Malaysians Save Each Other as Government Goes AWOL in Flood
Disaster a metaphor for widespread government failure
Malaysia’s beleaguered and disillusioned citizens shunted racist politicians and towelhead theocrats aside to rescue trapped flood victims and serve food, as one people, undivided, in one of the worst floods the country has experienced in decades. Rescuing any human in distress was all.
Ethnic diversity rallied to ferry neighbors, strangers and pets, tow stalled cars, and lift children to dry ground. Emergency services were absent. Having low expectations of government, the people did what they had to do in the immediate aftermath of the rainstorm.
Six states of peninsular Malaysia were badly hit by the tropical depression spun by Typhoon Rai after it wrecked the Philippines, killing 396 there and leaving 56 missing. The skies dumped relentlessly from Thursday through Saturday 17-19 December. A months’ volume descended in a day. Floodwaters left 70,000 people homeless. Twenty deaths were recorded in Selangor and seven in the east coast state of Pahang. After the initial disarray, government services were activated and regular assistance arrived late with more resources.
Sri Muda township in affluent Selangor saw families scrambling to rooftops as the rising brown muck chased them. They perched for 48 hours without food or water. The sluice gates to release floodwaters into the river were stuck. Two of its three motors failed. The waters terrorizing Sri Muda residents walled several meters above the river into which they should have flowed, like a biblical parting of waters.
Nobody seemed to own the problem or bring expertise to fix it. The man-made Sri Muda disaster continued into its fifth day. Appalling incompetence and woeful lack of coordination, not lack of resources or equipment, turned a bad situation into calamity. Ordinary Malaysians mobilized, improvising inflatable lifeboats, kayaks, ladders, and ropes. Human chains formed at precarious angles, to pluck the stranded.
The spontaneous caring of strangers reached out wherever humans needed food, water, and transit to safety. Sikh Gurdwaras, Church soup kitchens, NGOs, and ordinary folk at all levels, pitched in, some opening their homes to shelter the homeless. An Islamic cleric warned that Muslim volunteers risked unclean food and close proximity. More sensible Muslims shut him down on social media.
The unelected Sabri government will be linked to this epic failure, as was his unelected predecessor, Muhyiddin Yassin, to Covid-19 ineptitude. Prime minister Sabri declared a public holiday for civil servants. A month earlier he awarded his blundering 72-member cabinet a score of 90 for its 100-days. The performance test was conceived, scored, and bragged upon entirely by Sabri himself.
Sabri also winged lucrative advisor positions for political supporters he couldn’t squeeze into the cabinet or government-linked companies. Public funds are lavishly spent to shore support with no link to national benefit. The Covid pandemic, and now the extreme weather crisis, exposed the nation to the rot at the core of governance across all the institutions of society.
Over a half-century, the New Economic Policy (NEP) and its continuance under different guises, has allowed mediocrity to be normalized from the cabinet down. Even critical technical services which cannot carry bluffers were disabled. Town Planning and the Public Works Department have lost the top-grade talent of dedicated Chinese and Indian professionals. Civil service employment and promotions became race-based. Competence was no longer the criterion.
The Pakatan Harapan government in 2018 discovered that only four fighter planes in the entire RMAF fleet were operational. The rest were grounded due to faulty parts, missing engines, or stolen electronic gear. A buffer of bumiputra rent collectors thrived to procure planes and equipment at great profit. A system also evolved of stealing engines and selling them back through maintenance contracts. The competent engineers to keep the air force operational left or took early retirement. That pattern repeats through the Navy and Army Engineering Corp. The Minister of Defense oversees this circus. The Auditor-General’s reports are ignored.
This same malaise plagues the education system where any hope of reform and rectification must begin. Too many deserving non-Malay children are denied entry to the nation’s institutions of higher learning. Their sense of rejection begins at primary school where they are discriminated against for race and religion by teachers whose job should be to build character and confidence. How these kids survive that psychological trauma is a major dilemma for non-Malay parents.
The caliber of teachers and how they are promoted in a system of mediocrity is another can of worms. Anwar Ibrahim under his then-mentor Mahathir Mohamad targeted Christian mission schools to be disenfranchised. Their school badges and classrooms had to remove the cross which symbolized their value system. Non-Christian parents respected the mission schools for their discipline, the dedication of their teachers, and the striving for excellence. All that is gone.
Malaysia once had a highly respected civil service. Its diplomats were routinely asked to draft UN resolutions by the developing countries. Malaysia summarized ASEAN meetings. Today, senior civil servants at conferences cannot follow the proceedings or engage in discussions. They collect papers, go shopping, and return to get translations for their departmental report. The Indonesians and Thais communicate more confidently at ASEAN sessions which are held in English.
Nelson Mandela made the point that it is not necessary to use nuclear bombs to destroy a nation. You just have to wreck its education system. The Anwar-Mahathir pair can see for themselves what they have done. Mandela was right. All the fancy initiatives to rectify governance, retrain, motivate, and send officers on study tours are futile if education is ruined, for it removes the value system, justice, and fair play.
Social media videos showed the main stormtroopers of the rescue teams to be robust Indian youth otherwise seen as gangsters at the margins of urban life. That happened when a loyal, docile, hardworking Tamil plantation workforce was turfed out as refugees when estates were nationalized under Mahathir. There was no managed transition for the dispossessed. A whole underclass was created, and abandoned. The political representatives they faithfully voted at every general election, bolted. The daring rescue youth of the floods are products of that tragedy.
An opportunistic development of flood volunteerism was the announcement of a new political party called Parti Bangsa Malaysia (PBM). These were defectors from Anwar Ibrahim’s PKR who split to join Muhyiddin’s unelected government. The other new party in the making and very visible in flood relief was Syed Saddiq’s Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA) which is multiracial and youth-oriented.
Tim Cook of Apple announced that the flood and typhoon effects in Malaysia and the Philippines are being reviewed by his company for aid programs. The volunteers and NGOs from Malaysia immediately pleaded for Cook not to channel aid to the Malaysian government. They asked him to channel it directly to verified aid bodies on the ground that his country manager can confirm.