Tiada Maruah (Lack of Integrity) At The Very Top

Top civil servants and political leaders are seen as representing the best of not just their organizations but also of Malays. Consequently, their shortcomings are viewed less as personal failures but more of our community. When they behave tiada maruah, collectively Malays are also seen as such. That is what makes me angry.

By M. Bakri Musa

Last week I wrote, “So we have two disturbing displays of less than exemplary behaviors if not outright lack of professionalism at the highest levels of our civil service. One is the Chief Secretary not hearing both sides to the Lim Eng Guan and Nik Ali squabble before rendering judgment, and the other, the Solicitor General failing to recognize a breach of professional ethics.”

I penned that piece too soon. For a few days later we have yet a third example from another top civil servant, this time Attorney General (AG) Gani Patail. Responding to the allegation of improper behavior by one of his prosecutors in the Sodomy II trial, Gani Patail simply reassigned her.

Living ten thousand miles away I have little to do with the Malaysian civil service. My daily life is thus not affected by these tiada maruah (lack of integrity) folks at the top. The organization however, is essentially Malay; likewise the political establishment. These top civil servants and political leaders are thus seen as representing the best of not just their organizations but also of Malays. Consequently, their shortcomings are viewed less as personal failures but more of our community. When they behave tiada maruah, collectively Malays are also seen as such. That is what makes me angry.

Essence of the Exposé

The AG justified his action “to remove any negative public perception of the prosecuting team.” He did not address the substance of the allegation; he managed only the perception and ignored the reality.

Raja Petra Kamarudin (RPK) first made the explosive allegation in Malaysia Today (malaysia-today.net). In a headline-blaring column titled, “The Bizarre Case of Sodomy 2,” RPK in his trademark style named the specific prosecutor, and rightly characterized the indiscretion as “a conflict of interest of the first degree.”

The allegation appeared at the end of a long article, and seemed more as an afterthought. You have to read his entire piece to get to the stunning revelation. Those who gave up earlier would miss it. It was as if RPK was challenging his readers to be thorough and not be content with only the headlines and few introductory paragraphs.

There was also a teasing coyness to the exposé; it was uncharacteristically brief. Beyond the mention of the name, there were no other details. It was as if RPK was laying a trap. Throw a teaser out, and then see those bastards falling all over themselves condemning him.

This time however, there was silence. There were no hysterical accusations or righteous condemnations that RPK was purveying “half-truths,” or as one novice politician would put it, “only 40 percent facts and the rest made up.”

My gut feeling is that RPK reveals way less than 40 percent of what he knows or has information on this evolving scandal. I had hoped that those UMNO jackasses would have resorted to their usual mouth-frothing denunciations of RPK. Then I could see him salivating like a lion that had successfully lured its prey to a trap where it could be pounced upon mercilessly.

Alas, no one walked into the trap. So we have to be patient with RPK or hope that someone would aggravate him enough for him to reveal the sordid details, perhaps titillating snippets of the videotape of the amorous illicit encounter!

The Larger Issue

It took less than a week for Gani Patail to respond to RPK’s revelation; unusually ‘efficient.’ This promptness, while laudatory, did not excuse his avoiding the heart of the matter – the truth to the allegation. For if the allegation were other than the “only 40 percent facts,” then the AG would have perpetrated a grave injustice on the young lawyer. Far from reassigning her, she should have been publicly exonerated, her integrity openly defended.

At the very least she should have been accorded due process. Even an accused murderer deserves that! The AG should be the last person to have to be reminded of this elementary legal tenet. Here we have the obscenity of the AG having a press conference first, with the poor prosecutor learning of her fate not from the media. Simple decency demanded that the AG should have met with the alleged wayward lawyer first, to get her side of the story and then to inform her of his decision.

If the allegation were true, then the AG has more than a serious disciplinary problem. There are the legal issues with respect to the Sodomy 2 trial. Additionally, the alleged act was also criminal per the Sharia.

Gani Patail cannot abrogate his responsibility. It is not enough for him to simply declare, “… [A]ny personal matter, if it can have any implication in whatever form on the department, will be handled very seriously.” He also has to demonstrate it.

If the allegation has substance, then the AG must remind himself that if she is not disciplined now, she would continue winding her up the civil service. She could one day be a judge or even the AG.

I am not concerned here with the career trajectory of a young lawyer. Nor am I particularly perturbed at the ineptness of some of our high level officials. I have seen enough similar examples elsewhere to be able to put that in perspective. The Peter Principle is after all universal.

I am however concerned with the pattern of tiada maruah leadership in the civil service and other essentially Malay entities. The recent scandal at Sime Darby reflects the pervasiveness of this blight. Again this being Malaysia, the racial element is never far from the public radar. One only has to read the bigoted comments on the Internet and elsewhere to be painfully reminded of this.

These tiada maruah Malays only feed this ugly stereotype. Of all people I would have expected them to be conscious of this, and thus make every effort to ensure that their behaviors would help tear down this unfair image.

I am not in the least comforted by the fact the Indian civil service is even more bloated and lumbering, or that the folks in Beijing are hideously more corrupt (note the recent scandal of tainted baby formulas) and disrespectful of basic human rights (witness their all too frequent summary executions). We are talking about Malaysia here, with our own rules, norms and expectations.

The other communities too have their own peculiar blights. The scandals with MAIKA and Port Klang Free Zone Project are obscene reminders of that. To me that is neither an excuse nor a consolation.

I feel for those honest, competent and diligent public servants who are Malays. They give all they have for the nation but their good work is being overshadowed by these yahoos at the top. How did the likes of Gani Patail reach the top? Likewise, I keep wondering how such unimaginative, frankly corrupt, and not terribly competent people get to lead us. More importantly, why did we let them? The answers elude me.

We can only change the negative image of our community by changing the reality. Vote these corrupt and incompetent bastards out! Voting them in again would only encourage them. Indeed this is exactly what has been happening. By repeatedly voting them in for the past 50 years, we are implicitly condoning if not encouraging their wayward ways.

Once we have capable political leaders, they will take care of the Napoleons in the public service, the little as well as the big ones. In the meantime we must do everything we can to shame them. This essay is an exercise in that. Come the election, we can punish them.

Those who love our community and champion its cause, including the Ketuanan Melayu folks, would do well to enlist in this urgent and critical mission of ridding our community of these tiada maruah leaders and civil servants. Unless we destroy the blight now, it will be the undoing of our society. This is where we should focus. We must not be distracted by such imagined enemies as the pendatangs (immigrants), capitalism, or globalization. The enemy is us, specifically our leaders.