Will the floods wash away people’s faith in BN?

The devastation in Manek Urai

The devastation in Manek Urai

By Pauline Wong

If it were not already clear, the time for finger-pointing is over for the worst floods Malaysia has seen in the past 30 years. Blaming widespread logging or even God for the floods is, as they say, “so last year”.

What is crucial in the aftermath for the victims is how relief efforts are taking place, and how soon some semblance of normality would return to their lives. 

What is crucial for the politicians, however, is something quite different. 

For politicians, and in particular the Barisan Nasional, the work now is not to clear the streets of debris, mud and dead animals, but to clear the air over the ugliness of having one’s Prime Minister go golfing in Hawaii while thousands are suffering. 

Holidaying ministers

Over the Christmas weekend last year, pictures of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak surfaced enjoying a round of golf with United States President Barack Obama at the Marine Corps Base in Hawaii. 

At that time, some 90,000 people in the east coast states had already been evacuated, and as the picture made its rounds in social media, netizens took to Facebook to urge the premier to “come home” and see to the flood situation, which had worsened especially in Kelantan and Terengganu. 

He eventually returned home on Dec 27 after being flooded with comments and criticism, but the damage had already been done.

Najib, who is also Finance Minister, explained that his trip had been for diplomatic purposes, and that it was hard to cancel the engagement, which he said had been planned in advance.

Najib playing a round of golf with Obama (Pic from Malaysia-Chronicle)

Najib playing a round of golf with Obama (Pic from Malaysia-Chronicle)

Najib later also asked his ministers —including Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein— to return home from their year-end holidays abroad, in what is seen as an attempt to mitigate the negative feedback. 

As soon as the directive was issued, ministers wasted no time in visiting the flood-affected areas and were photographed giving out aid and presumably, providing moral support to the victims with their magnanimity. In fact, Najib himself was struck with E.Coli (which causes diarrhoea) in the process.

Things did not get ‘prettier’ as reports of chaos at the flood-hit areas emerged. 

The Perak state government was accused of not accepting an aid donation of RM200,000 from the Selangor state government. That was later refuted by Selangor Mentri Besar Azmin Ali, but it could not be denied that on-ground, relief efforts have been haphazard. 

A commentary by The Malaysian Insider on the situation in Kuala Krai raised questions on the lack of military and police presence.

As reports of looting surface, the situation only grows ever more dire. According to the commentary, one grocery shop owner was even found sleeping outside what was left of his shop in a bid to deter looters. 

Piles of rubbish are a common sight (Pic credit: Azril Annuar)

Piles of rubbish after the flood are a common sight

Add to that haphazard logistics for aid collection and a lack of a centralised collection centre and efforts to rebuild lives and homes will be hampered for many weeks, despite the best efforts of every individual and non-governmental organisation involved.

Although various parties have come out to urge Najib to declare a state of emergency to address these problems, he has chosen to worry about insurance claims over the lives of the victims — something that threw into harsh spotlight the growing ineptitude with which this disaster was handled.

This, in effect, is bad news for the ruling coalition.

BN risks losing it all in the next General Elections, veteran newsman warns

Veteran newsman A. Kadir Jasin in his blog wrote that the floods could have been the ultimate opportunity for BN to rise to the challenge and prove to the people of their capability, the chance seems to have been wasted over a game of golf. 

“The “banjir besar” could have been the ultimate opportunity for them to rise to the challenge and prove to the people far and wide that they are concerned and capable.

Instead the Prime Minister himself had chosen to put his so-called “golf diplomacy” with US President Barack Obama ahead of the flood victims and played hide and seek with the rakyat on the whereabouts of the government jet he used to travel to Hawaii and also the whereabouts of his wife, Rosmah Mansor,” Kadir wrote.

“No matter how we look at the handling of the big floods in particular and the administration of the country in general, we have to be very clear that the buck stops with the Prime Minister.

“We cannot hope to have a motivated, committed and transparent civil service, the police, the military and, above all, the populace if the man at the top does not display the same motivation, commitment and transparency,” Kadir said.

After all, Kadir pointed out, can the “golf diplomacy” not wait? Would Obama be fuming mad if Mohd Najib told him that he could not come because his country is suffering big floods?

“Umno and BN can keep the PM and pretend that everything in fine, but they must accept the fact that the risk of them being chucked out at the next general elections is immense,” he said.

Kadir wrote that for the opposition, silence is truly golden in this case.

“The Pakatan Rakyat parties do not have to do much. They just need to keep their internal differences in check… in simple language, all that the PR has to do is keep its nose clean and hope that no positive changes happen in the leadership of the BN and the government,” he said.

More than just disaster relief

Right now, as Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Perak and Johor struggle to recover from the devastation, it is clear that there needs to be a leader to ensure that relief efforts are systematic and seamless. 

Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong told The Rocket that in the worst-hit areas of Kelantan, the “government has somehow does not exist.”

“I am not going to distinguish between state or federal government, but the situation is very worrying. The armed forces have to come in in a big way to co-ordinate clean-up and recovery efforts or it will be very difficult. Private volunteers, individuals, and NGOs can only go so far and there needs to be some form of co-ordination,” he said, adding that there is no central collection points, with relief coming in on an ad-hoc basis.

He raised his concern about what he observes as a ‘collapse in the market’, especially in Kuala Krai.

“What worries me also is a collapse of the market, so to speak. No one wants to open shop, everything is flooded and the cost of these people reviving their businesses is very high. It’s a sleepy small town, and some traders are contemplating shutting down their businesses in GST. Even with cash, it is difficult to purchase supplies. Business has collapsed, no one is buying or selling. And the longer you drag the clean-up and relief effort, the worse it will become,” he warned. 

The floods are not just waters washing away livelihoods and homes, it is a mark of how well, and how compassionately a government deals with the grief and suffering of its people.

– The Rocket

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