On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

For the love of titles

AT the rate some titled Malaysians – especially those with Datuk and Datuk Seri – are getting into trouble, the Prisons Department may have to build a new wing just to accommodate these VIPs.

Over the past two weeks, the number of Datuks implicated in triad activities has also increased and this does not include those nabbed separately by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

The hottest news over the week was undoubtedly the arrest of a businessman, with a Tan Sri title, who allegedly offered RM2mil to the Sultan of Johor.

He purportedly tried to bribe Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar to secure a recommendation to the King. With the recommendation letter, it would make it easier to get a Tan Sri title for someone.

After all, a recommendation from another brother Ruler would be taken more seriously than that from a politician, who would have to put his signature to lend support to all sorts of requests.

But the Klang-based businessman went to see the wrong Sultan – His Royal Highness certainly doesn’t need the paltry RM2mil. It was downright offensive and insulting to the Tuanku.

What has been happening over the past few weeks only suggests that awards are easily available, at least from one or two states.

Right or wrong, perception is everything. It may not even be factual but many Malaysians believe that titles can be bought. This is certainly not a good thing as it demeans these very prestigious awards.

Malaysians read about other Malaysians who are bestowed such awards and they question if these individuals have contributed anything towards the country or state.

We could argue that these individuals may have contributed quietly in various ways, without publicity.

Then again, we wonder how those with criminal records or those who have been occupants of the infamous Simpang Renggam detention centre for hard core gangsters could still become titled persons.

Surely, a background check is a requirement for vetting purposes or has the police been bypassed in some cases? I’m very sure the police would have been able to carry out these checks effectively and quickly as it merely needs a simple click of the button.

It has reached a point of incredulity or to put it bluntly, a state of scandal. We all want to protect the sanctity of the royal institution, which is so unique to Malaysia.

How would deserving Malaysians who have earned their awards feel when dubious characters secure these awards with ease? After all, respect and honour must be earned.

The Sultan of Johor is right when he said that if one threw a stone, it will hit a Datuk, but the stone will rebound and will hit yet another Datuk.

The Tuanku has done the right thing by bringing to MACC’s attention the case of the individual who attempted to bribe him.

It may be hard to prove the case but the point is this – anyone who is thinking of trying this trick better think twice.

In fact, it is a concern that over the past few years, the number of Malaysians with Tan Sri titles has gone up.

And the media is now receiving the roll of honour late into the night, sometimes just hours before printing time for newspapers. This is pretty unusual.

As trained journalists, it is our responsibility to raise questions as this is unprecedented. Questions like: What could possibly be the complications over a simple list of awards to individuals?

The individuals with the Tan Sri title are also becoming younger. There was a time when such titles were reserved for retired civil servants and these were esteemed individuals who were in their late 60s or early 70s, when they were conferred the titles.

But now, some individuals in their early 50s are holding such a high-level honorific.

None of us concerned Malaysians can do anything about the glut of Datuk and Datuk Sri except the Conference of Rulers.

Malaysians, and even the media, have lost track of how we should distinguish the various honorifics Dato, Datuk, Datuk Wira, Datuk Seri, Dato Sri, Datuk Paduka and Datuk Seri Panglima.

The press has standardised it by simply using Datuk or Datuk Seri but there are increasing calls from recipients to use their titles as given by the respective states.

That’s easier said than done because if this was to be carried out, the media will be carrying daily corrections. The best way is to simply cut down, if not momentarily stop giving out these awards. In reality, the damage has already been done.

Perhaps the media should just consider dropping these titles altogether and refer to commoners as Mr, Mrs or Ms. Just a thought.

Now, it looks like even in the afterlife, there are Malaysians who believe that the Datukship matters – it was reported recently that the paper effigies of a Lamborghini luxury car with a “Dato11” number plate, with ceremonial uniform, medal and sash, were burnt as an offering during the current Chinese All Souls Day (Qing Ming) for a deceased person.