25September2020

Agenda Daily

FALLING EFFICIENCY,LACKING COURTESY

While the Prime Minister is receiving kudos for his leadership style, it would seem that Malaysians are as lackadaisical as ever, judging from foreign perception.

 

By A Kadir Jasin

No, i do not want to say too much about prime minister datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s June 9 wedding to Madam Jeanne Abdullah here.

That was what I told a public relations executive of a large GLC when she said she was sure I would be commenting on Abdullah’s marriage in this column.

I had called her on her cellular phone to enquire about her company’s billboard. I was curious because the Bahasa Malaysia version of the advertisement was different from the one in English. These days, the quality of Bahasa Malaysia and English on billboards can be atrocious.

I am not saying too much about Abdullah’s wedding not out of respect or fear of the ‘instruction’ of the Prime Minister’s chief media handler, Kamal Khalid, on what the mass media should and should not report on the happy occasion.

I am sparing the readers of this column and the Prime Minister any unpleasant comments because the marriage was a private matter and nobody in his or her right frame of mind should oppose the union.

Additionally, I had liked to make sure that the happy event took place before I wished the Prime Minister and his new wife Selamat Pengantin Baru.

There had been previous occasions when the Prime Minister called off important events at the last minute on the pretext that he was too busy to attend them.

All that I feel like saying here is to repeat what I had written in my Blog ‘The Scribe A Kadir Jasin’ on June 8 and 9. This is what I said on June 8:

‘I agree fully (with the Prime Minister’s marriage) for as long as it does not distract him from his duty as the number one administrator of the country and no public fund is wasted.

‘The Prime Minister has his household vote (budget), and for as long as he keeps within the allocated budget, we should not have any problem with his wedding.

‘Of course this is a unique situation. This is the first time in our Merdeka history that the PM marries while in office. We also take note of the fact that his previous wife, Kak Endon, passed away when he was in office.

‘He needs a companion and marriage dismisses whatever suspicion we may have about his private life. We should be happy for him and his bride-to-be. Let’s hope that she becomes a worthy companion to the PM; someone who brings him credit and not causes him discredit. Pak Lah chose her and we elected Pak Lah. That’s the deal.’

With so many complaints about the behaviour of ministers’ spouses and the allegations of interference in state affairs, it is imperative that we keep reminding our elected representatives that we elected them and not their wives, sons and children, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.

To a politician who lives and dies on account of the support of the people, having a good woman by his side is a big asset, and a bad one, a big liability.

So with that, I wish the Prime Minister Selamat Pengantin Baru and Selamat Berbahagia.


An under-appreciated PM

ON the event of his wedding to the former wife of the late Endon’s brother, I came across two interesting media reports commenting on his performance – I mean as Prime Minister.

One was front-paged by New Straits Times on June 8 under the headline ‘Merill Lynch: Abdullah’s leadership not given due credit.’ It was based on a Bernama report and quoted the Hong Kong-based economist of Merill Lynch, Arthur Woo.

Woo said while recent reforms in Malaysia have been attracting a lot of attention, the country’s new political regime under Abdullah has been largely under appreciated.

He said: ‘We think that due credit is not being properly given to the country’s leadership under Abdullah, who took over the helm in late 2003.

‘We believe that this change in leadership has been one of the most under appreciated, if not the most important developments in Malaysia following 22 years of rule under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The international investment bank said although the Prime Minister was often criticised for being too slow, indecisive and consensual, his new style of leadership may be exactly what the country needs to rejuvenate the economy’s long-term growth prospects, especially in the face of rapid globalisation. It said that against the backdrop of dwindling foreign direct investment, rising competition on the global trade front, lingering effects from the Asian financial crisis and weak government-linked companies (GLCs), it was not surprising that income growth had been stagnating prior to the political transition.’

Woo added: ‘Many of these decisions, which addressed issues left over from Dr Mahathir’s era, are under-appreciated.’

These include the restructuring of GLCs, foreign exchange liberalisation, improved foreign relations, reducing fuel subsidies and cancelling non-essential projects.

The second report is from the June 2 issue of The Economist magazine headlined ‘Lina Joy’s Despair’ in which it said Abdullah was ‘clamping down’ on even temperate debate on religious issues.

In part, it said: ‘Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, has been struggling to promote his own brand of moderate “civilisational” Islam. But he has opened space for the radicals by clamping down on even temperate debate on religious issues.

‘Last year, he shot down a proposed “inter-faith council” and banned a civil rights group from holding public debates on freedom of worship.

‘Last month, he abruptly cancelled a long-planned gathering in Kuala Lumpur of senior Muslims and Christian scholars – including the Archbishop of Canterbury – on the ground that he “was too busy to attend it”.’

If I am not mistaken, the latter was supposed to be a flagship programme of the Institute of Islamic Understanding of Malaysia (Ikim) in promoting dialogue between Muslim and Christian scholars around the world.

Sadly, this is not the first time that the Prime Minister’s last minute ‘I am too busy to attend’ excuse had stifled many well-intended programmes and frustrated organizers and participants alike.


Declining friendliness

THE respect for time and keeping promises are the pillars of good discipline and manners.

Sadly, the general consensus among globetrotting Malaysians attending the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) conference in Jakarta last month was that Malaysians are neither highly disciplined nor very friendly.

The participants, when debating the very excellent presentation by Tourism Malaysia Director-General Datuk Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, were of the view that Malaysians have to be a lot more friendly to live up to the advertising propaganda.

I have said this before. The claim that we are friendly is a myth. We are, in some ways, rude. Not that we are congenitally rude or unfriendly. We are actually a bunch of courteous and accommodating people.

Just see how we had been happily receiving one colonial occupier after another for centuries. We were so nice, courteous and accommodating that we allowed them to cart away our wealth and our natural resources.

Of course, there was a pay-off for that. They built and left behind a decent economic and administrative infrastructure that gave us a head start in the post-colonial era.

They were so thoroughly bowled over by our demeanour that when we asked to be freed, they willingly consented. We did not shed a drop of blood to achieve independence.

What then happened to us that we are not as friendly and courteous as we used to be? For one, we are no longer being taught akhlak. Akhlak is from the Arabic word akhlaq or khuluq, which means character or morals.

When I was attending the Malay school in the years running up to independence and a few years after that, akhlak or civic studies was an important subject in the curriculum.

We were taught the meaning of respect, morality, courtesy and discipline. That included shouting at the top of our voices tabik cikgu accompanied by the military-type saluting motion. At the daily morning assembly, we would stand to attention, sing God Save the Queen and salute the Union Jack.

That was later replaced by the greeting ‘good morning teacher’ or ‘selamat pagi cikgu’ depending on whom we were greeting. In the beginning, the ‘selamat pagi’ greeting was reserved for the Malay teachers or ones who taught the Malay language.

But I remember distinctly not being told to salute the Malayan, and later Malaysian, flag, which in later years was nicknamed Jalur Gemilang, which roughly means ‘the glorious stripes’.


Whither good akhlak?

BECAUSE younger Malaysians are not deliberately taught akhlak in school, they do not know how to be courteous even if they wanted to.

They are even shy to show courtesy and propriety because their friends will accuse them of trying to mengampu or curry-favour the teachers.

It saddens me each time my children’s teachers tell me that they are courteous, well behaved and helpful. I thought these are qualities schools, teachers and parents should naturally inculcate. So, having courteous, well behaved and helpful children or pupils should be a rule rather than an exception.

In my many years as New Straits Times editor, one of the community activities that we promoted vigorously involved schools and young people.

I discovered in the course of interacting with these young Malaysians that courtesy is as much cultural as it is geographical.

Almost invariably, children attending racially mixed schools in the urban areas were more courteous than children attending single race schools in the villages or estates.

It is not that children attending the latter schools were congenitally rude — far from it. When I engaged them in conversation, I immediately discovered that they were equally courteous, well behaved and helpful.

But unlike the urban children attending racially mixed schools, these children lacked communication as well as other essential social skills. This sadly carries on when they attend university and join the employment market.

This is a question of training. There appears to be no standard manual on the very basic-yet-very-important subject of courtesy.

All that we need to do is to compare customer reception at a Starbucks or Coffee Bean outlet with, say, a large homegrown restaurant chain.

At the former, the staff will ask you what you want or what they can do for you. At the latter, invariably, you have to ask them to serve you.

If you had the experience of shopping in London or cashing a cheque in a bank in Zurich, you would have noticed that the staff, upon seeing you behaving a bit like a rusa masuk kampung (looking lost like a deer that had entered the village), would ask: ‘What can I do for you sir?’ or ‘Are you being attended to sir?’

Just imagine how good you would feel when those Swiss bank workers, who are invariably Orang Putih (white men/women), call you ‘sir’ and ‘madam’, or a salesperson at the Bruno Magli boutique on the fashionable Bahnhofstrasse rushes to show you the latest pair of shoes which is way about your ringgit-denominate budget?

But many young Malaysians are today unable to show courtesy, good manners, punctuality and general good discipline because they have not been taught how. Also, they lack communication skills, which is partly due to the fact that they are not sufficiently bilingual.

By the latter, I mean Malays are unable to speak English sufficiently well and the Chinese, and, to a lesser degree, the Indians struggle with their Bahasa Malaysia.

For this reason, despite my dislike for the greetings practised in the hotels, I feel that a bad greeting is better than no greeting at all.

It is a put-off when front-desk staff at government and private offices and shop assistants at supermarkets pay no attention to your coming and going.

I often ask the question: What are we paying these people for?

Of course, Malaysians throw courtesy, good manners and discipline out of the window once they are on their Kriss motorcycles and Kancil motorcars.

And how can we blame them when the teachers and policemen make no case of the fact that tens of thousands of underaged schoolchildren are riding motorcycles and driving cars to schools, and killing themselves and others by the scores annually.

So, from illegal and invariably dangerous motorcycle riding, they graduate to illegally modified Kancils and Protons to kill themselves and other road users.

But if adults and leaders do not show and practise good akhlak, should we blame the followers – young and old?

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