Sunday, August 24, 2008

No Datukship For Kids

Source : Malaysiakini

First, it was Nicole David.


I was really shocked when 24-year-old Nicole was awarded the datukship last month. Why? No doubt she’s the world squash champion but she’s only a ‘kid’ and since when did we start giving out datukships (originally meant for senior, deserving citizens) to school kids?

Now, it’s Lee Chong Wei!

lee chong weiCome on, Mr Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng. This is your most ridiculous act yet in your first few months as Penang’s chief executive.

These are young people only in their twenties - and to award them the datukships - whatever for? What is happening these days? Surely, there are other more appropriate and more useful rewards or incentives we can offer our young sportsmen and sportswomen.

I always think of a datuk as an older person, someone highly revered (even idolised or feared perhaps) and who has contributed immensely to the state and nation. A datukship used to be awarded to those holding high public offices such as governors, ministers, top civil servants and prominent philanthropists.

rais yatim 03In recent times however, a datukship has almost become ‘valueless’. Palace hands have been alleged to be involved in ‘selling’ the honorific titles. Ask Dr Rais Yatim. Some years ago, he accused such people of being involved in corruption by acting as middle-men and surprisingly, none of the royal households came out to dispute it. So, we can form our own conclusion on Rais’ allegation.

But right thinking Malaysians are still hoping that our king, sultans and governors give out the datukship to those who are truly deserving, with outstanding contributions to society and nation. It will be better if the number is kept small to uphold the dignity, quality and value of the award.

I will be honest. Since the March 8 general election, I have been hoping that the new Pakatan Rakyat state governments will do away with the Barisan Nasional’s way of rewarding their members and cronies with honorific titles, the datukship in particular.

Titles used as rewards

Let’s look at these examples. Is it not true that when a certain BN leader is not selected as a electoral candidate, he will be given a datukship as a means to pacify him? Isn’t it true that business people who contribute to the BN coffers will be rewarded with honorific titles and with promises that there will be more coming if they remain loyal cronies? And isn’t it correct to say that when a senior BN leader is forced to step down from office, he will be given another high-sounding title - maybe a ‘promotion’ from Datuk to Tan Sri - again to pacify him. As for the heavyweights, they are likely to be made Tuns. (Aha, it’s also the BN’s way of shutting up a ‘big mouth’. Ever wonder why Dr Lim Keng Yaik has suddenly become ‘dumb’!)

But I am really disappointed. Barely two months into office, new Perak state exco members are starting to reward themselves with their sultan’s birthday honours as if these are the ‘spoils from the war’ they just won.

ngeh koo hamA case in point is senior exco Ngeh Koo Ham, who was made a datuk. I don’t know how he feels when even his more senior and accomplished party colleagues like Lim Kit Siang, Karpal Singh, Dr Chen Man Hin and Dr Tan Seng Giaw are still ‘datuk-less’.

If I were Ngeh, I would not hesitate to decline the datukship out of respect for my party veterans and elders. As it is now, Ngeh is the first serving DAP leader to become a datuk. Oh yes, he has every reason to feel proud about it, but I doubt many in the DAP feel much pride. In case Ngeh is still in dreamland, let me respectfully inform him that several party stalwarts are not pleased with his ditching the DAP’s long-standing, unwritten rule of not accepting honorific titles.

No different from MCA

anwar ibrahim sodomy allegation saiful bukhari azlan first day in court 070808 lim kit siang 01Of course, Ngeh could always sing the old, familiar tune of ‘it would be disrespectful to decline the award from the sultan’. But then, many of us are aware that before awarding a candidate with a title, the palace or the relevant department will write to inform the candidate and he or she can decide whether to accept or decline the award. It has been said that Kit Siang has turned down a datukship before and I think he genuinely feels good about it.

I do not know Ngeh personally, but I have to say again I am very disappointed. I may sound unfair but it’s also possible that perhaps next year, Ngeh may recommend a datukship for his cousin, Nga Kor Ming, who is also a state exco member.

So now, how is this different from the MCA style of ‘towkay politics’ the DAP has been fighting against all these decades.

I am sorry, DAP. Some of your Perak leaders seem to be falling into the same class-conscious and egoistic-society trap that has destroyed Gerakan and badly damaged the MCA. (To be fair, let me exclude Fong Po Kuan and M Kulasegaran from this equation).

I am aware that the new Perak menteri besar from PAS was also conferred a title. I refrain from commenting negatively about Malays receiving honorific titles because I believe it is part of their culture. The Malays have long historical ties with titles and awards from the old sultanate days and it would be wrong to deny them the joy and pleasure of receiving such recognition.

But it is a different matter when it comes to the non-Malay communities. Being called a datuk has never been part of Chinese or Indian culture. So let’s be honest about it - it is nothing more than a mere ego-boosting symbol. It sounds good but is actually hollow.

Let me appeal to the Pakatan state governments to stop dishing out such honorific titles to non-Malay leaders or business people. I’m sure there are long queues waiting for the sultans or governors’ birthdays by now. Show the people you intend to make a difference; and making one difference is to NOT do what the BN has done and is still doing - making use of the birthday awards to reward their people and cronies, thereby demeaning them in the process. Put a stop to this.

Give to the retired

A Chinese paper recently speculated that Lim Kit Siang and other DAP veterans like Liew Ah Kim and Dr Tan Seng Giaw are to receive the datukship from the Selangor Sultan on his forthcoming birthday. While they are deserving recipients indeed, there are many who feel that the DAP’s long-standing unwritten rule should stay. However, DAP veterans who had retired like Dr Chen Man Hin, Liew Ah Kim, Sim Kwang Yang, Lau Dak Kee and others should be given priority - if at all they are keen to be made datuks.

Remember Khir Johari and Ghafar Baba. They had respectfully declined all awards while in office and only agreed to be conferred only upon retirement. What exemplary leaders they had been!

Back to Penang, I must salute Guan Eng too for not giving himself any state award on the governor’s birthday last month. Conferring Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail the ‘Datuk Seri’ was a clever move as she is truly a deserving recipient - an exemplary wife, mother and leader.

nicol david nicole david squash playerBut to award the datukship to Nicole David and Lee Chong Wei is silly, awkward and un-chief minister-like. I describe them as ‘kids’ because they are viewed as such when weighed against the title which is normally given to senior citizens.

Guan Eng’s reason that “Chong Wei was being honoured because he had done not only Penang but also Malaysia proud with his achievement as the first Penangite to win a silver medal at the world’s biggest sports event” does not hold up for the datukship at all.

Hey, Yap Kim Hock and Cheah Soon Kit also brought the silver medal home from the 1996 Atlanta Games. And what about Jalani and Razif Sidek. They won Malaysia’s first Olympic medal, albeit only a bronze, in Barcelona in 1992. They should all be made datuks too, if Guan Eng’s reasoning is to be taken as a yardstick.

Then what about our other sporting greats like Rabuan Pit, formerly Asia’s fastest man, former Mr Universe Soloman Ismanto, or our football legends like the late ‘Spiderman’ R Arumugam and Santokh Singh - why were they not awarded the datukship? Indeed, there is a long list of sportsmen and sportswomen who had also brought glory and honour to the nation too.

Rethink his style

We can appreciate that Guan Eng is a young chief minister (I consider those below 50 young lah) and he intends to thrive on doing things differently, which is well and good. But this awarding of the datukship to ‘kids’ is definitely not well and good and the young chief minister has to be advised as such.

penang land scam 290708 lim guan engIn future, Guan Eng should consider awarding permanent scholarships from the Penang government to the state’s high achievers in sports.

For example, Nicole or Chong Wei could be given scholarships to further their studies, say in sports science at USM or overseas, when they retire from the sporting arena. That would be a more appropriate reward from the state government than the datukship.

In future, I sincerely hope the chief minister can take a moment to rethink his style of dishing out datukship to ‘kids’.

It ain’t so comforting and it will be even embarrassing to hear RTM’s Hasbullah Awang commenting on Chong Wei when he next steps onto the badminton court, “Oh, Datuk Lee tersungkur ke lantai gelanggang dan tumbang di tangan Lin Dan."

Thanks to CM Lim Guan Eng, Lin Dan has created history by taking his first Malaysian Datuk scalp - he floored and defeated Datuk Lee Chong Wei.