FINALLY, long-suffering Malaysians will be spared the agony of knowing what to do with ministers and dignitaries when they are invited to events.
That includes what to give these VIPs as gifts, which is a very Malaysian way of thanking guests. However, there is a common fate that befalls these cenderamata – they all end up quietly gathering dust. Just visit the various ministries and government departments, and you will find them inconspicuously displayed in some cabinet.
The better ones obviously find home in the minister’s room, but you will be lucky to spot the one you presented (to the VIP) at the waiting room.
Most of them are stored in what is viewed as the memento cemetery, because the VIP and his officials rarely know what to do with these items of appreciation. I guess, they will wait for their successors to inherit them and do as they please, which more often than not means trashing them.
Last week, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad issued a directive warning ministers to not accept gifts under a new policy installed by the Pakatan Harapan government.
The Prime Minister said the Government is planning to impose this no-gift policy on ministers, and right down to their political secretaries. It was also reported that currently, this regulation only covers civil servants, which is surprising.
He suggested that “there are gifts, they should only be limited to flowers, food and fruits.”
It’s a good start but again, it’s a wonder what these VIPs, who attend an average of four events a night, are going to do with all this food, fruits and flowers. If those mementoes aren’t bad enough, one wonders about these time sensitive gifts, and even their practicality.
“You cannot receive anything else. The giver and the receiver will be in the wrong,” Dr Mahathir told a press conference after chairing the first Special Cabinet Committee on Anti-Corruption meeting here Friday.
With the setting up of the Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission (GIACC), several existing agencies will be placed under its purview.
These include the Malaysian Institute of Integrity (IIM), Public Complaints Bureau (BPA), and the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC).
There was another piece of cheerful news – Transport Minister Anthony Loke told his staff to begin events on time and instructed them to proceed were he to be late, to avoid keeping guests waiting.
“I want to advise those inviting me for events that there will be no more ‘waiting time’ for the minister,” he said when launching the Yamaha 20th Raya Balik Kampung Roads Safety Campaign a couple of days ago.
Loke said that he would make it on time if he is invited to events, as he dislikes people kicking their heels waiting for him.
Hopefully Loke will continue walking the talk, especially when his schedule gets tighter.
Malaysians also hope other ministers will emulate him, so that he’s not the Lone Ranger in time management stakes.
Earlier, he also issued instructions for his staff to stop welcoming or accompanying him to ministry events.
He said the protocol was a waste of time, which could be put to better use by staff members.
We hope Dr Mahathir makes this SOP as government officials should be working and not accompanying these ministers or greeting them, which invariably inflates their egos and encourages delusions of grandeur.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, or worse, like a whiny old man, can we make it a rule to end those senseless salutations of addressing every VIP, Tan Sri and Puan Sri, Datuk Seri and Datin Seri, Datuk Datuk and Datin Datin?
We have become a laughing stock because Malaysia is probably the country with the most number of titled persons.
We have lost track of the number of Datuks in our midst. A couple of states are so notorious in giving out such awards, that there is a sneaky suspicion they are easily bought. All of this, of course, puts the royal houses in disrepute.
Last year, our country set a record of sorts – a notorious gang of 60 hardened criminals, including four low-level politicians with the titles of Datuk and Datuk Seri, were netted in a series of crime-busting swoops.
Gang 360 Devan, involved in murder, drug-peddling, luxury car theft and hijacking, has to be the gang with the most number of titled leaders.
Then, there was also the leader of the notorious Gang 24 – a Datuk Seri – who was among 22 men picked up in another spate of arrests. In 2017, a gang leader known as Datuk M or Datuk Muda, was shot dead by his bodyguard while they were cruising along the Penang Bridge. The Datuk was a detainee at the Simpang Renggam centre.
A day later, a video went viral showing a heavily tattooed man being violently beaten up by a group of men believed to be gangsters, at the late Datuk’s funeral.
In many African countries, they have dispensed with such long salutations, and the speakers simply start their speeches or remarks, with the standard “Ladies and gentlemen, all the rules of decorum have been observed” or “honourable delegates, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.”
The Africans have surely carried out their protocols better than us, instead of our total lack of sensitivity of placing the “tuan tuan dan puan puan” last, simply because they are not titled. This habit seems out of place.
If a New Malaysia has been born, surely a new culture needs developing first. Our newly-minted ministers not having titles conferred by the respective Rulers is a good start, though.
Former Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and his father, Lim Kit Siang, have admirably retreated from the limelight of superfluous titles. Likewise, state executive councillors in Penang.
Our former deputy prime minister, the late Tun Ghafar Baba, was just plain Encik, until the day he retired from office.
In Tunku Abdul Rahman’s first Cabinet after we achieved independence, only five of 15 ministers were Datuks. The finance minister at the time, Tan Siew Sin, only held the title of Justice of Peace – which is recognised in Commonwealth countries.
Penang’s first Chief Minister, the late Wong Pow Nee, had no title until his retirement, after which he was made Tan Sri. Another was the late Gerakan president Dr Lim Chong Eu, who only became Tun upon leaving office.
We hope that our Rulers will not spoil these Mentris Besar, Chief Ministers and Ministers with any awards or titles. They can politely turn them down should they wish to, and we also hope that from now on, the King and his brother Rulers will keep their honours list concise.
By now, the message from Malaysians is loud and clear – the people decide, not the elected representatives.