Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Politician Integrity the order of the day

Ceritalah By Karim Raslan

Aspiring leaders have to learn that to be elected into office is to be dutybound to one’s constituents — to be honest, scrupulous and morally good. 

WOMEN, Family and Community Develop­ment Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil has been a dynamic and forward-looking leader – a stand-out among the Umno line-up – and they will sorely miss her talents.

However, it would be incorrect to think that what she has gone through is an isolated or a one-off case. Nor is her fall wholly attributable to PKR’s director of strategies Rafizi Ramli. The young former chartered accountant is merely an agent of change in the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) saga.

In reality, the unravelling of the NFC debacle reflects deeper, global trends brought about by technology and social media – most notably the fact that we have entered the Age of Full Disclosure.

Dynamic leader: It would be incorrect to think that what Shahrizat has gone through is an isolated or one-off case.
 
In this respect, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are emblematic of these changes.

The Age of Full Disclosure has been a rude shock for Malaysia’s political elite.

In the past, Malay bangsawan culture – the deference and respect for figures of authority – emboldened our leaders to say one thing and do another. This is no longer acceptable or sustainable.

From now on, the Malaysian public expects leaders to do as they say. The unquestioning trust and adoration that once existed have disappeared. Technology has also freed up the mind.

Moreover, Malaysians are no longer fearful of the leaders as the last vestiges of the kerajaan ethos are swept away.

Of course, as Assange has discovered, being a whistle-blower is a very lonely business. Everyone is afraid of the man (or woman) who insists on telling the truth, especially when it’s highly compromising and/or embarrassing.

The point is that surviving in “the new political landscape” and “engaging the social media” doesn’t just mean setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as hiring cyber troopers to blog for you.

It also means realising that information can no longer be controlled, and modifying your behaviour accordingly.

Malaysian politicians have to realise that nothing is sacred and nothing can be hidden anymore. The most seemingly innocuous comment or odd scrap of paper can, and will, be dredged up against you.

I’ve already said that it’s no longer possible for our leaders to present one message to another community and then say something else to the next.

So what is the solution for politicians?

It’s quite simple: Don’t run for office if your affairs (and those of your family and close associates) are not in order. Probity is the order of the day. Aspiring leaders have to learn that elected office is to be dutybound to one’s constituents, not a means to enrich themselves or their families.

This in effect forces politicos to be what we’ve always wanted them to be: Honest, scrupulous and moral in the public sphere. The only difference is that we, the people, now have the power to enforce this.

Indeed, the NFC scandal heralds a long-awaited power shift in Malaysia, whereby our elite families no longer monopolise the power to set agendas or deflect issues. Technology has inverted our social pyramid.

As I said, the double standards that Malaysia’s rich and powerful once enjoyed is no longer as pervasive as before. If they abuse the public trust and misuse the country’s money, the people can now turn on them with a vengeance.

It’s no longer enough for our leaders to say: “Trust me; I know what I’m doing and what’s best for you all”.

The continued fallout over the UK phone-hacking scandals and Rupert Murdoch’s travails should also be a warning to media practitioners that they will be subject to the same scrutiny as the politicians.

They too will be called to account if their ethics are not up to scratch or if they toy with the truth. At this rate, this tukang cerita would be better off as a rice farmer! We have been served a severe, but very timely, warning.

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