Hornbill Unleashed

March 8, 2012

For all the wrong reasons

Mariam Mokhtar

International Women’s Day falls on March 8, but the women who have made recent headlines in Malaysia do so for the wrong reasons.

They include self-styled ‘First Lady’ Rosmah Mansor, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, the ladies of the Obedient Wives Club and the Tourism Minister Dr Ng Yen Yen, whose latest brainwave is to turn taxi drivers into “tourism ambassadors”.

Perhaps, one of the taxi drivers should replace the high commissioner in London.

NONELast week, Ng  said: “After they have been selected by our appointed judges, the taxi drivers will be undergoing a one-day awareness course organised by the ministry where we will explain to them their role as tourism ambassadors.”

When Jean Todt, the husband of ex-Bond girl Michelle Yeoh, was made a Malaysian ‘tourism ambassador’, he received an annual fee of RM593,000 and an allowance of RM388,000 towards his holidays in Malaysia.

Will the taxi drivers, our “tourism ambassadors”, be given similar financial incentives? Or do “gwai lohs” get preferential treatment?

Ng wanted to improve the attitude of taxi drivers and be rid of shoddy practices, like the refusal to use meters, which many locals and tourists had complained about. So will they be satisfied with just a fancy title?

She also wanted to promote Malaysia as a duty-free shopping destination and praised the ‘1Malaysia GP Sale’ which promised ‘bargains-galore’ for shoppers from March 10 to April 15.

If only Ng could persuade our self-styled ‘First Lady’ to make Malaysia her ‘buyer’s paradise’. Whenever Rosmah is overseas, it is her shopping exploits which overshadows the Prime Minster Najib Abdul Razak’s visits.

When she went to Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh in January 2011, the secretive First Lady of Malaysia department received so much attention that Najib appeares to have shut it down. Gone was the pink tinged website that used to grace the official PM’s website.

Rural people lack basic infrastructure

If only the victims of domestic violence, incest and teenage pregnancies could receive as much attention as the assorted coloured handbags and multi-million ringgit gems that adorn the First Lady’s podgy wrist and fingers.

Rosmah’s receipt of an honorary degree for education from Curtin University in Australia became a viral sensation on Facebook. In the past, Curtin was embroiled in the sex for degrees scandal; but one would not dream of associating impropriety with honorary degrees.

NONEIt must be nice receiving honorary degrees, unlike the children from the Orang Asli community or the indigenous peoples of East Malaysia, where receiving basic schooling is problematical.

Rural schools are poorly maintained and transportation is a problem. Despite the wealth from timber, oil and gas, these rural communities lack basic infrastructure. Curtin University would do well to find out the reasons these places are poorly funded and come up with solutions.

Many of us are barely surviving with the increase in food prices, petrol prices, toll charges and utility bills. It is worse for rural communities. Farmers struggle to feed their families and they spend even less on their livestock.

Animals receive reduced amounts of fodder and some may not receive veterinary care.

Spending taxpayer’s money comes as second nature to most ministers and Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s family showed a great deal of finesse, when they made good use  of a RM250 million loan meant for the National Feedlot Corporation project.

With great aplomb, they bought a string of luxury condominiums, a pilgrimage and the latest Mercedes-Benz car.

For many farmers, home is a wooden shack, transportation is a dilapidated truck and dreams of going on the haj, remains just that- dreams. At least Shahrizat has a choice of houses. The homes of the Penan, which are located on ancestral lands, are now under water.

Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s vision of building mega-dams means that the interior has to be flooded to generate cheap electricity which his new aluminium smelters, will devour.

It is commendable that Shahrizat was able to protect her husband and her three children, unlike the parents of the Penan girls who were raped by loggers in the Sarawak jungles.

The women and children have nowhere to go and no-one to whom they can turn for help. They have been called “good storytellers” and “liars who often change their stories”.

If only Taib’s young wife, Ragad Waleed Alkurdi, would waddle out of her palatial home ground to enquire why these Penan women are angry. They have been stripped of their lands, an education and also their dignity.

Malaysian women certainly know how to grab the attention of the foreign media – like the titillating details of the Obedient Wives Club’s graphic sex manual.

No-one (in the west) appears to be interested in our corruption, tainted judiciary, violent thugs, radioactive waste and baby dumping, but sex sells. Especially deviant sex!

Despite setting a quota of 30 percent women in decision-making roles in government and industry, Najib has failed miserably in empowering women. With just Shahrizat and Ng as ministers, Najib’s cabinet is not female friendly. Both women are seriously flawed.

If only capable women were in positions of responsibility, the country might not be in such a state.  But then why should men care? The rules are made by men, for men.

Naturally, it is hard to talk about improving the country when the women who should be good role models are busy promoting designer handbags and rings, or collecting cows and condos.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak’, this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist


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