Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Returning to rationality

Brave New World (The Star)
10 December 2014

Amidst the pessimism and cynicism, both the old and the young are looking for constructive ways to stop the rot.


PERHAPS it is just me, but I get the sense that the prevailing mood in Malaysia is one of pessimism and uncertainty. Right now, I do not know where the country is headed and I am not optimistic that we are going in the right direction.
The Rukun Negara is famous for its five principles but as a preamble to those principles, the document lays down what was deemed to be the aspirations of the country and they are: to be a democratic, progressive and modern nation with an equitable sharing of wealth and a liberal approach towards our multiculturalism.
It is a very forward-thinking list of aspirations. Yet at the moment, it does not feel like we are moving forward at all. In fact, the converse is true – we appear to be inexorably moving backwards.
The price of living is going up and yet for the vast majority of us, income does not appear to be matching this rise.
Faith in institutions of governance is low, as can be seen in the cynical responses towards the Commission of Inquiry (its royal status seems to be a matter of some confusion) regarding the so-called “Project IC” in Sabah.
Divisive and downright nasty voices of extremism, bigotry and racism appear to have carte blanche to spread their poisonous ideology without even a whimper of protest from the powers that be.
In fact, some of those voices appear to be coming from the powers that be themselves.
Repressive and oppressive laws are not only embraced with gusto, but are going to be made even more repressive and oppressive. And the voices that support them use such noble words to defend these laws – words like “security” and “unity”.
Yet they do not provide one iota of proof as to how these laws, which are incidentally selectively used, are going to achieve all these wonderful ideals.
My worry, therefore, is that we are headed towards becoming a poorer nation. Poorer in the sense of material security, human freedom and dignity, progressive thinking and peace.
I see no sign whatsoever that those whose hands we have given the power to govern care one jot about this. All that they seem to care about is maintaining the status quo.
But the status quo is not working. The way things are done in this country is not going to help us grow and develop.
The status quo will prevent us from nurturing progressive ideas with which to provide the intellectual vitality needed to thrust us into the 21st century.
In fact, it will keep us in a state of division, superstition, feudalism and backwardness.
In the beginning, I said perhaps I am the only one who feels this way. I do not think so.
I see a hunger for improvement amongst the young. Our youths today are miles ahead of youths twenty years ago.
They have access to information and methods of communication that my generation can only dream about. And many of them realise that things cannot remain as they are.
I also see the older generation despairing at the direction this nation is taking, to the point that they are willing to put name to paper in a desperate call for a return to values of rationality and moderation.
I see many ordinary Malaysians who are tired of feeling helpless, looking for constructive ways to stop this rot.
In short I see pessimism, but I also see a definite conviction to say enough is enough. It is time to reclaim this country from the divisive, small-minded and retrogressive.
It is time, and many are ready.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Landslides in Cameron Highlands

Sin Chew Jit Poh
3 November 2014


Last month landslides in Cameron Highlands killed five people and injured five more. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated to safety. Last year there was a similar incident in Cameron Highlands as well. Why does this keep happening?
One possibility is because there is over development in the highlands. The loss of vegetation, for whatever purpose, be it agriculture or building work, causes rain to rush into rivers which in turn leads to fast rising waters leading to flash floods and landslides.
Any primary school student can tell you that surface vegetation is vital in absorbing rain water. Such vegetation also helps prevent landslides because their roots hold the earth together. This is simple science and you do not need to be a geologist to understand.
This being the case, why do these incidences still occur? Bear in mind that with climate change, rainfall patterns become more extreme with heavier more intense rainfall becoming more and more common, thus posing a greater danger to hill stability.
We have laws that can prevent such occurrences. The Land Conservation Act being one of them. In a nutshell, the law allows for control over any development in hill land. This includes the complete banning of any development on land beyond a certain gradient.
The question is does this law apply in the development projects on Cameron Highlands? And if it does apply, then why was it not properly enforced?
Another law that may be used to prevent landslides is the Environmental Quality Act, namely the provisions in the act for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). This law makes it compulsory for certain projects to have an EIA done. Theoretically speaking if a project poses a danger to the environment then it should say so in the EIA report and this being the case, then such a project should not be allowed to continue. The threat of landslides should surely be one of the considerations.
The problem with the EIA system we have is that it is quite easily circumnavigated. For example the projects that require an EIA are decided based on size. Therefore it is quite easy to circumnavigate the requirement by simply breaking a project up into smaller parcels. Furthermore, hill development per se is not one of the types of activity that requires an EIA.
It is clear to me that such loss of lives, livelihood and homes is not acceptable. We have laws that could be used to prevent such things from happening. It is important therefore to ensure that the laws are as sound as possible and that they are also enforced as strictly as possible.
These are real problems that affect real people’s lives and these are the kinds of things that the government and their agencies should be working on. Instead our leaders seem to be more concerned about using draconian laws to attack imaginary threats.