It’s Both

By batsman

I refer to the article by chedet in which he voices the opinion that it is the people not the institutions when referring to reformation efforts in UMNO. By implication, of course, this means that most people in UMNO are hopelessly corrupt and incorrigible – beyond redemption since chedet argues that whatever the form the institution takes, people in UMNO have found ways to abuse the system. 

I beg to differ, not so much in the implications but in the stated conclusions. As is correct and right, chedet’s implied and unsaid opinion is that most UMNO people are beyond redemption. I must wonder however, whether he includes himself in the righteous minority. 

Whatever chedet says of UMNO must be also mostly true for the country at large for the country mirrors UMNO’s style and values with important exceptions. For example, UMNO is cursed by money politics while the country is cursed by cronyism and corruption. The exception is UMNO does not have an equivalent to the PDRM but it essentially retains the equivalent of the country’s judicial system and election commission. This means that UMNO is actually more democratic than the country as a whole but not by very much. 

So while chedet’s arguments refer only to UMNO, they can just as much be a debate about the country as a whole and the reformation in UMNO is as much needed by the country at large. I like to argue that if reformation in the country is not forthcoming, the negative consequences will impinge as much upon UMNO and will render any effort to reform UMNO a waste of time, for the power, habits and influence of authoritarianism practiced by ministers and top bureaucrats will carry into UMNO itself (even if UMNO is by default more democratic than the country at large). 

I would like to argue here that for the country as a whole, both institutions and people are important and they must grow and mature together. The more force that is applied to try and halt this development or maturing process will make the inevitable change when it does come all the more violent and brutal, for people will have the strength and determination to effect change but not the maturity to control the consequences. 

I have said before that Malaysians tend to depend on white knights to solve their problems. This is evident in UMNO too for there is a pervasive culture of patronage that runs through UMNO as well as the whole country. We therefore need good institutions as much as good leaders. 

Just because some leaders currently abuse the institutions and push them aside to impose their will on party and people does not mean institutions are useless. It just means institutions must be further developed as much a people need to be. 

For example, the OSA is meant to protect the country against threats – mostly from foreign powers. But if the OSA is used to protect corrupt leaders from being exposed and thoroughly shamed then one may say that institutions are being abused. The logical thing to do is to create alternative avenues of power that may bypass the OSA in cases where self-interest of power holders or abuse of power to protect corruption is a possibility. 

Similarly, our KPN is fast becoming a Malaysian version of J. Edgar Hoover. It is rumoured that even US Presidents were fearful of him. In Malaysia’s case, the KPN seems to be even more powerful than deputy ministers and all accusations and suspicions that he may be linked to Chinese gangsters are brushed aside. One begins to wonder if the PM fears him just as rumours of US presidents are fearful of Hoover. 

Even if these accusations are mere rumours, the KPN is a figure that must be seen to be completely clean. Any rumours must be proven false for the integrity of the office of the KPN to be maintained and untarnished, yet our very own KPN happily goes about his business as if nothing has happened. This is an example where both people and institutions need reform. The person does not suit the office if he does nothing to protect reputation and integrity of his office, but the institutions need reform even more so since it is now necessary for alternative avenues of power to be put into effect if the normal processes are ignored or unimplemented by evil design. 

In most western countries, police commissioners who face such rumours or accusations would have resigned long ago or put himself up for review or investigation. Nothing of the sort for Malaysia. This says a lot for the leadership and institutions in our country. I would say that if Ketuanan Melayu is to be any good it must be good enough to lead the country to decent exercise of power and effective checks and balances. 

I would therefore say that reforms in UMNO look to be a real waste of time if reforms in the country’s executive, judicial and security institutions are not at the same time looked into very seriously.