Thursday, March 06, 2008

Election Watch (24)

They are 'Servants', not 'Leaders'

(This is an extract from 'The Musa Dilemma', by the late K. Das; a book of intriguing reflections on the dilemma facing Malaysians in the aftermath of the startling resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam in 1986.)

The time has come…to sack such servants without too much ceremony

By the late K. Das (author of 'May Day for Justice')

The government, it must be observed, is only an instrument or "servant" of the King, and as loyal citizens, we were responsible for assisting His Majesty to select these servants during the general election. His Majesty in his wisdom, graciously approved our choice.

We may easily make mistakes in our choice of servants sometimes, and that is our privilege. The King accepts that and does not question us, let alone interfere with our choice, because he himself represents our ultimate will. So any misjudgments on our part give the servants no excuse, let alone the right to become rude or arrogant. Indeed the time has come to make rules to sack such servants without too much ceremony.

And another thing: the secrets the servant keeps from us, he keeps with our explicit permission. Where did he get the idea that they are his? They are the unpleasant facts we do not want to know day after day as masters of the house. But if we do want to know them for any reason, he cannot deny them to us.

That is why we invented Royal Commissions, to make sure the servants do not steal our treasures, or get into fights with our neighbours and friends without sound reasons. Servants who are allowed to keep house secrets to themselves without being unaccountable at all can help themselves to anything in the house. Obviously then the servants are only useful if they are properly accountable to the masters.

The accountability of the servant begins the day he walks in through the kitchen door. If he makes a mess of the soup, obviously he has to explain. It is not enough for him to tell the Agong, or us, that he can produce the list of soup ingredients he bought at the market.

He cannot tell the King that beef cost seventy-five dollars a kati or kilo because somebody robbed the national cattle farm and ran away with 2,500 cows. He has to admit he was in charge of the cattle farm, too. He must then name that "somebody" and prove the allegation, or quit his job in shame. And then he must still explain why the soup looks dreadful and tastes ghastly.

He certainly must not be allowed to shout and insult and give "warnings" to the people who picked him out of a motley crowd in the first place as a likely useful fellow.

Because they owe him nothing.

Because he owes them everything.

Like many really bad servants, governments slowly tend to assume that the house they serve in belongs to them. Remember Ferdinand Marcos? And Baby Doc Duvalier? We don’t need one of those here.

And they even become very rude to house guests, on the extraordinary assumption that because they were living in the house before the guests came, they have more rights! Remember Idi Amiin and the Uganda Indians?

That is why it is important to renew the contracts of such labourers with severe chastisements for past transgressions. Otherwise the servants will move into the master bedroom and expect the employers - and their guests - to serve them.

Of course, it is wise to give a servant the best tools for his job. He must eat well, exercise well and sleep well, so as to perform his job well. He must also be rewarded well. But I think the time has come to tell the servant that he is only a servant and must behave as such, even if in our hearts we think our lowest servant must be treated with courtesy and kindness.

So, we must stop calling these fellows "leaders". We are not a nation of sheep. These servants are not supposed to lead us anywhere. They are supposed to smooth the way to the places we want to go to, laying our red carpets if we are inclined. But if we let these temporary servants lead, each new lot will blunder off in different directions and they will most certainly lead us into the wilderness .