Politics & government Sci-fi

[2792] Malaysian dystopia coming true

Some dystopian science fictions rest on absurd premises.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a statist world of paperwork. There is a form to fill up for everything you do. The story begins with a naming mistake in a government ministry.

Instead of Tuttle printed on the warrant, it was Buttle. That leads to the arrest and the eventual death of an innocent man the authority believed was a terrorist.

When a person discovers that the authority had the wrong person, everybody else refuses to correct or even admit the mistake for fear of having to face the impossible mountains of paperwork. And so the bureaucracy covers it up rather.

Mistakes or not, the bureaucracy is always right. Adherence to the system is so paramount that any attempt to rectify the error is an act of rebellion against the state. The state, meanwhile, does not look kindly on rebellion.

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is more ominous than Brazil. While people of Gilliam’s world are free as long as they fill their forms correctly, Orwell’s is a totalitarian universe with the one party controlling every facet of your life.

The truth is whatever the government ”• the Big Brother ”• says. The government rewrites history however it sees fit. If anybody has a different opinion or remembers history differently, the government will put him through a special rehabilitation program to change his or her mind, forcefully.

There are other brilliantly absurd dystopian works out there.

These absurdities are fictions only to a healthy civilized society when the government is decent. We can laugh at these fictions because they are entertainingly absurd and so far removed from reality.

But the farther down the hole we are from a decent government, the less fictional these absurdities become. In them lie the seeds of truth.

Whenever I think of Malaysia today, my mind wanders to these old dystopian science fictions. I sigh at the ridiculousness of our situation that might as well be the target of mocking and satire of these works.

Our very own Big Brother (is he Ah Jib Gor?) proclaimed back when 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) was established that the fund was the centerpiece to his transformation.

It would help to create a new financial center for Kuala Lumpur. It would help reform the power sector. It would push Malaysia into the dreamy First World list.

Drive by the long Jalan Tun Razak, you will read the pretentious phrase ”For a Greater Kuala Lumpur” printed on aluminum hoarding surrounding the prime land 1MDB bought so cheaply from the government. ”1MDB is strong,” the government said.

Today, financial troubles and corruption scandals beset the fund. The strong 1MDB now is in need of government support to survive. The financial center stands unbuilt. The power authority is scrambling to meet Malaysia’s future energy demand because 1MDB failed to build the necessary power plants despite winning the tenders. Amid all this, the government is trying to convince us all that 1MDB is too small compared to the Malaysian economy. ”The fund is inconsequential now,” they claimed.

It took four to five years to change the storyline from it’s-a-big-thing to it-doesn’t-matter. One should be forgiven for not noticing the changing deceit told over such a long period.

But another episode is more shocking. Only a person of dulled senses and soft mind would not notice it.

Remember when all of those corruption allegations backed by various leaked documents implicating 1MDB, the prime minister and several other individuals first came out? They were tampered documents, the government said. The implicit defense was that the allegations were untrue.

Now, as the official government story goes, the money transfer did happen and the accounts did exist. All that was an all-legal multibillion-ringgit donation from someone unnamed. Suddenly, it was all true. Meanwhile, everybody who seems to be trying to right the wrong is arrested.

So, what about those tampered documents? The government is silent on that, instead preferring to talk about political donation reform, which by the way UMNO the ruling party itself rejected while blaming the Opposition for the reform failure. Such is the prevalence of doubletalk in Malaysia.

That blatant defense change happened in the pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The fascist party said ”We’ve always been at war with Eurasia.” The masses nodded and they understood they had always been friends with Eastasia.

Suddenly at the same event, the party said ”We’ve always been at war with Eastasia,” The masses were oblivious to the switch in name and nodded dutifully.

We have already that one party, the volte-face, a hint of corrupt bureaucracy along with the inane rationale and excuses today. It is up to us Malaysians to not nod lest Malaysia becomes these dystopias tomorrow.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved
First published in The Malay Mail on August 7 2015.

Economics Politics & government

[2373] Speak plainly about the price hikes

Subsidy reduction has its pros and cons, even as on the net in the long run, it is beneficial to the economy as a whole. There is no need to soften the negative aspects by putting them in a little colorful box with ribbon on top.

The series of subsidy reduction leads to price hike and in the immediate time frame, it is burdensome. It is painful. With all the lags that exist, it is an intertemporal problem. The pain comes early, the benefits come only later.

A price hike is a price hike. It hurts in one way or another. Nobody likes to pay more no matter how small the increase is, even if the increase is justified. I myself do grudge a little about having to pay more than I used to, despite largely supportive of the subsidy reduction initiative, or some call it as the rationalization program in the spirit of euphemism.

Yet, we have apparatchiks and their agents writing and suggesting that the series of price hikes currently undertaken by the Najib administration will not burden the consumers.

These consumers are not kids. They are not kids visiting the family doctor, about to face the needle. The story of how the needle only stings like an ant is not for the mature audience.

Instead of trying to convince these consumers that the pain they feel is an illusion, those in the government and their supporters should really stick to the plainly true traditional rationale: it is wasteful. It is inefficient. It is distortionary.

Break the message down to bits and pieces that laypersons can understand (What we have instead is that these messengers misunderstand those very economic concepts themselves! They use big economic jargons without understanding the basic concepts. And these people fancy themselves as the economic planners of the country. Pfft!).

Just speak plainly.

I think the majority will appreciate it, even if it angers them.

To manipulate words and then say things that the consumers can affirmatively see, feel and conclusively disprove will compound the anger. I mean, something must have gone absolutely wrong when I, a supporter of liberalization, become angry reading these manipulated messages in the media.

Worst, these untruths will only erode any support for liberalization. These apparatchiks will have themselves to blame when everything fails.

Liberty Politics & government

[1804] Of Koh is one of the fathers of doublespeak

In The Malaysian Insider:

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 11 — Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has been dubbed the “Father of Democratic Reforms” by Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon.

In his opening speech this morning at Gerakan’s national delegates conference, Koh said that “as the Prime Minister, Abdullah has initiated reforms for good governance and promoted commitment to integrity. As an advocate for democracy, he has opened up more space for expression to Malaysians.” [Koh dubs Pak Lah ‘Father of Democratic Reforms’. Shannon Teoh. The Malaysian Insider. October 11 2008]

I am wary of doing the same thing.

While it is during the Abdullah administration when the Malaysian society reclaims greater democratic space and effectively larger liberty stolen from it by the state, practically none of it is due to active action by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The greater democracy is made possible through effort of various individuals willing enough to stand up and stare back at the state when the state stares at them.

PM Abdullah has failed to reform anything. Each reform he initiated is going nowhere due to opposition from within his own party.

It took free individuals to push organic reform agendas by pushing the frontier of an illiberal state away from suffocating free individuals. To have PM Abdullah enjoying the appellation denies the real contributors who stand in the front line to contest against an arm of the state, the police which is more interested in suppressing freedom rather than fighting crime.

Having the PM as the “Father of Democratic Reforms” steals the honor from those who actually fought for greater democratic space, those that fought against the PM as well as the relentless machinery of Barisan Nasional. The victory is of individuals too many to list here and not of an ineffective personality as well as the machinery that maintains deep disdain for democratic space.

If there is anybody that deserves that honor, it should be the individuals who fought for it. We do not have a “Father of Democratic Reform”. We instead have “Fathers of Democratic Reform” and the PM is not one of them.

Dr. Koh is committing doublespeak for suggesting the sobriquet for the PM. Would we thank the Nazis for losing World War II? Would we thank PM Abdullah for losing the war in our backyard?