On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Personal royal interest in awards list

The Sultan, who has won support for his reforms, also
decided that there would be no recipient for the Justice of Peace award. JPs
are often regarded as second-class magistrates.

Over the past one week, the media has continued to report
on the steps taken by him to improve the standing of the royal household while
full-page interviews have been published in the run-up to his official

The Sultan had earlier announced he had revoked the
Datukship of two businessmen and that his royal household would limit the
number of Datuks to 40 a year. It is understood that the Sultan and Mentri
Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamed Khir Toyo personally vetted the list of 300
nominations for Datukship.

The message from the Sultan was clear: Work for these
titles. These titles are not for sale.

According to a state official, the Sultan had all the
background information of the 300 names, including the political standing of
some Umno leaders recommended for the title and whether they were qualified to
be Datuks.

Many nominations submitted by top Barisan Nasional
leaders for the titles were struck off by the Sultan despite the
recommendations of these politicians.

"He surprised us with his knowledge of these nominees. In
some cases, he dismissed the perceived influence and contributions of these
nominees, saying they were not ready to be Datuks. He really did his homework,"
said the official.

The action of the Sultan has even attracted the attention
of the Singapore Straits Times which reported "when the ruler of Selangor
voiced his disquiet recently over the quality and quantity of Datuks, he was
speaking on behalf of many Malaysians" as many Malaysians had made "snide
remarks that the titles could be bought."

Earlier, Mingguan Malaysia,
in its editorial, had questioned how unknowns, in their 30s, were made Datuks
and what these people could have achieved at such a young age.

Last week, the Malay Mail provided the breakdown of
Datukships conferred – the figures for Kelantan and Sabah are for 2002, and the
rest for 2001: Johor (1), Kedah (40), Kelantan (25), Negri Sembilan (55),
Pahang (105), Perak (60), Perlis (20), Selangor (90), Terengganu (20), Malacca
(60), Penang (59), Sabah (55), Sarawak (12) and Federal Government (43).

It is good that the media has continued to give attention
to the issue because serious steps must be taken to ensure that the honour is
not diluted. Datukships have a long history as they were used as early as 1400,
during the Malacca Sultanate, to refer to people with high standing in society.

The Datukships as a conferred title began in 1800s,
during the British colonial era, when the state of Malaya
adopted the various constitutions. Since then, it has been a tradition that the
rulers and Yang di-Pertuan Negri confer Datukships of varying ranks – such as
Datuk Seri, Datuk Paduka, Datuk Wira, Datuk Panglima and Datuk – on Malaysians
on their official birthdays.

The general consensus among Malaysians, including those
who are Datuks, is that it's time the Council of Rulers give serious thought to
drawing up a guideline on the rewarding and revocation of Datukships, including
those convicted of criminal offences.

It should also be an offence for Malaysians who use
titles not conferred by the rulers of Malaysia
on their documents and that the authorities must insist on proof from people
who want to use this as a prefix to their names.

One local Chinese magazine recently reported that a
businessman from Johor managed to include his Datukship title, conferred by the
so-called Sultan of Solo, in his passport.

We are not sure whether the report is accurate but, if it
is true, then the Immigration Department must investigate the matter.

There is certainly a need to limit the number of titles
given in order to maintain their prestige and value.

As the people of Selangor celebrate the birthday of their
new Sultan over the weekend, they would be doing so with renewed pride.