Budget 2021 fails to address full impact of pandemic

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The pandemic goes well beyond economic and health concerns. The way we tackle the challenges before us will determine our collective destiny. JD Lovrenciear writes.

The political landscape in Malaysia is in tatters, mired in divisiveness, infighting and jostling for power and position.

Given the near empty coffers, frozen assets and the many court cases involving alleged criminal acts, it is possible that desperate moves are being made by those with vested self-interest. Their future is at stake and this, together with party politics, could lead to a frenzy of brokering.

In this political turmoil, with the economy mauled by rampant corruption and the coronavirus pandemic, should the nation head for the polls now or within the next 20 months?

Let the following guide the nation’s conscience. Forming partnerships of convenience between rival political parties will not be in the best interest of the people. We saw that in 2018. And again from February 2020. And we have seen the mess since the recent Sabah election.

The only way out is for each political party to compete for votes on its own merit and track record. If any party knows it will never form the government or clinch ministerial appointments, then it should either disband before the polls or be satisfied with the election outcome.

The country needs a strong party with wide representation to press ahead with reforms after the next general election. Without urgently needed wide-ranging reforms, Malaysia will be on its way to becoming a failed state.

It is hard for power-sharing to work, with the divisive political framework we have. If we don’t get this right, the country will plunge further down the scale of economic competitiveness while neighbouring countries capitalise on our malaise.

It has been tough for us to become a two-party nation like in many progressive nations. We’ve wasted six decades. We do not have a glowing record; instead, we have seen defections after elections, unlike in many other more honourable nations elsewhere.

All those diabolical plots we have witnessed in past elections under the guise of ‘democracy at its best’ will plunge the nation into further darkness.

This country has one last chance to rise. We either do it right or suffer.

Impact goes beyond global, national economies

So far, the coronavirus pandemic has been addressed largely from the vantage point of economics. But this virus is here to stay for longer than we have been led to believe.

The pandemic is a call for humanity to recalibrate itself, not just along economic or health concerns. The world needs to rethink its four frontiers of human existence: politics, the social (and religious) sphere, the environment and the economy.

National leaders must commit themselves to upholding the wisdom of human civilisation, instead of compromising to take advantage of the crisis for selfish, ulterior motives.

The killing incidents in France recently and some extreme responses arising in other parts of the world show us that the world has learned nothing from the pandemic. Some people are still not taking heed of this global calamity.

We need to converge. We need to embrace our differences and see the unity in Creation.

There is only one God, by whatever name we choose. The paths of humanity’s

journeying on planet earth can be myriad, but no one is superior to another. Instead, we must remain steadfast to secure human existence on earth.

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Realign politics to serve the people

While nations focus on reviving their faltering economies, we must go deeper into our ‘beingness’ to unearth fundamental truths and virtues that alone can make human beings live in peace and harmony. We must also bridge the chasm between the haves and have nots.

Civilisation faces a huge enemy that threatens to beat us to the ground if we continue to play the devil’s advocate. This is the time to realign our social norms, philosophies, beliefs and practices.

The colour of out skin and religion should not be the yardstick in our encounters with others. We need to celebrate our God-given diversity.

It is also time to battle the evils of human making, from corruption to power grabs to environmental destruction and deal-brokering for selfish gain.

World leaders must lead the public discourse to save humanity on all fronts instead of being blinkered and focusing only on saving the economy.

The coronavirus is not just about the economy; it goes well beyond health concerns. It is about human civilisation on the threshold of annihilation.

Will we rise from the ravages of the coronavirus as a united world of people, sharing and caring the blessings that the universe gives to all life forms? Or will we destroy each other even more during this uncertain pandemic?

The choice is ours. The time is here and now. We either save each other to save human civilisation – or kill each other and lose the planet.

Outlaw illegal money lenders

Meanwhile, Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj highlighted a deeply disturbing conversation. It is something that deserves more media publicity and public discourse as it is a serious concern.

He shared his conversation with one ‘Renuka’, whose family is suffering from pandemic-induced financial hardship, aggravated by money lenders.

It is unbelievable that after six decades of proclaiming a progressive Malaysia, money lenders still victimise people, charging 10% monthly interest plus 10% penalty interest on the amount borrowed on a monthly basis. Anyone borrowing from a money lender could end up in abject poverty while the money lender milks the destitute.

What good is all the celebrated government ‘bantuan’ (aid) schemes for the poor if that same government cannot protect the poor from scheming money lenders who capitalise on the people’s hardship?

We have been talking and talking about loan sharks and illegal money lenders (and recalcitrant legal ones) for a long time. But nothing has changed. The most the government does is chastise the people for turning to money lenders and advise them not to borrow from them.

But why is the government, entrusted to protect the people, unable to rein in such ugly, profiteering money lenders? The government cannot pride itself on bringing about a progressive Malaysia when a growing segment of the poor like ‘Renuka’ are left to the mercy of such money lenders.

Where are our elected MPs, policymakers and law enforcers?

Budget 2021 could be PSM’s bonus

It is an open secret, going by the immense outpourings on social media, that Budget 2021 is not going down well especially among the minority groups.

The widely held perception is that this is a politically anchored budget that some say has checkmated the Opposition in Parliament.

If the Opposition opposes the Budget, it will earn them the wrath of the supporters of Barisan Nasional, Pas and Perikatan Nasional and all those aligned to their ‘marriage of convenience’. Beneficiaries may even think the Opposition bloc is anti-Malay, anti-bumiputera and anti-Muslim.

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In this climate of grave unhappiness among the people and the nation’s precarious economic future – a future that does not discriminate along racial, religious or political lines – perhaps the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) has a unique advantage to champion the cause of the marginalised. Whether the party will rise to the occasion during these troubling times remains to be seen.

Despicable business disregard for human safety

A recent report “Probe developers who allow workers under quarantine on site” was shocking.

Viral videos making the rounds showing migrant workers at a construction site wearing the pink bracelet may be just the tip of the iceberg. God knows where else and how else the stringent standard operating procedures to curb the pandemic are brazenly being violated by business communities across the nation.

Construction is is just one sector. What about other sectors – plantations, manufacturing, farming – hidden from public view?

When foreign media paint a story about how certain employers violate human rights and human employment rights, we chastise such media swiftly or perhaps pressure the journalists.

Here we are seeing how, in the name of saving businesses from going under and in the name of making profits, we throw caution to the wind and let helpless migrant workers continue working even when under quarantine. That is how brazen and irresponsible some businesses are in Malaysia.

On the one hand, people are warned and repeatedly shown news clips of action being taken on those who flout the standard operating procedures. On the other, we witness disregard for the safety and health of migrant workers. This is the double standards that will eventually hurt the entire nation.

How much enforcement can our keepers of the law really execute nationwide? At some point, we have to acknowledge that, as long as society is corrupt to the hilt, any enforcement can only serve as window-dressing.

Seriously, business ethics in our nation has suffered for several decades now. And it is not just in business. Politicians, leaders and institutional vanguards too are complicit in alleged corrupt practices and fraud.

With this pandemic, the dirt has floated for all to see. What will come out of this latest expose on the pink bracelets? Your guess is as good as mine.

Pandemic damage not adequately tackled

Of the RM322bn in budget allocations, a miserly RM24m is all they can squeeze out to foot the mental health needs in the post-pandemic climate.

Mind you, even the government has admitted to rising mental health cases. The Ministry of Health’s psychological helpline received an alarming 35,000 distress calls between March and October this year.

With so many Malaysians losing their jobs, facing pay cuts and dealing with immense pressure to pay their bills and put food on the table for the family, the emotional stress is heavy.

Sole enterprises, small and medium-sized enterprises, and even some big firms face unprecedented challenges to keep going – that is, if they have not already gone under.

People also have to deal with the daily stress – and penalties – from a variety of enforcement measures on the streets.

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All this has placed a heavy burden on the people in an already restrictive climate. The various forms of restricted movements – argued as a necessary price to pay for recovery – have dampened their spirits.

Has the government considered the psychological and mental toll on the people so that it can implement measures that can speedily redress the damage? Unfortunately, we do not appear to have any investigative inventory to tell us how seriously the people’s wellbeing has been hit.

No one is talking about the prolonged denial about the impact of the measures the authorities have taken. The miserly RM24m allocation for mental health from the gargantuan RM322bn Budget says it all.

While the country remains glued to the mantra that reviving the economy will solve all problems, the social, mental and emotional wellbeing of the people suffers. The protracted restrictions on societal behaviour, on our ‘beingness’, has already stretched for 11 months, and it has come at a huge cost.

We need sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers to speak up. We need our politicians – who are largely preoccupied with money and party survival – to listen to the largely unspoken stories of the plight of the people, which go beyond economics and finance.

Transcending the health and economic scare

The general worldwide view is that Covid-9 is a health concern. There is also a global scramble to prop up collapsing economies.

Politicians are racing to bring any ‘breakthrough’ vaccine to their homelands at any cost. They know the masses will celebrate the news with seeming relief that the coronavirus has been conquered.

Around the world, any return to normalcy – the economic systems that we humans have mastered over the past two centuries – and to the usual fulfilment of political expediencies have become intertwined with health and economic concerns.

But is Covid-19 more than just a health scare or an economic battle that must be fought to return our lives to our familiar ‘normalcy’? Or does it go far beyond the realm of politics, the economy or health?

Humanity faces an unprecedented challenge. Will the coronavirus pandemic demolish our post-war economic mantras, tear apart our social fabric and recalibrate political thoughts? If it does, then civilisation could be at the cusp of a whole new and as yet unknown path.

As we glance over the pages of world history and the story of human civilisation, we cannot deny that Covid-19 will recalibrate our journey ahead as a species on this planet.

The ‘new normal’ of human conduct, which is being propagated and enforced with punishment, threatens to change human behaviour as we know it.

In facing up to the pandemic, politicians, academics, analysts and world leaders should prepare society for a broader, deeper understanding of the realities challenging human existence. It calls for truth at its best.

We need to go beyond talking about economic recovery, health concerns and the social stabilisation that the politicians often talk about. The ravages of Covid-19 go beyond politics and economics and impede upon the societal frameworks built over the past two centuries.

Human civilisation needs a structural recalibration for it to be in harmony with the very design of Creation, made known to humanity since the dawn of our existence.

That is the stark reality. All else is plain self-denial.

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