Lack of leadership in dealing with floods

By Jeswan Kaur
The Heat Online

GOING BY Putrajaya’s scramble to deal with the seasonal floods assailing the country, a quote from Abraham Lincoln comes to mind – “nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”.

For Malaysia, the true test of its leaders’ character has been revealed one too many a times and that too in the most unflattering of ways.

The classic case in point was Putrajaya’s fumbling over the March 8, 2014 disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 which exposed the government’s weaknesses the world over.

However, the embarrassment that Putrajaya brought upon Malaysia with its apathy vis-à-vis the missing MH370 flight has not taught the government the much needed lesson in “thinking before speaking”.

Now, as the country battles the never-like-before floods, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has proved that old habits just refuse to die. When reacting to pressure to declare a state of emergency to deal with the floods, he said Putrajaya would only do so when power and water supplies were completely cut off and flood victims numbered “hundreds of thousands”.

So once again Putrajaya’s character leaves much to be desired.

From the callous remark by Muhyiddin to the fact that he was forced to turun padang or get his feet dirty and look at the flood situation in Kelantan – the worst-hit state – only after much flak from DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang, the handling of the flood problem by Putrajaya has been a let-down.

More than 160,000 Malaysians, so far, have been displaced by floods in nine states, the highest in the nation’s history.

Najib deserted the rakyat for leisure

Najib cut short his holiday in Hawaii to return home and take charge of flood relief efforts.

As for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who left Malaysians to their own devices to deal with the ravaging floods, he finally got the message when netizens lampooned him for opting to go off on his golfing holiday in Hawaii and deserting the rakyat at a time of crisis.

Najib wisely decided to cut short his break and return to a very wet Malaysian soil. He has also since ordered all his cabinet ministers to return home from their various jaunts to handle the flood situation.

Still, the lethargic attitude displayed by both the premier and his deputy in addressing the flood problem speaks volumes about Putrajaya’s ill-preparedness in dealing with such disasters, despite floods not being uncommon in Malaysia.

When International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed spent 10 hours by boat to travel to Kuala Krai, an area deeply affected by the floods, it was then that he admitted to weaknesses in managing and rescuing flood victims in Kelantan.

Why has it only now dawned on Mustapa, who is also the MP for Jeli, that there are shortcomings that need to be addressed? Was he not aware of it in the many years he has been the parliamentary representative for Jeli and whenever Kelantan was inundated by floods?

Mustapa described this year’s floods as “big” to Astro Awani and said this resulted in the government’s weakness in coordinating aid.

How ironic that in times of adversity many an unpleasant truth surfaces. But then no excuse can compensate for Putrajaya’s lackadaisical attitude in reacting to the floods problems in the country.

While Najib got excited teeing away with US President Barack Obama in Hawaii, back home the National Security Council (NSC) failed to rise to the occasion by showing no sense of urgency in tackling the worsening floods.

Get rid of archaic thinking

To DAP’s Lim, Putrajaya’s frustratingly slow reaction to the flood conditions especially in the worse hit East Coast was unacceptable.

In a statement, Lim lashed out at Putrajaya saying “Surely Muhyiddin, the Cabinet and the NSC are not expecting for fatalities to pile up to tens or hundreds accompanying the number of flood victims reaching the scale of hundreds of thousands before a state of emergency as a result of a flood disaster is declared!”

Lim went on to show proof that other countries were fast to react and had in place centralised flood-relief operations before the tragedies got out of hand, much unlike what was happening in Malaysia.

The MP for Gelang Patah cited the Nov 28 flooding along the Gaza Strip that affected hundreds; the flooding on Dec 24 in Central Java, West Java and Aceh where 6,000 people were evacuated; the flooding in Vancouver on De 9 caused by a sub-tropical storm and the Dec 16 floods in the Bay Area of San Francisco.

Explaining that the governments of these countries did not wait for “hundreds of thousands of flood victims before an emergency was declared”, Lim said: “There is an urgent need for the immediate review of such outmoded, archaic and obsolete rules” such as was put forth by Muhyiddin.

Putrajaya and NSC need to buck up

DAP lawmaker Tony Pua urged the NSC to demonstrate leadership to tackle the worst floods in Malaysia’s history.

In a statement, he said: “There has been almost no demonstration of urgency from the NSC. All we have heard two days ago was NSC secretary Datuk Mohamed Thajudeen Abdul Wahab warning people against spreading rumours regarding the flood situation.

“Thajudeen was only interested in the formalities of the process of calling for a state of emergency by claiming that it could only be declared by Najib.

“Worse, instead of informing the public what are the proactive and concrete efforts Putrajaya will undertake to manage the disaster, he was more concerned with going after those responsible for starting the rumours once the flood in the east coast had abated.”

Lim and Pua are not the only ones frustrated with Putrajaya’s nonchalant attitude towards the critical flood situation. The rakyat, post-March 8 have learned that the government is simply too stubborn in wanting to do the right thing at the right time.

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