Living in the shadows of our vote

Living in a deteriorating Malaysia requires all citizens to compromise principles. 

Praba Ganesan, The Malaysian Insider

Most people tell me that we need to change government so that a small dishonest group ceases to live off the rakyat. Though this is true there is the other more human reason, we need to change government so that all of us can cease to be dishonest.

Face the fact — or as they say these days, read the timeline — living in a deteriorating Malaysia requires all citizens to compromise principles. Reverting to our zeitgeist, “Ini kan Malaysia” (This is Malaysia, after all).

For as a matter of survival, to get along — can’t swim upstream since we are not salmons — we compromise, maybe less and maybe just enough to get by, but we compromise.

Compromising in limited parameters so that we can still point and pontificate at those who flagrantly take without restrain. While the slothful may not know what is shy, the brutal assessment will be that we are both dishonest, with the varying degrees of distinctions just Pyrrhic victories.

A change in government offers the chance for everyday Malaysians to take a new road, one that possibly gives them the chance to not be dishonest as a matter of course living in this country.

As these paths of dishonesty illustrate.

Sub-con the sub-con

The evolution of “social engineering” our economy has created a class of those who do not need experience, ability, track record or integrity to win contracts. May it be infrastructure, technology or services.

The RM2 company is still king.

But the work is then passed down through a chain of sub-contractors, cutting more and more from the rich meat.

This is when the sub-contractor’s sub-contractor steps in. He will accept the terms.

Saying that you will not take tainted business will not feed the employees of an SME, or even yourself. There are seats at the family table, and the bowls need to be full.

However, with less meat and just bone staring at you at the commencement of the project proper, adjustments are instituted, as quality and reliability are taken for granted so that an agreeable profit margin remains.

Squeezed by the chain of sub-contractors, the actual service deliverer squeezes the end customer. The pain flows down while unfortunately the shame has no name.

Have shop must “accommodate”

Entertainment outlets — cafes, restaurants, massage centres, bars and mamak stalls (Indian street eateries) — face hidden costs. There are several arrangements necessary with various state agencies — enforcement, regulatory or moral. For many practical needs are not codified into law and the laws we are left with — by-laws and agency purviews — are ambiguous and wide-reaching.       

If you don’t play ball it will always be more laborious to operate.

Play ball would mean less emphasis on security, parking and sanitary needs, unless the outlet can pass the hidden costs back to the consumer.

Operators opt to work the system, not fight the system. Fighting is no way to run a business.

… So I’ll just not pay income tax

No one enjoys paying taxes, but in Malaysia there is a Thoreau-like objection to paying taxes. Malaysians at large are convinced it is taxation without representation. The prime minister reads the upcoming Budget, the rest of us have to just suck it up. Neither our MPs or emails matter. They give what they want, to whom they want and in the manner they prefer.

So there is massive under-reporting. Can you blame them?

It is the government of the day’s job to convince that all expenditures have the intention to give the most utility to most numbers of Malaysians or in areas of greatest concern. Stretching the ringgit like the proverbial mother of the pooled income of all family members.

And then the long list

Of taxi drivers squeezing commuters since they are squeezed by taxi companies. Squeezed without healthcare. There are dishonest taxi drivers worldwide because of the job’s nature, but the prevailing culture of oppression they are confronted with eases them into unscrupulous behaviour with greater alacrity. Foreigners get the brunt of it, and everyone is scarred.

Of parents facilitating their children relying on tuition centres to game their public examinations. In some instances outright cheating as exam papers are leaked by those in the “game.” They say they have to, they are just getting along. They’d cringe and defend themselves by pointing out to the opaque occurrences in boarding schools leading to competitive grades. Everyone is doing something to give their children that extra metre in the sprint, they are just keeping to the rules of engagement.

Reducing education, or at least educational excellence, to beating the system. After 11 years conditioned like this, why is anyone surprised that the young thing cheating online is caught? And when caught, there is no remorse just a realisation that the next cheat has to be better arranged.

Of millions of Malaysian homes renovated without local council approval because there are no straightforward processes at their offices. Better than running around government offices like a headless chicken, just do it and “arrange” things with enforcers when they show up.

Of hiding your sexuality because there has been no engagement by the state; to protect the civil liberties of citizens as expressly stated in our Constitution. Sure, religions present absolutes but states are about benefiting all members, not just those you agree with or share your religious proclivities.

There are no easy answers, but there can never be an outcome or equitable compromise if the state is unwilling to engage biological realities.

Of hiding your ethnicity for political expediencies. Those blokes in Penang who immensely enjoy banana leaf meals (Indian food-style) — not the sanitised ones, the “karat” (unadulterated) ones. Or my Rawa friend who speaks of his community in Gopeng. The Acheh, Javanese, Filipino, Arab and rest who downplay their own origins so that they are fit into the single conveyor belt the system has.

Of tertiary institutes — new public colleges, polytechnics turned to universities, foreign universities’ local chapters, tuition centres turned to colleges, etc — that mushroomed in the last 15 years, focussed on looking at undergraduates as cattle. Drawing unqualified students to waste five years only to be incredibly unemployable. Two years in technical school to be a plumber and auto mechanic would have given them more job opportunities and better pay, as specialised training matters — if only to make sure that cars don’t crash because of poor maintenance.

Of performers in TV and other shows who wear multiple layers of clothing to sate the Puritan censor, and in their club performances get back to their own preference. Same too film and TV writers and directors despite all their training and ideas have to tell all kinds of stories in only the acceptable ways with predictable endings.

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