Friday, January 07, 2005

Aid Incompetence In Malaysia

Broadly speaking, I agree with Norm's argument that there is something unsavoury in the desire of some commentators to use the earthquake catastrophe in South and Southeast Asia to press unrelated political hobbyhorses. He is also surely right to point to the huge and generous response of millions of people, offering real solidarity to the millions of victims. But it is necessary, sometimes, to point to real problems to do with the relief effort without at all sounding churlish about it.

Here in Malaysian that relief effort is not all it should be. On the whole, ordinary Malaysians have been generous. But there is a growing unease - shared by mainstream newspapers and critical bloggers alike - that the government's response has been both niggardly and incompetent. Today's Asia Times, for example, reports that the government has been delaying the distribution of much-needed emergency supplies to the ravaged northwest of the country. It quotes one relief worker from Kedah: "
There are mattresses and blankets piled up to the ceiling in the relief centers, but they [the authorities] are waiting for some big-shot government politician to come and distribute them, so that everyone gets media publicity".

Some in the blogging community - who are also among the best-known public commentators in a country with tightly-controlled media - are even more scathing. Jeff Ooi at Screenshots has highlighted the appalling government decision to wait for two or three weeks for "assessment" before releasing aid. Meanwhile, MGG Pillai has this to say about the cruel indifference of the government to its own citizens:
No attempt is made to find out how many Malaysians died. The official death list remains at what it was at the height of the tragedy. There is no interest in finding out what happened to all those Malaysians who went on holiday to Acheh, Phuket, Sri Lanka, Chennai, Maldives. The official agencies have lost all interest in them; there is no one agency that one can call to find out about missing Malaysians from the havoc overseas. In Malaysia, so long as nothing breaks down, it is plain sailing. But let there be a minor crisis ... and you are faced with a wall of refusal or inability to address it. What we now see is that on a national scale.
Now is the time of greatest need for the victims of the catastrophe. And now is the time for the government to act as it should.


Post a Comment

<< Home