Should MPs buy coffins for the poor?

Dr Michael Teo finally got his wish after hankering for several years to stand in an election on the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) ticket in the l3th General election last May.

He was selected to stand in Miri parliamentary seat by the opposition and comfortably defeated the Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate Datuk Sebastian Ting and tomorrow he will join 221 other members of parliament at the swearing in ceremony.

However, even before he officially becomes an MP, he has been confronted with the reality of being a people’s representative in Sarawak as those who voted him in (and I am sure also those who did not vote for him) demand that he walk his campaign talk.

First there were grumblings that he never visited the constituents after winning the election and complaints that he did not help them as he promised he would during his campaigns.

This was followed by demands that he repair and upgrade roads to villages as he promised he would do if elected.

The whole situation came to a head recently when the family of man who passed away in Tudan asked him to donate RM1,800 for the coffin and RM2,200 for burial expenses as Tudan is within his parliamentary constituency.

When the MP turned down their request some local newspapers highlighted the unhappiness of the family with him suggesting that he did not ‘walk his campaign talk’ and that he had turned his back on the voters.

I am not writing about Dr Teo’s case to condemn or defend him but to highlight the disturbing perception of many voters, especially in the rural areas, of their elected representatives.

These people seem to look at their MPs and state assemblymen as welfare organisations and expect them to clear clogged drains, fill up pot holes or attend to every problem they face.

They are not interested in calls to end corruption, debates on the national budget, deforestation and pollution – issues that do not affect them directly.

To them their ‘YBs’ are a combination of ‘Mother Teresa’ and Superman.

This predicament afflicts politicians on both side of the divide and I have written recently about how some elected representatives found it so hard to meet the demands of their constituents.

However, BN YBs have Minor Rural Project (MRP) grants to meet some of these expectations while those in the opposition have nothing to fall back on.

I believe when politicians promised to get roads repaired in his campaigns they meant using their position as the people’s representatives to bring up their needs to the relevant authorities or in the parliament.

The Public Works Department and local councils are responsible for repairing roads and clearing clogged drains not MPs or state assemblymen.

Their duty is to bring these problems to the relevant authorities.

However, the people should not be held totally responsible for this situation as like they say it takes two hands to clap.

For years politicians had been ‘too generous’ in responding to requests for help from their voters in their bid to maintain their influence and this led to a

‘subsidy’ mentality among the people.

Those who have ‘indirect intangible’ benefits from their positions could easily meet their demands but those especially from the opposition, like Dr Teo, who only get their MP allowances could never live up to that expectation.

What they can offer are advisory services and to be the people’s voice but it is unfair to expect them to dig into their own pockets to help the people.

The recent three-fold salary and allowance increase of state assemblymen and ministers in the state was met with incredulity and resentment by the people.

After reading about Dr Teo’s case I am beginning to think that the hefty increment was not without its justification.

Perhaps there should be an increase in MPs allowance too and they could buy a coffin or two for the poor.

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