On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Dubious characters give Datuks a bad name

Some of these individuals, especially businessmen, are
hardly in their 40s and their contribution to the state or nation – a main
criterion – is almost unknown. Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri
Dr Rais Yatim is the only politician who has been bold enough to say that it is
common knowledge Datukships could be bought in some states.

is a small place. In political and social circles, fingers are pointed when a
person is said to have bought his title.

Perceptions become more negative if the person is known
to have a dubious background, whether he is a community leader, journalist,
politician or businessman. It makes a mockery out of the award when the
questionable character of the recipient is public knowledge but the state ruler
is not aware.

The sad reality is that many businessmen and politicians
consider the title ''Datuk'' as a new status symbol. It is not good enough to
have a fat bank account, a fleet of cars and a bungalow with a swimming pool –
the honorific must be there, too.

More stringent conditions are certainly needed before
someone is recommended for a Datukship.

Too many Malaysians are walking around with this title.
Anyone could claim to be a Datuk; the man in the street has no way of verifying
the authenticity of a title.

At one time, some Malaysians had sought titles
purportedly awarded by rulers of obscure kingdoms from the Philippines
and Indonesia.

But when the Malay Rulers voiced their objection, these
''royalty'' stopped holding their investiture ceremonies at hotels. Still,
there are Mindanao and Solo Datuks walking around
without an iota of shame.

Then, there are wannabe Datuks who put the crests of
shooting clubs or association of ex-servicemen or policemen on their cars, with
the hope of passing off as members of the Council of Datuks.

Policemen have been fooled by motorists who display such
crests, simply because these emblems are on luxury cars.

In 2002, the different states dished out 6,314 awards and
medals, most of which do not carry any honorific. But over 500 individuals were
awarded the title of Datuk. In 2001, over 600 Malaysians were bestowed the

Some states seem to have earned a reputation for giving
out huge numbers of awards but this would only diminish the value of the
titles. It would be wiser if an average of 25 Datukships are awarded by each
ruler annually – some say even this is too many.

Titles from Selangor, Johor and Sarawak
have been well regarded because efforts have been made to limit the number of

Each year, hundreds of nominations for Datukship are
submitted to the various state authorities several months before the birthday
of a ruler.

The nominations – from political parties, NGOs, trade
groups, and professional and sports bodies – are supposed to list the nominee's
contributions to the state or country.

A vetting committee comprising a representative from the
Mentri Besar or Chief Minister's office, the state secretariat and various
other departments will then deliberate on the nominations. The names of
shortlisted candidates are supposed to be sent to the police for checking. The
ruler also has his quota of candidates for titles.

A one-off financial contribution to any particular
charity by a businessman should not be regarded as a prerequisite to earning an

For the sake of the integrity, dignity and credibility of
our rulers, it is time to shorten the list of recipients. At one time, the
title of Tan Sri was awarded only to a retired politician, judge, community
leader or businessman – now, some state and national leaders outrank the Prime
Minister in terms of honorific.

Malaysians want to look up to leaders who hold such
titles, but they know something isn't quite right.

The conferment of titles on commoners is an ancient
tradition dating back to the days of the Srivijaya Palembang Empire and the
Malacca Sultanate. It has a distinguished tradition that has continued until
today. It is an institution that must be defended and protected.

The Conference of Rulers should consider proposing that
any titleholder, irrespective of ranking, would automatically lose his award on
being convicted of an offence. It is outrageous for a prison warden to have to
address a prisoner as Yang Berbahagia or Datuk.

Similarly, those who have fled the country because they
are being sought by police or the Securities Commission should also have their
titles revoked.

Some form of register or website is necessary for the
public to check the authenticity of people claiming to be Datuks. I have lost
track of the number of telephone calls from certain institutions seeking
information on individuals claiming to be titleholders.

They presume that because I work in a newspaper, I would
be able to verify a person's claim to a title. In reality, there is no ''master
list'' to check against.

Worse, there are some who feel the need to buy themselves
an honorary doctorate after getting their Datukship.

I used to laugh at corrupt African tribal leaders, in
their flowing robes, who went around calling themselves doctors when their only
qualification was political witchery.

I have stopped laughing at them.