SELANGOR Speaker Teng Chang Kim recently got some flak for the placement of his name on park facilities. A news report focused on the DAP politician alone, even though other politicians from both the Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat also imprint their names on public amenities. This left the impression that the news article was somewhat biased.
Nonetheless, I believe the practice of imprinting one’s name on public amenities to be wrong simply because public funds are used to provide these facilities. However, rather than discuss the right or wrong of name placement on public amenities, let us instead explore the merits or demerits of advertising oneself in such a manner.
No big deal
The standard practice these days is for the public to approach a politician to obtain a facility. Partly, this is because members of the public are largely ignorant of their rights. But this also happens because the government’s service delivery system is far from perfect.
A politician that does not attend to “drain issues” in a neighbourhood would invite negative feedback from the public. So where is the harm in putting one’s name on a facility if one is involved in the procurement exercise? After all, the people who requested for the facility might be grateful, and might not see the stamping of a politician’s name on said facility as an issue.
Indeed, the reality of the Malaysian landscape is such that concepts of right or wrong vary from person to person. For example, bribery is wrong but acceptable to the public for various reasons; dirty restaurants are a danger to public health, but customers flock to such restaurants anyway.
Stamping one’s name in a visible public area is a form of advertising. This advertising seeks to ensure that a politician’s name remains within a constituency’s consciousness.
The practice is no different from a company that decides to donate a public facility and wants to have its brand name associated with the donation. This form of advertising informs people that so-and-so provided such-and-such for public use. The desired result of this form of advertising is to establish the relationship between the donated object and the politician.
What is probably not considered is the effect of such a branding exercise on the politician and politics in Malaysia.
The act of stamping one’s name on a public facility reinforces the notion that the politician is a provider of public amenities. It strengthens the perception that politicians must be patronised in order for citizens to obtain such facilities.
YB jaga longkang
There is evidence that such branding doesn’t work and could backfire. As a former reporter with The Star, I have on numerous occasions covered assignments where BN politicians announce their hand in providing this or that public facility.
Rather than just place their names on said facility, the whole event would be recorded in a media announcement to ensure that everyone knows who was responsible for a new park and the carefully sculpted reflexology pathways. Where the stamping of one’s name isn’t prudent – for example, when drains are repaired – the politician will ensure that their photograph is taken alongside the completed project for mention in the media.
Such reports were ammunition for the opposition during the 12th general election. For example, former PJ Utara Member of Parliament Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun became the YB jaga longkang poster girl. Suddenly, all the good Chew had done was eclipsed by the image of her standing next to a drain.
The rubbish bin
In conclusion, stamping one’s name on a public facility is a bad idea. For certain, one’s political opponents will likely harp on it when they get the chance.
In that sense, I suppose it was indeed wise of the politician that authorised the then Petaling Jaya Municipal Council’s purchase of several rubbish bins at RM1,000 each in 2006 not to stamp his or her name on the bins.
Mind you, those rubbish bins can still be found at the park in front of the now Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) headquarters on Jalan Yong Shook Lin. Imagine if the politician’s name was stamped on these bins. It would be a continuous reminder of the lengths politicians go to to remain in power.
MBPJ councillor KW Mak has a newfound love for asam laksa-flavoured instant noodles cooked with egg and topped with cold kimchi. He wonders if the rubbish from his kitchen would be any different if he were to dump it in a RM20 bin instead of a RM1,000 bin.
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I think it’s extremely dishonest to put “sumbangan daripada…” unless all the park amenities so labelled were purchased with his personal funds or by supporters.