On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

The things that matter most


FORGET street protests, forget detention without trials, forget VK Lingam and certainly, forget any sex DVD that involves a politician. These may make good reading and good sound bites at ceramahs but the three main issues that affect ordinary voters the most are inflation, crime and foreigners.  

According to the findings of several surveys, commissioned by various bodies, voters are concerned with the increasing cost of living the most.  

For wage earners, who find their take-home pay a pittance after the various deductions, they are certainly concerned with talk that the prices of many essential items would go up.  

So used to a pampered life style, with an annual whopping RM4bil in subsidies from petrol to cooking oil, many Malaysians are unaware that our cost of living is among the lowest in the region.  

Indonesians, Singaporeans and Thais have long accepted that they have to pay for their consumption, with no government handouts, and even as they struggle, they have managed to be competitive.  

Often unable to differentiate between the cost of living and living standards, Malaysians interviewed said they felt comfortable and secure, not worried about loss of jobs. Most are also unaware that the rising cost is part of a global trend, the result of oil price hikes and the shortage of raw materials for food production, particularly in Australia due to the drought.  

The details of such surveys would probably be released ahead of the elections, which would give a more accurate picture of most middle class Malaysian voters, who place bread-and-butter issues as their priority.  

While national issues such as civil liberties, corruption, education and religious intolerance bother them, subjects that affect them directly, especially their pockets, matter to them the most.  

It is obvious that even as the Government talks about doing away with subsidies, it would have to consider the hefty political cost, and in the end, it would be a balanced approach that it would have to adopt, as most Malaysians cannot accept any drastic change to their standard and cost of living.  

Another issue that cuts across all races is the rising crime rate. Malaysians do not feel as safe as they used to feel any more. They are not interested in listening to politicians who tell them that crime rates are not as bad as reported in the press.  

Such argument does not hold water because most Malaysians have had personal experiences or know someone who has. Politicians who think the security issue is being exaggerated must be out of touch with reality or they simply refuse to accept the fact.  

No doubt, a huge sum of money has been allocated to beef up the police force, which only has a staff of 95,000 personnel, and to purchase closed circuit television cameras (CCTV), but the presence of policemen must be a priority.  

The deployment of the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) and the general forces on our streets would make Malaysians feel more secure.  

The CCTV would help to monitor the movement of people and recorded videos would help identify the criminals once a crime has been committed but the root causes need to be identified.  

When it has been acknowledged that at least 80% of the detainees at Simpang Renggam are Indians, the Government surely must be concerned with the social ills affecting the community, the displacement of estate workers by foreigners and the rural-urban migration pattern.  

In cities, the Mat Rempit problem and restless teenagers in malls are the result of big Malay families staying in low-cost flats and small homes. Still adjusting to urban living, the young prefer to roam outside, in these cases, the streets and air-conditioned malls, and unfortunately, also making a nuisance of themselves.  

For the more enterprising Chinese young, whose dropout rates are a concern with the MCA, the fast buck mentality is a worry. From selling faked DVDs to becoming runners for Ah Long, they remain a social concern.  

Another contributing factor to crime, where Malaysians are concerned, is the large number of foreigners. Malaysians are upset, if not angry, at the poor enforcement of the police coastguards in stopping the influx of foreigners.  

We have become a haven for poorly educated, unskilled foreign labourers. Unlike Singapore, which seems to attract the best foreign talent, the perception is that many Indonesian workers are better able to secure their permanent residence than other foreign professionals.  

Such practices make a mockery of our immigration rules and, in the long run, Malaysians, regardless of their race, have to bear the cost of such myopic policy.  

The continuous reports of Bangladeshis being stranded at airports frighten most Malaysians and, as much as we rely on foreigners, particularly in the construction and plantation sectors, it is time we close the doors to cheap foreign labour.  

Why should Malaysia be apologetic if we decide not to use Indian labour or any nationalities for that matter? We owe them nothing.  

There is no need for our government to clarify to any countries simply for diplomatic niceties. The cry is loud down the ground among Malaysians – we have enough foreign labour.  

Religious insensitivity is another issue, which bothers many non-Muslims. They are concerned that lower level bureaucrats are imposing their prejudices when they carry out their jobs.  

The leadership may understand the broader picture, with the nation’s moderate policy in tact, but down the line, these officials interpret the rules their way. Because certain issues involve religious concerns, the leaders are sometimes reluctant to be seen to be taking a different approach openly, even if they differ in their opinions.  

The result is these religious bigots are allowed their way and politicians are sometimes not aware that their authority is being chipped away by these Little Napoleons.  

Seemingly non-issues have created discontentment among some section of Malaysians and the result is that our leaders have to put out these fires, taking away their precious time, which should be devoted to more pressing concerns of the nation.  

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is a good man. The Prime Minister deserves our support and even as he takes time to meet our expectations, we cannot deny that he has allowed greater democratic space, after 20 years of authoritative and uncompromising rule.  

It is an experiment which has led to more debates and, in the process, more controversies, as a result of which some may erroneously perceive the leadership as being too accommodating while some, including politicians and bureaucrats, seem tempted to test, even challenge, the leadership. But they shouldn’t under-estimate the leadership.