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MGG: Frightening Arrogance in the Land of Fear and Loathing
By M.G.G. Pillai

10/4/2002 10:50 pm Wed

Issue 15-30 April 2002

Harakah Column

Frightening Arrogance in the Land of Fear and Loathing

M.G.G. Pillai

THE DEPUTY Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, thanks the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) chief, Tan Sri Musa Hitam, for his stewardship. But he has no idea who would replace him. Someone would have to be found, he says, to replace him. Why was this not done first? The government decides to dispense with several Industrial court judges at the end of their term, ordering them to leave forthwith, and invites the Bar Council to nominate likely replacements. Many had cases heard with judgements yet to be delivered.

This preventable and unnecessary tangled mess it could have foreseen. It did not. When the enormity of what it did struck home, it backtracked and told them to stay on. But many of the affected judges had had enough, and said thanks but no thanks. One quibble is they were not never thanked, a normal enough courtesy the meaning of which the government has forgotten.

It is not all. The fiasco over the Certificate of Legal Practice, in which question papers were readily available and the one who is accused of releasing them for the usual Bolehland consideration is one appointed to ensure its integrity, is not alone. The courts are hijacked so the one quality you expect from it -- justice -- is elusive as ever. Parliament is reduced to a pastiche of what it ought to be, there to be acknowledged but of no use whatsoever. It has now decided ministerial salaries and allowances are not for Parliament to discuss. If it did, it would only embarrass BN and its administration, and Parliament would not stand for that.

The Inspector-General of Police can manhandle a manacled and blindfolded just arrested deputy prime minister, denies it until he could no more, pleads guilty, and released with a metaphorical slap on his wrist. When this victim, now jailed, is brought to court for his interminable appeals, he is viewed as a dangerous criminal and his move turns the courts into virtual military enclaves. Not for what he could mount, but for the fear of what could redound if he did.

When Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra retired as Prime Minsiter in 1970, his pension was delayed because the civil servant, in the early days of the New Economic Policy, showed his untrammelled power he usurped to harrass him. He once told me he was asked to prove he was born on the day he was in 1903. The letter was written so crassly, he kept it and showed it, as he did to me, to ask what has happened to civility in government. It was not until Dato' Hussein Onn was prime minister that he was given his full due. His was not unusual.

Another cabinet minister, Dato' Bahaman Shamsuddin, who retired in 1969, had not got his pension 20 (not 25 as in the print edition - MGG) years later, when a prominent business man stepped in to give him a monthly allowance to live on. The prime minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, was shocked in the surroundings he lived in in Kampung Baru that he ordered that his pension be released to him immediately. The pensions department had a myriad of questions to ask of him for which he could not. One cabinet minister prepared for his pension by submitting all his papers by the time he left the Cabinet: It took eight years and the Yang Dipertuan Agung of the day to get it for him.

But this empowered Malay in the civil service is caught in a larger vice after the Anwar imbroglio. His cultural persona is anathema to all what the government stands for. While once he was encouraged in the official rush to ensure Malay dominance in all areas of government, he uses the same power to challenge the government he has now no cultural links with, and cuts the government down so its arrogance is not on strength but on fright and weakness. There is some reason to believe that these unpardonable events occurred because the civil servant is prepared to keep the government on its toes and in dissarray with decisions that redound on its credibility.

Not only the civil servants. The present spat between Malaysia and Singapore is reduced in the end to a political squabble between two Johore politicians in which each sharpens his knife by pointing to a Singapore fault. Which is why Malaysia cannot yet send a formal diplomatic note of her reservations at what Singapore does.

Malaysia argues her case by loose political talk by the three men involved: the present and former mentris besar of Johore, Dato' Abdul Ghani Othman and (federal cabinet minister) Tan Sri Muhiyuddin Yassin, and the foreign minister, Dato' Seri Syed Hamid Albar, whose constituency adjoins the area of Singapore's reclamation plans. The heat rises by the day, and unfortunately in instances like this, heat is raised unnecessarily in the other as well.

The curious thing in this is that Singapore does what it must and can justify it by pointing to statements Dr Mahathir had made about developments on Malaysia's side of the Straits. Equally important is the sudden rise of a Kedah rice merchant, as Tan Sri Muhiyuddin's proxy and with Dr Mahathir's consent, in the control of port facilities in southern Johore. That brings in another unmentioned equation: Kedah's growing influence in the state, but that is another story.

Once Malaysia had the upper hand in its relations with Singapore. But narrow self interest took over when dealing with a state that looks at it with a focussed interest on what it wants. Malaysia is now on the defensive. It lost control over the railway land, and even where and how it wants the causeway resited. It is determined to have its way and now have plans for a bridge that would stop right smack at the mid point to link with the Singapore end of the causeway. Yet, it wanted first to build a waterfront city, a Muhiyuddin project, and then the Tanjong Petri customs complex on the Straits, a Ghani Othman project, and both now scuttled. The only link in Malaysia's crazy schemes in the straits is an UMNO dispute between would-be warlords battling on the sidelines to ensure the larger war is lost.

This is one consequence of a hijacked national agenda, in which institutions were devalued, demoralised, destroyed so the country is beholden to One Man, the denouement of a policy which started off to give the Malay a fair shake in his country but which ended, with misplaced policies, in his marginalisation. It started with good intentions, but it quickly degenerated into what it is today. Complicating this arrogance is the government's own fear and loathing for those who oppose it.

What is then frightening is that to remain in control, UMNO and BN and Dr Mahathir must take even harsher measures to show all three still control the roost and, to halt incipient revolt from within which only they deny, is autocratic not from strength but from weakness. The more they tremble on this knife's edge, the more worrisome is Malaysia's future.

M.G.G. Pillai