Archive for January, 2014








Published in The Sun on 6 January 2014

THE government has announced 11 cost-cutting measures to manage its ministries and departments more prudently. Trimming down on the lavish spending of public money is long overdue.

While cuts in the entertainment allowances, travel and toll entitlements of the higher grades of civil servants are exemplary, they do not add up to much in terms of government savings.

The government’s cost-cutting measures are thus seen by some as merely cosmetic, being too little and coming too late. To many, they are moves to allay the people’s unhappiness and fears.

What needs more drastic pruning is the big-time allocations given to ministries and departments to organise public events and programmes. Government departments must adopt more cost-effective ways of organising their activities and stop doling out unnecessary entertainment, food, drink and other goodies.

The government machinery will run more productively if office meetings, in-house workshops and seminars are uninterrupted by breaks for refreshments where food and drink is served. Off-site training programmes and study visits at home and abroad must be kept to a minimum and stringently approved.

Huge official delegations with accompanying entourage on overseas missions contribute to government overspending and must be reviewed.

The wastage and mismanagement revealed in the Auditor-General’s Report seem even more reprehensible now as the rakyat face rising living costs.

To the public, announcements of cuts in subsidy, toll hike, increase in quit rent and electricity tariff coming in quick succession mean only one thing – the spiralling cost of living with the expected increase in the cost of goods and services.

To the average person this means big dents in personal and family budgets; to the lower-income groups this spells great hardships as they struggle to put food on the table.

More special schemes must be put in place to distribute food and basic necessities to the needy. In India, for instance, the central and state governments work hand in hand to provide food security to the poor through public distribution schemes.

Those eligible are given ration cards or stamps to buy food at below market prices. By collaborating with established humanitarian organisations such as Red Crescent Malaysia and Mercy Malaysia to manage distribution, the schemes initiated by the government can be properly run and supervised as in the recent flood relief efforts.

There can be many more special funds for the needy which calls for donations from the more affluent public to contribute to what can be looked upon as a humanitarian cause.

In support of the government’s call for prudence, the GLCs and corporate sector should also adopt cost-cutting measures in company spending, including for travel, entertainment, food, gifts, etc.

Company events such as product launching and award giving can continue but with less fanfare, pomp and ceremony. To show that they are sensitive to national issues and empathise with the plight of consumers hard-hit by rising costs, their CSR priorities can be channelled towards schemes that provide aid for food and other basic necessities.

This will ensure that in the short term the most vulnerable groups are cushioned from the blows of the nation’s financial and economic woes.

For the average income earners, the new year also means adopting cost-cutting measures in managing our personal and family budgets.

More prudent spending will require greater financial discipline as we look for cost-saving options. We have to change some of our habits and lifestyle patterns to become more discriminating and selective consumers.

This means comparing prices and shopping around for the best bargains for food and clothing and managing household utilities more carefully.

Household electricity consumption, for example, can be reduced by analysing our usage and cutting down on unnecessary use and wastage. Switch off electrical appliances including televisions and computers when not in use. Use energy efficient lights such as fluorescent lights or energy saving lamps.

Train ourselves to be informed consumers who read energy labels and ask for assistance in choosing the right energy saving equipment. In buying a fridge for instance, make sure we get the right size and model to suit our family’s needs. A good habit is to follow the energy saving tips that come with every electrical appliance.

This year can be seen as a wake-up call for Malaysians to be more frugal as the country faces financial challenges. Admittedly, some of them are caused by years of overdevelopment and indiscriminate spending.

The euphoric, feel-good factor created by abundant economic opportunities has created a society which is profit-driven and materialistic, where a person’s worth is measured by economic success.

Perhaps 2014 will mark the beginning of a new era when Malaysians take stock of their priorities and change their ill-gotten habits and values. Perhaps we will become less greedy as we face the challenge of making our ringgit and sens meet.





Published in The Sun on 23 December 2013

MORE and more, inter-faith and inter-religious dialogues are being organised to bring together leaders of the world’s major religions to address ways of promoting peace and unity among mankind. While a major part of the discourse centres around identifying commonalities across the religions and focusing on the universal values and ideals, there also arises the need to pinpoint the uniqueness of each faith and belief system. Often the outcome is an impasse as spiritual leaders and adherents speak about the exclusiveness and autonomy of their own religion.

What deserves a more definitive approach is an explication of the underlying oneness that all religions teach ie its core spirituality. Religion relates an individual with his or her specific community; but its core spirituality relates us all.

Core spirituality is the basis of shared human values and must form the basis of a shared value system. Without being anchored in spirituality – as opposed to religion – the teaching of human values lacks meaning and depth.

An important aspect of the inter-faith and inter-religious heritage that has been overlooked despite its great significance, is the spiritual heritage of mankind. Humans are inherently imbued with a spirituality that leads them to search for greater meaning in life than just the physical and tangible. People across the world have this common goal and must come together in its pursuit. It is a significant gap that has to be bridged in the interest of promoting peace and harmony on earth.

The question is this: Why has such an important aspect of human civilisation and advancement been ignored? Religion after all transcends material culture, resonating with man’s deepest needs, providing guidance and hope and relating to meaning systems that lie at the very core of his existence.

The reason for such an omission could well be that religion has largely been perceived to be the private concern of the individual, especially in the West. A particular religion and its teachings have for too long been seen as the exclusive concern of individuals or groups professing and claiming “ownership” of their respective religions.

There is a need for a more concerted effort to articulate the essence of man’s oneness, to reach out, educate and influence people to use their religiosity/spirituality for the collective advancement of human civilisation. It is a choice that people have and it is important to guide the choice, as religion is a double edged sword that can be used either to advance or destroy our civilisation. It can be used either to ennoble the human spirit, or fill it with hatred and violence.

As we know, the result of religious divisiveness is turmoil and warfare. The world is said to be on the brink of annihilation at a time when the scientific and technological means for world peace and unity hold unprecedented promise for a glorious future. The widespread sectarian animosity, violence, persecution and killings in the name of religion have assumed catastrophic proportions lending weight and credence to the fear that today, religion which has science and technology at its disposal for achieving good, poses the greatest threat to world peace and human civilisation.

Since this is a choice that will determine the fate of mankind, it cannot be a choice that is simply thrown to the people or their religious and political leaders in the name of democracy. The choice must be initiated, guided and monitored by a movement that will take the discourse several notches higher in order to establish a fuller, deeper understanding of the notion of “spiritual heritage of mankind”. By exploring the universal values of spirituality underlying Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and the other religions, a consensus can be reached as to what constitutes the core spiritual values that effectively foster peace and unity among mankind.

To the sceptics grown weary of too much talk which has not been translated into action, I say there’s hope yet if there are enough of us who care to sit down at ground level to share our common experiences. To the critics wary of the growing divisiveness across and within religious communities, I say do not perpetuate the “slam and damn” culture by adding to fear and suspicion.

The cure for society’s ills lies in its spiritual transformation where the traditional ethics and moral codes of our religions amalgamate and form the basis of our national ethos. A vital part of our quest for peace and unity lies in spiritual values such as love, kindness and compassion which all religions teach must be revitalised into contemporary forms which people can translate into their everyday life. The spiritual transformation of society starts with the individual who lives out these values which then permeates his family, community and the outer society.

January 2014