Beware of the Greek bearing gifts

By Anna Lee

So BR1M is here again. The second round of cash handouts by the Federal Government is scheduled for distribution any time now. This time around, households earning below RM3,000 and singles earning below RM2,000 will be eligible to apply for the RM500 and RM250 cash aid respectively.

Knowing that the average Malaysian loves all things free, this is cause enough for celebration. Before we throw our hands up in the air and rejoice, shouldn’t we take a better look at the gift horse in the mouth?

A few questions arise from this purportedly generous cash handout. Firstly, where does the money come from? Secondly, are there strings attached and if so, is this an election “bribe”? Thirdly, it was reported that 83% of the population qualify for BR1M 2.0, if we are such a poor nation, would the RM3 billion BR1M be sufficient to rectify this?

Fourthly, what long term solutions does the government have to raise the economic position of average Malaysians? Fifthly, are the votes of Malaysians so easy to be bought?

Free lunch, or ‘election bribe’ ?

Prime Minister Najib Razak had gleefully announced the BR1M or 1Malaysia People’s Aid (yes, another tiresome 1Malaysia acronym) in the 2012 budget. A sum of RM3 billion was allocated for this purpose. Of course, this proper allocation follow from the surprise and success of the first round of BR1M.

Principally, there is no problem with the government using tax revenue to fund social welfare aid. However, with the timing of the handouts so coincidentally near the elections, and given the known pattern of the BN government’s “you help me, I help you” modus operandi… the question of bribery does arise.

Yes, this is Malaysia, and there are no ‘free’ handouts. BN hopes to capitalise on the ‘feel good’ factor to speak louder than any other campaigning methods. They hope to ride this wave of sentiment, crossing their fingers that the rakyat will accept this ‘spare change’ and forget the billions of ringgit worth of corruption and scandals.

RM3 billion ‘spare change’

What is RM3 billion compared to the combined total of these ‘sins’? Just to name a few: Najib’s Scorpene dodgy deal involved a US1 billion ‘conditional sum’. The National Feedlot Corporation scandal involved RM250 million. Michael Chia, the businessman linked to Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman, was caught at an airport carrying a RM40 million cash donation for Sabah UMNO.

In the light of the unchecked graft as proven by RM930 billion worth of illegal outflow from 2000 to 2008, how can the government pat itself on the back so smugly for its paltry “financial aid” to the rakyat? The deafening silence of the government on the astronomical sum reported by financial watchdog Global Financial Integrity as much a smoking gun as is needed in the court of public opinion. Yet Najib wants to brag about BN’s RM100 vouchers.

Shouldn’t we be more concerned about the sorry state of national finances, inflation, the labour market, the rising cost of living, the flagging average wages, and the various economic pressures that make it so difficult for many Malaysians to make ends meet?

Shouldn’t we be alarmed that 83% of Malaysians earn a combined household income below RM3,000, or RM2,000 for singles above 21 years of age? This is a terrifying statistic that should cause either major panic, mass resignations, or much soul-searching on the part of the decision-makers.

Shouldn’t a party that has ruled the nation for half a century since independence, and has been accused of numerous acts of corruption and cronyism, be held responsible for this?

Why then are we asked to be ‘thankful’ to the government instead?

Thanks, but not thanks

We should ask the government to firstly apologize for its mismanagement, mishandling, sloppiness, negligence and failures.

We should then demand restitution of wrongs, bringing the corrupt to justice, restoring economic opportunities for all Malaysians, and reversing the damage that has been done, if it’s not too late.

The government should be accountable to the 28 billion Malaysians, explain its proposed plans to make things right. Perhaps then can the rakyat consider whether or not to give it a second chance. Even then, if you were to ask some, they would say that the arrogant BN coalition is beyond redemption.

Are Malaysians so easily hoodwinked by a small sum of RM500? Can a person’s vote be bought when his dignity and economic survival is in question? Perhaps before the internet age and the exposure that alternative media affords.

Voters today are too savvy and sophisticated to fall for ‘cheap tricks’ anymore. They may take the handouts, but who knows which way they will vote? They hold the political parties to a higher standard, they expect so much more than one time handouts.

Anti-graft dividends

On the other side of the divide, cash handouts have also been offered by Pakatan Rakyat ruled governments. The difference is, these sums are touted as “anti-graft dividends”.

With the new “Competent, Accountable, Transparent (CAT) administration in Penang, the state’s accounts have never been in better shape and it posted surplus budgets for the past four years, and received glowing reports from the Auditor General’s Report.

The surplus was returned to the people of the state in the form of various cash assistance programs including the popular RM100 senior citizen’s appreciation scheme.

In Selangor, more than RM766 million has been spent on the MES (making the economy people first) scheme with various cash incentives for senior citizens, students, entrepreneurs as well as lower income groups.

This scheme was funded by the state government’s revenue collected from its sand mining activities. Kedah and Kelantan too are offering welfare assistance to its residents, afforded from the state’s coffers due to prudent financial management.

Make no mistake, there is a difference between giving out money, and earning votes. Voters are not begging for money, it is political parties that are wooing for votes.

Voters are shopping for a government, and they are a discerning bunch. They want a government that is competent and not corrupt. They want leaders who are humble and sacrificial, not aloof and self-serving. They want a parliament that dares to speak the truth and stand up for what is right. They want anything but ‘business as usual’.

This coming general election, beware of the Greek bearing gifts. They may hand you money, but obviously you know, it’s not so easy to win your heart. -The Rocket

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