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
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
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.