18 October 2007

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Wednesday October 10, 2007

Whimsical art of making policy


It seems that these days, instead of a well-researched, well-thought out comprehensive plan to tackle any problem, we get ad hoc suggestions here and there.

SOME motorbikes overtake a minister’s car and he immediately wants to ban big bikes from the highways.

A deputy minister claims that his ministry has no plans to institute an intrusive blood test on everyone, when his own official documents state that that’s exactly their policy.

Another parliamentary secretary, speaking entirely outside the field of his expertise, ‘thinks’ that we should have a certain policy.

A minister happens to hear a doctor’s advice on radio, gets offended, and cancels the entire programme.

All this leaves me wondering how policy is actually made in this country. Is it by whimsy? Is it when some politician’s ego is bruised?

Or is it through careful study of whether that policy is really beneficial to the most number of people, rather than to appease the easily deflated self-esteem of the pompous?

Appeal to ego: Superbikers like these should invite the minister concerned, give him the biggest bike and let him go for a ride.
Is there some grand plan to anything? Is the banning of motorbikes on highways part of some major plan to improve road safety?

If so, wouldn’t time and energy be better spent dealing with the Mat Rempit problem that contributes to more broken heads at Friday night emergency rooms than anything else?

Or some campaign to get people to buckle up their children in cars?

It seems that these days, large pictures are ignored in favour of small peeks at a problem. Instead of a well-researched, well-thought out comprehensive plan to tackle any problem, for example, public security and safety, we get ad hoc suggestions here and there.

Real serious debate on the pros and cons, based on sound information rather than personal opinion, is absent.

Then you have to wonder how good a policy is when it is finally made.

In the meantime issues that need immediate leadership response are not managed.

For instance, there needs to be strong messages that vigilantism will not be tolerated when it comes to dealing with crime suspects, especially those accused of child abuse or murder.

I hear the most appalling comments about people not yet charged with anything. Then they are released.

Yet the public is never reminded of the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

I read about how some people beat a foreigner to death because they suspected him of stealing a watch.

While they were pounding him to a pulp, the woman who lost her watch found it. By that time it was too late.

What causes these things? It is nothing but sheer prejudice against foreigners whom we assume are the source of all crime in this country.

Yet, the police themselves have come out to say that locals commit 80% of all crimes in this country.

When we do have evidence, nobody then uses it as the basis for a policy to prevent discrimination against foreigners, which would also help our relations with other countries.

Instead we let these fester, perhaps because they are politically useful.

When we do have sound policies, nobody keeps an eye on their enforcement.

The other day, it was mentioned in newspaper headlines that a suspected child murderer died of AIDS-related complications.

In the first place, we have a policy of confidentiality about people’s health status in this country, especially for highly stigmatised diseases like AIDS.

This confidentiality does not end with death because of the effect on families left behind.

Secondly, what has the health status to do with the case? The guy died, so you can’t proceed with the case.

But to specifically mention that he died of AIDS-related causes immediately implies that people with HIV/AIDS have a special propensity to commit heinous crimes, despite a total lack of evidence that this is so.

Did anyone from the ministry concerned come out and slap the wrists of whoever was responsible for the revelation?

As a result, the prejudice continues and the work to manage HIV in this country becomes ever more difficult.

When policymaking is based on the whims and fancies of whoever wants to say anything about it, it leaves an environment of uncertainty and unease.

Does it mean that if someone else has another whim, the policy will change?

Assuming policies are meant for the benefit of the most number of people, how do we even know if they are any good when the process by which policy is made is less than transparent?

Whimsical policymaking also means that policies can be changed also by appealing to whimsy and ego.

If I were a superbiker, I’d invite the minister concerned, give him the biggest and most powerful bike around, some handsome leathers and let him go for a ride.

Accompany him, but make sure you never pass him.

Then we’ll soon see that there’ll be no more talk about banning bikes on highways.

Selamat Hari Raya, maaf zahir bathin, everyone!