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The two faces of Malaysia

 | June 28, 2017

Are open houses a waste of taxpayers money or is it, as many politicians have pointed out, a unique trait of Malaysian hospitality, that helps foster national solidarity and harmony?



Newspapers reported that the open house at Seri Perdana, in Putrajaya, attracted around 75,000 visitors comprising locals and foreigners as well as tourists. The crowd included diplomats, politicians and representatives of NGOs.

Although the open house was scheduled to start around 11am, people were queuing since 9am for the chance to sample the Raya delicacies. Besides wishing Najib Razak and key members of his Cabinet, “Selamat Hari Raya”, many took photographs with the prime minister, as local artistes sang and played music in the background.

Guests did not leave empty handed either. Each lugged home a goodie pack and their children, “duit raya” packets as tokens of appreciation for attending.

Up and down the country, it is believed similar scenes were replayed in the homes of many politicians, from both sides of the political divide.

All undoubtedly have expressed their happiness at the open house concept, which many have claimed is a unique trait of Malaysian hospitality, which helps foster national solidarity and harmony.

One political cynic however disagreed. He said, “We do not need the open house to bring people together. Malaysians already live with people of other cultures and faiths. They have learnt to adapt and accept one another. They already live in harmony, just as our forefathers did.

“The problem starts when extremist elements in society, and nationalists are allowed to say and do things that break our fragile co-existence. The problem is made worse, when they are not censured or punished by the authorities.”

Around Malaysia, many people, especially in the rural areas, are suffering. The GST has taken its toll on the people. A stark reduction in government aid has added to their pain. The increased prices of goods and services have made it difficult for many people to make ends meet.

One man, who prefers to remain anonymous said, “It is not right that when many people are struggling, and services have been cut, that a small percentage of the population enjoys a free makan at the expense of the rest of the country.

“The gesture to celebrate with Malaysians from all walks of life is admirable, but it is the taxpayer who is footing the bill. The majority of taxpayers will not be able to take part in the PM’s largesse. They would rather this money was spent on improving our lives. Not just a free makan for the few.”

In 2014, the DAP MP for Kulai, Teo Nie Ching, asked Minister in the PM’s Department, Shahidan Kassim, about the cost of the PM’s open house. Shahidan told parliament that in 2011, Najib and the Cabinet’s open house cost RM1.697 million. The crowd was estimated at between 80,000 and 90,000.

In 2012, the cost of the PM’s open house was around RM2.8 million, to cater for the same number of people. In 2013, the cost increased to RM2.9 million as did the crowd, which was estimated to be between 95,000 and 100,000.

One person said, “In England, you do not see leaders catering to crowds of around 100,000 people just to feed them. The homeless have soup kitchens and anyway, there would be a public outcry. Others will say that it is an election gimmick.

“I would rather the Malaysian taxpayer’s money was spent on an improvement in public services. Across the nation, rural people have found their subsidies and the educational allowance for their children cut. Parents take on extra jobs to provide for their families. This open house is a waste of valuable money.

“At best, the PM could organise a children’s party, let’s say, for orphans or deserving children.”

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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