Friday, December 22, 2006

A Failure of Governance

When we witnessed the fury of the Katrina hurricane ripped across the American south, many would have whispered a quiet prayer that such disasters are not seen in Malaysia. The damage caused by Katrina's wrath was multiplied by the failure of governance in President George W Bush's administration whose co-ordination of aid and rescue activities was hampered by federal and state bureaucratic inertia.

Are we seeing the same happening today in Malaysia? An unusual amount of rain for the past week has resulted in many of our southern states - Johor, Melaka and Negeri Sembilan to suffer severe flood. While the cause of the flood is clearly an "act of God", did a failure of governance and a weak delivery system result in greater hardship and suffering for the rakyat?

Is it true that stranded residents in some of the worst hit areas of Segamat are being refused rescue boats without first having to foot RM150?

Is it true that discrimination is rampant in the disbursement of flood aid to the victims?

Is it true that hapless rescue staff could only watch helplessly as stranded victim Teo Sook Ching, 61 passed away because of ineffectual leadership?

Or what is worse, did our state governments make unbelievably irresponsible and incompetent decisions to release excess water from upstream rivers without warning and planning for downstream flooding and evacuation?

Melaka Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam has admitted that water was released from the Gadek water treatment plant and the Durian Tunggal pumphouse to "save" Gadek. The impact was the flooding of Taman Malim, Krubong, Taman Merdeka Jaya, Taman Thamby Chik Karim and Melaka city itself, without the downstream residents being warned and standby relief services readied in advance.

It appears that the same occured in Johor, resulting in hundreds of millions of losses and lost economic opportunities. More than 80,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes and the number is expected to rise.

More importantly, where is the national leadership in the midst of a national crisis? Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib made a call only yesterday for department stores to "provide government agencies and departments involved in flood relief with food and other necessities such as mats and blankets."

Yesterday, all the Cabinet could do was to announce more funds approved to assist flood victims (which really can't be more obvious) and that the Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, Datuk Shahrizat Abdul Jalil "had been instructed to go to Johor to monitor the situation and ensure that aid could be channelled to victims immediately."

Is that all our Government leaders are capable of? We can only live in hope that the disaster will not worsen and more lives will not be lost through improved weather conditions, for it's even harder to count on the rudderless Barisan Nasional administration.
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