We are in it together

APRIL 2 — When this is over, I’m going to find a large field and lie down on it and let the sun hurt my eyes. The great outdoors. Tick.

But till then, and even after I’m done with my day in the sun, I’d think about my country.

About how things are tough for many folks and will remain so for the foreseeable future. And how just as easily if events transpire against me in the months to come, I may fall into the list of those having it tough, very tough.

Yet, despite the uncertainties, there are facts. One fact I struggle to ignore.

Malaysians are divided about the movement control order (MCO).

While a substantial number feel the 28 days are par for the course, in saving lives, most fall on either side of the opinion. 

Those who feel it’s gone too long, and compromising the future prosperity of the nation, and those at the other end, who are of the opinion, it needs to go on and stay on to match the challenges head-on.

For now, these discussions and debates are academic, for the decisions are made elsewhere.

What’s certain is that we are in it together regardless of what’s decided.

Which is the key pivot for the column today, the us in this.

Ourselves, our families, our local communities, our states and our country.

Let’s examine three fixations, competing for attention and sift through them with a sense of being in it together.

The one-off payments

Whether Makcik Kiah is welcome at your home or not, the disbursements are critical.

The one-off calculations were based on income, age and marital status, and assumed to hit the need mark. I would rather focus on the delivery rather than the quantum distinctions.

For the majority, the money helps people tide thngs over, when home truths hit them post-MCO. Fair to assume they’d be distributed utilising the BSH [Bantuan Sara Hidup (Cost of Living Aid)] and its precursor, BR1M [Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (1 Malaysia People Aid)].

Their situation is more straightforward.

There’s the other end of the spectrum of the needy.

Daily wage workers (local and foreign), the unemployed and those in penury, who require assistance even before April 15. Most in dire are the impoverished who rely on charity.

While private charity continues in a fortnight, who’s to ensure those unregistered and/or temporarily unemployed receive government assistance?

India faced this problem when it contemplated universal basic income some years back. The poor population was high and did not possess identity means other than the ration card. The poorest of the poor did not have even that. They mooted biometrics, to assist. Identity recognition for bank accounts and withdrawals.

Malaysia claims to invest in cutting-edge biometrics, as government-backed companies offer our services worldwide. Not the least the immigration department’s e-gates at exit points.

Adopting them would be good. I can see government officers walking to the zones and looking for recipients rather than putting the onus on the masses to seek support. It’s too important to be left to chance.

The one-off payments must hit where they are most necessary. When they miss, the effects are likely more calamitous than on previous occasions.

Save the SMEs

There’s a storm coming, be sure about it.

The SMEs are justified to point out the credit facilities on offer in the stimulus package are band-aids when there’s a recession.

However, short of paying the companies, the government can only pump the economy with development projects. Within reason.

But the real need is to restore local confidence in the Malaysian economy. This is a fairer challenge to the government. Not to be caught up with esoteric exclamations about the economy, instead they need to encourage confidence among economic players, and the population.

For instance, Ipoh’s Tower Regency Hotel shuts down soon. City tourism actors are surely alarmed. So many businesses rely on traffic to the Kinta Valley. 

In 2016, the acclaimed Lonely Planet named Ipoh as one of the 10 places to visit in Asia. The town possesses value. It’s up to government to step up. To speak to the tourism associations and hospitality groups. To the restaurants and hawkers who offer the culinary experience which draws in the out-of-towners.

The reaction to the stimulus package from business is lukewarm. Unsurprising.

Government’s relative quiet to the disappointments is palpable. Nothing offered would have been enough, but it was always on the cards for government to play up the potential of the future. It can’t stay silent.

It must have all the conversations necessary — phone, Skype, Hangout, Zoom or by Morse — and repeat the cycle until the tone improves.

This is the time for Malaysian leadership.

Politics not

If there’s one success of the MCO — if it can be called that — it is that politics does not dominate our days.

Backdoor — or not — government taunts matter less at this juncture. There’ll be enough time later. But if political parties play politics at a time like now, and it’s on display on the national stage, the people will remember to these political parties’ detriment.

The average Malaysian may not understand the full gravity of the situation, and what’s at stake, but he can sense it and surely lives it. These will be days long remembered.

I was mildly elated that a long-term volunteer at my party, her commitment never questioned, put out a social media post asking all to stay above politics for now. It’s not normal for her to be like that, but then again, these are not normal times.

This is a large boat

My lecturer used to say that people are more enamoured by democracy than civic duty. The former is louder and easier to sell, what he meant by democracy was the expression of democratic will rather than the protection of institutions.

Everyone likes to have a good shout, I’m told.

Civic duty is a more profound expression of nationalism. To serve an interest you will only fully understand in the latter stages of your life. Which is why all civic duty must be humanist in nature in order not to fall into the hands of fascism.

Malaysia has arrived at the scene of this challenge with no choice but to endure it. All that nation-building prior — for better or worse — is supposed to have us better equipped to handle the difficulties and to think as a team.

Everything about the coronavirus has been about weak links in any chain. 

I wish us luck. Set aside all other complex equations, there’s only one inescapable truth, we are in it together.  And we’ll get out of it, only if we are together.    

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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