Tuesday, August 31, 2010

53 years on – Rising Racism, but still hope for cautious optimism…

53 years on – Rising Racism, but still hope for cautious optimism…
Dr David KL Quek, drquek@gmail.com
This year, I became a senior citizen. I could now withdraw my EPF and I qualify for some discounts for travel and surprisingly even for some buffet meals at some eateries.
But as I ponder upon ‘retirement’, it is sad to see the Malaysia that I know and live in, grow increasingly uncertain, diffident and bogged down in self-made crises, one after another! Our previously phenomenal economic growth has now trickled down in a dizzying spiral of middle-income trap—not helped by the 2008 global financial crisis.
Our foreign direct investments have dwindled as our competitiveness, our productivity, perhaps our systemic corruption and wastage, have now been exposed and called into question. Even our inborn entrepreneurs are investing overseas because of the uncertain future and shifting policies, which have made us face the truth of our competitiveness and value as a nation.
Instead of maturing gracefully, we appear to have become trapped in a petulant phase of angry adolescence breaking out senselessly to attack convenient bogeymen—race and religion appear to have become the easy targets, which breed even more political and economic uncertainty!
As a fourth generation Malaysian, I was born two and a half years before our fateful Merdeka. I am still wondering whether we are truly ‘liberated’ as befits the meaning of ‘Merdeka’, so gloriously proclaimed by our Bapa Merdeka, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, in 1957.
That Merdeka was to have ushered in the birth of what some would have called “an unlikely nation”, one that appeared cobbled together in a slapdash manner—juxtaposing a disparate if hodgepodge peoples, then predominantly Malays, Chinese and Indians, akin to mixing oil in water. Yet again, does any one in such serendipitous circumstance have that conscious sense of history and historicity of these singular moments?
To be fair, even then, no one dared to dream that the idea of Malaya and later Malaysia could succeed. But truth be told, we did do very well for so many years, becoming one of the rising Asian tigers. It’s just these recent years that we have foundered and perhaps lost a little faith in ourselves.
So many other post-colonial new nations had self-destructed in interethnic, religious or tribalistic clashes and conflagrations. We nearly did in May of 1969.
But good sense and firm actions created a novel social re-engineering feat (the NEP) in its wake, to bring about some semblance of order, reasonable interethnic tolerance and suppressed racial tensions. For the next four decades, we have lived a reasonably harmonious if distinct existence, although seething fault-lines appear now and again to threaten the veneer of our touted “Truly Asian” unity among our unique pastiche of colourful normalcy.
40 years hence, ratcheted-up rhetoric is beginning to sunder this extraordinary relationship. Polarised insistence on continued affirmative action in stylized if arbitrary terms, remains a bone of contention, which powerfully fans the embers of resurgent ethnic fears and pride. Sadly, as we celebrate this auspicious anniversary, we seemed mired in increasingly rabid and insulting racism, which greatly threatens our flimsy unity and contrasting diversity.
Extremist leaders continue to spew so much hurtful invectives that these would have shamed the most neo-Nazi right-wingers, the world over! Most modern societies would have punished such hate-mongers if not for their senseless racial baiting but then for their ad hominem attacks on just about anyone who dares to challenge their warped if narrow worldview. Perhaps the media can play their roles better by downplaying these media hounds, whose purposes are so sickening and depraved.
It appears that more and more politicians are flogging the twisted if populist concept of ethnic supremacy and extraordinary rights (of ethnic “ketuanan”) once again, as if to bolster their public images as racial champions. The loudest and the most strident appear to be those who are now commanding the greatest publicity and arguably some perverse following.
Our authorities appear timorous in not wanting to directly confront these vociferous bullies, for fear of some unintended backlash. But in so doing, the government loses even more credibility. The government of the people must serve as a fearless just arbiter of a firm and respected Leviathan, and not be held ransom by some mindless minority…
There cannot be distorted applications of the rule of law, where any one can flaunt and challenge the wisdom of the law, at wanton will. There seems to be no more respect for anyone else except for the self-righteous bully pulpit arrogance of voluble tyrants disgorging more and more hatred and painfully shrill racist ideologies to the hilt!
Freedom of speech implies rational discourse and debate, not threatening and insulting rantings! It certainly does not absolve anyone of despicable spewing and inciting of ethnic or religious intimidation or hatred!
But who really is to blame for the recent rise in racist rhetoric?
It appears that some components of the government are still pushing the propaganda machine to perpetuate the concept of racial supremacy and denigrating all other ethnic groups. The Biro Tata Negara (BTN) instead of instilling national civic consciousness, appears to relish in inculcating and indoctrinating any civil servant or would be scholarship holder, in a time-warped belief system that only the Malays are true patriots and truly deserving of their Malaysianness! This is still happening 50-odd years following Merdeka, and one wonders why non-bumiputras don’t sometimes feel any greater sense of belonging to this nation of ours…
Surprisingly such BTN programmes appear to have been a ‘recent’ phenomenon. My sister and brother-in-law who are senior government servants in the Ministries of Education and Higher Education claimed never to have been subject to such gross demeaning indoctrination or abuse—perhaps, they too have been too polite, too programmed, to acknowledge. It did not take place when I was a clinical lecturer for 7 years at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia then in the 1980s and early 1990s.
But as MMA president, I have received some angry verbal complaints (many are traumatized, frightened and do not want to be quoted for fear of reprisals) that even non-bumiputra junior medical specialists and house officers, who aspire to join the service or to be confirmed, are currently subject to physical and mental abuse. Mind you, these are not students of impressionable age, but grown men and women in their twenties and thirties!
Some have been made to squat and huddle together in front of other bumiputra peers, rudely woken at early mornings, shouted at, called ‘pendatangs’, usurpers of scholarships and positions, depriving the true bumiputras of their places and rights, told in uncertain terms that they are here only at the behest and kindly generosity of the bumiputras, and that they can always ‘go home’ or balik kampung which meant China or India! Groups have been bullied into subordinating to and acknowledging these official ‘dogma’, or risk having the entire group not ‘passing the course’. Do these utterances ring a bell?
Recently (less than a year and a half ago), one young returning teacher broke down from such radical abuse and hazing, that her family decided to pull her out, repaying the loan in full—enough is enough! So can we not see how this will perpetuate the cycle of blatant racial baiting and hatred when these ‘officers’ return to their respective services, after such provocative BTN courses?
Mustn’t such propaganda stop? Is the government truly sincere in wishing to stem such state-endorsed racism? Is this government truly espousing the 1Malaysia concept for whatever it is worth?
Last year, Minister in the PM’s Department Nazri Aziz acknowledged that the BTN must be overhauled. Nazri Aziz had revealed that courses by the National Civics Bureau (or Biro Tatanegara, BTN) were racially divisive and used to promote certain government leaders. While Nazri was bold enough to expose this, he was nearly alone in defending the need to overhaul the BTN courses.
Most of the ruling elite, including DPM Muhyuddin had sided with those who refused to acknowledge Nazri’s contention that the BTN was a mockery of Najib’s 1Malaysia concept. Of course, our former PM Dr Mahathir joined in and insisted there was no need to revamp the BTN courses, which led Nazri to call the former PM a “bloody racist”, even conferring on Dr M the title “the father of all racists”.
So are we surprised that Perkasa, school teachers and principals, public officers, resort to such ‘ingrained’ behaviour, notwithstanding the so-called ‘provocations’ from their charges, their students, who must surely be so ‘insensitive’ as to other’s religious practices?
Yet, when called upon to investigate such racist behaviours, the authorities appear to be dragging their feet, and instead concentrate with such efficiency to question and charge a rapper (NameWee) who merely was bold and foolhardy enough to serve as a conduit to expose these wrongdoings.
Can the police and authorities not see the biasness of their actions, by pursuing the messenger and not the perpetrator of possible crimes?
Can the authorities not understand why thinking Malaysians and non-bumiputras are beginning to feel persecuted and discriminated against, more and more, despite utterances to the contrary by our political leaders?
Can the authorities not understand why more and more disgruntled non-bumiputras are making a beeline to emigrate whenever and wherever they can—hardship, uprooting displacement and starting over, notwithstanding? This has got nothing to do with patriotism, when one is constantly told that he or she is unequal as a citizen, and that they are unwanted!
Can every Malaysian non-bumiputra truly feel that he or she has a fair and reasonable share of this piece of earth called Malaysia? Do our authorities truly appreciate talent, merit or worth of any non-bumiputra at all, or is this mere lip service?
Can they not see the hollowness and insincerity of their pronouncements—when we can hardly see the ‘walk’ from the ‘talk’?
Such crescendos of racist ravings seriously undermine the carefully constructed dream of a true Malaysian nation, shattering the much-bandied ‘unity’ slogan already so tattered among our terribly troubled diversity.
Hurtful cries to demonise and belittle other races as unequal, ‘pendatang’ and lesser than themselves cannot but help demoralize every peace-loving non-bumiputra Malaysian who aspires for a better tomorrow, a better Malaysia…
We fully recognise the special position of the bumiputras, but as non-bumiputras we also increasingly demand our rightful place in this nation of ours. Lest it is forgotten, our position is also enshrined in the Constitution. This is not arrogance, but a statement of fact as a human right of any citizen.
We do have a long way to go. We have many mindsets to change, to engage, to dialogue with in sincerity and humility, so that race and religion cannot be made a bogeyman for every travail or challenge that the country is facing.
We have our work cut out for us, but as rational Malaysians, we must all try even harder to persuade the government to be one for all Malaysians and not for mere sloganeering alone or for any one racial group.
We must flush out all closet racists. We must instead cultivate greater rational discourse and dialogue without preconditions of threats and top-down dictates. We need to work on closer cross-ethnic cooperation, tolerance and acceptance so that together we are truly more than the sum of our rich individual strength and heritage.
We must nurture greater cohesiveness by lowering the tempo and temperature of racial baiting and shrill cries and rhetoric of ethnic pride and irrational fear-mongering. We must work towards greater confidence of sharing and building and not engage in divisive dismantling bigotry based on artificial barriers of so-called ethnic or religious sensitivities.
This government must be seen to act without fear or favour, by espousing fair and just policies, by directly confronting and stemming the tide of racism and racial-baiting. Divisive ravings drive uncertainty and suppress confidence. We need to reverse such negative rhetoric if we wish to improve the climate for economic buoyancy in this country.
By staying the course of inept inattention, we stand to lose our global competitiveness even more, as we Malaysians lose confidence in ourselves and our grip on the future.
We must do this right and soon, or risk losing everything! 53 years hence, and Merdeka then would have been in vain!
“We came into the world like brother and brother, And now let’s go hand in hand, not one before another.” William Shakespeare, in the closing couplet of “The Comedy of Errors” [V.i.425-26]

This is also published in The Malaysian Insider, 31 August, 2010 as 53 years on, cautious optimism despite rising racism

Also published on 1 September 2010 in malaysiakini as Rising racism, 53 years on 

Some Comments:

David Dass A thoughtful discourse on the state of 1Malaysia. I do not believe that many Malays support Ketuanan Malaysia. I think that the proponents of Ketuanan Malaysia would have us believe that the majority of Malays support the concept. Most Malaysians of whatever ilk or stripe are more concerned with the business of eking out an existence than in racial politicking. There are many issues that worry Malaysians - the rising cost of living paramount amongst them. Also rising crime rates, the low standard of education and the poor proficiency in the English language. It is an important question that Dr Quek poses. Who is the Government not responding firmly enough to racist diatribes that provoke, inflame and frighten Malays and non Malays alike ? Why is it a bad idea to focus on aid and assistance to the poor and marginalized of all races ? The correct solutions are not the monopoly of the opposition alone. Why can't the BN see and do what is so painfully evident for all to see ?

Johan A Well articulated, Dr. Quek. However, our only hope is regime change - ie the umno-bn clique must be voted out. There is no chance that the current ruling elite will change. You read the headlines "zero tolerance to racism", "no to corruption", etc, etc. but DO WE SEE ANY ACTION TO THOSE WHO SPEW RACIST WORDS???? NO!!! Do we see any serious attempts to make the corrupt pay for their crimes - NO!!! All we see is FEET DRAGGING & SOME TOKEN "ARRESTS" which are probably to serve as an eyewash. To achieve this regime change, we must try to educate our fellow Malay citizens that the ruling clique has all this while been pulling wool over their eyes and shouting rhetoric so that they maintain their power and all the benefits (WHETHER LEGAL OR ILLEGAL) that go with it. The interest of the Malay and Bumiputra rakyat in Sabah and Sarawak are never on their minds.

Raikonen All non malays should migrate if they have the means to. No need to take all this racial supremacy and social contract crap. Hard it may be, it is better to move on rather than just complain about it.

Ablastine We often tell Perkasa and UMNOputras there are no free lunches and yet many of us here expect free lunches to be given out by BN or more specifically by UMNO. Let me tell all those who want their place under the sun in Malaysia and those who want their rights to be respected to not just sit on their laurels while these rights are slowly being taken away from them. Perkasa call you pendatang and bangsat, Ministers call you dirty because you are not Muslim, principle of school call the Indian dogs and Chinese, prostitue and should go back China. What are you going to do about it? Still want to vote BN in the next election? The fact of the matter is UMNO and its warlords and UMNOputra want to have supreme power for one and only one reason and it is of course to plunder the nation's treasury. A racially divided country and emotionally charged Malays serve this agenda so don't even dream of UMNO wanting to have this stop for the sake of the country.

stories The worst are the component parties of BN who claim to represent the other than the Malays. They are part of this because the are with those who practise racism and dicrimination and yet choose to stick with them. They are the real turncoats.

Anonymous Dr Quek, I sympathise with you. But the greatest mistake the chinese had ever made was in 1997/98. There was a great malay vote swing to the opposition but sadly the chinese voted for BN. The opportunity will never come again. It might be a different scenario by now.

StevenForMalaysia Dear Dr. Quek, big thank you for speaking out the inner feeling of I believe 99.99% of non-Malays in Malaysia. Your write up is the truth, nothing but the truth of our feeling for long long time. There is no use of sweet talks by the UMNOputras, they must get down to hard work to gradually correct the situation. Most Malays' mind has been intoxicated by the Ketuanan Melayu supremacy and lost their head.

Allen Wanz TC Dr. KL Quek: You have spoken loud and clear expressing the voices of many like you who love the country, I sincerely pray that the pointers put forth by you will be read objectively and sincerely by our nation's leaders for our sustainability. Plz do not ever stop and think all you have said is in vain. Let's not be nay-sayers and pursue on and pray that the hardened hearts of the many extremists be melted down, if not be words of persuasion then by the merciful acts of God upon their lives. Plz carry on Doctor and let not the voices of moderation and passion for goodwill be drowned by the selfish and the self-serving. I believe in the power of God who can change hearts if we pray for them as well.

k1980 on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 1:51 pm

• RACISM (noun)
The noun RACISM has 2 senses:

1. the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races
2. discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race

World English Dictionary
racism or racialism — n

1. the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others
2. abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

racism definition:

  1. The belief that some races are inherently superior (physically, intellectually, or culturally) to others and therefore have a right to dominate them. In the United States, racism, particularly by whites against blacks, has created profound racial tension and conflict in virtually all aspects of American society. Until the breakthroughs achieved by the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, white domination over blacks was institutionalized and supported in all branches and levels of government, by denying blacks their civil rights and opportunities to participate in political, economic, and social communities.

edsoo on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 4:02 pm

  1. Mr Quek Thank you for your article, which i enjoyed reading.

    I am reminded of the words of Kahlil Gibran, my favourite poet, in “The Prophet”: “And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge, And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge, And all knowledge is vain save when there is work, And all work is empty save when there is love”.

    Since you quoted Shakespeare, i will add: “We all know that something is rotten in the state of Malaysia”.

    Unfortunately, many express their dismay, anger, and frustration without proper “knowledge” and reasoned thinking – such expression is “blind”. (if you read the ranting that goes on in most blogs you would know what i mean.)

    Then there are those, who will talk but do nothing (no “work”) – and their knowledge is in vain.

    And the few who actually do something like saudara Lim Kit Siang (with due respect and prior apologies saudara Lim Kit Siang) – sometimes, don’t do it with love, compassion and empathy. Even if our views are “right” – let us remember that there is another human being on the receiving end. Meritocracy must also be tempered with compassion.

    In my own small way, i am participating in this debate. Please see http://www.negaraku5707.com.my for a project i did in 2007 with the Five Arts centre and TEC Asia.

    Also this year i started a restaurant Four Seas with the menufesto “Within the Four Seas, All Men are Brothers”.
    And for Malaysia Day, i am organising Malaysiaku Celebrating Malaysia Day at Bangkung Row (search “Malaysiaku” on FB).

    Mr Quek, Do come and join us on this Malaysiaku celebration, i would like to meet you, and see how we can work together to better this beautiful country.
    Happy retirement.

    negarawan on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 11:02 pm

    David, first of all, thank you for your well written article which reflects the sad and shocking state of our country today. Nobody wants to see their children go through this type of experience. This is Najib’s 1Malaysia, a policy which is only very sweet in words, but the very opposite in reality.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Anwar Ibrahim again battles dubious sex charges by Mark MacKinnon

Anwar Ibrahim again battles dubious sex charges

by Mark MacKinnon
Globe and Mail Aug. 27, 2010
Prosecution appears to be thinly veiled attempt to ruin Malaysian opposition leader’s reputation and political career

There is an uncomfortable pattern to life for Anwar Ibrahim, the charismatic leader of Malaysia’s opposition. In 1998, shortly after he quit the authoritarian government of Mahathir bin Mohamad, he was convicted and jailed on trumped-up sodomy charges.

Six years after that conviction was quashed and he was released from prison – and just as it looked like he and his multi-ethnic coalition might finally oust the long-ruling United National Malays Organization from office – Mr. Anwar finds himself trapped in the most awkward of reruns, once more accused of “consensual intercourse against the order of nature.”

The charges again look to be a thinly veiled attempt to ruin Mr. Anwar’s reputation and sabotage his political career in this Muslim-majority country. The trial to date – dubbed “Sodomy II” in Malaysia’s unsubtle government-controlled press – has produced a succession of lurid headlines about lubricant tubes and stained underwear, while Mr. Anwar and his lawyers have been denied the right even to see the medical records of the man with which he is alleged to have had anal sex.

But instead of letting the scandalous court proceedings force him to the sidelines, the eternally optimistic Mr. Anwar has been using good humour and his ever-present BlackBerry to turn even the most awkward of headlines to his advantage, holding up the charges against him as proof of the absurdity of the system he’s trying to change.

As a lone judge contemplates whether there is evidence to convict Mr. Anwar and sentence him to up to 20 years in prison, as well as a flogging, Mr. Anwar has continued his ferocious assault on a government he derides as repressive and corrupt, blogging from the courtroom and sending cheeky and upbeat 140-character updates to his followers via Twitter.

“Sodomy circus turns into sex opera!” reads one of Mr. Anwar’s mid-trial posts, which linked to a video of a lawyer discussing the lurid details of the case. “Courage of conviction. Que sera sera,” was his response to a fellow Twitter user who worried the energetic 63-year-old was headed back to jail.

The odds do seem stacked against Mr. Anwar, a former deputy prime minister who was once considered the rising star of Malaysian politics. But to hear him tell it, his déjà-vu legal ordeal is evidence that Prime Minister Najib Razak and his party are losing their grip on power, and they know it well.

“They can’t deal with me politically – either my economic programs or policies. They can’t debate me. So they resort to this ludicrous exercise to demonize me,” he said in an interview at the offices of his People’s Justice Party in western Kuala Lumpur, a confident grin fixed on his narrow, goateed face.
“We will win the next election and we will change the courts.”

It seems unlikely things will go quite that smoothly. Mr. Anwar’s political career has seen his fortunes change as often and as quickly as the weather in this peninsula thrust between the Indian and Pacific oceans. The leader of a Muslim youth organization during his student days, he shocked his followers by joining UNMO in the early 1980s and taking a succession of cabinet posts in the authoritarian government of Mr. Mahathir, eventually rising to become his powerful finance minister and deputy prime minister.

But the two men never saw eye-to-eye on key issues, and they eventually fell out during the 1997 Asian financial crisis over economic policy and Mr. Anwar’s accusation that cronyism at the top was hurting the country’s economy. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Anwar – frequently held up in the West as an example of a moderate Muslim democrat – was in jail.

Though initially barred from politics upon his release, Mr. Anwar steered the opposition to a surprisingly strong finish in 2008 elections, and – even as the new sodomy charges were being laid –very nearly won the long-sought prime minister’s chair in the aftermath when he called for a vote of non-confidence in Mr. Najib’s government. Mr. Anwar said he had the support of a majority in parliament, including an unspecified number of UMNO defectors, but the vote never happened. Instead, 40 key lawmakers were sent on a government junket to Taiwan during which some were apparently convinced to rethink supporting Mr. Anwar’s bid for power.

The next election, which can be called any time before 2013, is set to be a high-stakes affair in this rapidly developing country of 28 million, which has seen freedom of speech blossom since the 2003 retirement of Mr. Mahathir and the rise of the Internet. Any kind of conviction would keep Mr. Anwar – who heads an improbable coalition that consists of liberal reformers like himself and an Islamist party that seeks to impose Koranic law – on the sidelines for another five years.

Mr. Anwar, a married father of six children, denies the new charges that he had sex with a 25-year-old former aide to Mr. Najib. (The sodomy law, which dates back to the British colonial era, has only been used seven times since independence, with four of those charges being levelled against Mr. Anwar.)

The case recently devolved into further farce when it surfaced that the complainant was having an affair with a member of the prosecution team. Though Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah acknowledged the affair as fact, he denied Mr. Anwar’s application to have the charges thrown out on that basis.

Mr. Anwar, who counts Al Gore, Nelson Mandela and former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin among his friends, said that while the Malaysian court system would do him no favours, he thinks his case is high-profile enough that the government won’t dare jail him again. “It’s a catch-22 for them. If they put me in jail, they invoke more sympathy, certainly the government will lose … And unlike Mahathir, Najib wants to be seen to be acceptable in the international community.”

Mr. Anwar’s undimmed ambition to be prime minister clearly infuriates his political opponents. Even in retirement, his mentor-turned-nemesis Mr. Mahathir uses his own blog to mock his former protégé and lash back at accusations that the case against Mr. Anwar is trumped up. “Could it be that it was actually the victim of anal rape who decided to tell things as they happened? I would like to say we should wait for the court to decide, but that can take a very long, long time or even never,” Mr. Mahathir wrote recently.

Despite a near-complete ban on his speaking to the official media, Mr. Anwar appears to be winning the public-relations battle, in part because of his savvy online efforts. A poll conducted by the independent Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research shortly after the new charges were filed found that only 11 per cent of the more than 1,000 respondents believed the new sodomy allegations against Mr. Anwar. Two-thirds said they agreed with the statement that the trial was “a politically motivated action to disrupt Anwar Ibrahim’s political career.”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

malaysiakini: I disagree, chief secretary! by KJ John

I disagree, chief secretary!
KJ John
malaysiakini, Aug 3, 10
After the spat between Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and Nik Ali Mat Yunus - the federal officer posted to Penang as state development officer (SDO) - the chief secretary to the government concluded: “If he (Nik Ali) was accused with all kinds of untruths and criticised repeatedly, he too, has his dignity. If he did not reply, then people would say that he is guilty. So, it was proper that a clarification was given.”

I disagree with your judgment, Sir!

The word 'dignity' is a very expensive word in human sociology and psychology and cannot be treated lightly. Much like the word 'integrity,' it cannot and should not be abused by all and sundry. In fact, when I proposed the 'dignity in the workplace' hypothesis, the first and biggest challenge was defining the concept as applied and used at the workplace.

And, even before I could define it, I had problems at the ontological level about our differing theories about the nature of man and our assumptions about reality. Some of my professors thought I should move to a school of theology or philosophy to seek a definition, instead of a School of Government and Business Administration. Therefore, that word is neither a simple word nor an easy concept to understand and then defend.

While I agree with the chief secretary's application of the word and its personal meaning to defend the honour and due regard for the human being responsible, I disagree that the manner of his defence was either right or proper. The officer should never have publicly responded to the matter against the chief minister; after all he is the head of a state administration. That is public service decorum.

While the chief secretary is a very good friend, as is the chief minister, and Nik Ali was my colleague at the International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti), truth matters in every area of life. What I write now is an attempt to be professional about the subject and my views are nothing personal.

First of all, all federal public servants serve at the pleasure of the Agong. And in both the unfederated and federated Malay States, officers serve at the pleasure of the sultan or head of the state.

The chief secretary is the secretary to the cabinet and therefore a federal level cabinet officer, but his appointment is institutional and ex-officio, regardless of who forms the government. The chief minister or menteri besar is an elected head of administration at the state level from the party that commands the majority in the state.

The SDO is only a federal departmental officer not even of cabinet rank, like an ambassador, whose names are cleared and approved by the cabinet before their appointment is gazetted.

Respect not shown

My disagreement therefore with the chief secretary's views stems from the fact that the SDO is only a departmental appointee who holds office in the state at the pleasure of the head of the state or the governor.

This SDO is not the head of all government officers in Penang. That post is held by the state secretary, who also serves as ex-officio secretary to the state executive council. Therefore, why didn't this SDO carry his complaints to his immediate boss in the state where he serves?

He has thus failed in a major way in terms of state-level courtesies and respect for heads of administration at state level. To me, it is the equivalent of insulting the governor of the state or, in the case of a foreign government, tantamount to insulting a sovereign head of state.

The chief secretary should not make this error of judgment because the officer's poor example can now be repeated by all federal appointees in every state led by the opposition coalition. 

In fact, the chief secretary himself was previously reported as saying that all public servants must undertake their duties professionally and without fear or favour.

For the record, let me also say that when I was in Penang for a conference last April I heard case-stories from federal government officers that the SDO was giving them explicit instructions not to submit information to the state government, especially in terms of statistics and feedback on progress or failure of federal government programmes.

At that point I was not aware that the SDO was my former colleague, Nik Ali. My advice to him, therefore, is the same one given to me by then Miti minister Rafidah Aziz: if you cannot serve the government in authority with a clear conscience, then please leave and take optional retirement. I agreed and I did.

Service in public interest

The public service is always a service in the public interest. If one has strong views against the particular colour and shape of the government, please do not seek to serve in that state or department. It should never become incumbent upon federal government officers to succumb to partisan interest of one group versus another.

Partisan leadership of the public services must become a thing of the past. Public servants must seek to serve the public interest first and foremost.

The power and authority model of leadership is no more relevant in all spheres of work; what is now needed is the responsibility model of leadership. Any federal officer serves first of all at the pleasure of the Agong and works for the public interests as defined by the federal constitution.

How does the constitution define the role and jurisdiction of the SDO? Was not the SDO a creation of the Abdul Razak Hussein era? Are there not limits to the definition of 'minor works allocations' under this delegated authority? Can the SDO bypass the state financial officer (another ex-officio state administrator) in doing his job, other than for minor works projects? Are not district officers still the executing authority for all such projects?

Are not the real issues actually related to the federal government abusing financial and procurement procedures to circumvent publicly financed projects in Penang and keeping them outside the philosophy of competence, accountability and transparency in the open purchase of services and goods by the state administration?

Dear chief secretary: let us become more transparent, open and accountable over the core concerns in this issue. The SDO was speaking out of turn, and if this was in any state with a Malay Ruler, he could easily have been given the 'get out of state' order!

Maybe in Penang, a former Straits Settlement, the rules are different. But are we not the federation of states? Would a federal officer also be allowed to speak in the same way in Sabah or Sarawak? Would you support him or her too? Professionalism calls for us to conduct ourselves rationally and without fear or favour.

May God grant all of us the grace to become more professional and courteous in our conduct!

KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. He is now dean of the Faculty of Economics and Policy Science at UCSI University, Malaysia. The views expressed above are truths that matter to him as an individual citizen wearing private and civil society hats and therefore are not opinions of the university or faculty. kjjohn@ohmsi.net