Of priorities and prudence

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TWO news articles caught my attention this week.

The first was about Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak helping to raise RM500,000 in aid of a 36-year-old golfer whose leg had to be amputated below the knee after his superbike skidded in an accident.

The initiative raised RM407,000 from corporations and individuals with Najib pledging the government would chip in the remaining amount.

It was magnanimous of the Prime Minister to take time off from his busy schedule to support this cause.

We live in an inter-dependent society and should help whenever and however we can.

I believe most of us would not think twice about donating to needy people and worthy causes.

However, public generosity may not always be enough to cover what is required, especially when it comes to recurring expenses.

In the same vein, it is hoped the Prime Minister will also chip in to help the many children and adults who have to appeal for donations through the newspapers for money to undergo life-saving treatments.

They have to resort to this avenue because they either could not afford it or have depleted their life savings for the treatments.

The Prime Minister will get my undying support, and that of many other Malaysians, if he can spare some time to support the donation drives of people as well, and where necessary, make up for the shortfall like what he did for the golfer.

While he is at it, perhaps he can revise upwards the allowances for working and non-working disabled people to a more realistic level to commensurate with the cost of living in current times.

Many have to struggle to make ends meet and have difficulty getting financial aid to tide them over.

This move will be greatly appreciated as the community have been asking for it for the longest time only to receive a fractional increment in 2015.

The second article was about the government spending RM650 million to develop the 66-acre secondary forest behind Tugu Negara.

This project was launched by the Prime Minister last Sunday.

Khazanah National, the sovereign wealth fund of the government, will be forking out RM500 million towards this as part of its corporate responsibility effort.

The first thought that crossed my mind was whether our country can afford this extravagant amount during these lean times.

We were told the imposition of Goods and Services Tax has saved our country from bankruptcy.

The slashing of scholarships, cuts in healthcare and reduction or removal of subsidies for essential goods were all done in the name of optimising the country’s cashflow in the face of falling revenue from oil.

After all these austerity measures, we suddenly have hundreds of millions to build a park which, according to Najib, will help elevate the country to developed nation status when the time comes.

Truth be told, the man in the street is more concerned with pressing bread and butter issues than having a rainforest park to serve as another iconic symbol of Kuala Lumpur.

When the people complained about rising living costs and difficulties in making ends meet, they were told to tighten their belts and advised to take up a second job to supplement the income.

Does the government think people with two jobs have the time or energy to go for a stroll in the park after a hard day’s work? There are people living in the backwaters and interior who have neither tapped water nor electricity.

When they have to live with these insufficiencies, do they care if the Tugu Park rivals the Hyde Park in London and Central Park in New York? When disabled people asked for the street environment to be made accessible to ease their mobility, the answer they often get is there is no budget for it.

This has been going on for many years.

RM650 million would have made the accessibility in Malaysia on par with most developed nations.

As far as disabled people are concerned, the Tugu Park, when opened, will be an island surrounded by barriers, if nothing is done to improve public transportation and the street environment.

We will have difficulty getting there due to the various obstacles along the way.

Many of us can probably think of a million ways on how the RM650 million can be put to better use and building a world class park is not one of them.

This is not the time to embark on this ambitious project, not when people are feeling the pinch from the weak economic climate.

The topics of both articles may appear to be scarcely related but the gists are the same on closer scrutiny.

Each time the government says it has no money, there is some left somewhere waiting for the last drops to be squeezed out as proven by these two articles.

As the Chinese saying goes, a run-down ship still has some useful nails.

Here is hoping the government will get its priorities right.

We do not mind playing our part in supporting the country during this difficult period but those last drops should be spent more prudently on projects that will benefit people equally on both sides of the South China Sea.