Focus on the big picture

By R. Nadeswaran, The Sun

FOR the past four decades or so, the amber liquid has been a steady and steadying company. In hundreds of watering holes in the country and abroad and with thousands of friends, acquaintances and strangers, and more importantly, sources of scoops, the brew had been and continues to be served by a myriad of people. For many of them, working behind the bar and waiting on tables is a source of income. This writer too went through the routine of turning up early, finishing late and witnessing many a boisterous occasion.

Many students in the United Kingdom pop in to the pub or local hotel after lectures to put in their hours and I must confess that the wages (and the tips) did help me finance my law studies. That’s the reason I always have a soft spot for students earning their fees or rent by serving beer, liquor or food and often engage them in conversation.

The respect for them cannot be measured because they are doing an honest day’s job. The respect is even greater for the Muslim workers in London. They tap the beers, collect and wash the glasses and yet see these chores as a source of income and refuse to indulge in even a drop of liquor. It reflects their religious beliefs and upbringing and they do not wait for laws or religious dictum to follow their religious teachings.

Back in Malaysia, there are many workers in clubs, pubs and restaurants who continue to do their jobs and politely tell customers that they would be taking a 15-minute break for their religious obligations, only to return and tend the bar.

So the proposed ban on Muslims working in places in Subang Jaya serving liquor has brought about mixed reactions. There are many who are for it and just as many who disagree. It must be said that in any democracy, the voices of reason must be heard and any attempt to quell healthy discussion must be discouraged.

While the views, opinions and protests must be heard, it is often bewildering that the same amount of fervour is not shown in protesting against other forms of wrongdoing such as corruption, waste of public funds and abuse of power.

This is not a debate or a discussion on any religious dictum or belief. On the contrary, it is a question as to why society is not as vociferous when it comes to corruption. The abuse of power and funds as highlighted in the annual reports of the auditor-general are sufficient to galvanise citizens to express their disgust and contempt. Yet year in and year out, the same report is not viewed as a catalogue of shame to compel citizens to voice their views in the same manner.

There will be further arguments and displeasure if the question of which is a greater evil – serving liquor or accepting a bribe – is ever asked. But why is society and the political system maintaining elegant silence on those found guilty of corruption and yet occupy seats in the high echelons of society? Why isn’t anyone holding placards and shouting slogans outside the homes and offices of those who have stolen taxpayers’ money? Why hasn’t anyone protested at the delay in bringing crooked officials and politicians to book?

Looking from afar, it appears that Malaysian society is obsessed with triviality and in the process, choosing to ignore the major problems that afflict the country. We seem to be interested in arguing over the interpretation of the law instead of allowing the experts to do the job. Armchair economists appear to express their views of gloom and doom instead of accepting what the connoisseurs of finance and management have to say. We seem to be expressing views on what route the proposed LRT should take instead of asking if good governance was practiced in the tender process.

Yes, we do protest because many believe in the “not-in-my-backyard” syndrome. If it affects them directly, they are willing to yell and spend their last ringgit fighting the cause. But when it comes to issues affecting the entire country, they watch with arms folded.

When society matures and stands up against all forms of wrongdoing and demands good governance, that will be the day that Malaysia’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index will rise. If we continue to nit-pick and ignore the bigger picture, the reverse will happen.