Thursday, October 04, 2007

Speaking up in the national interest

Yuen Yuet Leng

As an optimist I have often wondered whether better national enlightenment would come in my lifetime, and I trusted that it would. On this premise I did not emigrate as some did after May 13, 1969 and again in 1984 on retirement from the police force when the Inspector-General of Police assisted in making arrangements for me to move to a friendly country as the threat of assassination by communist terrorists continued to exist. However, I finally stayed back in Malaysia to face the problem and did not accept the offer of a bodyguard to ensure my safety.

During the last three decades the Chinese in me worried as negative traits arose progressively in national affairs with both the aggressive but legitimate, and the deviant implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP). The Malay in me understood the need for economic parity and social justice for the Malay community through the NEP because of historical ethnic and cultural differences and the contradictions posed by the strengths and weaknesses of each of our major races. The relatively less fortunate Indian in me felt he should also not be forgotten.

I even accepted that some overall surgery in the form of national restructuring was necessary for an extended period of time as a pragmatic means of fostering national unity. But this could not be continued indefinitely in the manner in which it was being professed, as a privilege turned sacred right, especially not in distorted configurations and in ways which have impacted adversely on every community in the nation. This could be seen to only benefit substantially a master group of elites in power, even though great economic and social developments had been achieved by the nation.

Over the years, I had experienced many conflicting emotions over these developments, which sprung from my conviction that a well-developed, multiracial and varied identity was an intuitive basis for our social balance. This belief was my strength and yet my weighty burden during my service in the police force. In particular, it was the advantage that I had been tutored in and served as a distinctive qualification which ensured my success in the Special Branch during the most critical decades when the protection of national security was a paramount concern and national development was our singular goal.

At times I was an enigma to some as I seemed "devious" to them in certain situations concerning race, religion and other denominators because my thinking represented not just one race or religion but every one of them and the totality of them. I was not afraid to cry "more" or "enough is enough" in all honesty in each of these situations, always being focused on the over-riding national interest.

I believed, trusted and was guided by the tenets and spirit of our Constitution as it was meant to ensure justice for all and not to be read as the subjective interpretations for a single community that tended to be propagated and were selfishly contrived for narrow and distorted goals. These views only serve to unite the race but disunite the nation, and if left unchecked, will eventually destroy the self, race and nation.

I understood the ongoing NEP process involving the correction of economic imbalances through measures aimed at stimulating a bumiputra racial, economic and social resurgence as these conformed to the notion of justice that addressed the needs of the three main races. I knew that it was not possible to be equally fair to all, and it was not possible to be fair to any one community in particular – at least not all the time and not in a categorically personal or racial manner.

I had over the years been asked why I worked with such great obsession and dedication and risked my life in service. Very simply, it was because I believed in what I was doing and for national values which do not die but for which I was prepared to die, as so many of my generation of all races had died.

I had also been asked why I accepted the post of Chief Police Officer, Perak after the assassination in 1975 of Tan Sri Koo Chong Kong, a patriot who gave his best and his life for the nation. It was suggested I was not the most senior Chinese police officer eligible for the post. I accepted the job with full cognisance of the communal dimension of the task ahead. But I was confident I would cope and, through exemplary personal leadership by word, deed and integrity, could provide the inspiration for victory, even in death.

Fully aware of my personal dangers, my family had been told I might, and accepted that I could, also be assassinated like Koo. Particularly close colleagues and intimate friends like JPC Basri, D/Cpl Choo Chan, ASP Johnny Mustaffa, D/Sgt Chung Kek Onn, DSP Wong Lim Hon, Tan Sri Rahman Hashim and ASP Zabri were in the same situation.

I did not wish to see more Chinese or officers of any other race die. With my service and security background I felt I had a better chance to survive than any. Between 1973 and 1980, discounting the first Emergency years, I had survived seven attempts to assassinate me. As Chin Peng told a common contact, I had spent most of my life looking for communists and the rest of it avoiding assassination.

It is also very important that I accepted the job of Perak CPO in 1975 not because it was proposed by the IGP but more because Tun Hanif Omar (pix) was IGP. I sensed, saw and respected what was in that man. Today, Hanif is still the same man and continues to feel happy or sad and very disturbed for the force he once led with such distin ction, valour and integrity.

He was supported at the time by a multiracial breed of policemen and officers who performed their duty for nation, regardless of the dangers, more often than not, at the expense of their families who had no choice but to also come out in full support. Hanif still remembers everything, especially those who died so loyally and undauntedly under his leadership. So does his surviving team of collaborators in defence of the nation.

An apolitical and professional police force, like other "independent" service organisations, has to survive on its structured apparatus, management and administration.

The Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) developed this capability and capacity from a relatively insufficiently tutored and experienced beginning in turbulent times during and after the war and during the Emergency. But we were generally all committed in varying degrees with focus and appreciable loyalty.

There was, of course, also corruption and malpractice in those days but not in the defining and serious degree that is now perceived in national affairs, governance and politics that now threatens to destroy the nation that had over the years achieved so much progress.

Hanif, true to himself, his character and still pulsating police professionalism has now together with the enlightened leader Tun Musa Hitam, the former deputy prime minister, and emerging broad-minded younger leaders for tomorrow like Perak Raja Muda Raja Nazrin Shah and Selangor’s ruler are coming out courageously to state their views for what they feel must be a multiracial, more balanced and less corrupt Malaysia. It is also comforting that another former IGP, Tan Sri Rahim Noor has also in recent weeks (whatever his unfortunate once single temporal lapse personally, is still an apolitical policeman at heart) pointedly stated that a Malaysian does not need to survive with any ethnic appendage or antecedence.

We need more former policemen and servicemen to come forward to reflect this defining posture so that the nation may recover its integrity and more politicians and civil administrators may play their part in genuine service to the nation. They should make their voices heard in the greater interest of the nation and not make honest and sincere leadership at and around the top relatively so lonely.

The time has come for honest reflection on both sides of the political and racial divide.

What do we honestly want of this nation of ours called Malaysia?

In 1978 I struggled to defend and protect the Jalur Gemilang for King and country. I bled inside for the nation with the contradictions and divergence that emerged as the NEP was being implemented and which had actually been planned for the whole nation. I worried for the future of the nation I believed in and trusted that our national leaders would progressively act in the greater overall interest of all communities and not concede to and abet the bigoted interests of any race, religion or creed.

I believed that enlightenment would come and I performed my job as a Chief Police Officer in Perak apolitically, honestly and at times firmly and tactfully even in the face of occasional pressures from the local political leadership who, I could understand, was pushed by untutored partisan politics from below. Pressures and frustrations that I felt, I kept mostly to myself and at times confided in my IGP.

In October 1978 I wrote my growing anxieties in my occasional personal diary:

"The present growing tendency, in the absence of a more powerful uniting force capable of providing common aspirations to all, is producing conflicting and constantly varying values which can only add to the social and psychological confusion in the minds of our people. The time has come when our leaders who are strong, must find the courage to come out in the open, speak their minds and do what is fair in terms of the nation as a whole and not in terms of only one race, community, group or individual. The absence of this, or the continued delay or inability to do this, is one of the main root causes for the increasing indifference or excesses of our youth and deviant religious, social and criminal or narrow political activity.

"We are in danger of developing a nation of grabbers and takers in the name of everything else but the truth. In short, we have lost the understanding and spirit of compromise which won us our Independence and which we thought could replace British power and authority and provide fair and good government to our people. Today, we have made materialistic advancement. But this has been achieved not in the spirit at the time of Independence but in in-fighting unexpressed, in resentment and hatred never fully expressed and, which continues to build up and is remembered in the minds of our growing generations. This can only lead to further disintegration of values and national unity. A more equitable solution must be found before it is too late and before the last Spartan and true Malaysian gives up and lays down his arms to die with tears for the future of his country when he would be most willing to die happily for his nation and for values which do not die."

(Thirty years on, in 2007, our predicament still awaits a solution. The incumbent government must come out in open support at every level if it desires to remain relevant to the rakyat.)

Several weeks ago I was appalled that an incumbent police officer at Bukit Aman had written an article in the Utusan Malaysia challenging Hanif about what he had done during his tenure of service in respect of corruption. Hanif had replied suitably. I am astounded at the obvious lack of professional and historical depth of this, I believe, police PR officer who does not appear to have absorbed enough on past leaders and their work in the force, about how these officers had worked and most importantly, what they stood for in terms of the nation and positive nation-building.

I shall just say Hanif was also intensely committed in leading the most important and critical service of the nation during the revived CPM onslaught on the nation after the unfortunate May 13 crisis and which we call the second (communist) Emergency. If the PDRM, in particular the Special Branch, had failed or faltered, Malaysian history would have been rewritten. This is with no discredit to the multiracial, multi-service, multi-committee and important "hearts and minds" that underlined the government’s efforts. Now some untutored politicians in Parliament had also asked Hanif what he had done in his time.

I say again he was very deeply leading the vital police force to contain communist terrorist aggression so that a more rational and integrated nation will emerge so that even the terrorists would realise and cooperate in the future for a decent livelihood and society for all. This was from 1974 to 1989 – a period of 15 years – of his 20 years as IGP.

The past may seem obsolete or irrelevant in the diverging realities of the developed present of individualism, materialism, religion and race. To a certain extent, some of our past dreams of total and purist equalities may have to be irrelevant at least for the present until all communities develop a fresh awakening led by "reborn" politicians who really care for nation and not just community or race.

However, certain basic values of the past and values on which the nation survived our critical Emergency years, our pre- and post-Independence years, will never be irrelevant and must be made relevant again, away from the racism, extremism or deviations, and the corruption that have crept into Malaysian society in the wake of the great economic, social and technological strides we have made. That has indeed been the positive side of incumbent government and its relatively better applications of politics in earlier years.

However, in its programme to create the necessary better parity for a disparaged community, deviant applications or implementation have created a permeating psychology that race is the reason rightly or wrongly, legally or illegally, regularly or irregularly, and not need and equivocal parity as government policy was meant to be. A new national security problem is being created by our own hand evolving around race, class and religion. Some politicians are insufficiently restrained as they enjoy the fruits of political dominance and opportunity in the name of race which is more a subterfuge for greater self-advancement. This is the reason and the incentive that many have become politicians. This is the reason why some younger and better politicians with nobler visions and intentions have also joined politics, hoping they can rectify things. Can they really make headway from within before they are seduced away by the politics of majority decadent power and dominance within?

Our top political leadership is endeavouring to set a new direction in politics, governance and administration. Incumbent politicians face genuine problems within. They need positive independent support from outside.

We had the institutions in the police, ACA, the Judiciary and less dishonest civil servants. The new national balance and image must come from the statutory independence that must be born or seen again in these services.

The Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) has to be implemented to support the IGP within the police. Hopefully, the new draft will include the IGP as a member in the commission and not in attendance as and when required. It is not the post of IGP that may be doubted but the man who is the IGP and if we cannot find a man honest enough to be the IGP something is really very wrong with the nation.

Prejudice must have its limits. If necessary, even a man with some minor blemish in the past but with greater compensatory qualities could make a good IGP. From my experience, even former high-level communists who saw the correctness of our national visions and mission at the time had joined us and risen high in national service through the Special Branch. Basically it is the sincerity in the man that matters.

The IPCMC, as I saw it last, does not allow the inclusion of any former police officer or anyone with links to the force. This pre-supposes that there has never been an honest policeman. Yet any other professional can be. This is preposterous.

We have to admit there is decadence embedded in our society across the board. This will destroy us from within rather than the enemy from the outside. We are our own enemy and destructor. Honest cries and views, some very loud and pointed, have emerged from a growing number who sincerely wish to warn and deflect us from a nationally suicidal course. They should not be misrepresented as harmful to national unity and goodwill.

The bogey of a political opposition is less convincing in the present which only needs more courageous corrective action and political will. However, the Opposition must realise that the recent episode involving the burning of our national flag is not acceptable, whatever the grouses. You have elements, party or otherwise, who are in the same category as those who commit the excesses that the incumbent government is being accused of. Nobility of vision is always stronger when outside the portals of opportunity.

The nation has to be seen in values that are common and exemplified by leaders who are brave enough to state these values openly.

A nation’s integrity cannot be sustained by only a few leaders at the top. It has to be openly declared and sustained by all politicians and especially by more levels of leadership in government and organisation.

The real substance of nation and patriotism lie in the Federal Constitution and the Rukun Negara and every government official should declare on oath on assumption of office that they fully understand the tenets of these documents which provide for the correction of imbalances, irrespective of race, and the just protection of the rights of the indigenous people without prejudice to the other communities.

The keywords are transparency, integrity and accountability.

Datuk Seri Yuen Yuet Leng served in the Special Branch and was Perak CPO.
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