Goodbye 2011 and welcome 2012!


WHEN we bid goodbye and mean a farewell, we part with something or a situation that’s not necessarily bad. As of yesterday, for instance, there were no major disasters in Malaysia for the past 12 months. And hopefully there will be none this year.

The future, at least the immediate future, is equally important – what’s going to happen to you, to me, to the state and country as a whole.

Elephant in the room

In some systems the welfare of a country is considered more important than that of individuals; in others, it’s the other way round. For what’s the use of a rich and powerful country where the people are poor?

We have inherited a number of problems from the recent past which have elements that undermine the welfare of our country and which require immediate attention by the government and people. They are being carried forward to this year for prompt action.

I’m referring to the perception laid bare by some vernacular media that one religious group is trying to proselytise the members of another.

In the peninsula, there appears to be fear among certain Muslims that Christians are a threat to their religion.

Hopefully, it is just a perception, not a reality. Although church raiding would not necessarily be linked to that fear as a reaction, it would be wise for the authorities to fully investigate the real causes of the smallest incidents involving religious symbols. For instance, the smacking of a pupil for eating non-halal food in a Mission school canteen recently has been penalised by a smack on the wrist only. If it was the work of some over-zealous individual, let us know! The majority of teachers are decent peace-loving people. Let us separate the grain from the chaff.

The authorities must continue to pre-empt trouble by engaging the religious establishment – all religious bodies – regularly and consistently, and they must be seen to be so doing. Reassure the public and let us know that the trouble does not come from the religious leaders sitting in committees and attendees at seminars. It comes from a fringe element, people who claim they are more pious than God Himself, or – often the same! – from political opportunists who like to stir up trouble for the sake of their own agenda.

In Sarawak, we have no vestiges of religious strife. We have always enjoyed religious harmony, and as a result we have taken it for granted all along. It is only of late that external influences are creeping into the Land of the Hornbills, under all sorts of guises. We should be wary and circumspect and speak up when necessary.

Already there are allegations, yet to be investigated, that some teachers have been trying to influence their students, in not so subtle a manner. One or two such religious zealots are enough to tarnish the good name of the majority of teachers in Sarawak. That is why it is important for the investigators to disclose the names of the culprits in public, never mind who they are related to or connected with!

In a sense it is fortunate that these are individuals, not organised evangelists, easily detected and identified. What the public would like to know is why are they punished with a smack on the wrist only. They restrain themselves for a while until they re-emerge … at the wrong time, usually.

This is a problem that must be handled with care, before religious bigots get the better of the majority of us. They are hiding behind the sarongs of politicians bent on holding on to power at all costs – those believing in the use of the ends to justify the means.

So much for insidious attempts at undermining the religious harmony that Sarawak has enjoyed for so many years.

Outstanding problems

There were also several other problems which we refused to learn last year. Longhouses got burnt down at the rate of one a month. I’m not suggesting that they are to be pulled down now – not by any stretch of the imagination. But the government should not encourage the building of new longhouses. Instead, encourage people to build individual houses and finance their construction, if necessary. It pains me to flog this dead horse at every opportunity and I hope that others would participate in talking about the pros and cons of longhouses. Go ask the people who just lost their homes in yet another longhouse fire to join this discussion, too.

Political front

On this volatile front, I have not much to say. If the general election is held this year, may the best party win. The elections may not be as clean as we would like to see but cast our votes we must. Maybe the next government would be able to clean up the electoral rolls, allegedly tainted with voters who shouldn’t have been there (or, rest their souls, aren’t there any more). Then there are non-citizen voters, mostly in Sabah it has been alleged.

In 1974, a number of non-Malaysians who came to Sarawak for a few years and lived in Pandan in Lundu managed to acquire identity cards and were registered as voters. In the Miri area, many Bugis from Indonesia acquired Malaysian citizenship. The number was small, they probably didn’t influence the political future of Sarawakians at the time, but how do we explain this sort of thing to true-born Sarawakians who don’t even have birth certificates?

We will continue with this ugly mark on our record until real reforms involve automatic voter registration, compulsory voting, and local government elections. Local government elections for Sarawak were part of the Malaysia Agreement, which we signed on the dotted line, before we formed, together with Malaya, Sabah and Singapore, the present Federation of Malaysia in 1963. What’s the point of a written agreement if not all parties are bound to keep it?

Sarawakians must insist on the above if they wish to have a fair share in running this country. Already there are some 40,000 tax-paying Sarawakians out there who are potential voters but are not registered as voters, discriminated against by the system itself. They will miss voting for the Members of Parliament of their choice.

To add insult to injury, voting rights of Malaysians working abroad are being questioned by some quarters.

A new type of indelible ink will be used for the first time at the forthcoming elections. What happens to the tons of the old ink bought for RM2.4 million before the last federal elections?

So much for an apparent criticism, which is intended to be constructive. Nothing more nothing less.

Last week there was a great time for rejoicing and hope during the Christmas and we shall continue with that spirit and hope for this year.

But spare a thought for those who have no reason to rejoice.

Among those are many people in Sarawak who do not have birth certificates and identity cards. They will miss out on the one-off gift of RM500. News that those without identity cards can also fill in the application forms is hard to rationalise. In the case of the Penans without identity cards, it may be in order for community leaders to vouchsafe they are genuine Sarawakians but in other places this right to apply for the aid may be open to abuse.

We hope that the BR1M project will be successfully carried out.

Those who have reason to rejoice, let them continue rejoicing like robin, the bird. It is said that a robin sings in the rain when every other bird ceases to sing in a storm.

Continue with that Christmas spirit of faith, hope and charity, rain or shine. May this year bring lots of happiness to you and your family.