The debasement of our institutions

By batsman 

Human social, political, legal and economic institutions reflect the level of civilization of their community. They are the concentrated expressions of the values, strength, wisdom and ambitions of a people. A community without well-developed and effective institutions is a weak and backward community subject to denigration and bullying by others. A community without good institutions is just a loose grouping of self-centered individuals or gangs, not a united and mutually supportive community with a strong identity and sense of belonging.

In Malaysia’s case, we leapfrogged our natural development when we adopted the institutions imposed on us by our colonialists. We were peasant communities (that goes for all 3 major races), but we were pushed into the modern world by a major colonial power which had a lot more time, opportunity and resources to develop modern institutions better suited to life in a modern world created in its image. 

That does not mean our old institutions were bad or the institutions of the colonialists were good. It just means the colonialists were the biggest powers in the world and they created life in their own image hence the institutions they had were better suited to such life. It also means that we became people with split personalities, born of the old world but trained in the new. For better or worse, the institutions of the colonialists became our own, while we still had natural tendencies to backslide. 

However, the institutions that colonialists passed on to us were not exact copies they had in their own homeland. After all we were subject races and they were the masters. The critical differences between us as reflected in our institutions were that the institutions in the colonialist homelands were suited to their standing as masters, while our own institutions were better suited to us as a subject country, even after we gained independence. 

It would take too long to discuss the specifics of the fine differences in institutions of the colonialist homelands that make them masters. Suffice to say that they had finely tuned checks and balances while we as a subject people had institutions which allowed for a greater capability for a strong authority to suppress the masses. 

So while they retained the power in their colonies to forced masses of people into concentration camps, there was not a whimper of complaint about abuse of human rights. While they retained the power to forcibly repatriate masses of people out of the country, nobody complained about human rights abuses. While the colonial justice system showed its openly bare-faced favouritism in favour of English planters and miners against striking native workers, no one complained justice was being debased. While English soldiers decapitated native rebels and proudly photographed themselves holding their gruesome trophies, few people blanched or cried out against this inhumanity. When English soldiers hung the bloodied broken corpse of native rebel leader upside down in open public display to rot for a few days, few people wrote about this transgression against human decency in the press. 

This aspect of all power being invested in the authorities and subsequently written in stone into our laws, traditions and institutions was something we also inherited as a subject people. Checks and balances were unreal and only for show. They could easily be short-circuited whether legally, semi-legally or even openly illegally and there was nothing that could be done about it by the aggrieved party. 

When we became an independent country, the idea was that the WHOLE people would forge a common identity and contribute towards nation building without fear, discrimination or suppression, yet abusive laws and traditions were never taken away and proper effective checks and balances were never built into our laws and institutions. The excuse was that we still had an ongoing insurrection to handle and huge disparities in economic status between the races had to be addressed. 

Well and fine. These were reasonable enough excuses. The politicians even promised us that draconian laws such as the ISA would never be used against ordinary citizens and the positive discrimination to address racial economic inequalities had a finite time limit. Eventually we would all be one happy family. People were placated and went to sleep. 

52 years after independence they woke up to find things were worse than before – much much worse. Racial competition had degenerated into racial antagonism and threatens to turn into racial hatred. Abusive laws were being used not just against patriotic activists and journalists, but also against ordinary citizens. Trumped-up criminal charges were leveled against opposition politicians and the sedition law used indiscriminately. Not only that, opposition leaders are labeled as threats to national security and traitors to the Malay race. This is clearly a move to remove all or any opposition. 

Ordinary people are dying in the custody of the police and anti-corruption agency in unseemingly large numbers. Suspected gangsters are being ambushed and killed with 2 well-aimed bullets through the windscreen of their cars and the incident fobbed off as one of resisting arrest without even the courtesy of a trial. The police chief is suspected and accused of being in cahoots with infamous gangsters yet people carry on as if nothing has happened. Child pornography is viewed as not any more serious than traffic offences by a top civil servant. Children are kidnapped and killed and crime is rampant. Headless or half burnt bodies are a common gruesome find in isolated scrub or lonely lanes. Malaysians no longer feel safe even in their own homes. 

Even Royal Commissions are ignored and never acted upon, but it would be too long and be too boring to list all the horrors that are visited upon justice and decency, not to mention upon ordinary citizens. People have a tendency to become bored reading such things and become inured to horror stories. After all they have to get on with their lives and to chase the dream of economic development. 

In the meantime, positive discrimination or the DEB has become more or less permanent in blatant disregard for the wishes of the original architects. Not only permanent, it has spread to every facet of life and corrupted ordinary Malaysians with any small power at all. This is especially evident among civil servants and bureaucrats. Rules are shunted aside in favour of the power to discriminate and decide by just about anyone with power to decide – even low level clerks and bureaucrats. 

Even the law is shunted aside and individual discrimination or decision made without any regard for any semblance of legality. The law is twisted and interpreted to suit those with power to the extent we have effectively 2 sets of laws – one for VIPs and those with power and one for those marginalized and without power. 

When positive discrimination is maintained for too long, it seeps into the very fabric of society and turns into the power to use personal discrimination at the expense of the law. The original architects of the DEB were very much aware of this danger and they put a firm limit on its validity. Their wisdom has been betrayed and the cancer has spread into the fabric of society. Even sons betray the wisdom of their fathers and become hen-pecked husbands. It is really becoming very confusing who is actually betraying the Malays. 

Our institutions are being debased in the most flagrant and corrupt way. They no longer serve society but a few individuals in power. Nation building is a joke and being turned into building the power and ego of a few individuals. Our institutions are toys and playthings in their hands. The more they twist these institutions to their liking, the more they think they are so clever and so smart and thus deserving of accolades and admiration. Checks and balances are really now just a cruel, nauseating and tragic joke. 

We once thought that with independence we could build our nation to the level and be at par with our old colonial masters with democratic institutions and effective checks and balances on absolute power. We are wrong. We became obsessed with economic development and the rat race at the expense of decency and morality. We ignored what was good and wise in our institutions (even if they are inherited from colonial masters). As a result, we are turning into a 3rd rate uncivilized failed state with corrupt bureaucrats and all powerful dictators who refuse to go away and with no checks on absolute power at all. Soon we will be lowly pariahs in the world community. 

Now, whose fault is it? But better still, can we still do anything about it? Can we finally put in some effective checks and balances please?