their highly ‘polished’ character. As it turned out in 2006, an ‘apple’ a day tried to keep the Dr away.

 

High hopes

Parliament was not spared the charade of change. The august house was served with shocking half-baked replies by parliamentary secretaries and Ministers of the half-past-six government. Some BN MPs showed very remarkably how virile they were in verbal brawls, vulgar jokes and vituperative debates and venturing into the cafeteria.

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2006 was a year when higher education sank so low that a renowned academician called the once-world-class Universiti Malaya a “high school”. The country had 80,000 unemployed graduates – more than 90% of whom were from public universities. A report showed that the standard of primary education in Bolehland was way below that of not only developing nations, but even that of some African countries.

It was also a year which saw the brazen high-handedness of the police in breaking up a peaceful demonstration in front of KLCC against price hikes in fuel and electricity. The PM had in January 2006 given his blessings to the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC). Till today it is still kept under wraps in ‘elegant silence’.  

High crime dominated the past year. According to official statistics, there were an average of one snatch theft every hour, three murders every two days, six rapes every day, and the total number of violent crimes committed rose from 21,604 cases in 2000 to 22,133 cases in 2005. As the rakyat suffered in high anxiety, Pak Lah felt very safe with his brand new RM20 million security system.

The rate of drug addiction reached a new high. 1% of our population are drug addicts. A drug addict is created every 29 minutes. The authorities detain about 20,000 new addicts every year, nearly two-thirds of whom are teenagers or in their 20s. 6,120 new HIV cases were reported in 2005. There are an average of 19 new cases daily.

It was also a year when the whole world saw how Bolehland which is often touted as a melting pot of all races and religions had become a boiling pot. For a country that has Vision 2020 as its declared aim, the increasing racial eyesores that developed throughout 2006, with the government often turning a blind eye, was highly disconcerting.   

The religious scenario was no different and it had very much to do with certain people of a particular persuasion who believe they are representatives from on high and it is their duty to dominate, dictate and decide on (and even disrupt) what others can and cannot discuss, debate, dialogue and do.

Pak Lah, who once declared that he was the Prime Minister of all citizens of every faith in this country, unfortunately allowed them to impose their views, to intimidate with a mob and to insult the intelligence of the people. Alas, as is always the case, the greatest casualty in religion is God himself – as he watches from above puny minds trying to play God.

Alas, 2006 was a year when Pak Lah and his half-past-six-government functioned at half throttle, displaying half-measures against corruption and half-hearted efforts in the public service delivery system, and often indifferent to how the other half lives.

It was also a year when we had to endure sky-high prices (resulting in high cost of living), high and scandalous wastage of government funds, high destruction to the environment (which resulted in a big flood in Shah Alam in early 2006 and another at the end of the year in Johor), high death tolls of 6,000 a year on our roads, etc.

The citizens of Bolehland were paying the high price of believing in the "tell-me-the-truth" government led by Pak Lah. There is, however, a high probability that they will still vote in the BN government in the next general elections in spite of all the “high points” of 2006, being as absent-minded as they usually are!

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