Agenda Daily


While we are quick to bestow honorific titles on VIPs and lavish praise on people who matter for merely doing their jobs, we are hesitant to question them when they slack off or disappoint, especially if they yield power. Why the inconsistency?


I AM ALL FOR AWARDING GOOD DEEDS AND excellent performances. I am also for punishing wrongdoings and non-performance.

But here in Malaysia, we are not quick to reward good deeds and we hardly punish wrongdoings. So, the laziest and most corrupt civil servants get to enjoy bonuses when hundreds of thousands are jobless.

Unless one is a government politician, a senior civil servant, a member of the royalty or a lavish corporate figure, many good deeds go unnoticed.

So, we have a situation where a person who contributes literally nothing to the country over and above what he is paid or elected to do, is showered with honorific titles and honorary degrees.

Actually, one does not have to do much to be awarded the highest honorific titles and honorary degrees other than being in the right place at the right time like — no pun intended — marrying a top politician.

Today, we have academicians and other professionals who have spent their entire lives sharpening their craft and, in the process, educating society, sharing the same honorary degrees with ministers' wives and an assortment of other pretenders.

Thus, as I have maintained all these years, honorific titles in Malaysia are a dime a dozen and, as has been shown time and again, been awarded to some very unsavoury characters — from corrupt politicians to lazy civil servants, money-throwing corporate figures and underworld kingpins.

Lately, even universities have joined the ranks of award-givers. In fact, they are becoming as prolific as the government and royal households in dishing out awards.

It's fine if the recipients of these honorary degreesbecome laughing stocks. Some are just that. But for the universities to cheapen the value and reverence of these titles is unforgivable.

It shows the level of intellect and integrity of the people running our universities these days. But it's not surprising because in many cases, the vice-chancellors and other key academicians are political appointees.

Calls for the government and the royal households to be more sparing and selective in the awarding of such titles have fallen on deaf ears, except probably for Johor and lately, Selangor.

Thus, when Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim spoke of the honorific titles for sale, I am inclined to believe that the malady is worse than we dared imagine.

People and institutions are actually selling and buying honorific titles and university degrees. This has to be the work of some very sick people.

Of KPIs, NKRA and general elections

THUS, in the same breath, I implore fellow Malaysians not to be too easily taken up by the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for ministers and civil servants.

The KPI badge on a minister's lapel does not make life better for the people. It's food on the table and safety of life and limbs that count.

To begin with, the KPI award system is way above the heads of ordinary people. Created by international human resources and head-hunting firms to justify their exorbitant fees, the KPI-based system has been around in the corporate sector for decades.

In the Malaysian context, it found currency mostly among the government and party-linked companies whose managers, in the late 1980s and 1990s, used it for hiring and firing staff and for rewarding themselves with large salaries and fat bonuses.

Hard-nosed entrepreneurs and owner-managers were not taken up by this system. They continue to hire and fire, reward and punish generally according to productivity and profitability of their companies.

Ironically, it was the companies that adopted this so-called modern management tools that suffered the most during the 1997/98 crisis and in the recent global economic meltdown.

So, I found it alarming when The Star newspaper, on Sept 16, made a sweeping statement that Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein `is moving closer to his KPI target with the first batch of applicants to be awarded citizenship'.

Singing praises of Hishammuddin, the MCA-controlled newspaper reported: `The ministry has been conducting an "operation" to inform the successful applicants with officials knocking on their doors even at odd hours.

`Officials said at least ioo would attend the presentation ceremony at the National Registration Department in Putrajaya.'

And it went on to label the exercise as a major breakthrough for Hishammuddin, who is spearheading the drive to clear 32,927 citizenship applications, 16,812 applications for permanent resident status and 93,360 birth certificates.

Whoa, let's hold on to our horses... Surely, approving the citizenship of ioo applicants does not fast-track the minister to cloud nine of KPI heaven.

What about the deteriorating law and order situation? Yes, it's important to have citizenship, PR and birth certificates, but of greater concern to a much larger number of people is the rising crime rate and the general feeling of insecurity.

The good minister needs only to take a drive to middle-class housing estates in Kuala Lumpur to see how residents are barricading themselves behind hastily erected security posts and checkpoints while the poor live in fear behind locked doors and steel grills.

If the two KPI ministers — Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon and Datuk Idris Jala — must know, the people are in a state of fear and they are no longer convinced that the state apparatus like the police can protect them from harm.

I beg Hishammuddin, the KPI ministers and the minister responsible for welfare, Datuk Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, to do what all Wakil Rakyat must in the first place do, that is, walkabouts.

They will not only see the people's worried and angry faces behind barricades and locked doors, but they will also see the city being swarmed by beggars, vagrants and conmen of all colours, shades and nationalities.

Thanks to our open-door policy to promote tourism, educational services and provide the economy with cheap labour coupled with the corruption of our law enforcement agencies, the country has today become the base for human and drug trafficking, prostitution rings and organised begging using old men and women from rural China.

I invite these ministers to join me for a cup of teh tarik at Bangsar or Damansara Uptown one evening to feel how ashamed I am of being Malaysian. There are beggars and uncollected garbage everywhere.

Don't we have laws to curb these illegal, immoral and dehumanising activities?

Don't we have the money and resources to help the genuinely poor and the handicapped?

What happens to our tax dollar and the Islamic treasury — the Zakat and the Baitulmal?

So, let's not be too quick to award our ministers their KPI and NKRA (National Key Result Areas) marks. Let's wait until the next general election.

Let us not also turn this merit system into another Excellence Service Award where even the laggards, the non-performers and the cheats, if they wait around long enough, get their turn to be honoured.

The ministers are there not to be pampered and honoured. They are there to serve. We elected them and pay them salaries because they offer themselves to us. So, let's start treating them as our representatives and not our masters. We are the masters.

Thus, the term turun padang or going down to the field is a misnomer. Being the people's representatives, their place is on the field with the people.

Only by being with the people regularly will they understand their needs and act accordingly in Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies.


HAD my late father thought only of food on the table, clothes on our backs and a roof over our heads, he would not have shuttled me to an English school in Alor Star way back in 1959.

We then had hardly enough food on the table. Or should I say on the floor because we actually sat on the floor to eat. We did not have a table and chairs until very much later.

But he had the vision that only education would make the life of his children better than his.

Similarly, had Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad only wanted Malaysians to own cars and motorcycles, he would have just allowed cars and motorcycles to be imported cheaply from Japan and South Korea.

But both my padi-farmer dad, Jasin Tahir, and doctor-turned-politician Dr Mahathir had the vision that only through the building of professional and technical capacities can the economic standard of their charges be improved.

So, my dad sent us to school and Dr Mahathir sent Malaysians to the far corners of the world to acquire knowledge and skills.

Also, had the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein feared being accused of being a racist or a socialist, he would not have proposed the New Economic Policy (NEP).

The lot of the poor Bumiputeras became better and the mercantile Chinese and professional-minded Indians were catapulted up the economic ladder beyond anybody's wildest dreams. The economy grew the fastest during the NEP period as foreign and local investments poured in.

It's true that we don't have to have Proton, Perodua and Modenas to enable us to own motorcars and motorcycles. In fact, we don't have to have Malaysia Airlines (MAS) to fly or ports to ship our goods. We could continue exporting through Singapore.

But the economy is not about ownership and consumption alone. Successful, industrialised countries started with building their economic capacities and capabilities.

In the old world, economic and industrial capacities were largely built by private entrepreneurs and blue-blooded capitalists.

In post-colonial nations like Malaysia, India, South Africa and Singapore, where the capitalist class was small and had a lot of catching up to do, the governments played key roles in economic capacity building.

There would not be those millions of Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera professionals and technicians had it not been for the capacity building programmes carried out by the government.

There would not be those Malaysian pilots and aircraft engineers had the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) not vigorously trained pilots and engineers to man its fleet of cutting-edge warplanes, which some people said were wasteful.

In the early years, MAS was the beneficiary of the RMAF capacity building. These pilots and engineersturned MAS into one of the safest airlines in the world.

In recent years, with MAS being in decline, these highly skilled pilots and engineers have gone global and offered their skills to new domestic airlines and established foreign airlines around the world.

It is in this more positive light that we should view Malaysia's joint private sector-government collaboration in entering a team for next year's Formula One race.

Those who know something about Fi and the automotive industry will be proud and encouraged by the endorsement the Federation Internationale de I'Automobile (FIA) gave the Malaysian entry.

The Malaysian Team, which is going to be based around the iconic Lotus, has received the thumb's up from the FIA. Lotus, as most of us must have heard, is the UK-based sports car manufacturing arm of Proton Bhd.

The FIA, which is motor racing's governing body, in a press statement issued on Sept 15 in Paris said: `Following an intensive selection and due diligence process, the FIA has awarded the 13th entry in the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship to the Lotus Fi Team.'

The statement named iMalaysia Fi Team Sdn Bhd as the owner of the team. The team's name is Lotus F1 Team, the country of origin is Malaysia and Team Principal, Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes.

The FIA said the team is a partnership between the Malaysian Government and a consortium of Malaysian entrepreneurs and marked the return of the Lotus name as a constructor to Formula One for the first time since 1994.

A moot point is the assertion by the FIA that the Malaysian F1 team had `beaten off competition from the Swiss-based BMW Sauber.'

Understandably, this is an expensive venture and one that has to be carefully crafted and managed to enable the country and its people to gain maximum advantage by way of cutting-edge technologies and worldwide publicity.

I am sure we can all benefit from this bold move, as Fi is one of the most prestigious and widely televised sporting events in the world, and the technologies that go into it are among the most sophisticated, anything from automotive to material sciences and aerodynamics.Even the proverbial katak (frog) must leave the security of the tempurung (coconut shell) to get life-sustaining sunshine and flies to satiate its hunger.

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