Archive for December, 2013






Published in The Sun on 9 December 2013


EARLY next year I’m hoping to launch rather belatedly a book, an autobiography published in 1982 and revised almost 30 years later in 2011.

Why the bother some will ask since it has already passed its expiry date? Who would be interested in reading the memoirs of a man who is not in the public eye? Why the need to revive an old publication when the author is long gone and the narrative history?

Well, the simple answer is that it is the very elements of history and heritage in the book that make it worth a second run and a second read.

A few things about the book are interesting. First, the author started writing his memoirs on his 71st birthday, long after retirement when he had more time to reflect on his life and remember the significant moments.

This was when there was uninterrupted quiet for long periods to tap painstakingly on the old typewriter and keep the tales coherently organised, the facts correctly referenced and the language meticulously checked.

Second, a memoir written late in life has a much mellower flavour and is richer in its contents. It represents a collection of old world experiences and retrospective insights into the life and times of people from a past era.

Third, it provides the backdrop to much of the old values and traditions and connects it with the new. So to those who are planning to write their life stories, be inspired that it is never too late and that your narratives are indeed relevant.

Dr Mohamed Said: My Early Life will therefore appeal to readers who appreciate the sense of history the book evokes. Set against the background of tiny kampung Linggi at the turn of the 20th century, the first half of the book recounts traditional Malay life with all its vicissitudes and shortcomings, yet filled with the dignity and honour of the folks who inhabit it.

It offers us a glimpse into rural Malay life with its myriad customs and traditions at a time when Malaya was an undeveloped British colony. The author vividly describes the socio-cultural and religious milieu of the era and helps us to understand better the shaping of the psyche of a small community of Malays.

To those unfamiliar with rural Malaya then, the book depicts with much candour and directness the minds and hearts of orang Bugis Linggi in their everyday concerns. It would not be wrong to say that it accurately describes the life of other groups of rural Malays in modern Malaysia today, a century on.

The stories told may be mundane to some and dismissed by others if not for the author’s superb use of the English language which makes the writing worth a study in itself.

Perhaps, expressing himself in a neutral language allows the author to remove unnecessary emotional baggage, the yearning (rindu) which accompanies a lot of literary writings in Malay.

Reminiscing the premature death of his father at 35 when he was only five years old, he writes:

“Thus died a father whom I had not yet learned to love, but who, I was later told by my mother, loved me very much. Later as an orphan I gradually began to understand the disadvantage of not having a father to guide me and save me from the humiliation which I felt whenever well-meaning people gently rubbed my head in sympathy over my orphaned state.”

One wonders how this matter of factness would have been expressed if the author had written in Malay.

The second half of the book treads on more familiar territory – that of English education from where the author acquired his literary penchant and writing skills.

At 12 years old he was transposed to the world of an elite institution, the Malay College Kuala Kangsar, modelled in the tradition of the best boarding schools in England.

It was in this educational environment that rural boys like him were taught by dedicated schoolmasters whose vocation it was to instil in their young students the best learning experiences.

It was in the language and literature classes that his love for reading was nurtured and was translated years later into the desire to write in the best of English styles.

There is no doubt that it was this grounding in an education which stressed the importance of excellence not only in one’s academic pursuits but also in character, principles and moral values that bred several generations of outstanding Malayan/Malaysian public servants and professionals.

It was the role models and mentors in the persons of sympathetic and caring relatives and teachers described so vividly by the author that instilled in the young of his generation admirable traits and attitudes.

All in all, a sense of real history and heritage. All in all, a good read.




Published in The Sun on 25 November 2013

WHENEVER corruption in the public sector is talked about in Malaysia, the agencies that are perceived to be among the most susceptible are the Police, Immigration, Customs, JPJ (Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan). The Fire Department and Income Tax Department are also named as are the various departments handling government procurement.

No prizes for guessing as these are the agencies and departments that have regular, face-to-face dealings with the public. They issue permits, approve licences and award projects, and in the case of non-compliance impose summonses, determine fines and execute raids and arrests.

A large part of servicing the public also involves handling appeals and reviews. Underscoring these transactions on paper are of course the monetary considerations, some resulting in great losses or huge gains for the individuals and their cohorts.

Public service involves layers of direct negotiations with the people where subjective decisions sometimes have to be made by the civil servant. It is at this point that his duty to assist members of the public may be interpreted as their obligation to reciprocate with thanks. This is where the open spirit of give and take underlying Malaysia’s multicultural traditions may lead to the clandestine giving and taking in the form of bribery and corruption.

While the overriding argument is that public servants have a moral obligation to carry out their work without fear or favour, the public have to be equally responsible by not tempting them with bribes. In the equation of bribery and corruption, the giver is as guilty as the taker. Unless and until Malaysians stop giving bribes, the culture of corruption will continue shamelessly. Who, then, do you point your fingers at?

I would like to share a perspective on corruption contributed by a young Facebook friend TZK:

“Many Malaysians claim the moral high ground by saying they do not practise corruption and hence have the right to voice out their grouses against the establishment for corrupt practices. They regularly cast aspersions on the effectiveness and efficiency of the MACC, the country’s anti-corruption agency.

“There are a few questions these moralists need to answer before condemning the MACC for not catching the “big fish”.

If you know that:

your friends and colleagues are involved in corrupt practices, would you turn him/her in to the MACC?

your superior/manager/director is involved in corrupt practices, would you turn him/her in to the MACC?

your family members, i.e. your siblings, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles are involved in corrupt practices, would you turn him/her in to the MACC?

And if you turn in all the above persons to the MACC, would you be willing to stand in the witness dock to testify against them in court?

“If your answer is “Yes” to all the four questions, you are indeed a moral person. If you have answered “Maybe” or “No” to any of the questions, you might want to reconsider your accusations before hurling them at the MACC.

“The MACC is the enforcement body tasked with fighting corruption, and its personnel as well as affiliated panels and boards ensure its independence and integrity in doing so.

However, much as the anti-corruption efforts are carried out officially at the level of reporting and investigating to come up with evidence and proof that a corrupt act can be ascertained, a lot of information still lies in the hands of the Malaysian public.

“The real problem is if the people themselves condone corruption by choosing not to cooperate with the authorities, is it fair to blame the enforcement agencies and the justice system for failing to put the corrupted Malaysians behind bars? The key witnesses in a corruption trial are often people who are close to the accused. If they are not prepared to testify in court there is a high likelihood that the case will be dismissed and the corrupted person will get away scot free.

“Corruption exists in every society to a lesser or greater degree. Corrupt people are found anywhere in the world – Singapore, Hong Kong, UK, US, Africa, China and Australia. The difference between Malaysians and citizens of the countries where corruption has been greatly reduced lies in the fact that they are better educated about the pitfalls of corruption. The main difference is that they are willing to cooperate with the enforcement agencies – not to break the laws but to reinforce them with a greater civic consciousness. They understand that to eradicate corruption, the people themselves must be law abiding in all aspects of their lives. The people’s will is all important.

“So before we judge others, look at the man in the mirror. If we are true advocates of a corruption-free society, play a positive role in the anti-corruption war as we are the real soldiers on the ground. If corruption-ridden Hong Kong can do it so can Malaysia”.

December 2013