Now for the hard part


Halimah Mohd Said

IT IS heartening to have a prime minister who listens to the pulse of the people, to their grievances and grouses and attends to them as best as he can. Who says it’s easy to manage a volatile citizenry clamouring for change at every turn?

In a country driven by round-the-clock developments and transformations at every level of society, where economic activity is its heart-beat and knowledge acquisition its bedrock, it’s easy to be caught in the mad rush for development. It’s easy to forget the people and the nation have a soul that needs careful nurturing.

It is only germane that having fulfilled the monetary requirements of a large cross-section of the population in the Budget, Datuk Seri Najib Razak is now responding to those concerned about where the nation is heading ethically and morally. Having put economic and financial concerns at the top of the national agenda, the prime minister must now focus on the moral and ethical issues surrounding people’s lives.

I cannot agree more with the relevance of the prime minister’s words “… great knowledge without wisdom and integrity is indeed dangerous”. The call to Malaysians to build up not only their knowledge and skills but more importantly, their wisdom and moral values must be heeded by all if the nation is to achieve sustainable greatness.

For, of what use is tremendous and uninterrupted success to Malaysians and Malaysia if in achieving it their integrity is in disarray? Of what good is a booming economy or a thriving education industry if there is a feeling in the community that ethics and morality have been compromised?

The concepts of “integrity” and “morality” however are not straightforward or easy to define. If you ask people what “integrity” means to them, most would not hesitate to say “honesty” or “truthfulness”. A clear definition would go something like “uprightness of character; the condition or quality of being unimpaired or sound.”

To most, “morality” refers to the values and moral principles which separate right from wrong, good behaviour from bad behaviour. It implies a soundness of morals and a freedom from the corrupting influences within society. Religion has traditionally been used to instil standards of morality in its adherents and to keep the community in check.

However, as secularity become an honoured way of life and civil liberty and freedom are touted as human rights, the country’s laws, rules and regulations, codes of ethics and principles of good governance are perhaps more effective in enforcing them.

Too often people rise to positions of authority and power for which they are ill-suited. We see this occurring in government, in the business world, in politics, in institutions of learning and the other levels of the social hierarchy.

We go to a public or private centre to address an issue only to be frustrated by its inability to provide the information/ service requested or to do it in an efficacious manner. We are frustrated because the staff do not have the integrity to meet our needs efficiently. Often there is procrastination and delay which say little for the integrity of the centre.

In a hierarchical society like Malaysia, protocol plays an important role in maintaining a semblance of order and discipline which, in a sense, defines Malaysian integrity and ethical standards. Public functions are steeped in protocol with clear demarcations in logistics and language. There are segregations in seating and speeches are lined with salutations and honorifics. Woe betide the event organisers if any of these are breached.

But it is equally important for the honoured guests to play their part by being punctual and keeping to the time painstakingly determined and observed by all concerned. It is not stressed enough that punctuality is a crucial part of official and personal integrity.

The smooth-running of a nation’s logistics, whether it is administrative, protocol, legal, physical, etc, is therefore very much determined by how the cogs in the social wheel synchronise with one another to produce a value chain that makes us proud to be Malaysians.

And these include, but are not limited to, commitment to contracted obligations, honesty in all dealings and fairness and equality in regard to the treatment of its citizens.

The country’s leaders and role models in government, politics, industry, academia, religion, etc are obliged to manifest the highest standards of integrity and morality in their private and public behaviour in order for these to be the examples followed by the people they lead.

To quote Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the great World War II heroes and American presidents of our time: “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a football field, in an army or in an office.”


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October 2011
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