Saturday, December 4, 2010

The year is coming to an end. Are we any hopeful of a better year ahead?

While driving to work last week, it suddenly hit me that we are almost at the end of another year. It then further dawned on me that within a few weeks, we would be into the second decade of the noughties and only 10 years away from the Vision 2020 target.

While stuck on what is usually the country’s biggest car park in the mornings — the Federal Highway — I wondered if, by 2020, we could at least reach touching distance of the fully-developed nation goal announced by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1991.

On a sugar high from the sweet coffee I had that morning, I thought to myself, perhaps we can. If we could just focus and take things seriously, maybe we can.

Then I took a look at the front page of theSun lying on my passenger seat and the reverie was shattered.

There it was. A little red pail sitting next to a little blue pail on the floor of our Parliament House.

The pails were put there to gather water from a leak on the roof-top. It is 2010 and we can’t even do the simple thing of ensuring that the nation’s august house is in tip-top condition befitting all that it stands for.

And this wasn’t the first time the roof had leaked.

We are a nation boasting one of the world’s tallest buildings (with another monstrosity on the way) and yet we have a legislative house that leaks more than a BP oil well.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz brushed the incident aside as “an act of God”.

I don’t think so, Mr Minister. God didn’t do this.

I’d be surprise if God wanted to have anything to do with our Parliament at all, given its history of less than palatable exchanges between MPs from both sides of the divide.

Even funnier was Deputy Works Minister Yong Khoon Seng. According to him, the roof leaked because it was old. Oh that’s it! Amazing deduction.

Thanks man, but it isn’t about the age of the roof. There are old buildings with old roofs all over the country that do not leak.

It’s about poor maintenance. You know it and the public knows it.

In May 2008, the same roof leaked and this was just two weeks after the then-Works Minister Mohd Zin Mohamed assured the public that it wouldn’t happen again.

And who can forget that time in April 2005 when then-Works Minister extraordinaire, the soon-to-retire Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, made a theatrical inspection and declared that the leak was “a small problem” despite it drenching the Dewan Rakyat chamber and bringing proceedings to a halt.

These things seem small but they are not.

It is reflective of the nation’s incompetence and wantonness. There is no building in this country more important than Parliament House. And we treat it so negligently. As Benjamin Franklin once remarked: “A small leak can sink a great ship”.

Fed up, I decided to stop reading the paper and surf the Net on my mobile phone instead.

And what do I find? — a news report stating that Malaysia plans to have its second astronaut stay in the International Space Station (ISS) for weeks or months instead of days.

National Space Agency director-general Dr Mustafa Subari estimated that at least US$20 million (RM62.2 million) was needed to fund the project.

We have a National Space Agency? What does it do? Does it have the technology to fix leaky roofs? Can it detect stolen jet engines or missing public funds from outer space?

A National Space Agency is as useful to the nation as a submarine that cannot dive when we don’t even have a minimum wage model and when about a third of the country’s working population still earn less than RM700 monthly.

We also don’t even have enough hospitals in Malaysia yet. With its 800 beds, Sarawak’s only public hospital in Kuching serves a population of more than 2.5 million of whom nearly 700,000 reside in the state capital.

According to National Heart Association Malaysia president Prof Dr Sim Kui Hian, who also heads the Sarawak General Hospital cardiac department, 800 beds are not even close to enough for purposes of serving Sarawak’s ever increasing population.

Dr Sim says that the problem stems from the fact that the health needs of Sarawakians are stymied or bound by bureaucracy. He was quoted in The Star as saying that “when the state Health Department highlights the need for a second general hospital, it must pass through the state Cabinet, then on to the federal Cabinet, then on to the Economic Planning Unit, then finally to the Finance Ministry. Somewhere along the line, our needs are likely to get distorted.”

This is surely surprising, given the fact that there seems to have been no bureaucratic problems in approving and setting up the National Space Agency.

It is, however, good to note that Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai announced two weeks ago that Sarawak is to have a second general hospital which is to be located in Petrajaya. The people of Sarawak will still have to wait until 2014 though.

In an interview given to the International Astronautical Federation (which seems to exist with the goal of “connecting space people”), former National Space Agency director-general Dr Mazlan Othman was asked two questions — Why does Malaysia need a space agency? and Isn’t starting a space agency expensive?

Her response, among other things, was that “not so long ago, only the Russians and Americans could afford to go to space. Now any country can start a space presence for about US$10 million. This is a modest budget.”

Tell that to the thousands of Orang Asli in the country who currently live in poverty. US$10 million would probably snap them right out of it instead of having to wait until 2020 — which is the government’s targeted date to reduce Orang Asli poverty to zero.

Anyway, Mazlan is no longer director-general of our National Space Agency. She is now the head of the United Nation’s little-known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa) which is a set-up that apparently searches for extraterrestrial communication.

Can you believe it? A Malaysian at the point of first contact. Not Jodie Foster, not Will Smith and not Bruce Willis. It’s our Dr Mazlan.

So in the event Mother Earth receives a visit from little green men, it won’t be Obama they’ll meet first when they say “Hello there, please take me to your leader”. It’ll be Dr Mazlan.

Perhaps she can ask the aliens how we can finally solve the tricky matter of our Parliament House’s constantly leaking roof.

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