Power of apologies


HISTORY is full of records of great injustices inflicted on the ruled by their rulers or political masters. After so many years in power, leaders of successive regimes are bound to make mistakes. However, smart leaders among them promptly apologise for their errors of judgement and rectify weaknesses in the administration of the affairs of state as soon as possible when they are still alive and holding power. Others, when dead, apologise through their biographers, seldom in their own autobiographies.

An apology was employed by the PAP during the election campaign in Singapore last year when the Prime Minister acknowledged his government’s mistakes, among others, the policy on migrant workers.

Political analysts believe that the PM’s apology had some positive effect on the electorate, otherwise PAP would have lost several more seats to the Workers’ Party.

AID CUT: Frusis (centre) is seen at the Sri Aman police station in this file photo.

In Kedah this week, our own Prime Minister apologised to the people for past government’s mistakes – similar to the Singaporean model, perhaps, but it looks like it’s a good strategy for the government of the day to try. Those voters sitting on the fence might just support the incumbent administration out of appreciation of this show of a big heart. Anyway we shall see if it has the desired effect.

Last Saturday was a day when a mistake in government policy was revealed in Sarawak.

A reporter from The Borneo Post wrote about the trauma of a farmer, Frusis Lebi of Entulang, near Simanggang. Frusis is physically handicapped; for his incapacity he had been receiving RM300 monthly as financial assistance from the Welfare Department – until last October. He believed that the cessation of payment was a punishment for not supporting the BN’s candidate in Bukit Begunan in the 2011 state election.

Visible evidence of his defiance against that particular candidate was the flag of the opposition party, which he was flying at full mast in front of his house. This was considered a grave violation of the policy of ‘Jangan Lawan Towkay’ and for this reason he was to lose all government assistance that was his due.

There might have been some other reason for ending this financial aid. We are not privy to government secrets. Whatever it was, the damage has been done; injustice has been inflicted on poor Frusis for “going against government policies and openly supporting the opposition candidate” – extract of a letter from the Assistant Minister dated Dec 8, 2011.

‘Jangan Lawan Towkay’ policy

So he has lost his entitlement to welfare assistance and missed his chance of creating a small fruit orchard when the local Agriculture Department complied with the ‘Jangan Lawan Towkay’ policy. As long as he does not toe the line, he will have to fend for himself and his family even though the welfare funds come from the taxpayers’ pockets.

I would have thought that on humanitarian grounds alone he shouldn’t have been victimised in such a vindictive manner. Where’s the milk of human kindness? He has a son who is not in the best of health and that compounds the family’s problems.

Before the decision to cease payment of the RM300 every month to Frusis was made, may we, the ordinary mortals, enquire if this case was ever brought to the attention of the minister in charge of welfare services in the state?

Similarly, when the agriculture officer at Simanggang received that letter from the Assistant Minister, was it referred to the substantive minister in charge of agriculture?

Who is it who can decide that humanitarian assistance and agricultural support are dished out as “rewards” to the supporters of the ruling party of the day only?

Is this the way to use the taxpayers’ money?

It is my opinion that high-handed actions on the part of some narrow-gauge politicians will alienate many people from their government. The innocent government leaders will share the blame unnecessarily. I could have used other emotive adjectives to describe this policy but I prefer to be generous: that policy is vindictive and therefore counter-productive.

If any component party in the BN coalition acts on this so-called “Jangan Lawan Towkay” policy alone, the rest of the BN components are expected to distance themselves from such a move. If an individual and his backers want to pursue that policy at all costs, then the others please let us know if they endorse it. Otherwise, their elegant silence will be open to all sorts of interpretations.

PM set the example

Do we expect an apology from the Assistant Minister following the good example of the Right Honourable the Prime Minister?

Do we expect him (for that matter, was it within his brief to make such decisions?) to retract his directive to the Department of Agriculture at Simanggang so that Frusis and family may enjoy fruits from the orchard?

Do we expect someone in authority to rescind the decision to discontinue payment of the welfare funds of RM300 per month to our OKU concerned so that he will receive the aid again, with arrears back to October?

Political victimisation

When a physically handicapped person is being victimised for political reasons, the policy is a defective one. It is difficult to rationalise such a course of action when the source of funds for welfare purposes comes from the taxpayers, not from a political party. All members of the OKU community depend on such funds for a living, never mind what their political beliefs may be. The policy on these less fortunate people should be made a public policy, not an instrument to be used by the powers that be for the perpetuation of the majority tyranny – a political terminology seldom used nowadays but often applied when one party system is allowed to flourish.

Politicians in power are of various varieties. Some are vindictive, others are caring, yet others are non-committal over an issue like the present. Few are statesmen – these are those who adopt a better strategy, winning their adversaries over to their side, not victimising them for going against their towkay.

Who is the towkay in this case? The candidate in an election is certainly not a towkay to a voter; the voter has the right of choice of candidate. No one has the right to force him to vote for you on pain of losing government assistance. There might have been other handicapped persons who were ardent supporters of the BN candidate in that election last year, so losing support of one or two of their number did not pull the BN candidate down from the high horse.

My apologies

I wish to tender a thousand apologies for this noisy piece which may hurt the feelings of people connected with this sad episode. I seek understanding – my heart goes out to the underdogs like Frusis and his family, assuring them of my prayers during these difficult times. I’m relieved that there are good Samaritans around who will not let him down.

Unggal Frusis, it is your human right to keep your flag flying.