Many a true word is said in jest

Raja Petra Kamarudin

The Malay College Old Boys Association (MCOBA) has been organising Annual Dinners for some decades now. In the beginning, professional artists were engaged to entertain the revellers but it was noticed, the instant they appeared on stage, the ‘Old Boys’ would disappear, leaving their wives to twiddle their thumbs while they impatiently waited for the boring ‘floor show’ to end.

Eventually, the professional shows were replaced with an Old Boys concert and the popularity of the amateur productions led by the likes of Dato Sallehuddin Hashim, Rehman Rashid, Hishamuddin Rais, and those considered ‘out of the mainstream’, changed the ambience of the Annual Dinner that soon the Annual Dinners became known as the Annual Concert.

As a digression, the MCOBA Annual Dinner/Concert is a once-a-year venue for those who have left Kolet some 20, 30 or 40 years ago to catch up with each other and talk about ‘the good old days’. Wives, of course, are reluctantly brought along though they would rather stay home than suffer the agony of being abandoned for the night. One husband was having so much fun with his old schoolmates that he went home forgetting he had brought his wife along and only realised when he reached home that he had left his wife waiting at the table.

In the mid-1990s, the MCOBA concert featured amongst others a musical about Umno’s history. That was the year Dr Mahathir Mohamad shed tears at the Umno General Assembly and Anwar Ibrahim was the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

The musical was about how Umno would be plagued by ‘money politics’, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah would have a fallout with PAS (the Islamic Party of Malaysia) and would rejoin Umno, and Anwar Ibrahim would be kicked out of Umno.

Whether MCOBA was just clairvoyant or the musical had given Dr Mahathir ideas will never be known but, a year later, what had been ‘predicted’ came true.

Another sketch was called ‘The National Disaster Center’. This sketch was about how the Malaysian government reacts to disasters by first calling a press conference, then a committee is formed, the committee then meets to decide on the committee members, then the committee forms a sub-committee, then the sub-committee appoints a consultant, then the consultant conducts a study, then the study is approved, then a new committee is formed to implement the recommendations of the study, and so on and so forth. In short, no action is taken during disasters until it is either too late or the disaster is all over.

These MCOBA Concert sketches are meant to be spoofs and satires but, as they say, many a true word is said in jest. Last Sunday’s Tsunami disaster demonstrated that the Malaysian government reacts exactly like in the ‘National Disaster Center’ satire.

Yesterday, the parliamentary secretary to the Health Ministry, Lee Kah Choon, told Bernama that it has just set up a psychiatric team to provide counselling for survivors of last Sunday’s Tsunami disaster — almost one week after the event. Why did they need to wait one week before setting up this counselling team? For one week the survivors have been in shock and have been walking around in a daze. In the west, the counselling team would have been amongst the first to arrive at the scene of the tragedy, not only to counsel the survivors but also those family members who may not have been amongst the victims but who have lost loved ones in the tragedy.

Take an aeroplane crash as an example. The entire plane might have gone down with no survivors. Those family members waiting anxiously at the airline office for news of their loved ones need counselling to face the reality that there are no survivors. Not only do the survivors, in the event there are any, need counselling but the family members do as well.

In Kedah, the survivors are at their wits end. Yesterday, when someone shouted the word ‘ombak’ (wave), there was panic and women and children were trampled in the stampede. People were screaming and running in all direction. They are nervous wrecks and going out of their minds. But nothing was done for a week.

The Health Minister, Dr Chua Soi Lek, is yet to show his face at the site of the Tsunami disaster though it has been one week now. Where is he? Is he sitting in his comfortable air-conditioned office making armchair decisions? We assume Dr Chua is a medical doctor and not a vet, dentist or doctor of philosophy, so he should know what is required as well as appreciate the urgency of the matter. Why is it taking him one week to make simple decisions which even non-doctors and laymen could have made in a jiffy?

Be very careful here. In Malaysia, everything always comes back to politics and race. This is unavoidable when the three main components parties in the ruling coalition — Umno, MCA and MIC — fight for Malay rights, Chinese rights and Indian rights respectively. The people on the ground are beginning to ask whether the reason for the non-action by the Chinese Health Minister is because the victims are Malay.

It is sad that the tragedy is being politicised and the race issue is being bandied about, but that is how Malaysian society has been groomed. Umno wants the Education Minister to be Malay so that ‘Malay rights can be protected’. Now some Umno members are saying that the Health Minister too should be Malay to ensure that the Malays would not be neglected as the Tsunami tragedy has demonstrated.

The truth is national disasters do not recognise race and Malays were not ‘handpicked’ by the Tsunami. But in times of grief and desperation they just want someone to blame for their predicament and race has always been the most convenient whipping boy in this country.