Saturday, December 23, 2006

Increase in toll rates must be justified

The authorities may have many reasons to justify the planned increase in the toll rates come Jan 1. Some of their reasons may have merit and need to be considered positively. On the contrary, as consumers, most Malaysians would vehemently oppose moves which would pinch their pockets.

The peoples’ displeasure to the toll rate increase is based on two factors. These are the prevailing traffic congestion and the deplorable condition of highways. There is also the unfair double taxation where one has to pay both road taxes and increasing toll charges.

Paying toll, most would agree, is inevitable for the convenience enjoyed and for comfort of travel. The question here is whether the prevailing traffic and road conditions really justify the frequent increase in toll rates.

Our highways have become heavily congested and today’s traffic jams are common even on dual carriage highways and expressways. Despite all the highways, one has to cope with the traffic crawl everyday, which is causing so much stress and inconvenience to city dwellers.

In fact, we have to pay for inconvenience and hardship - not convenience and comfort. Furthermore, many of our highways are in a deplorable state with potholes, poor drainage and lighting. They appear to be in state of constant repair, which adds to the traffic jams which in turn, causes more inconvenience and dangers to the road users.

The facilities along the Plus highway are grossly inadequate and not well-maintained. The rest areas are overcrowded especially during festive seasons and long weekends. Most of these areas are inconvenient and not conducive for resting when breaking a long journey.

There is also increasing frustration with the non-transparent manner in which money collected from road tax is spent on maintaining our roads and highways. There is a need for more openness on the expenditure of public funds for such purposes. If this is done, Malaysians will be more amenable to further toll increases.

While paying toll may be inevitable, it is not fair to keep increasing the toll rates without a parallel increase in the quality of the highways and associated facilities. Attitudes like, ‘If you want it, you pay for it’ will only aggravate the anger and frustration. None of us want traffic jams but we not only have them but are also forced to pay for them.

Dr.Chris Antnony

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Being proud of our heritage

The past is a lesson for the present and future

Despite the ongoing protests against the actions of the authorities, there seem to be an systematic and planned demolition of heritage buildings in the country. The most recent of these was the Bok House in Kuala Lumpur and the former Uplands School in Penang.

It simply goes to show the lack of respect for the wishes of the rakyat by the local authorities who blatantly bulldoze their decision without due consideration for the peoples opinion.

The Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry which pledges to protect and maintain all heritage sites and buildings appears to be either dumb founded or offering excuses every time a historical site or building is destroyed.

Our national heritage is something we should all be proud of, but unfortunately our authorities are bent on destroying them one by one. If this trend were to continue soon all historical events and contributions of past generations, to our success as well as failures, will be totally erased. Our future generations will never get to know and appreciate the greatness of past leaders and citizens who sacrifice so much to bring our nation to where it is today.

Most of our social ills are due to our ignorance of the sacrifices of earlier generations. If only children appreciate the sacrifices of their parents, many of them will be better people. Similarly if only the younger generation appreciate the contributions of their forefathers, then many of the ills in the society will never surface.

Why are our authorities bent on demolishing our historical sites and buildings?The Penang Heritage Trust vice-president Tunku Ismail Mohammad Jewa says these are done in the name of the “almighty ringgit”. The almighty ringgit surely is an important consideration in all our decisions in development but it should not be the one and only criteria.

The past, both good and bad, is a lesson for the present and the future. Unless we learn to appreciate the contributions of the past it would be almost impossible to progress now and in the future. We must be more serious in our endeavors to preserve our heritage to be used as lessons by the future generation.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Replace tolerance with understanding

I write in response to two articles in theSun of Nov 28. The first is "That racist tone of voice" by Zainon Ahmad in his column What They Say. The second is "This race needs a flat podium" by Amir Mahmood Razak in Freespace.

I write because I marched in the Merdeka parade in Malacca as a child, with a lantern in my hand. My classmates and I carried a string of lanterns with cutouts that spelt Merdeka. I heard Tunku Abdul Rahman shout "Merdeka!" umpteen times.

I write because when I was a teenager in Form Four my friends and I danced in the Merdeka celebrations on the Malacca Padang. The organisers were so impressed that they invited us to dance before Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman when he visited the town soon after. It was the closest I ever got to him.

I write because when I was 17 and in form six, I wrote an essay for my general paper entitled "Malaysia". I wrote of Tunku Abdul Rahman's vision and I ended the essay quoting his words "... this melting pot of many nations ..."

A year later reality struck. The education department sent a circular that the school prefects could not be appointed through democratic elections as was the age-old practice.
It seemed pupils were touching on sensitive issues in their campaigns and upsetting some students. The reality has stuck with me ever since. The many nations would not be allowed to melt.

So when I was an adult and more articulate I wrote a short story entitled "Merdeka" in commemoration of our 25th year of independence. It was published twice and a few people might remember it.

Now I write because I owe it to myself and the country of my birth to say my piece to those who hardly know what they are talking about when they scream about their perceptions of Bangsa Malaysia. We, the common people of all races have been manipulated for a very long time by politicians who, for their very own political ends and financial gains, have kept us servile, fearful and even promoted ignorance. Thanks to stifling policies by tunnel-visioned politicians, I have had university students who have refused to participate in an academic discussion or a debate because they were afraid to speak their minds on issues of religion, politics, or sex education!

They complained in terrible fear when roommates used holy beads, statues or holy pictures. I have had students who crept into my room, shut the door and whispered questions to me about my religion because they were confused. Then they told me not to tell anyone about our two-minute conversation. When my department had a talk on Islamic values, I was the only non-Muslim who attended. The speaker and the rest of the audience did not know what to make of my presence.

Everybody talks about racial and religious tolerance, and then some sad souls who have never even known a war, triedÊto prove their loyalty by screaming about matyrdom and bloodbaths. Text messages are sent and announcements made of a church event, by people who did not realise that they could actually call the church and talk to someone there to verify information. The order of the day seems to be "confrontation". I have not heard anyone talk about racial and religious understanding or of dialogue.

When I visited the US a few years ago I was invited to do an informal presentation to a group of young men and women who had to care for delinquent children. The children were of mixed races and there was a need for cultural sensitivity. I talked of "Multi-ethnicity: Tolerance vs understanding." Yes, there is a difference.

The word "tolerance" carries in it an element of resentment. We tolerate something or someone because we are forced to put up with it or with the person. And we don't have to bother with understanding. We don't have to know more about the thing or persons we tolerate. The more we tolerate, the more we resent, till eventually our patience wears out.

The word "understand" on the other hand implies that we take the trouble to find out things. Understanding is born out of healthy curiosity. It asks questions openly, it is not afraid of new knowledge, it brings broad vision, multiple perspectives and most importantly it brings peace because we understand. In understanding we do not lose ourselves but are able to see ourselves in the greater scheme of things.

We were once a world model of a plural society and we merited international attention for it. In the last couple of weeks we have disgraced ourselves internationally. How many of us can say that we have, out of healthy curiosity, read the Holy Books of the other faiths in our multi-religious country? How many of us have courageously and respectfully walked into all the other faiths' places of worship to see what they were like? How many of us have, out of respect for our friends and converted relatives, attended the ceremonial rites of birth, marriage and death for them? If we have not, then we have no right to call ourselves Malaysians, let alone Bangsa Malaysia.

I have sat at temples of Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists; I have entered mosques and churches, participated in weddings and funerals of all of these, eaten their food and read their books. Yet I have not lost the faith that I was born into. So what are so many people afraid of? Each other? The bullying holy men and politicians? Themselves?

If we really educated ourselves and our children about each other's faiths and cultures, if the education system ensured that the curriculum enabled this multicultural education of our children, then we would not be embarrassing ourselves as we are doing today. We would also not be losing our more intelligent children to foreign lands where they have a better chance of being their intelligent selves.

The catch phrase "tolerance" has to be replaced with "understanding" if we are to redeem our dignity as a multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia. May I end by saying that no politician or religious leader in this country should have a right to office if he or she has not acquired a deep understanding of all the faiths, cultures and histories of the people in this country.

Angela Jessie
Petaling Jaya
Sun,Dec12,2006
Developing a human capital

I refer to the report “PM: Good 3 years but more to be done” (Star Dec 13).

It is reassuring to know that the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, while happy with his achievements he over the last 3 years, also recognizes that he has to do more to narrow certain “lopsidedness in development in both human and physical infrastructure”.

Yes, we take pride in having fantastic mega structures but is our human capital equally well developed? Unfortunately most of these mega projects are in fact the work of foreign expertise. Human capital, in the development of a progressive nation is of utmost importance and it must be cultivated among the locals.

The PM rightly pointed out that we need people who are be mentally, physically, spiritually and morally strong. It may be easy to have people who are clever but lack these attributes that are essential for a truly progressive society.

In order to have a proper human capital we need proper training especially for the young. This has to start very early in schools and as Abdullah says we have to seriously look into our school curriculum to adapt to modern day advancements especially in the fields of science and technology. A proper mindset based on rational and logical thinking is of utmost importance in the development of a progressive modern society.

Every citizen, irrespective of ethnicity, is a potential human capital and must be given a fair opportunity to contribute his talents to the development of the country. We must put aside our differences, which are mainly in form rather than substance, and look at the many common factors that bind us as Malaysians.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Harness the energy in UNITY

I refer to the report “Sultan tells of his vision for Selangor” (Star December 12).

Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah’s vision for Selangor and His Majesty’s desire to see every child born in his state to be given a hope, that with dedicated efforts, they, too, have a chance to make their dreams come true is very encouraging. We hope that this vision be extended to include every child born in this beautiful country of ours and not Selangor alone.

Malaysia has gone through tremendous changes and has achieved a high level of economic, social and spiritual development which we are all proud of. As the Sultan of Selangor says there are many areas that still need to be improved to ensure that the citizens of various races could live good and comfortable lives.

We should not stop here but continue to build on our achievements to reach much greater heights. In this struggle the talents of all citizens should be full tapped. Everyone’s contribution, however small it may be, is invaluable and should not be underestimated or ignored.

Everyone regardless of his race and religion should be given the opportunities to strive for a stake in the fortunes of the nation. The global world today is very competitive and challenging, with unfair advantage to the rich and powerful nations, who have total monopoly over the economic and political systems.

To succeed we need to pool all the resources at our disposal especially the human capital so that we can put up a reasonable challenge against these giants of the world. Our diversity of cultures makes us unique. It offers us the source of strength that others do not possess. If only we can unite as Malaysians we should be able to harness the insurmountable energy that no one can match.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Illegitimate citizens in own Motherland

The recently concluded 57th UMNO Annual General Assembly opened the eyes of many of us, non-Muslims and non-Malays, to the hard political reality prevalent in our beloved nation, we call our motherland.

Instead of focusing on the numerous issues facing the country, the members of the dominant party, chose to preoccupy themselves with racial and religious ultra-extremism. The only reassuring statements for the non-Malay Malaysians were from the Umno president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.Even his appeals for moderation appeared to have fallen on deaf ears, as throughout the assembly, speaker after speaker delivered fiery and emotional attacks on other races.

Regrettably this anti-non-Malay and non-Muslim stance was most obvious in the youth wing which makes us shudder at what is in store for us and our children in the future in our own motherland. Our fears are not unfounded as even the PM has acknowledged that we have reached a dangerous point in the history of the nation.

The Chinese and Indians have been staunch supporters of UMNO in all elections, so why this growing antagonism in UMNO towards them now?

All forms of threats and challenges are leveled at us to which we are becoming immuned.Our voices of dissent are in fact being suppressed by uncalled for threats and a newly emerging mob mentality like the violent disruption of the peaceful Article 11 forum in Penang and the false SMS fiasco in Ipoh where, groups of Muslims gather in force to surround a church on mere speculation and rumours. It saddens us to realize that the authorities seem to condone such behaviour as demonstrated by inaction against these unlawful perpetrators.

We are told not to question the special rights of Malays and the position of Islam. We are accused of damaging the sanctity if Islam. We are also told bluntly that there is no religion above Islam. Groups that promote inter-faith dialogue and harmony by stressing on universal human values, like the Inter-Faith Council,Penang Global Ethics Project, Pusat Komas and Sisters in Islam (SIS), are singled out to be condemned.

Several delegates have called for war against non-Malay agendas, claiming that they are ready to "bathe in blood" to protect their rights and that "the blood of Malay warriors will run in our veins". They warn the other races not to question the Malay rights and warn even their own BN counterparts not to interfere with their special privileges. Even senior non-Malay ministers are rudely criticized. Where is our professed Asian virtue of respect for elders?

In fact their attitude towards us is summed up by the MCA Youth leader’s statement that even the opposition has not been as poisonous with their words compared to the racist remarks spewed by the Umno delegates who are our friend and partners in the ruling coalition.

As the proceedings were televised live, these delegates have succeeded in painting a picture of a racially segregated and tensed Malaysia to foreigners. When foreigners watch this, what do you think will be their impression? In many countries, such rhetoric is considered bigotry and racist.

We are accused of questioning the special position of the Malays and Islam. In fact the majority of us have come to accept this as a fact of life. We are not against the NEP as it is only right and proper that any social imbalance among the races should be addressed to preserve national harmony.

The NEP and its target of 30% equity by bumiputras was never opposed by the non-Malays who understand the importance of uplifting the welfare of the bumiputras. In fact many of us in civil service before have worked hand in hand with our fellow bumiputras towards that endeavor.

Despite 30 over years of implementing polices to uplift the Malays we are still told that they have far behind the target at a mere 18.9%.On the contrary two other reports reveal that it had actually surpassed the target.

We are merely asking for are our rights as enshrined in the constitution. We have come to a situation where all our rights in education, economy, culture and religion are denied and our future appears bleak and hopeless. Our yearnings to serve the nation, in government service, police and armed forces are not appreciated and unjustly denied.

Is it wrong and a crime to demand in a civil manner for our rights as citizens in our own country?

As the PM says Umno, and the Malays, as the dominant members of the ruling coalition, must always be fair and just to all Malaysians. The minority non-Malays have no one else to depend if their dominant partner turns against them.

Recent events in Malaysia, both in and out of the Umno AGM, have sent the message to every non-Malay that the leaders of this country will not protect them and their families. We are helpless against the power and might of the forces arrayed against us. We are not sure what to do next. Our calls for dialogue are rejected. Mob rule is becoming the norm on mere speculation and rumours.

Whether we like it or not we are Malaysians and are here to stay during good and bad times. This is a fact which must be accepted by all. Let us show fellow Malaysians and the rest of the world that we are and could be a civilized peace-loving nation, instead of one that indulges in fighting imaginary enemies.

God has bestowed us with a beautiful country, full of resources and devoid of natural disasters like earthquakes, drought, floods, forest fires, volcanoes, typhoons and hurricanes. He has also bestowed us with diverse cultures and faiths so as to allow us to develop the virtue of tolerance for others.

Let us appreciate and share these divine gifts fairly among us so that we can all live life to the fullest as one united nation, Malaysia, and not fight each other in His name.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rule of law should prevail


Let’s submit to the rule of law not emotions

I refer to the report “Cabinet wants religious status of dead man verified” (Star Dec 7).

All peace loving Malaysians with goodwill and who want justice to reign would heartily welcome the cabinet’s decision to direct the Attorney-General (AG) to look into the case of Rayappan Anthony to confirm his religious status. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi must be praised for his wisdom and fairness in arriving at suchunprecedented decision.

By handing the responsibility to the AG, the cabinet has rightly endorsed that the case should be under the jurisdiction of the civil courts. The question of fairness of the syariah courts is not the issue here but who should justly handle such cases.

We hope and pray that the AG and the civil courts can come with a reasonable and just decision on this important case that could become precedence for similar cases in the future. We hope justice will be done based on the law and facts and all the parties concerned would listen to good sense for the well being of the nation.

We are encouraged by the AG Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail’s statement that all parties must respect each other's religion and should sit down and discuss the matter to reach an amicable solution. In a Multi-racial and multi-religious society like Malaysia, dialogue in a civil manner is the only way to overcome problems like these that inevitably surface from time to time.

There can never be one sure winner all the time. Every community should compromise and they should consider the whole picture, not just be myopic in just looking at the interest of their own community.

At the highest level, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the cabinet, has set the tone of moderation, goodwill and fair play, it is now up to us to adopt these virtues in our dealings with all. We must submit to the rule of law at all times and at all costs, not blinded by emotions and prejudice.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dress code and morality

Education not laws the solution

I refer to the report “MPKB: Cover up or else” (Star Dec 5).

The Kota Baru Municipal Council (MPKB) has announced that it would “no longer tolerate indecent dressing” by women, both Muslim and non-Muslim. It is planning to impose a fine of RM500.00 on women found to spot such dressing which they describe as sexy.

This has brought opposing response from several women organizations like Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) Wanita MCA, Women's Development Collective and The All-Women’s Action Society (Awam).

Any move to educate people to dress decently should be welcomed. In fact not only Islam but all religions also preach morality and decent dressing is an important aspect of such a code. In has to be emphasized that morality is just not about dressing alone. Morality involves a wholesome behaviour that embraces all the virtuous human values.

Civic mindedness, respect for elders, upholding the laws of the country, being courteous and caring for the underprivileged are all important aspects of good morality. So are honesty and integrity in all our actions. A decently attired individual need not necessarily be a morally righteous person.

The authorities should work to arrest the deteriorating standard of morality in society instead of being obsessed with what women wear. Will enforcing a rigid dress code curb the sex-related social ills in our society such as illicit sex, adultery, abortions, incest and rape?

It is very sad that even those who are supposed to be role models for our children appear to be leading immoral lives themselves. What we need is not a strict dress code for our women but a proper education to inculcate good values in our people especially the young.

In fact the majority of our women are mature enough and have the appropriate sense of dressing and do not need legislation to enforce what they wear, as that is a basic individual right.

Like all other town councils,MPKB,has many other pressing issues to handle. Instead of being a “moral police” it should give priority to these other pressing issues and find ways to improve the livelihood of the residents of Kota Baru, concentrate on cleaning the drains and parks, collecting rubbish and providing other amenities they are entrusted with.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Honour your father and mother

Life has become highly competitive these days and we have to spend a large part of our energy and time trying to earn enough to support our family. In the process we tend to overlook the plights of one important group of people who were responsible for what we are today – our aged parents.

Our most common sin as children was disobeying our parents and being rude to them. Very often we were angry with them for not allowing us to do as we wished, forcing us to study and reprimanding us when we did something wrong.

Despite all the punishment that they meted out on us for our various offences, there was no doubt in our minds of their love and concern for us under all circumstances.

We can recollect the sleepless nights they spent taking care of us when we were sick, the moments of anxiety they went through when we were involved in some accidents and the tears they shed during intense prayers for our recovery.

We remember the strenuous labour and the mental stress they endured to earn a meager income to provide us with some basic comforts in life and a decent education, which they themselves were denied. All they lived for was the well being of our future not theirs. They did all that without any ulterior motive that one day we will repay that gratitude.

Today many of us are parents ourselves and only now fully appreciate the extent of love parents have for their own children. We understand the pain and anxiety we have to endure when our children suffer from all forms of ailments and failures in their lives. We realize the severity of the heartache when our children refuse to heed our advice and meet disaster as a result.

Some of us may be unfortunate to have our children inflicted with terminal illness and we are aware of the tremendous pain it causes us everyday. Some of our parents too would have undergone such great torment in their lives.

Today many of us may are successful and are better off in life than our parents. Many, even our friends and relatives, would be jealous of our achievements especially when we are better than them. The only people who feel proud when we “overtake” them in life will be our parents. The joy and happiness that accompanies the successes of our children are immense and insurmountable.

We may have grown older and become more successful but sin against our old folks is still our common weakness although we may not realize it. In our later life, disobedience to parents is expressed in the form of negligence and apathy towards them when they become incapacitated and of no use to us.

We become calculative among the siblings of who should take care and provide for them when they are no more in a position to earn. When they become ill or handicapped we conveniently pass the responsibility of caring for them to others. We give the excuse we are too busy and have no time and no money. I admit it is not easy to take care of elderly parents who are invalid, especially in a fast moving materialistic world, but we fail to realise it is our responsibility and ours alone. We cannot run away from it.

The greatest fear among elderly people is loneliness. This is particularly true for those who have lost their spouses and are all alone in this cruel world. For many of them, it is not money, gifts or food that they need. All they ask for is the love of fellow humans in particular their children and grandchildren, to spare some time for them.

The strange thing is that this fear is also a feature when we were children. As a child when we too were fearful to be alone, but then our parents were there to console and reassure us with their loving embrace. They did that willingly and with great love and passion.

But when they are in living in fear at the twilight of their lives, we as children are not there to comfort them. We are too busy with our jobs and families. We blame the fast moving and competitive society we live in as an excuse for our negligence and indifference.

Very often we, the children become upset when our old parents become terminally ill.We are prepared to spend thousands of ringgit for their treatment and subsequently give them a grand funeral service. We even offer prayers and hold elaborate memorial services and rituals for the dead but lack the same enthusiasm in being supportive and being with them when they were alive.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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