A vote for our dignity

Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi, The Star

WHEN the dissolution of Parliament was announced on Oct 10, we citizens of Malaysia became “kings” of our destiny once more.

The war of manifestos among political parties will undoubtedly take second position amid corruption histories and racial and religious mudslinging. Typical Malaysia, so what else is new?

For me, we, the rakyat, must all strive to reach our polling stations and cast our one, single vote to regain our dignity. For two long years we have been treated almost like we were invisible in the decision-making process in our civil institutions, including Parliament.

We lost our dignity as Malaysians amid political coup after coup and the handing out of lucrative positions to unqualified people merely to cement alliances.

Never in my 60 years of life have I felt like a piece of driftwood rolling in the waves, not knowing where I will land (or perhaps I will sink). My status as a citizen didn’t seem to be worth the paper it was printed on in my identification documents.

Thus, in the 15th General Election on Nov 19, we must reclaim our dignity as warganegara Malaysia.

In the Cikgu Fadli case – teacher Mohd Fadli Mohd Salleh pointed out a few weaknesses in the country’s education system and faced disciplinary action – we saw how the dignity of a hardworking and concerned citizen was dismissed by civil servants. Someone should tell these little Mandarins that they are the ones who are the teacher’s “servants”. They are not the task master!

As my friend, the late vice-chancellor of UCSI University, Prof Dr Khalid Yusof, used to remind members of the Senate, a university must be led by professors, not administrators. And thus, schools must be led by hardworking teachers like Cikgu Fadli and not dictators at district education offices.

I have always said that one problem with our education system is that it is full of managers chasing titles and promotions without ever experiencing what it’s like teaching 50 pupils sitting on broken chairs and sweating in a room where the kipas angin (fan) doesn’t work.

My daughter, whose first child is in a public school, asks me why the school keeps asking parents for money for photocopy paper, fans and furniture. I tell her I don’t know.

In my day, my police constable father did not have to cough up funds. We did not have to buy all these ridiculous workbooks nor did we need more than one ceiling fan for our class of 30 pupils.

One item I’d like to see on a political manifesto is a promise to close down all these jabatans (departments) and send all the pengarah (directors) back to school. In the Internet age, all teacher promotions can be handled by one office in each state and verified by one federal office; transfers of teachers and students can also be done like that. Apa susah?

Give more power to the head teacher to manage the school but balance any authoritarian madness with a representative community board.

Thus, more money can be spent on the schools and the teacher-student ratio could come closer to the 1:25 mark.

When the Perikatan Nasional government wanted to declare an “Emergency”, we lost even more of our dignity as citizens. We had zero say in the matter. Even though the rakyat knew that the Covid-19 pandemic was under control at that point, and we also knew that the government was on the verge of collapse, the “Emergency” was fully supported by the civil servants “serving” the PM and not the people. Without their “help” that false emergency would not have been pushed through.

And true to form, several months later, the Emergency was annulled as if it never happened. Until that time, it never occurred to me that running the country was no different than running a kedai kopi tepi jalan (roadside stall).

And then there was the indignity of hearing how a civil servant received a RM30,000 allowance for saying and doing nothing – that was the point, to remain silent as millions were stolen. Then there was the sad story of undelivered warships with the budget allocated for them used for God knows what. I now wonder if our two submarines can even submerge safely.

Unless we want a repeat performance of the last two years, let us all come out in force on Nov 19 to reclaim our kehormatan as warganegara setia dan bersatu (our honour as patriotic and united citizens) of this country called Malaysia.

Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at the Tan Sri Omar Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Studies at UCSI University. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.