Have we been naughty or nice? That’s the perennial question we all face come year end, whether we believe in Santa Claus or not. It stokes in us the same feeling of dread that report-card day does when we were students. A time to hope against hope that we have been sugar, spice and everything nice and due for a handsome reward, like a promotion at work, a new car from Dad or that wedding ring.
So how naughty or nice have Malaysians been this year, across the board?
Let’s start with the guardians of justice. No, I don’t mean the Judiciary, for they are actually scientists in disguise, trying to devise complex mathematical formulas and technological inventions to prove the hypothesis that velocity plus force equals justice.
By guardians of justice, I meant the Bar Council. Not too long ago, they were largely involved in leading a large procession of lawyers towards the Palace of Justice to hand in a memorandum. That it was called the “Walk for Justice”, and not the “Walk to Justice”, says it all about the nature of this walk and the memorandum.
This year, they had no similar walks, but they made it up with plenty of talks. After all, there were a lot of things to talk about. Among the interesting ones include the extra-judicial shooting of an unarmed teenager, the arrest of 4 young Legal Aid volunteers distributing to the public the booklet entitled “Police & Your Basic Rights” (how ironic) and death threats sent to a foreign medical expert witness before she was due to testify in a high-profile politically-charged case concerning the tragic death of a young man in the premises of a law enforcement agency.
At this rate, the Bar Council could save a lot of time and trouble by designing a template press statement which reads: “We strongly condemn the actions of <blank>. The right to <blank> is a fundamental human right to all citizens as enshrined in the Constitution. Thus, we strongly urge the Government to set up a Royal Commission to investigate this matter.” Action speaks louder than words, walk is better than talk, but it’s still nice to know that there are Malaysians amongst us who are brave enough to speak their minds, at the risk of losing their heads.
And the risk is real, as the press only knows it too well. Our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. However, it also allows the Government to take away that freedom. The law of the country, in a nutshell, is as such that you can’t run a press without a permit, and this permit can be revoked at any time and subject to renewal every year, at the Home Ministry’s discretion. This is the very same Ministry that has close to omnipotent power to detain people without trial indefinitely and confiscate religious books on the basis they confuse the public (apparently, certain deities have intellectual property rights over certain words).
So, the ones who actually have freedom to speak their minds are politicians. However, they enjoy this freedom perhaps too much, till their entire role appears not so much as to convince the public that the grass is greener on their side, but rather to show how the other side is filled with weeds, rats or prone to landslides. What’s disturbing is not merely that the countless allegations of corruption and “bad romances” raised are neither fully substantiated nor sufficiently disproved, but how much time they consume Parliamentary sessions.
Truth is, the line between both sides of the political divide is actually quite blurred. There is no impassable barrier like the DMZ or Berlin Wall. Instead, it’s a free border where frogs can easily hop across the other side with relative ease.
In fact, this year they even had a rare moment of solidarity, when Israel attacked the humanitarian aid ship Mavi Marmara which ferried 12 Malaysian crew members. For almost a month, much of Parliament’s time was spent on tabling a motion listing down various ways to make Israel pay for its despicable international crimes (which did not include wiping Israel off the map, thankfully). So that’s politicians for you. When they’re not busy condemning each other, they’re busy condemning outsiders.
Back to the Judiciary. I don’t doubt their good intentions in their newest social experiment. Yes, they have an efficient machinery running, but the question simply is whether they have a pool of quality judicial officers able to keep the machine running and well-oiled? Unlike jurisdictions like Britain and Australia, the Malaysian Judiciary still struggles to attract the brightest minds from law school and senior private practitioners. This lack of human resource causes the machinery to stutter and emit noxious fumes that drive many disillusioned lawyers away from practice, and erodes public confidence in the Judiciary (or what little is left of it).
We have to learn to walk before we run. It’s not just about how fast the ride, but also how good the driver. No use having first-world facilities, when we’re stuck with third-world mentality. You get the idea.
That being said, the average Malaysian hardly fare any better. Prone to bribing to escape traffic offences, or sitting on summonses in hope of getting a discount, we are no angels. Another sad statistic is the amount of local graduates, supposedly educated young adults, defaulting on their PTPTN loans. They can afford to pay their credit cards, iPhone/Blackberry or broadband monthly bills, but not the price of education.
The typical Malaysian excuses to such misdemeanours are “but everyone does it-lah!” and “the Government is so corrupt, why should we give them more money to be misused?” Their logic is that so long as everyone does it, nobody gets caught and the police and Judiciary remain corrupt, breaking the law isn’t a crime.
But whine as much we want about how corrupt our Government is, the fact remains that Malaysia is a democracy. No-one’s pointing a gun to our heads to vote either way. The former Dean of my faculty once said: “We get the leaders we deserve”. How true. We vote into power people who can do us personal favours, or who are part of powerful organisations which can. We’re fine with corruption, so long as we’re at the receiving end. We only start condemning corruption when we’re at the losing end.
Let’s face it, deep inside, we all want to be naughty, and strive to expose other people’s naughtiness to overshadow our own. The sad reality in Malaysia is that more often than not, the naughty gets rewarded. And they often escape unpunished as well, because there are few genuine nice people around who dares to throw the first stone.
So have we been naughty or nice? It doesn’t matter, whether we believe in Santa Claus or not, because Santa Claus wouldn’t believe in us.
Raphael wears many hats (and many clean underwear, in case you’re wondering). He drafts boring, drab legal documents by day at a KL-based law firm, and moonlights as a cabaret dancer by night (who tweets @kinkypinky_wb). Sometimes, when inspiration strikes, he puts on the hat of Bolehman, a young and intrepid political adventurer in the turbulent and treacherous waters populated by sharks and crocodiles known as the Malaysian political arena (who tweets @bolehman). On this occasion, he’s just wearing a Santa cap. With jingly bells on it.