Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Buzz your rep on the bus issue

Brave New World (The Star)
15 December 2011

There is a need to understand what the philosophies of the competing political parties are, to know their thoughts on the problems of the day.


UNLIKE most of my contemporaries who signed up for driving lessons as soon as they turned 17, I was a late bloomer. I did not learn to drive till I was way into my 20s and then I did not actually drive until a few months after getting my licence because the Mini Minor I bought blew her gasket when my mate was driving it from the dealer to my house.
So for years, getting to and from work meant taking a bus. From the depths of Keramat, I would take a blue Sri Jaya bus to Chow Kit and from there I would take either a yellow No. 12 minibus or a pink No. 30 minibus (Actually its number 39. The Star made a mistake. Just in case there are any mini bus fanatics reading this!) to get to my final destination (both the Sri Jaya bus and the minibuses are now history of course). The whole trip would normally take me an hour and a half.
It was pretty tiring just getting to work. The buses were usually full to the brim. If I was fortunate enough to actually get a seat, inevitably there would either be an old pakcik standing next to me tremulously holding on for dear life or, more commonly, a heavily pregnant woman looking at my seat with undisguised longing, her bulging belly gently bumping my head.
Needless to say, I would end up standing for the entire journey hanging on to a metal bar as I perched precariously on the outside step of the bus, my Billy Ray Cyrus mullet blowing in the wind.
Once, I got to my final stop in such an exhausted state that I knew I would die if I tried to cross the busy street to my office. Being the wise young man I was, I just curled up on the bus stand bench and slept, lulled by the gentle sounds of the mon­­-soon drain gurgling and the kapchais spluttering.
The reason I am reminded of these adventures during my early days in Kuala Lumpur is the news that some bus com­panies are actually stopping entire routes because they are losing so much money from them.
Apparently, the prices of tickets have not gone up to balance the tremendous rise in fuel and maintenance costs.
This is indeed a serious problem because it will affect tens of thousands of people, especially those who live on the outskirts of town and those who live in rural areas.
And it is merely one of many serious problems that the Government, whoever they may be, will have to try to solve.
I don’t have any answers but I would like to know what our leaders and leaders-in-waiting have to say about such things.
Sure, it is fun to read about the shenanigans of our politicians.
Of course, no one expects candidates to be up to date on every single issue. That would be impossible to achieve, but to a large extent knowing what they will do or are likely to do is a question of philosophy.
There is a need to understand what the philosophies of the competing parties are. Are they laissez-faire capitalists or are they socialist? Or perhaps they are somewhere in between?
With this knowledge, we can figure out pretty much the kind of approach and direction they will take in governance.
Of course it would be useful if they had transparency as well. If a government official tells me “we don’t have money to subsidise bus routes”, then I jolly well want to know how much money we do have and just what have you been spending it on.
Alas, I know that this is a rather forlorn hope as Malaysian politics can be quite infantile and as we approach the next general election, it will probably be the usual mudslinging and histrionics.
But we can make a little change. The next time we see our candidate, let’s ask them some questions about things that affect our lives.
It will force them to think of the issues, or at the very least it will show us if they can think at all.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Understanding our rights

Brave New World (The Star)
3 December 2011

Rights are not something to be played with. It is not a political tool to be bandied about. It is fundamental and inherent. It exists in us simply because we are civilised men and women.


RIGHTS are the weapons of the powerless. And just who are the powerless? Well, in my view, it is most of us.
Ordinary folks who either do not hold the reins of government machinery or have the means to control those who hold the reins.
That is why only those who are powerless or who have been powerless can truly appreciate rights.
We only have to look at history to see that to be true. The Magna Carta was created because the nobility of Britain felt powerless against the King.
The American Declaration of Independence takes the shape that it does because the founding fathers wanted to ensure that they would never again be under the yoke of a distant king.
Our own leaders, during the early days of our existence as a nation also understood this need for rights, having been ruled by an oppressive force more powerful than them.
Of course there are those with short memories who belittle rights when they have power, bemoan the lack of them when they lose power and belittle them again when they have power once more.
But then, there will always be the utterly unprincipled in any community.
The human race has evolved. We have values which prevent the strong simply taking what they want from the weak.
Our laws are in place so that we can be assured a person who is bigger than us can’t simply knock us out and take our wallets.
And just as we have laws to protect us against thieves and thugs, so too do we have principles which prevent the rulers from abusing us.
As a race we have come a long way from “only the strong will survive”. And that is due to the civilising of human kind.
Rights therefore are the current pinnacle of this civilising process. It indicates that we are civilised.
Related to human rights is democracy. When we choose our own leaders, we ensure that we are not led simply by someone who is going to force himself or herself onto us.
Once again, we see a principle which empowers the powerless.
This is why I care so much about human rights and democracy.
This is why I get furious when those who do not understand or choose not to understand, take my rights away.
That is why I work on the premise that we must have as much rights as possible.
Of course I understand there are limitations to everything, including rights, but those limitations must be made with the aspiration that a complete right is the ideal.
It is only with these aspirations in place will we ensure that whatever limitations imposed are the barest minimum and with the smallest effect on our rights.
Rights are not something to be played with. It is not a political tool to be bandied about. It is fundamental, it is inherent. It is not something that can be given for it exists in us simply because we are civilised men and women.
The powerful do not wish to see this.
It is up to us, the powerless, to remind them.