On 23 April 2001 in a feature article entitled Of Titles and Trimmings I wrote:

We hope that the Malaysian love for protocol and decorative officialdom will give way to simplicity and prudence, better time and budget management. For despite appeals for less protocol at government and corporate functions, Malaysians still go overboard with unnecessary trimmings.

 What is it about our Malaysian deference that makes us invent unnecessary protocol to segregate the plebeians from the titled members of society? Do we have to literally stretch our budi bahasa to acknowledge every Tun, Tan Sri, Datuk, Toh Puan, Puan Sri and Datin in the audience? Would not the all-inclusive Tuan-Tuan dan Puan- Puan be more reflective of the egalitarian social order – keadilan dan kesaksamaan – that we vow to uphold?

 Have we become a nation and a people that by virtue of some ill-founded traditions cannot be simple in our approach to work and play? Are we a society that, having thrown off the ghosts of feudalism and then colonialism, is still haunted by their contrived hierarchies?

Ten years on, we still do not see a transformation in attitudes towards hosting and hospitality, especially in the government departments and agencies entrusted with the management and disbursement of public funds. We still witness elaborate song and dance shows, smoke and  laser displays and bursts of fireworks and confetti – all quite irrelevant to the event at hand but deemed necessary to impress the royal guests or VVIPs in attendance; all unnecessary spending of the rakyat’s hard-earned money.

It does not help that today, savvy events organisers have wrested the role of the in-house organising committees to manage their department and company functions  for a very steep price indeed. Glib MCs, popular bands, celebrity crooners, fancy decorations and door gifts have taken the social scene by storm – all supposedly crucial in image building. The guests are then treated to horrid performances   and bad presentations factored surreptitiously into exorbitant costing. The general thinking is that Malaysians love to be entertained.  

What does it take to convince us to change our ways? Can we really change, when what we hear do not tally with what we see? The government’s repeated calls for innovations and  transformations to be made in the key sectors of the nation’s impressive development plans, for  greater planning in budgetary matters, for more prudent spending of private and public moneys seem futile when what the people see are lavish spendings around them. While the talk is of equalising society and closing gaps and chasms, the walk is on posh red carpets and in plush watering holes.

It appears that the disparities are getting substantially more glaring as the hierarchies of titles and honorifics become more contrived and entrenched in the social order. The talk of democratic and egalitarian principles of putting the rakyat first is drowned by the intrusive walk of bodyguard upon bodyguard and the screeching siren of outriders all warning us that all is not equal in the land of Malaysia.

What can we do to convince the public relations agencies and protocol departments and officials not to be overenthusiastic about their role and responsibility, that protocol is after all a function of the society and a reflection of its values. Granted, respect must be accorded the guests of honour be they royalty or eminent members of society. In the book Malaysian Protocol (1986) the writer Datuk Abdullah Ali painstakingly details the administrative machinery and social hierarchies at the Federal and State levels stemming from the ranks, titles and honorific bestowed on the people. He says on page 24 “If you are a good host, everyone that you invite matters. This is especially so in this country with all the titles and ranks: the Tunkus and Unkus, the Tuns and Tan Sris, the Dato Seris and Datos, not to mention the Ambassadors, Generals, Admirals, Commissioners and Superintendants, Chairmen and Managing Directors etc and etc. All these people know their station in life and expect to be accordingly treated.”

Protocol in simple seating YES, but perhaps not in fancy trimmings where the host feels obliged to mention each one by title and name, or greet them with kompang and drum beats or give them expensive cenderahati.        

The Sultan of Selangor’s recent call for less extravagance in organising public events and functions must be heeded by all including the other royal houses. What better counsel than Tuanku’s suggestion that a good book has greater value than any expensive gift, or that celebrity MCs and entertainers are an unnecessary waste of public money?  What greater wisdom that to encourage prudence in public spending and protocol among Tuanku’s subjects?

As the Quran 25:67 says “And [they are] those who, when they spend, do so not excessively or sparingly but are ever, between that, [justly]moderate”



2 Responses to “SIMPLICITY & PRUDENCE”

  1. 1 Anonnymous
    February 7, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    Race relations in this country is where United kingdom was in 1960 when it was faced with migrants from the sub continent. Subjects of the Queen did not want to be served in KFCs by workers from the sub continent. Today UK is trying to move towards multi culturalism. But for them it has been a painful process.

    We had it all in the 60s and 70s. But what has gone wrong? Somewhere along our jouney we lost our way. Suddenly we began to isolate ourselves and maintained that veneer of respect for each other with very little commitment. We were all turned into hypocrites saying one thing in one comapny and saying another in another company.

    I am glad that you are trying to regain the glory days of race relations of the 60s and 70s. I am with you. I hope that level heads will prevail and hopefully we do not have to go throurgh a painful process before we learn the value of the mother we have.

  2. 2 ninitalk
    February 8, 2012 at 8:23 am

    Dear lyvd – the more rational among us must persevere to quell the rising voices of discontent and dissent which are detrimental to the harmonious relationships we seek. We can and we must! Salam and PEACE

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