On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Some Malaysians can really be heartless

When The Star reported these incidents, a reader had the cheek to call up angrily.

That was not all. Some business organisations wanted to know what was the minimum amount of donation they could give to the relief humanitarian fund for their pictures to be published in the main section of the newspaper.

I can appreciate it if organisations need to put on record what they have done for the purpose of informing their members but if it is meant for self-glorification, then it is another matter.

However, I must admit that the huge amounts from the big boys certainly helped. The end, I suppose, is more important than the means.

No amount of donation is too big or too small. But the public correctly singled out oil-rich Saudi Arabia for criticism after its government merely pledged US$30 mil (RM114mil) to the tsunami survivors.

Saudis have redeemed their country's image by raising US$82mil (RM311mil).

Neighbour Kuwait and gas-rich Qatar have only pledged US$10mil each.

There's more.

Over the past two weeks, many of us must have received all kinds of messages on our mobile phones relating to the aftermath of the tsunami. Some were well intended except that most Malaysians never check their facts.

Shortly after Dec 26, one SMS went around urging us not to eat seafood because of a certain virus. The medical authorities were quick to respond by pointing out that there was no such virus.

A few days later, a rumour circulated in Penang warning the islanders of a purported fresh round of killer waves. Knee-jerk reactions by some section of the authorities did not help.

A fuming Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon correctly gave these ill-informed officials a tongue lashing for causing unnecessary panic. Some people living near the sea were even ordered to evacuate.

I received a telephone call from a friend in Kuala Lumpur who wanted to drive to Penang to evacuate his ageing mother but the adamant lady said she would rather face the tsunami than move to KL.

Last week, a colleague alerted me of an SMS that wanted the public to forward their donations to a particular bank account carrying an individual name. He was purportedly collecting money for the tsunami victims, too.

We will never know how many Malaysians actually responded to that SMS, but then a number of Malaysians, including educated professionals, have fallen prey to Nigerian conmen.

There has been a quantum leap in terms of money donations and international assistance. There will be no stop to the debate as to whether the donations collected have been sufficient. The questions of accountability, bureaucracy and corruption among governments and even NGO officials are justified.

I know of officials from an international aid organisation who insisted on flying business class while a grassroots AIDS group is struggling to make ends meet simply because they do not have a big name with political clout to head their organisation.

One United Nations organisation has even paid for advertisements in newspapers and cable television appealing for donations. In my 20 years in journalism, I have never come across such aggressive fundraising.

On the other hand, the group Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) has taken the unusual step of telling the world to stop sending money, saying it had collected enough to manage its relief effort.

The group's branches in France and Germany said they had 40mil euros and 20mil euros respectively, enough to finance emergency medical aid projects they were supporting in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

As expected, the reaction from other NGOs have been swift and predictably angry, saying the medical group was "pulling the carpet out from under the feet of other aid organisations which needed more money".

In the end, all we ask for is accountability and honesty. Two decades ago, many of us donated money in aid of starving Africa through the Do They Know It's Christmas fund-raising effort.

Last month, the same organisers of ageing pop stars tried to raise money with a set of contemporary pop stars. The sad news is that nothing has changed in most of the African countries.

It's the same old story of corrupt politicians.