Monday, December 19, 2005

AB Sulaiman Pissing into the Wind?

AB Sulaiman wrote a very interesting article titled A suggestion to the Chief Secretary in Malaysiakini, an independent Malaysian news online (subscription required). His article is sure to arouse the wrath in Malay and government quarters, for though it’s an advice or appeal to the Malaysian Civil Service chief to be what good civil servants ought to be in a Westminster democracy like Malaysia, it covers very comprehensively the racist, corrupt and shambolic state of the government.

In his article he reminded everyone of what Malaysia had been before the May 13 racial riots of 1969. The government was run on a system of check and balance as inherited from the British. The level of corruption was minimal and manageable unlike today.

But the 1969 May riots motivated the Malay dominated federal government to institute a policy of ketuanan Melayu (Malay dominance) in every strata of Malaysian political, economic and social activity. In its intention then to do so, the government decided that compliant implementers were vital to the programmes of ethnic supremacy.

The Civil Service, Police and Armed Forces had to be Malay dominated to ensure that any objections to its ethnic-biased policies, which might be deemed as unconstitutional or even legally dodgy, be minimised if not absent. The ideology of ethnic supremacy didn’t spare the educational institutions as well, where virtually all Vice Chancellors were/are Malays.

Sulaiman stated that having compliant civil servants, who became beholden to political parties (in reality only one, namely UMNO), effectively broke down the delicate but essential system of check and balance in good democratic government. He said:

“Without any check and balance, the warning of Lord Acton that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ came unmistakeably into fruition. Pandemonium ensued.”

“Malay racist tendencies came into full gear. When the Malays were trying to exert their hegemony and leadership they were trying to be very ‘Malay’, very Muslim and very nationalistic. They were championing the rallying call of 'untuk ugama bangsa dan negara' [for religion, race and nation] too literally. They went headlong into propagating the interests of the ugama and bangsa [religion and race] while forgetting the negara [nation] part.”

“Civil servants become yes men to political interests at the expense of the interest of the general population. There were many instances of breakdown of institutions, like the falling of education standards, and the disfiguration of the judiciary.”

The consequences of such institutional breakdown brought about “… the rise of the religious leaders whose main aim seems to maintain the conservatism of the Malay mind and the preservation of the status quo, …..the rise of corruption to an obscenely stratospheric level, ….. and, the creation of a massive cleavage in the social fabric of society.”

Sulaiman also viewed with alarm Prime Minister Ahmad Abdullah Badawi’s backtrack on his earlier exhortations for the Malays to stop depending on government spoon feeding and be self made personalities (Towering Malays). He saw this in the prime minister’s attempt at rationalising the continuation of the NEP or National Economic Policy, basically a very aggressive affirmative action for Malays, when Badawi argued that for every one ringgit the Malay earns, the non-Malay earns 80% more.

It's a timely wake-up call against a corrupt and racist system that has eroded the foundations of good public governance in a democracy. However, while I admire Sulaiman's brave, excellent and spot-on article, his call will be against extremely powerful vested interests. It'll be like pissing into the wind.

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