The beginnings of the dependency syndrome!

Ahmad Mustapha Hassan

OUTSPOKEN: When the Alliance-led government of the newly independent Malaya embarked on its ambitious rural development agenda, many aspects were not properly thought of. The mood was simply to implement development projects in the form of infrastructure like roads and bridges and also other amenities that would, according to their calculations, help the rural population achieve better living standards.

But, sadly, the outcome of this development process did not meet the goals of the planners.

Another unfortunate outcome was the sheer wastage due to competition among the various villages or kampongs. Each was trying to outdo the other in procuring projects which were at times not needed or essential to the welfare of the people.

A village that already had wells or suraus for example would ask for new wells and suraus just because the neighboring village had been given these amenities. After all it was the government that would be financing these projects and it was there for the asking.

Another and more serious negative result was the loss of self-reliance of the villagers who had for generations carried out these projects on a cooperative basis by themselves. In other words there was a slow but steady erosion of the spirit of self-help. This was the beginning of the dependency syndrome.

People had always been resourceful in the past. In the 50s, Perlis had no English school and most students from this state would either attend schools in Penang or Alor Star or further. But the people of Perlis especially the Malays who could not send their children to places like Penang or Perak for their education did not give up hope and planned on having an English school in the state.

They collected funds for the building of the school and they were successful in establishing an English school in the state. The school came to be known as the Derma English School. Derma is donation in Malay. The school came into being through the efforts and donations of the people themselves. That showed how resourceful people were then.

The then Alliance government should have been more meticulous in undertaking development projects and should have done proper and in-depth studies first on the needs and effects of these development processes and also their side effects.

They could have tapped the already existing self-help culture and blended that into the new development processes. This could have had a better effect on all the projects that had been implemented.

With the people involved in the development process, they would appreciate what the government was doing for them. But as it were, many projects were wasted as to them they had come to feel that it was the duty of the government to provide whatever amenities they deemed necessary.

I had on one occasion told the then Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, who was the brains behind this development strategy, that there had been wastage and that some projects were not being used properly and some were simply neglected.

He was not happy with my feedback as he had been told by his officers that all was working well. These officers who told him all these success stories were not on the ground and were not aware of the realities whereas I was working on the ground and knew what was going on.

Since he did not take note of the comments I had made, I was unable to correct the shortsightedness in the strategies adopted in the implementation of projects.

It had become a new culture among the rural population and that was asking for whatever they required in terms of amenities and infrastructure from the government even if they were not needed. No thought was given on some other projects that would have served them better. The self-help tradition that had existed among them was slowly being erased and a new culture of dependence on the government for everything was setting in.

Now, after almost 57 years of independence the spirit that existed during the colonial era of being able to stand on one’s own feet had been replaced by the culture of dependency and mollycoddling.

Politics has played a major part in the actions by the government. By simply giving out projects and now dishing out cash subsidies, the Umno Baru-led government hopes this would ensure them uninterrupted power in mismanaging the country.

They believe their actions will ensure them to rule the country indefinitely.

Little did they realise that their actions had put the people especially the Malays into an acute dependency position.

The process therefore is not for the better but for the worse. That was their intention any way, to weaken the resourcefulness of the people and turn them forever as people always begging for aid and looking at Umno Baru as their only saviour.

Ahmad Mustapha Hassan is a former press secretary to second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and the writer of the book, "The Unmaking of Malaysia".