Jan 20, 2014
You may have heard about the “scientific research” trip to Antarctica by Terengganu Menteri Besar Ahmad Said and you’ve probably watched the film, ‘March of the Penguins’ about a trip made by emperor penguins.
One portrays the intelligence, dedication and struggles of a group conditioned by ritualistic behaviour. The other is a gathering of a self-important species, which is expert at claiming to work while they are really on holiday.
Ahmad Said’s Antarctic journey is not just another bird-brained idea of Umno Baru. The Antarctic is one of the last frontiers of travel. It is the ultimate in travel destinations. In the west, anyone who has gone to the Antarctic is well-heeled. It is the present you give to the person who has everything.
The Antarctic is hauntingly beautiful. It is not commonplace like the queues up Mount Everest, the luxury villas on tropical islands or the five-star safari retreats.
The rakyat questioned the wisdom of sending a research team to the Antarctic when more pressing problems could be addressed at home. The rakyat is incensed about sending a politician on an expensive luxury cruise.
Ahmad Said’s Wikipedia entry says that he is a political science graduate from Universiti Sains Malaysia. Perhaps, Ahmad thought he could deceive the rakyat with that crucial word ‘science’ in his “political science” degree – a true politician at heart.
There have been angry urgings for the Antarctic trip to be cancelled and for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak (left) to curb the reckless spending of government officials. Najib has no qualms about patronising the rakyat when he talks about cheap kangkung (water spinach), but he closes one eye to Ahmad’s ‘study’ trip. No one appears to take any notice of Najib.
‘Belajar sambil melawat (learn while you visit)’ has always been Umno Baru’s standard operating practice (SOP). In Putrajaya, most successful Umno Baru politicians look well-fed. All those campaign dinners, birthday bashes, and crony endorsements do pile on the pounds, both on their hips and in their offshore bank accounts.
The SOP for overseas trips almost always has a personal dimension. Relatives have allegedly been flown overseas for engagement parties, or attended the convocation ceremonies of their children. Official trips for Umno Baru politicians to Melbourne, Sydney, London or Los Angeles usually coincide with the end-of-term, or the Christmas vacation. Meeting Malaysian students for a couple of hours qualifies the holiday as an official engagement.
‘What exactly are they learning there?’
In 2008, 50 MPs from the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club (BNBC) went on an eight-day trip to “explore” and “study” Taiwan’s agricultural and industrial technology. Kinabatangan MP Bung Mokhtar Radin claimed that the MPs had paid for the trip themselves. The trip was during the month of Ramadan, and it seemed to be deliberately timed to try to prevent PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim from turning BN parliamentarians.
In December 2011, the opposition lodged a protest when several BN councillors from Malacca went on ‘makan angin’ (holiday) trips to Perth and China. The then-state opposition leader Goh Leong San noted, “They said that they were there to learn about flood mitigation, but flooding is still a problem, so we do not know what it is that they are learning over there”.
After his ‘whirlwind’ trip in 2011 to three continents – Europe, North America and Asia – Najib beamed with smug superiority, when he said that his first visit to Saudi Arabia to attend a private royal luncheon with King Abdullah, was a “rare and great honour”. Then, to justify the travel, added that his 44,000 mile trip drew “… encouraging responses and outcomes… and the promise of more and better jobs for Malaysians”.
Former tourism minister Ng Yen Yen is another devotee of the study trip. Having clocked-up several thousand air-miles, she missed the gold mine sitting on her doorstep, the undiscovered and untapped treasure – the Bujang Valley. Was that oversight deliberate? An archaeological attraction like the Bujang Valley would confuse schoolchildren who have been taught, up till now, that civilisation in Malaya started with Islam in the 14th century.
Is there an official count of study trips and their funding? What have been the outcomes of these trips and who benefits from them? The taxpayer pays for the trips. The officials (and their spouses and families) get a cheap holiday.
In the ‘March of the Penguins’, the narrator says that the emperor penguins are involved in a mysterious ritual spanning thousands of years, to ensure the survival of their species. It is an extraordinary story of struggle and triumph, dedication and child-rearing. For 20 days and nights, penguins march to a place so extreme, to seek love and then mate. He says, “Penguins have wings, but cannot fly. They are birds, but think they are fish”.
In the ‘March of the Umno Baruputras’, men and women go through a rite of passage, to guarantee that the party survives. This five-yearly ritual, known as the “general election”, is a journey undertaken to propagate Umno Baruputra rule and one in which they seek victims – the gullible rakyat.
Like the penguins, the Umno Baruputras are also confused about themselves. They are mortal, but some believe they have a direct line to Allah. Their leader heads a multicultural nation, but proclaims that he is the saviour and protector of Malays.
Perhaps, the only similarities between penguins and the Umno Baruputras, are the manner in which Umno Baruputras huddle together, and the pong they emit. Nesting penguins are foul-smelling, a bit like their human counterparts, the Umno Baruputras, who stink of corruption.
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO).