Saturday, November 21, 2009

Makan, Minum, Negara Makmur!

Imagine two nations. They’re in fact neighbours but their histories were much more intimately intertwined. In fact, they were once upon a time one nation. But as history would have it, politics led them to come to a mutually agreeable accommodation and they went their separate ways.

Once no longer united as a single nation but rather functioning as two sovereign independent nations, they wrote their own histories and tried to make the best of their strengths and to overcome their challenges. Fascinatingly, as much as they have had some intriguing commonalities between them, the decades that ensued tell a most revealing tale of these two nations; physically separated only by about a half mile waterway, but for all practical purposes, they might as well be half way across the world from each other.

To be sure, they were both governed for long periods by their own home-grown strongman; some would call them dictators. Both nations were – in their own way, endowed with certain resources: one had – and still has – a dizzying reserve of natural resources, physical beauty to be cherished, and an abundance of human potential. The other largely had some geo-strategic importance and its human potential. To be sure, they each had their own challenges and demons to overcome as well.

Recently, we get another reminder of precisely how far apart these nations have become in the kind of societies they have created for themselves, despite their fairly comparable status in the early 1960s. One nation - the one without the abundance of natural resources - is regarded by an internationally renowned body as being practically free of the scrooge of corruption. The other, which had such incredible potential and natural wealth – after years of total control of the government machinery - lingers in some dismal company and is chronically fraught with widespread corruption.

How is this possible? How is it that two nations literally joined in the hip from the start, or like two peas from the same pod, become so glaringly different?

How is it that the leadership of the one that had so little natural richness was capable of not just committing itself to stamping out corruption, but then manages to actually do it!? And how is it that the other nation comes to develop an entrenched leadership that talks and talks and talks about good governance, and about fighting corruption, but continues to be mired in dire straits - and bleeds its people - by having the situation of corruption actually deteriorate further in recent past?

How is it that the nation endowed with so many natural resources and potential seems to squander opportunity after opportunity to make real and tangible strides in delivering on the basics of good, clean governance? How is it that the leadership and government across a half-mile strip of waterway seem so competent and capable of changing the old ways of doing things and modernizing its culture of service for the national good and deliver on good governance?

Isn’t it about time we tried to be honest with ourselves about such matters?

And surely the answer can’t be in the drinking water!

G. Krishnan