What does it take to care, Perikatan?

Humility, care and empathy among politicians should not be mere lip service

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Sketch by Aliran member Wong Soak Koon

It was a black Monday for the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government when Mahiaddin Yasin officially informed the Agong of his resignation as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister.

This was later followed by Mahiaddin’s final address to the nation, which many had been waiting for, after going through moments of anxiety and concerns in recent weeks.

In his final televised speech, the caretaker prime minister reminded Malaysians that he (and by extension his government) cared very much for their wellbeing amid the raging Covid virus.

Using the moniker abah, the Pagoh MP said he still treated the people as his children who should be cared for. However, the overall rate of his administration’s commitment towards this end was cause for concern.

The government, he insisted, had done its best to save and protect Malaysians from the pandemic, which is, admittedly, a phenomenon we have never seen in living memory.

Although the national vaccination programme had a slow start, it subsequently picked up and Mahiaddin recently assured Malaysians that more than 87 million doses of Covid vaccines costing RM4.4bn had been procured for them.

However, the loved ones of those who succumbed to the vicious virus may not consider his ‘best’ as good enough. The number of Covid deaths and infections has spiked in recent months. As of 16 August, 12,784 people had died from Covid.

Nor would his ‘best’ be appreciated by those who had made desperate pleas on social media to the government for help as they endured the prolonged lockdowns that brought about a loss of jobs, incomes and businesses.

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The economic stimulus packages undertaken by his government reached the target groups unevenly, leaving certain quarters severely cash-strapped and vulnerable. Some received the financial aid rather late, while others did not get or qualify for it.

This was why the white flag initiative, spearheaded by a few individuals and local communities, was most welcome by the desperate in our midst, who have had problems putting food on the table, among other issues.

This was, however, frowned upon by the authorities, with reports even saying that some Malaysians were threatened for putting up a white flag. Mahiaddin even commented in jest that it was better to replace the white flag with a blue one, which is the colour of his Perikatan Nasional’s symbol. He said this when he launched a government aid programme that had a similar objective.

Another bone of contention was the welfare of the frontline health workers, particularly the contract doctors who have been dutifully and tirelessly treating Covid patients – something which was not been sufficiently addressed by his government.

This was apart from the fact that many hospitals, particularly those in the Klang Valley, have been overstretched owing to a shortage of funds, equipment and personnel, putting some patients in danger of neglect.

The contract doctors would not have staged a strike had their woes been properly attended to by the supposedly caring government. In fact, they faced intimidation and harassment from the authorities for participating in the nationwide strike.

The educational needs of schoolchildren too have not been given due attention by the Ministry of Education, particularly the basic necessities of those from poor families. For example, the 150,000 laptops that were promised to these needy kids have not reached them completely. At the time of writing, only 13,000 laptops have reportedly been distributed. What happened to the rest?

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Certain constituencies were fortunate enough to have elected representative who took the effort to get funding from individuals and the private sector to donate communications devices to needy students.

At this juncture, some Malaysians may wonder whatever happened to Makcik Kiah, a representation of the vulnerable in society who used to be mentioned so often in Mahiaddin’s earlier speeches.

The arrogance of certain ministers is also a serious issue for many ordinary Malaysians. This is particularly stark in cases of the former flouting the standard operating procedure of the movement control order.

The Malaysian public generally appreciates and understands that the standard operating procedure implemented by the government is meant to curb the spread of the Covid virus.

However, the double standards in its enforcement are too much to bear for the ordinary people, especially when the powerful and famous are often let off with a slap on the wrist. On the other hand, ordinary folks, many of whom are financially hard-pressed, were left to bear the brunt of strict enforcement and heavy penalties.

Thus, while we appreciate that some ministers recently apologised for the errors and shortcomings in their governance, their unwarranted arrogance still rankles in the minds of many.

Humility, care and empathy among politicians obviously should not be mere lip service, particularly by those who do not have the people’s mandate.

So, what does it take to care for ordinary Malaysians? All the above considered, and more? – The Malaysian Insight

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