A leadership silenced by loyalty

Graphic: vonyaglobal.com

K Haridas wonder why so many leaders remain silent despite their religious faiths urging them to act with honesty, integrity and justice. Are lurching forwards towards an unethical future?

Today, Malaysia is a nation that seems to be led by mediocre individuals at all levels. Intelligent Malays and non-Malays are sidelined be they in the civil service, army, navy, and government-linked companies.

Just consider the leadership of the police, the attorney general, the key spokespersons for Najib, the utterances of some ex-judges – and one is just amazed at where we have reached as a nation.

The present key performance indicator for ministers and those in the civil service seems to be loyalty to the prime minister. Those who have this attribute seem to be speaking a lot while others condone such blind loyalty by their silence. Some perhaps are too embarrassed to say anything.

The price for speaking up would be to be hounded out of office. The culture of loyalty is strengthened by the benefits it brings; so many rather remain silent while the greedy lap it up and show their loyalty.

Break the culture and you are out – like Muhyiddin Yassin and Shafie Apdal. No one stood up for them, and the same will be the case should Zahid Hamidi or Hishammuddin Hussein speak out against or question their revered leader. This also goes for the leaders of the other constituent parties within the coalition.

On the global front, many seem focussed on ensuring that they fulfil their key performance indicators, which are often targets to be met. We have seen how this contributed to the global financial crisis. The recent Wells Fargo scandal highlights the misuse of such indicators. Our universities are an example where students appear to sail through so that targets are achieved.

Student performance and standards are found wanting because the focus seems to be on ensuring that departmental targets are met. If need be, the talk is some department heads may request for a review of students’ results so that targets are achieved. This could then ensure that bonuses, promotions and other perks are secured.

So we have many mediocre civil servants. The Umno-BN civil service culture promotes mediocrity except in the case of corruption. Our civil servants amaze us with their haul of millions of ringgit in their own accounts and astonishing material assets.

Is it a case of the leader establishing the ‘standards’ while others follow at their own risk? For the leader, it is all ‘rezeki’ while for the rest it is both ‘rezeki’ and ‘takdir’ (alas, if you are caught).

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Visit a town council in the outskirts of any city, and chances are you may find civil servants who by mid-day are in banks attending to their personal matters. We the public are invariably told that they are at meetings! Others will rush through a meeting starting at 11.00 am as they will need to pick up their children from school by mid-day. Meetings usually end with lunch served courtesy of the government.

Leadership at all levels remains wanting, but we are not ready to face up and call a spade a spade. It may be “People First, Performance Now” but this slogan only expresses mere expectations. Let the Malaysian Productivity Centre undertake an independent study and all of us would be surprised if all this is mere speculation! The civil service is perceived as a vote bank for Umno-BN; hence they give and give.

Policies are changed with no notice to affected stakeholders. Overnight, additional requirements are added. One wonders if the motive is corruption or if it is to make life difficult for entrepreneurs, businessmen and professionals. The apologists for the government like Idris Jala and Paul Low meanwhile just shout their mouths out about Transformation and Integrity.

All this talk about the ‘ease of doing business in Malaysia’ is mere propaganda. Our immigration department is a good example of gridlock policies and arrogance. When religion does not emphasise values and when adherents do not practice and embody values in their lives, then what we are left with is mere exhibition to feel good.

Religion, Umno-style

This is what religion ‘al la Umno’ has become. Where are the Muslims and those of other faiths with moral and ethical convictions who even have the courage to stand up within Umno or the BN? Has Umno become so bankrupt?

Meanwhile, people who have graduated from religious school have the temerity to say that they have met the Arab donor who sent the money into the account of MO1. How can we continue to trust such leaders who are ready to lie for the cause of loyalty? The story of the Arab donor remains a myth while our county is in the hands of unscrupulous leaders protecting their own agendas.

If there were more committed individuals, they would have certainly taken a stand against MO1 and paid the price. A few have done so, but many continue to tolerate and accommodate the wrong that is so evident. This confirms a general lack of commitment to values and moral standards. The same goes for the leaders of the MCA, the MIC, Gerakan and the other component parties within the coalition.

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What is religion without a commitment to values? It is mere observances and rituals. This seems to be the fashion of the times. Money, titles and handouts represent their common religion and these make up for the missing substance and meaning that keeps this motley group together.

People committed to Isis pray, al-Qaeda members pray, as do the president of Syria and his motley group. The Hindu extremists also pray as do a whole lot of miscreants. God must be having a tough time selecting which prayers should be answered!

For prayers to be answered, there must be certain factors at work. A plant draws nourishment from its surroundings. There must be enough water and care given to the plant. The weeds have to be removed. And when all this is done, then the plant grows well.

Similarly, if one is humble, honest and has integrity, lives by values and convictions, respects life as the highest value, then what is said in the television blood bank advertisement rings true: “Unity runs in our blood.”

People can advertise their piousness and live like rascals. They may go to the river Ganges annually for their cleansing dip or undertake ‘umrah’ numerous times but the fact remains that they have had large sums in their bank account, which is now unaccountable or cannot be explained away.

What makes people compromise? Rationalisation may be part of the reason. God is Rahman, God is compassionate. I can commit whatever I want and go on committing sin. But on Judgment Day, when I stand before him I will say “Oh God the compassionate, have due compassion for me.” This is akin to the Hindus who believe that a dip in the river Ganges absolves them from all sin. They can then start afresh again.

Two religiously motivated individuals reading their respective holy books can interpret it from their perspectives. A man of reverence and humility would speak with one tongue while another with a perverted mind would rationalise and interpret the same passage differently.

Driven by values – or forced compliance?

It is for this reason that values are significant. These provide the moral spine and the light of clarity which inspires deep convictions that motivate individuals to stand up for what is right.

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State-led religion can be focused on compliance rather than driven by values. We have leaders who have led hedonistic lifestyles now promulgating Sharia law as the basis of the legal system in their nations. The lifestyles of some of our rich and famous also highlight the hypocrisy that is evident. Do what I say, but don’t do what I do.

Where values are missing, it often reveals how religion is exhibited as a mere garment to mitigate one’s fears or to soothe one’s conscience. In the absence of values, people become susceptible and vulnerable to powerful forces of unbridled greed, lust, anger, violence, alcohol or drugs.

A commitment to values is what keeps these in check. If you do not stand for something, you will fall for everything! This is what happens to people for whom religion is mere fashion. Just dip in the Ganges or go for an umrah and all is forgiven even the unexplained billions in the bank account!

Consider the character and conduct of several of the present leadership. Those who speak out and those who choose to remain silent. Both convey a message. One highlights cronyism and stupidity while the other condones what is wrong by their silence. Can we trust them after all that we read and hear?

Yet, they continue in power. Why? This is because many of them may feel that they have a lot to lose by taking a stand.

Whatever one may say about Dr Mahathir, he at least has taken a clear position in seeking accountability and, in the process, somewhat redeeming himself. One must also laud the Group of 25 and Rafidah Aziz for speaking out candidly. We need more voices of sanity.

Justice is one of the cornerstones of our respective religious faiths, including Islam, which the Federal Constitution states is the official religion of the country. So how is it possible that those in power and leadership positions turn a blind eye to the injustice in the constituency redelineation exercise which robs parity in the value of each vote?

When individuals without character and values hold positions of power, they also subvert institutions of governance and use power in an unconscionable manner. The judiciary becomes their instrument as does parliament and the legislative process. They survive because there are too many ‘yes men’ with no convictions, only loyalty.

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