Thursday, June 29, 2017

The' duit raya' rounds

“COMPLETE  fasting the entire month and you’ll get RM30 on the first day of Syawal.”
This, I remember, was my first duit raya, given to me by my late father when I was 6 years old. It was actually RM1 a day for each day of fasting.
He would tell us this on every eve of Ramadan as an inducement to fast the entire month. If he had included sahur, we would have failed miserably as my brothers and I preferred sleeping over eating in the wee hours of the morning.
My brothers and I received the same amount until we each reached the age of 18. I still got the full amount even if I didn’t complete the month as I had a valid reason as to why I could not fast.
And our other duit raya came from aunts and uncles when we visited them at their houses with our parents or when they came to ours.
We also got money packets from my father’s non-Muslim friends who visited us on the first day of Raya.
We never got the opportunity to venture on our own or with friends to collect duit raya when we were growing up in Johor Baru.
It was not a question of security or safety back then. Our parents felt that they have given us enough duit raya for us to save up or to spend on things that we wanted.
The RM100 or so we collected from them, our relatives and their friends was a tidy sum back then.
They would, however, welcome the neighbourhood kids into our home especially during the first few days of Syawal.
My father insisted they eat the Raya cookies and drink the red “sirap”. They could leave after they had eaten and were given duit raya. Back then, 50 sen was a big deal to these kids.
One year, we had children from as far as Kampung Melayu in our area. These kids were clever to target the Malay reserve areas for their Raya rounds.
I remember that whenever we went visiting the elders in Majidee, we would see the children in their best Raya garb walking in big groups from house to house. They’ll pop up at the doorstep when you least expect them.
Most often that not, they’ll be asked, “Nak kuih ke duit raya?” by the occupants. They will settle for duit raya any time. Sometimes, they’ll ask for something to drink to quench their thirst.
Any alternative to money such as sweets or chocolates would be frowned upon.
That 20 sen or 50 sen could contribute to whatever their hearts desired — maybe that first pair of brand-new jeans and branded sports shoes.
The act of giving duit raya is similar to sedekah (giving alms), an obligation in Islam and much encouraged. The giving of duit raya is, however, not restricted to children but includes the elders.
I don’t how much children get these days, maybe 50 sen to RM1 each depending on the generosity of the occupants of the houses they go to.
My grandnieces and grandnephews are now going through what my brother and I and their own parents went through when we were young.
When kids their age were going from house to house to collect duit raya, my grandnieces and grandnephews stayed home and watched the special shows on the television. They’ll go visiting with their parents.
The circumstances have changed so much that a niece and her husband, who had enjoyed going on the duit raya rounds when he was young, refused to let their children go out on their own.
“Before, we never hear of children going missing. Now, there are so many cases,” he said. His wife would holler to their two daughters and two sons to ensure that they have not ventured out of the compound of the house.
The teenage girls do go out to their friends’ houses but their parents will send them there. A pick-up time will be ascertained as to when their parents are to fetch them.
Some parents probably think it is safe for their young children to walk in big groups but up against not one but many adults, these children would still render themselves helpless.
Children can also be reckless especially when crossing the road. Sometimes, the elder children would already be across the road while the younger ones lag behind on the opposite side.
My nephews and nieces don’t mind depriving their children of this growing-up experience, preferring that their children be safe than they be sorry if anything untoward were to happen to them.
Furthermore, in our household alone, each child can collect up to RM100 each from their generous aunts and uncles, and the other elders. This excludes the collection when they go visiting other relatives and friends, with their parents, of course.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Fasting, working hours and productivity

WE are nearing the end of the first week of Ramadan. Some of my friends have settled into a new routine, having made changes to their working arrangements and lifestyle. Among them, there are those who have turned down offers of overseas travel during the month and those that stretched into the Raya period. Some even frowned upon others who do travel during Ramadan as if it is an unthinkable thing to do. There are those who have rescheduled meetings, even important ones, until after Raya.
The government and some companies have shortened the working hours (lunch-break hours are reduced) to accommodate those having to go home early to prepare break-of-fast meals for the family and then rush to the mosque to perform the terawih prayers.
So, with this and more, Ramadan is perceived to be a month of reduced working hours and productivity.
In fact, a 2013 Harvard Kennedy School of Government research by Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott had established causal evidence for a negative effect of Ramadan fasting on economic growth in Muslim countries. Their findings indicated that religious practices can affect labour supply choices in ways that have negative implications on economic performance.
But, an earlier survey by Dinar Standard and ProductiveMuslim Ltd in 2011 showed that 77 per cent out of 1,534 working professional respondents said they try to maintain the same level of work productivity during Ramadan as they do outside of Ramadan. They also feel that work should continue uninterrupted.
The survey was marketed in five Muslim-majority countries (Malaysia, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) as well as five countries with sizeable Muslim minorities (the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Canada, and Australia).
One key implication of this finding was that people do not expect adjustments to their work hours. Only 15 per cent of the respondents thought that work should not be a priority while three per cent responded that nobody works during Ramadan.
The survey also showed that 72 per cent of the respondents agreed that their company’s productivity did not suffer during Ramadan, and that it was business as usual. This response was stronger from non-OIC-based respondents (81 per cent vs 61 per cent from OIC-based respondents). Also noteworthy was that 26 per cent of OIC-based respondents did think their company’s productivity does unnecessarily suffer during Ramadan.
For those countries which average two hours workday reduction (Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Pakistan and Egypt), the total hours lost were approximately 40, which was essentially equivalent to one week of economic productivity. Percentage-wise, this averaged to a 7.7 per cent loss in such a country’s monthly gross domestic product (GDP) value. For those which averaged a one hour workday reduction (Indonesia and Malaysia), the total lost hours were 20, which averaged to a 3.8 per cent loss in those economies’ average monthly GDP value.
Dinar Standard said although a detailed analysis of economic impact would have to be undertaken to understand the full complexity of the Ramadan dynamic, the above assessment showed that the economies suffered roughly four per cent in monthly GDP per hour of work reduction per day.
“Undoubtedly, no dollar value can be placed on spiritual gains and divine blessings of increased worship during Ramadan, but the fact that there are different approaches to work-hour reduction and adjustment do suggest that governments should evaluate whether their Ramadan policies maintain the right balance of work responsibility and spiritual flexibility during Ramadan,” it said.
ProductiveMuslim, in its article “The Ramadan Debate: Spirituality vs Productivity”, said having a productive Ramadan is neither about focusing on the spiritual side of Ramadan only and neglecting (or even ignoring) productivity and work performance, nor the opposite.
“A productive Ramadan is about asking oneself the critical question: How can I be the best version of myself — spiritually, physically, and socially during this blessed month?
“If enough Muslims ask themselves this question and follow through with practical implementation of the latest productivity science that helps them be productive, healthy and balanced human beings, then perhaps in a few years we might get a different result from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government research, one that will say Ramadan not only improves subjective wellbeing among followers, but also improves economic performance and productivity,” it added.
We know of people who are willing to pay a premium to perform umrah in the last 10 days and nights of Ramadan (it is much cheaper outside the fasting month). They want to i’tikaf perform various forms of zikr — the remembrance of Allah — doing extra prayers and reciting and studying the Quran) in either Masjidil Haram in Makkah or Masjid Nabawi in Madinah. One of the nights is also the Night of Laylatul Qadar (the Night of Power), where any action done on this night, such as special prayers, is as described in the Quran as “better than a thousand months”.
But, there are those who see Ramadan as the month of economic opportunity.
I read some years back of a civil servant who took one month off from work to do the food business at the Ramadan bazaar. What he made in that one month far surpassed his month’s salary. And then, there was this makcik who was selling pineapple tarts and cookies at one of the shopping complexes in Bangsar. A few days before Raya, she was nowhere to be found. Her stall was tended by someone else. We asked for her. We were told she has left the country to spend Hari Raya in Rome. She had exceeded her sales target.
As ProductiveMuslim puts it, it is about making disciplined choices — not only for spiritual wellbeing but for physical and social wellbeing — where it is not only about avoiding sin or performing the acts of worship, but also in applying the same consciousness to what we eat, how we sleep, what to focus on and how to manage our time optimally — with the intention of achieving success in this life and the next.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Igniting the spirit of patriotism in the people

TEN years ago when the country celebrated its 50th independence, I took to the streets with my office mates to participate in the Merdeka Day parade at Dataran Merdeka.
It was my second. The first time I took part in the Merdeka Day parade was a few years after I joined the company. It was for the fun of it. I remembered wearing a white T-shirt with newspaper cuttings printed on it.
I remembered being asked why I signed up for the parade. Family members and friends said they would rather stay at home and watch the parade on television.
The second time around, I was looking for a more meaningful way to remember the country’s 50 years of independence. My mother, for example, was at Padang Pahlawan in Malacca on Feb 20, 1956 when Tunku Abdul Rahman made the first announcement on the country’s independence. She will reminisce about this moment every Aug 31 while we watch the live television broadcast of the Merdeka parade.
I wanted to do something so that I would, later in the years, be able to tell the younger generation in my family that I was part of an Independence Day celebration.
Oh, I remembered that parade well enough. We had our kawat practices at the Army Sungai Besi and Wardieburn camps under the mid-afternoon sun that could have easily fried our brains. Yes, we had a drill sergeant, who screamed and shouted at us for going out of formation. He expected perfection from a bunch of civilians, who never had to march in their life.
I remembered having to wake up before the crack of dawn to get to Dataran Merdeka on time for rehearsals and on the parade day itself. And on top of that, we had to endure the long wait before it was our turn to march past the main stage in front of the Sultan Abdul Samad building.
And, who can forget our team uniform? The Jalur Gemilang actually covered half of our anatomy. I thought we looked silly but there were other sillier, if not ugly, costumes on parade that morning. I certainly could not understand how the telecommunication companies could submit their employees to wearing futuristic looking costumes that could easily put the aliens to shame. But we all wore our uniforms with pride.
That year, I didn’t spend the Merdeka morning sitting in front of the television and watching the march past. Neither did I sleep in.
I recited the Rukun Negara, something I had not done since I left school, and sang the Negara-Ku three times. We sang songs together with thousands of other Malaysians, young and old, at the parade. I felt patriotic even if it was for a fleeting moment.
So, would this year’s Merdeka Day, celebrating 60 years of the country’s independence, be just another public holiday or a night of partying?
My fear is that if nothing concrete is being planned or done, we will sooner than later lose sight of why our forefathers fought for the independence.
In their 2015 paper on “Patriotism: Issues and Challenges in Malaysia”, Sitti Hasnah Bandu, Associate Professor Datuk Dr Abdul Razaq Ahmad and Mohd Mahzan Awang from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said patriotism among the people in Malaya at the time before independence focused on the struggle for independence. National interest was regarded as more important than self-interest.
They also highlighted the many challenges to implement values of patriotism, especially among the younger generation. One is the lack of appreciation among the people of the history of the country. They do not know the history of the country let alone to sacrifice for the country. Consequently, there will be people who lack compassion and love for their own country.
I believe the months leading up to Independence Day is a fitting time to raise the spirit of patriotism among Malaysians, especially the younger generation. No nation can progress without the youth carrying that zeal for their country.
Last Saturday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak launched the “Negaraku” initiative at a carnival-like event. The initiative is to instil a sense of love for the country.
It is also aimed at igniting the spirit of patriotism in the people, setting aside any differences and to stand united in achieving the goal to develop Malaysia into a more prosperous and successful country.
A news report said programmes and events would be held in collaboration with the ministries and government agencies to ensure the success of this initiative, which would involve people from all walks of life.
I am pretty sure that those in charge of the campaign would already have a calendar of events leading towards Independence Day celebrations, especially those programmes relating to youth.
We have to remember it’s a changed Malaysia from 60 years ago. Engaging Malaysians of today is different from the time of our forefathers. And I believe each and every one of us can contribute in whatever way we know best.​

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Stop the blame game

Here we go again with the blame game after eight teenagers lost their lives in a horrific accident in Johor Baru early Saturday morning. Why do we do that?
A New York-based psychology website offered this as one of the reasons: that we are not good at figuring out the cause. It also said that the blame game is an excellent defence mechanism, a tool that is used when we are in attack mode and that it is easier to blame someone else than to accept responsibility.
Who is actually responsible for what had happened — the parents who said that they were not aware of their children’s whereabouts at night or what they did; the children for courting death, knowing fully well the danger of making the road their playground; the car driver for not being careful while on the road; or the authorities for not hauling up these children when they are aware of the children’s nocturnal activities on that particular road?
Netizens did not mince their words when sharing and commenting on the accident on social media. There were those who put the blame on the parents for negligence, the children for being a public nuisance, the driver involved in the accident and the authorities for not taking action. In fact, harsh words were used, probably out of frustration because they think that the accident could have been avoided if someone was responsible enough to do something about it.
The accident prompted a heated discussion on parenting on WhatsApp among my Generation X friends.
They shared their experiences of growing up. Some had very strict upbringing, with the cane used as a disciplinary tool. In other households, however, this tool was put on display, which was enough to scare the children. We never had a cane in our house.
One friend had a house rule similar to mine, where we have to be home before the evening prayers. He recalled his neighbour’s kids having the same house rule.
“The only time that we see them outside at night was during our Raya do and they came with their parents,” he said.
Even our maid had to adhere to this rule. When we were staying at Straits View in Johor Baru, Lido Beach was just across the road from the house. She would take us for a dip in the sea every other afternoon. She would hurry us home before 6pm and get us ready for evening prayers.
We never knew what kind of punishment would be meted out because we never broke the rule. My mother, who, in one of her throwback moments, told us that my paternal grandfather, if he was alive, would have been livid if we stayed out late at night without a good reason. He would give us the shelling, too, if we took babies out at night. The elders’ justification of this rule was that spirits roamed at night.
But, these are hardy boys. Ghosts and spirits don’t scare them. The particular stretch of the road is, in fact, next to a Muslim cemetery.
My friends are divided in their opinions. Some said parents should be charged under the Child Act 2001 for negligence.
But, suggestions to investigate the parents have been met with public outcry, with some saying that it was unfair to charge the parents as they had suffered enough losing their children. But, eight children are dead. How many more need to lose their lives before parental negligence is acted on?
Then, there are those who suggested that the boys should be hauled up for being a public nuisance, their bikes confiscated and that they undergo counselling. But, what good would that do? We were young once and we went through a similar phase.
We wanted some sort of independence, we wanted to be different and we somewhat tested authority, but, of course, not to extent of flouting 
the rules and breaking the law, resulting in a tragic outcome like what happened on that Saturday morning.
“You take them off the streets but you will likely see them back a few days later. Being caught by the authorities and released gives them some kind of bragging rights among their peers,” one friend said.
What is needed is a win-win solution, where the teenagers can undertake their activities in a safe environment at whatever time of the day or night, where their parents can be in the know where their children are and the authorities can be assured that they do not break the law.
“Providing them a secured environment does not mean that you are legitimising their biking activity, which can be deemed illegal, but what is important is that their safety is guaranteed,” one suggested.
Relevant authorities should have their ears on the ground and be in the know of what is trending among the youth.
Take futsal, for example. It was once the in-sport among the youth. The novelty has died. Now, they are into cycling. Oh, never mind the fact that these boys have modified their bicycles.
Also, one friend correctly pointed out that more often than not, we react only after something has happened. Malays have a saying for this, “sudah terhantuk, baru terngadah”. The English equivalent is, “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.
This week, eight more children are dead. How many more need to lose their lives before we actually do something about it? ​

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Claim them before they're gone

It was nine years ago, while on a working visit to Japan, that then prime minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi received news that Malaysia had lost Pulau Batu Puteh to Singapore.
He was at a private dinner function in Tokyo when acting president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the case, Judge Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh, delivered the judgment in The Hague, the Netherlands.
Reporters covering Abdullah’s working visit received instructions from their editors in Kuala Lumpur to get the prime minister’s comment for the final edition of their respective newspapers.
It was 15 minutes to midnight that we got to see him.
As soon as he arrived at the hotel, we were ushered into his suite. He had been briefed on the judgment.
I remember him sitting at the head of the dining table, face downcast.
He expressed sadness over the decision, but nevertheless, accepted it, saying that it was based on hard facts and evidence. He thanked the Malaysian legal team and officials who prepared the case.
“I know they did their best,” he said back then.
Geography may tell us that Batu Puteh (which is actually a reef of granite rocks half the size of a football field), by virtue of its location on the map, is in Johor waters (located 7.7 nautical miles off Johor’s coast at Tanjung Penyusoh).
But history, according to the ICJ ruling, dictated that it belonged to Singapore.
Then, there’s Middle Rocks which, the ICJ ruled, is Malaysia’s, while South Ledge can either be Malaysia’s or Singapore’s, depending on whose territorial waters it is in.
History also showed that Britain, and later, Singapore, maintained control over the island since the 1850s. Malaysia staked its claim to the island in a 1979 map, which was disputed by Singapore a year later. The dispute saw both countries referring the case to the ICJ in 2003.
This week, however, Malaysia applied for a revision of the ICJ ruling, citing three documents recently declassified by the United Kingdom — an internal correspondence of the Singapore colonial authorities in 1958, an incident report filed in 1958 by a British naval officer, and an annotated map of naval operations from the 1960s.
The documents were discovered in the UK National Archives between Aug 4, last year and Jan 30.
Could one of the documents be the letters that the governor of the Straits Settlements, William John Butterworth, wrote to the sultan and temenggung of Johor regarding the construction of the Horsburgh Lighthouse on Pulau Batu Puteh?
The ICJ was told that his letters had not been found, but there were English translations of the replies to those letters.
It is timely that these documents were found as the rules of the ICJ allow a case to be reviewed within 10 years if new evidence was adduced.
This also goes to show that the government continues to work towards appealing the ICJ ruling.
Furthermore, the Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim had, in 2014, ordered the state government to study the appeal, in line with the wishes of his late father, Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, who said Pulau Batu Puteh belonged to Johor and the island should remain a part of the state.
But, more importantly, did we learn anything from this episode?
Then foreign minister Datuk Seri (now Tan Sri) Dr Rais Yatim was reported as saying that there were at least 110 islands within Malaysian territory near Sabah, Sarawak, Johor and Kedah that required mapping and determination of status.
Some of these islands are located in strategic, resource-rich areas. There is bound to be overlapping claims and dispute.
Besides the islands, there are outcrops and rocks that we haven’t even heard of until recently.
Fishermen and divers know of these sites. Have there been any efforts to ensure that these islands, outcrops and rocks are identified and determined as ours?
Following the ICJ ruling on Pulau Batu Puteh, there were concerns over the status of Pulau Pisang, also located off the coast of Johor.
There is a lighthouse, called Pulau Pisang Light, on the highest point of the island, which was built in 1914, and remains functional as an aid for maritime navigation.
The lighthouse, however, is operated by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, the result of an agreement signed in 1900, in which Sultan Ibrahim of Johor granted the British government of Singapore (part of the Straits Settlements) rights in perpetuity to the plot of land on which the lighthouse stands and to the roadway leading to it, so long as the Straits Settlements operated the lighthouse.
There had been calls by various quarters for the Federal Government to take over the management and administration of the lighthouse from Singapore, for fear of us losing sovereignty of yet another island.
Rais had said back then that the Federal Government would consult the Johor government before engaging with Singapore on the matter. There had been no other press reports following this statement.
We hope there is work in progress towards this. After Pulau Batu Puteh, we certainly would not want history to repeat itself.​

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Time to kick the plastic bag habit

In 2011, the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry introduced the “No Plastic Bag Day” campaign, where on every Saturday, plastic bags were no longer provided for free in hypermarkets, supermarkets, departmental stores, convenience shops and selected business premises all over the nation. Those who still need the plastic bags have to pay 20 sen for each piece.
The campaign, if it is still running, is now in the seventh year. While I do not see any progression in sight at the Federal Government level, some state governments, however, have, on their own initiative, drawn up a timeline to have a total ban on the use of plastic bags.
The ministry can learn a thing or two from Ikea Malaysia — reported to be the first retailer in the country to stop using plastic bags — on how it did it.
The Swedish retailer took only three years to “convert” its customers in Malaysia to either use reusable shopping bags or other means to carry their purchases.
It first introduced the “Kick the Plastic Bag Habit” campaign in June 2009, where customers were initially charged 20 sen for each plastic bag used. Beginning July 2011, it stopped offering plastic bags. Instead, it made available to its customers the blue carrier bags of different sizes. They can either buy these bags or use the free carton boxes, which are available after the check-out counters.
Now, how many of us go to Ikea to shop and had to buy blue Frakta carrier bags to put our purchases in? And, how many of us forget to bring that same bag on the next Ikea trip, resulting in having to buy another bag? I can tell you that I am one of them. I now have the Frakta bags in mini, medium and large sizes, and also the zippered cart bag. And, I still forget to bring them along on other Ikea trips.
If I don’t buy the bag, I will have to carry all the purchased items with my hands. If I have more than five items in the trolley, I would surely grab one of the Frakta bags before I reach the check-out counter. So, in a way, I was compelled to buy the bag.
It is not readily known if the ministry had done a study on the effectiveness of the 2011 campaign or if it had commissioned a third party to undertake one. A quick search on the worldwide web showed several studies done by academia. One is by a team from the Centre of Economics and Finance, Faculty of Business Management at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) in Shah Alam, which conducted a study on the effectiveness of the campaign two years after it was launched.
Its findings, based on 560 observations carried out on three consecutive Saturdays in October 2013, showed that the campaign was 52.3 per cent effective in making consumers stop using plastic bags. The consumers used reusable grocery bags or other means to carry their purchases.
The bulk of the observations was carried out at supermarkets and hypermarkets, while the remaining were at specialised stores, mini-markets and convenience stores. It excluded wet, night or day markets and restaurants, as these outlets sell prepared food and wet grocery items, and are discouraged from using reusable grocery bags due to health safety and hygiene reasons.
From its findings, we can see that there is acceptance of the campaign. I would want to believe that if a similar study is done now, the numbers would have gone up as there could possibly be more people who would have caught on the idea of not using plastic bags.
The UiTM team recommended that awareness of the programme should be increased to heighten the level of effectiveness and participation of the public in the campaign.
“One way is to generate a culture of bringing bags when shopping and making the practice more convenient, especially to males as they are less likely to bring bags when shopping. As the behaviour of bringing bags is not likely to depend on programme information brought by in-store posters and flyers, social media can be used to inform and educate the public on the importance of a change of habit towards using less plastic bags,” it said.
I don’t think it is enough for just the retailers to put up banners and posters, and distribute flyers to their customers on the “No Plastic Bag Day” campaign. There needs to be a comprehensive public awareness campaign by the ministry across all media channels, including social media, to inform and educate the public on the importance of changing the habit.
The Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association has been reported as saying that the average Malaysian uses 300 plastic bags a year.
It also recommended that the government reconsider the amount charged on consumers to discourage the use of plastic bags during shopping. A 20 sen charge hardly burns anyone’s pockets. Its study showed that 47.7 per cent of consumers paid for plastic bags.
Retailers could also make the reusable bags cheaper. Ikea’s Frakta bags, for example, are priced between RM1 and RM1.90, while the zippered cart bag is priced at less than RM10.
After seven years, I personally think that the ministry is ready to take the campaign one level up. The public has been given more than enough time to be ready to live without plastic bags.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Remembering my dad's legacy against corruption

MY father was a civil servant.
He served as a Federal Government auditor and later the Johor state government in the same capacity until he retired. He then joined the Johor State Economic Development Corporation (now known as Johor Corporation). He didn’t play golf. He didn’t have a girlfriend, a mistress or a second wife. He wasn’t into branded stuff. His only weakness would probably be smoking cheap cigars after dinner at home with visiting family members.
Growing up, my brothers and I would envy our friends and cousins on the many hampers that their family received, especially during the festive season. We never got any. It was not because we weren’t offered any, but because my father refused to receive any.
We didn’t know he had put in place a no-gift policy until my mother, in his absence, accepted a hamper that was delivered to the house. He then warned us against receiving any gift under his name.
On another occasion, he turned away a delivery boy who came to deliver a hamper. My father refused to allow the boy into the compound and told him to return the hamper to the sender. We saw how the delivery boy pleaded with my father to take the hamper, saying that he would be scolded if he were to return with it. The front gate was shut on him.
That was how strict he was; so much so that he received threats on the phone and bullets in the mail for what he stood for. There were no threats to the family but there was one attempt on his life.
He was in a position of power, one that could yield him wealth, if he had succumbed to more than just the hamper offerings. He passed away in
1986 with a few ringgit in his pocket and some savings in the bank. He left us a house and a small debt that we settled on his behalf.
It was years after his death that I realised what a position of power can give you. And, this was when I was approached by a relative to introduce
her husband to a politician friend, whom I knew through work, for some timber concessions. I would have done the introduction had she not said something that put me off doing it. She promised us (the politician and I) a cut if the deal went through. When I refused, she remarked that I was my father’s daughter and her tone wasn’t at all complimentary.
I firmly believe that there is significant truth in what British historian Lord Acton wrote in his letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
In fact, Lord Acton wasn’t the first to put words on paper on this matter. William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham and British prime minister from 1766 to 1778, had said something similar in a speech to the United Kingdom House of Lords in 1770: “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.”
Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs”. It also said that “corruption corrodes the fabric of society. It undermines people’s trust in political and economic systems, institutions and leaders. It can cost people their freedom, health, money — and sometimes, their lives”.
And, the World Bank, on one of its blog postings on corruption, said an average citizen was exposed to power and corruption from the cradle tothe grave. Admittedly, babies have total control of their parents’ lives by merely batting their eyelids, making cooing sounds or screaming their
lungs out. And, how do parents pacify their out-of-control children? They either reward (or bribe) them with candies, chocolates and toys.
Some of them grow out of it as they get older (a smack or two from the parents can put them in their place) while others don’t. And having tasted
that power as a child, would it feel any different when one is holding a position in office either in the public or private sector?
Having a father who served with integrity with the civil service and a brother who is also a government servant, I am happy that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is cracking down on corrupt civil servants. The mainstream media and news portals have been reporting on the MACC raids, the arrests, the suspects under remand and those who are charged in court. All, if not most, pleaded not guilty despite having found in their possession currencies, gold and expensive items and documents pertaining to land titles and luxury houses and cars worth millions of ringgit.
MACC’s action may paint a bad picture of the civil service but I believe otherwise. MACC is weeding out the bad apples from the 1.6 million
Malaysians who are in the civil service, which is reportedly 11 per cent of the country’s labour force.
A lot of work needs to be done by MACC and the relevant authorities, but at the end of the day, God willing, we can be assured of a clean, efficient and trustworthy civil service.