Enforcement and Tolerance

by Zaharom Nain. Posted on February 20, 2011, Sunday

On my way home from picking up my children from make-up classes yesterday, I got caught up in the regular – and infamous – USJ jam. I’ve never really gotten used to these traffic snarls, despite having moved down from laidback Penang more than a year ago, hence consciously try to avoid travelling during peak hours for the sake of my sanity.
This is, after all, Malaysia (or, rather, Peninsular Malaysia) where all those myths of the lazy, laidback, lemah lembut (gentle) native get thrown out the window the moment we get into our cars.

Indeed, many has been the time when I’ve been tailgated by irritated (and damn irritating) small Malaysian cars driven by tudung-clad mak ciks determined, I’m sure, to mow me down in their haste to get home, switch on the TV and possibly watch Datuk Siti Noor Bahyah bashing fellow Malaysians and their beliefs.

Granted, many of us may not honk as loud and as long as our parents used to, but we sure as hell find it unthinkable still to give way to other motorists when caught in a jam, even when we know that giving way would invariably ease the jam.

Indeed, oftentimes it becomes a crazy case of might is right, with the bigger vehicles calling the shots and threatening to destroy the rest.

And such was the case yesterday when, virtually out of nowhere, this lorry moved into my lane from the left – without the indicator light being turned on, of course. Invariably I had to give way since I’m not a crazy mak cik driving a souped-up Kancil or Viva.

As it arrogantly settled itself in front of me, I noticed that this monstrosity had only one rear light working, with a couple of the others being broken – they actually had holes in them, as if having been riddled by bullets in some previous car – or lorry – chase movie.

But, of course, this is quite a common sight on the roads in Malaysia, where you’ll find on a daily basis these unwashed and rust-infested heavy vehicles looking as if they’d come out of those classic Mad Max movies.

What’s tragically funny about these vehicles – and this was certainly true of the menacing-looking lorry in front of me – is that, apart from carrying all these `scars’, they nowadays also carry seemingly-obligatory contact details (from the Road Transport Department, I think) for anybody to call of sms to register a complaint.

Seeing this heap of junk in front of me, and having seen many others which really looked as if they belonged in the scrap metal dealer’s yard, with the RTD form plastered prominently on them, inviting anybody to register complaints, raised a number of questions in my mind.

First, do people really register their complaints with the authorities using the numbers given? While I don’t have the statistics, I’m quite sure some do – or at least try to.

Which leads on to the second question: Is anything then done once these complaints are received or is this all yet another one of those not-so-great Malaysian public relations exercises?

An exercise that our political leaders especially have become rather adept at while kidding themselves that `the fools out there’ can’t see through it all.

Indeed, if something is being done, then why are these vehicles still on the road, risking the lives of many and also often polluting the environment with their black smoke and killer carbon emissions?

I guess in the end it’s the problem of enforcement – or the lack of . After all, we have innumerable rules, regulations, even laws, but, when push comes to shove, if the enforcers can’t – or refuse to, or even, are paid not to – enforce all this, nothing much is going to change.

Indeed, you’ll probably remember, as I do, that awhile ago there was all this talk about government departments, even ministries, having KPIs (that’s key performance indices for you naughty ones not in tune with SatuMalaysiaBoleh).

Lately I’ve heard numerous airheads declaring that their KPIs had been achieved, often without providing concrete evidence, even basic statistics, to support their assertions. Aiyah, that one my 8 year-old child also can do. So let’s stop all this kelentong-ing, ok?

But, the sad thing is, kelentong (bull, spin, lie, bs – take your pick) they still would. And would you want to know why?

Essentially because we have become an extremely tolerant people, bordering on being passive and cowardly, evidently with our tidak apa (never mind) culture.

An incident that affected my expatriate colleague just a couple of days ago will help to illustrate this.

It was 11 o’clock on the night of Chap Goh Mei. His two little kids, both babies still, were asleep. Suddenly the sky lit up and all hell broke lose, with the sound of screaming rockets and other missiles shattering the silence of the night. His neighbour, with friends and family in tow, had set off the firework celebration.

Not so funnily (or politely) the missiles were trained away from the launchers – and directly into his compound.

There was a lull, during which time he tried to calm down his clearly distraught kids. But, of course this was all too brief because no sooner had it stopped when the missile attacks started again.

Clearly upset this time, and with one child in his arms, he marched straight to his neighbour’s, and launched into a tirade aimed at his neighbour. The fact that he’s a Cambridge graduate in English, I’m sure, made the lecture he gave to his suddenly-silent neighbour all the more `show-stopping’, shall we say?

When he asked me, clearly fearing for his life for his outburst, if he’d done the right thing, unhesitatingly I told him that he had. If anybody had lost face, I thought, it was clearly his neighbour. And, of course, all this was proven right when he told me later that his neighbour had the next day delivered a huge bunch of orchids, together with a note of apology.

When I discussed this with my wife, Jackie, her immediate response was that it would have been quite unusual for a Malaysian to have reacted the way that Sean did.

Indeed, for Jackie, him being an expatriate – and one with a family, not prone to having noisy , late night drunken parties, an image which expatriates often are stereotyped or labeled with – made him a `visitor’ who would be respected by someone like his neighbour.

But it probably would have been quite different if both parties were Malaysians.

Many Malaysians, indeed, would have cursed and sworn in the privacy of our homes and silently tolerated the noise principally because we don’t want to `look for trouble’ and fear for our own safety should we be confrontational. We would have privately cursed the neighbour and even the authorities for not enforcing the law. But we would then leave it at that.

Such, indeed, is the nature of our `tolerance’, I guess.

Outsiders and visitors, like my expatriate friend, used to a more open environment, evidently more easily articulate their opposition and dissatisfaction.

We, on the other hand, are continuously berated for `not counting our blessings’ and openly warned not to even consider asking for reforms and change the way the Tunisians and Egyptians (and many others in the region now) have done so.

Hence, we find it difficult, if not well-nigh impossible, to raise objections.

We kid ourselves that it’s all part of our culture when, instead, it’s very much due to a deliberate and sustained programme of socialization, through education , media spin and the (mis)identification of a majority of issues with religion and ethnic identity.

And, sadly, the poorer we have become for all that.

We are too much depending on other for Rice- Do we realize that ?

by Sidi Munan. Posted on February 20, 2011, Sunday

MY favourite grocer at Kota Sentosa shook his head saying, “Haven’t got, boss.”
Since last month, the Beras Nasional 15 has disappeared from the market, he said, pointing to the Chrysanthemum variety. Only RM38 per 10kg bag bah!

I replied, “I see.”

Actually I didn’t.

I still didn’t understand why the rice went out of stock until Monday evening when I heard it over the radio.

One official from the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism was explaining the situation: the restaurants and eateries had allegedly snapped up all the rice, and there was nothing the authorities could do because there was no regulation to prevent these businesses from buying the subsidised rice too.

Gahat Mawang rice

Earlier in the day, the headline in The Borneo Post screamed, ‘Bright future for 80,000 padi planters’.

It was the officials from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation talking about the results of research done by Mardi on hill padi in Gahat Mawang. Though the research project will only be completed at the end of August this year, the results are already known to them.

“Through the research we can now enable the smallholders to increase the yield from their farms. If they produce more than they need for subsistence, they can sell and improve their income,” the chairman of the taskforce on food security of the ministry was reported to have said.

He revealed that the project was in line with the economic transformation programme to achieve a high income economy because the PM and the CM want every Malaysian to earn better income, adding that “the transformation programme is not empty talk because we are serious in helping everyone from the big corporations to the smallholders”.

Asked if there would be similar studies carried out in other areas in Sarawak, yes, there would be studies done in Sri Aman, Kapit and Sarikei soon.

Such is the wonder of science that results of research are already known before completion, like the sex of a baby is known before its delivery. The variety has even been christened ‘Gahat Mawang Rice’.

Thirty years ago, I heard of research on planting padi on terraces. Not a word about its success or failure ever since.

While flying by helicopter over the Lower Batang Lupar, our first Prime Minister had a bright idea: there, down below is a vast country, the next rice bowl of Malaysia. Excitedly, he announced this to reporters waiting for him at the old Kuching Airport.

This was sometime in 1965.

Since then talk about this rice bowl has cropped up from time to time whenever VIPS visit the Lupar.

While waiting for the Gahat Mawang Rice to be marketed, may we ask what has happened to the many padi schemes in the state? How productive are they and when can we be self-sufficient in rice?

Millions of ringgit have been poured into the drainage and irrigation of those schemes from Tanjung Purun in Lundu to those in the northern region of Sarawak.

These schemes were part of the self-sufficiency policy in rice because Sarawak has been a net importer of rice since the end of the Second World War. According to the Sarawak Annual Report 1951, we imported some 31,709 tons of rice that year to feed a population of 546,385 (Census 1947). Now to feed a population of 2.1 million (2001), the state needs some many more tons of rice — you work it out for yourself.

How successful is that policy?

Month of dry spoons

This period — December, January and February — is dubbed by rural padi planters as ‘bulan begantong senduk’. It’s that time of the year before harvest, in fact a time of hunger. For the fishermen, it’s a period of rough seas and incessant rains (landas) and time to take a rest from sea fishing. For these fishermen, all would be well after the Chap Goh Meh; for the padi planters, however, harvest time will not be until March or early April.

This is the time to resort to the BN and its disappearance from the grocer’s at this critical juncture adds insult to injury.

Some explanation I heard over the radio ran something like this: The government has classified rice consumers into two broad groups: the lower income are to eat the subsidised BN 15, while the higher income earners, restaurants, and eateries, ought to buy the fragrant variety imported from Thailand and Vietnam. For the past couple of months, these eateries have allegedly snapped up all the rice meant for ordinary mortals.

Hence the shortage.

And there is no law to prevent these food outlets from buying the staple food of the lower income groups. Even if there is such a regulation, it would be almost impossible to impose unless you employ the Japanese style of food control by allowing the lower income groups to get the rice direct from the government’s godowns.

That’s the explanation. I see.

But I’m more interested in getting my BN immediately rather than waiting for the new brand discovered by Mardi. Too old to wait too long.

Rice producers stockpiling

The news about scrambling to stockpile by many rice producing countries does not help; the poor harvests in Thailand and Vietnam — two sources of Malaysian imports — do not make good reading.

Spare a thought for those farmers in Baram

In Sarawak, at this time of the year, paddy fields are murai (blooming) but many farmers in the Baram have experienced bad floods and their fields were destroyed.

The Penans and the longhouse folk in the Baram, especially in the Tinjar-Bakong areas, are in for a long ‘begantong senduk’ unless help comes between now and the following harvest in March 2012.

Once there were green fields

Though the country has been a net importer of rice, mainly for people in town, most rural people, especially those farmers in the Lower Batang Lupar in Tanjong Bijat, Stumbin and Banting, used to have enough rice, even spare for sale, unless there were bad floods, long dry spells or bad attacks by pests (empangau) or rats or sparrows (pipit banda).

But now there is a scramble for land for oil palm plantations at the expense of land for padi cultivation. Those farmers in the Lower Batang Lupar are lucky to sit on fertile land; in the rest of the state, the terrain is either hilly or not suitable for wet padi, which yields more than the hill variety does. Hopefully, Mardi’s research on hill padi will translate into real grains soon.

Have we enough land for rice cultivation, swamp and hill varieties, on a large scale?

You would remember seeing acres and acres of green fields of rice at Siburan and Beratok. No longer – now most of the area has been developed for housing estates.

In the past, you saw vegetable plots everywhere; now you don’t. The vegetable cultivators have moved to the Batu Gong area and even that area will be converted into housing estates in no time.

Driving along that offshoot of Penrissen road on the way to join Jalan Stephen Yong was pleasant at this time of the year, admiring the green fields turning yellow with beautiful grains and flags of all colours acting to scare away the naughty birds. No longer – shop houses have now taken over a large area opposite the junction to Kampung Sudat and more houses are being built there on padi land.

Other competitors

The padi farmers have other competitors, more formidable: the oil palm plantation owners, some of whom have even encroached on peat swamp land. In the 1970s, estate crop developers were not allowed to plant oil palms on such areas. Nowadays anything goes.

This is development, we are told.

Before I get overwhelmed by the thoughts of expensive rice as a result of the shortage in the market and of a scramble for stockpiling by rice producing countries, I must stop for my porridge.

As a state, when will we ever be self-sufficient in the staple food?

Contribution of Mr. Sidi Munan- Borneo Post Online


Rise in scams targeting e-banking accounts

If you have an Internet banking account, like many do in this modern IT era, take immediate notice.

The number of Malaysians falling prey to Internet banking scams is increasing by the day.
Cyber criminals are on the prowl looking for account holders gullible enough to reveal the two most vital pieces of data — their username and password.

They use fake banking websites, known as “phishing” sites, to try and trap the account holders.
If you fall for it, you can have your entire account wiped out in minutes, depending on the amount of money you have and the transfer limit set by the bank.

According to CyberSecurity Malaysia, a total of 1,426 reports were made last year compared to 634 received in 2009.

It said at least 900 unique phishing sites targeting local financial institutions have been discovered.

The body said those who fell prey are usually new Internet banking account holders and people who don’t understand Internet security