Presented with the opportunity, we must certainly exercise our constitutional right and privilege to vote. However, there are others things that we, as citizen Joes and Janes, can do to combat rampant corruption, escalating crime, rising living costs and declining education standards.
Based in Australia, where people are not only encouraged to speak up but to get actively involved in community affairs, I’ve come to view societal participation of the individual as key to effecting change.
I’m not suggesting that these simple measures will wipe out RM500billion worth of national debt or narrow the divide between the super rich and hardcore poor, but if everyone adopts them, change will be imminent, even if at times, very hard won.
1) Stop paying bribes.
This came to me when a friend said, “Even if there is a change of government, so what? There will always be corruption because we’ll choose to pay coffee money instead of receiving a summons from a traffic officer.”
If you feel corruption is endemic in society, then don’t be part of it. You can’t pay your way out of traffic infringements and around the bends in the law and then suddenly expect people to be honest mid-way through the food chain or at the top. If you want corruption gone, work within the framework of the law. Pay your summons; refuse to grease wheels to make them turn in your favour. If enough people put their hands back in their pockets, the bribe-taking folks will soon get the message they’ve to ask proper authorities for higher wages instead of moonlighting as toll collectors.
2) Join your local neighbourhood watch (rukun tetanga). Know your neighbours. Watch out for each other.
Yes, it’s a dog eat dog world, but we can’t prosper, even if we can survive, alone. When you are friendly with the neighbours, they’ll watch your house for you and you for them. Someone will take in the mail when you are not around so you don’t alert the robbers to your absence. Someone will water the plants for you or feed the cat, so you won’t signal to low lives, “I’m not home. Come and rob me!”
By joining the neighbourhood watch and knowing your neighbours, you’ll know the faces that belong in your neighbourhood and those that don’t. Those that don’t, if not neighbour’s guests, are most likely thieves, robbers or similar scumbags.
3) Call the police if you see suspicious behaviour.
This is common sense and they actually teach this in school, but how many pick up the phone if they see something untoward happening in the house next door? The old Chinese will say, “Less one problem is better than more one problem. Mind your own business.” Well, it will become your business sooner or later if you do nothing about it. I’m not asking you to be a vigilante or a cape and mask-wearing Marvel Comic Book hero; I’m asking you to exercise your civic duty as a concerned citizen. Pick up your handphone to record suspicious sightings when you are out and about to show to the police. Jot down car license plates of strange vehicles rounding your neighbourhood – they’re probably scoping out which house or person to rob. Police need tangible leads to work on. Be the eyes and ears that keep your area safe.
4) Volunteer your time. Form Groups. Get involved.
Do you want to have greater say in your child’s education? Or perhaps have ideas to improve the education system? Apart from writing in to the papers to complain about the current system, ask your child’s school if you can spend some time volunteering in class. Get to know the current curriculum first, before tearing it down. If you still have reservations, join action groups to agitate the government for change. There is power in numbers. If none exists, consider forming your own group. Don’t have the time? Then you don’t have the time to complain either. Don’t be a backseat driver. Do something about your own complaints.
5) Stamp out the money culture.
Sure, money makes the world go round, but did you know that overt materialism is also responsible for deforestation, poor air quality, poor water quality, corruption, blasé attitudes among the civil service…the list is pretty endless. And do you know why this is so? When everyone is focused on materialism, no one thinks that the new toys of today might end up in landfills of tomorrow, or the ink used to dye the perfect, must-have, pair of blue jeans might be polluting the drinking water of an impoverished riverside community somewhere…The desire for more money, more goods, just more of everything manifests as a money grab by everyone from the trash collector who demands his New Year ang pow all the way to the highest echelons of society who plunder the national coffers.
Ask yourself: are you contributing to the problem through conspicuous consumption?
6) Vote with your feet.
Often, the price of essentials like flour, sugar, oil and salt, might go up a paltry couple of cents per litre or kilogram, but shopkeepers and restaurateurs see this as an excuse to raise prices across the board. If you think a price hike is unjustified then don’t fuel demand. Use less, walk away, or find a substitute. If enough people react to price hikes by turning away, prices will come down to reflect a downturn in demand.
Similarly, there is no reason to tolerate shoddy treatment from your service providers or vendors. If they don’t value your business, take yours elsewhere.
How about rising petrol and toll costs? Car pool. It’d also help with the congestion on the road and protect you from would-be muggers who target drivers of single occupant vehicles.
7) Enrol your child in a national type school.
As Chinese schools revert from teaching science and maths in English to Mandarin, another friend lamented the potential divide between those Chinese-educated and other Malaysians. As she rightly pointed out, people need language to communicate so how does only speaking a language not spoken by others, help national unity?
Even non-Chinese educated Chinese think and act differently to Chinese-educated Chinese. There may be a growing number of non-Chinese attending Chinese schools but they are still a minority. Unless Chinese schools halt the decision to return to teaching science and maths in Mandarin, I’d suggest you send your children to national type schools where they have better chance of picking up decent English and the official language of the country, Malay. Like it or not, Malay is the language used at all levels of government and their inability to read, write or express themselves adequately in the language won’t just make them aliens on home soil but also make them vulnerable to fraudsters who capitalise on this deficiency.
The bottom line is if you want a more caring, safer society, you are going to have to become involved. You are going to have to take a stand against corruption at all levels, not just the fat cats at the top of the tree. You are going to have to make yourself heard and visible somehow. If you keep saying, “I don’t want to get involved”, “It’s not my problem”, “I don’t want to court problems” then you have no one to blame for society’s decline but yourself.
P/s Do remember to vote on 5th May!