Arresting the Slide in Our Public Institutions

By Farish A. Noor

The term ‘Asubhabhavana’ is familiar with many historians of Buddhist theology by now, for it refers to a meditative mode of introspection that has become ritual practice over the centuries. In layman’s terms, Asubhabhavana refers to the simple process of self-reflection and mental back-tracking where one contemplates the manifold paths, steps and mis-steps that were taken to get us to where we are today; prompting the simple yet direct question: “Why have I become what I am today, and what were the mistakes that I made that continue to hurt me now?”

As it is with individual subjectivities, so is it with states, governments and institutions. For when we look at the process of historical development and decline of so many post-colonial societies we also need to ask what were the steps and mis-steps that were taken to get them to their present state of degeneration and decline?

A case in point is the recent one in Malaysia, where a young political assistant to the DAP opposition party was found dead under the most suspicious of circumstances. The young man had been summoned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to its offices in order to answer some questions related to allegations of corrupt political practice. The next time anyone sees him, he is found lying dead on the rooftop of the building next door. Needless to say the fact that the young man may have died while under MACC custody begs the immediate and obvious questions: How did he die, and why? This is the burning question that has brought Malaysians of all walks of life, across the political divide, together. Already the same question is being asked even by the component parties of the BN ruling coalition, and prominent BN leaders have likewise called for an enquiry into what happened that day at the MACC office.

Sadly Malaysia’s convoluted politics has begun to twist the facts of the case. The death of the young man has been turned into a racial-ethnic issue, with the vernacular Malay press in particular arguing that those who question the official version of the story are actually working to undermine the Malaysian government and its related public institutions that are dominated by Malaysian Malays. But no amount of spin can alter the fact that the death of the young man was mysterious to say the least; and no amount of spin can alter the fact that Malaysians want to know the truth.

Firstly it has to be noted that Malaysians have every right to complaint about and to question the conduct of state institutions that are, after all, being paid for by the Malaysian tax payers themselves.

To suggest otherwise would be to miss the point that state institutions are there to serve the needs of the citizenry, and that it is the citizenry who have the right as stakeholders to ensure that the institutions of governance are run well. For if the citizens of Malaysia are not allowed to ask how institutions like MACC are run, then who does?

Which brings us to the second question: namely, who does run these institutions? In so many developing postcolonial societies we have seen how the institutions of the state such as the police, army and judiciary used and abused by entrenched political elites who continue to act and behave as if these institutions are part of their party-political apparatus. In the worst case scenario as we have seen in countries like Indonesia (under Suharto) and the Philippines (under Marcos), the army and police were no more than extensions of the political apparatus of the dictators in power. In other countries across Africa and Asia we have seen how anti-corruption agencies were used in the most biased and selective manner, to bring about the selective persecution of opposition politicians, activists and members of the public.

In the long run, these casual and routine instances where the distinction between political elites and the institutions of state are blurred will do more damage to the latter than the former. One should not wish for a situation as was the case when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan even had his own pseudo-state paramilitary apparatus, the Federal Security force, at his beck and call. In such instances, the state has all but dissolved itself and things can only degenerate further.

Which brings us to the theme of Asubhabhavana and the need for states to be self-reflective and for societies to ask how and why did the institutions of governance slide so far? The controversy surrounding the death of the young political assistant at the office of MACC will now force Malaysians to look seriously into the decline in standing and credibility of our state institutions, and to ask how they can arrest the slide in performance and credibility of bodies such as the Anti-Corruption Commission. To be sure, Malaysia – like all countries – needs an Anti-Corruption Commission, but it has to be one that is credible, transparent and accountable to the people themselves, and not merely political elites in power. Anything less will make a mockery of the process of governance, and reduce us to the level of the proverbial banana republic, where state violence has been normalised and the rule of law rendered irrelevant.

Malaysia is a country that now has 1,535 cases of death in custody as part of its developmental record. If that figure alone does not give us cause to pause and reflect on how far we have veered from the ideal set by the nation’s founding fathers, then nothing will.

  1. #1 by k1980 on Wednesday, 22 July 2009 - 5:42 pm

    I take it that the accuser wee choo keong and none of the macc interrogators turned up at Teoh BH’s funeral. Are they afraid of his ghost?

  2. #2 by Jaswant on Wednesday, 22 July 2009 - 6:09 pm

    “Malaysia is a country that now has 1,535 cases of death in custody …”


  3. #3 by SENGLANG on Wednesday, 22 July 2009 - 8:29 pm

    It was very simple how these institutions has come to such a state. Let talk about ACA ot MACC. The primarily objective of this institution as the name suggest is “ANTI CORRUPTION” that was as simple as that. Now over the years, due to the need arises from the existing government to cling to power as much as they could, they have made use this agency as their tools to silence off their oppositions and also make used of this agency to assist them as they are the one who was corrupted and also assist them to hide from the sin committed by their cronies.

    If the government run by a corrupt parties we will never will have an ACA like the one in Hong Kong. We shall not hope for any changes as far as the government remain the same corrupted one.

  4. #4 by johnnypok on Wednesday, 22 July 2009 - 8:31 pm

    sooner or later the whole nation will explode!

  5. #5 by k1980 on Wednesday, 22 July 2009 - 9:15 pm

    When is Malaysia’s mamak king taken to court over his sacking of judges?

    ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s top court has summoned former President Pervez Musharraf to explain his 2007 firing of several dozen independent-minded judges.

    The case, brought up in petitions challenging Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule and firing of the judges that year, could lay the groundwork for future action — even a trial — against the one-time military ruler.

  6. #6 by tanjong8 on Wednesday, 22 July 2009 - 9:16 pm

    Malaysia is a country that now has 1,535 cases of death in custody as part of its developmental record !

    My god, what had happened to this most advanced , second only to S’pore, country in Asean?

    Looks like it will fall behind Thailand, Vietnam and even Indonesia pretty soon. Very sad indeed

  7. #7 by limkamput on Wednesday, 22 July 2009 - 9:19 pm

    //sooner or later the whole nation will explode!//

    What do you know Johnnyboy @ tomdumb@wooooof@undergrad2. When push comes to shove, they can’t wait for it to explode. Yes they can’t wait. In fact they are wondering where are the extremists and racists that they tried so hard to galvanise.

    But no matter what, we remain happy here, unlike you who have to wash dishes or press pants in the ghetto of New York.

  8. #8 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 22 July 2009 - 9:55 pm

    Arresting slide? What slide?
    The bigger-than-Napoleon civil servants will continue to be maintained and paid by our taxes

  9. #9 by cemerlang on Wednesday, 22 July 2009 - 10:44 pm

    You can write a million reflective studies and get A + for it but if you refuse to change yourself, your reflective study will remain just a study. Or a case study for somebody else to read. It takes more than just reflecting back, writing diaries after diaries, it takes you to decide to change yourself. If you think you have been slow, then at this instance you have to be fast. Take the people first, performance now concept. You can day dream about why people are like this and like that. But if people come first and your performance is now, then it must be now. Not later. You cannot be forever reflecting away and not do something or act on something. Same for governance. After so many years, you know where is wrong. How come the same mistake repeats itself ? Dump that mistake and the problem will be solved. But somehow or rather, you cannot bear to dump that mistake because too much is at stake.

  10. #10 by vsp on Wednesday, 22 July 2009 - 11:31 pm

    UMNO is the most corrupt organization in Malaysia, if not, one of the worst among the corrupts in the whole world. This is a fact and not fiction. Ninety percent of the leaders in UMNO itself have testified that UMNO is steep-deep in corruption: Mahathir, Najib, Muhiyiddin, Tengku Tan Sri Ahmad Rithaudeen, Tengku Razali and the list goes on. If a poll were to be taken 99% of the people of Malaysia will agree that UMNO is CORRUPT. Only a few like Nazri, Khir Toyo, Mohd Ali bin Mohd Rustam and Ahmad Ismail thought that UMNO is never corrupt. With such an endorsement from the cream of UMNO itself lamenting the corruptibility of UMNO, the MACC seems to have blind eyes, deaf ears and leaden legs to move against UMNO.

    When Wee Choo Keong in his ranting made an allegation against his colleagues in Pakatan, the Attorney General and the MACC without even waiting for a police report to be lodged by Wee immediately swung into action. And so efficient and systematic were they that they managed to kill an innocent person, Teo Beng Hock in trying to get a forced confession.

    With such one-sidedness on the part of the MACC to harass and trap the hapless Pakatan assembly people they have shown an inadvertent giveaway mannerism that they are a political tool of UMNO, not to fight corruption but to replicate the successful Perak coup to steal the Selangor state government that they have lost in 2008. In doing so they have revealed themselves as corrupt of the worse kind.

  11. #11 by i_love_malaysia on Thursday, 23 July 2009 - 10:50 am

    Hi Admin,

    I dont know why I always cannot login to certain entry to give comment. Very funny system indeed after upgrade on your side. I lost my train of thought after struggling to login!!! Please help!!! Thanks!!!

  12. #12 by johnnypok on Thursday, 23 July 2009 - 3:00 pm

    One thing is leading to another, temperature is rising, blood is boiling, the pressure cooker is going to explode any moment now! BN has everything to lose.

  13. #13 by jbozz on Thursday, 23 July 2009 - 3:24 pm

    The only way out is to follow what Lee Kuan Yew did not wish to do, separate from the cronies UMNO which happen so quickly and has become a historical triumph for the fate of Singaporean now. Their childrens prosper with good education, and the nation strong and free from corruptions.

    If you don’t wish to stay in Malaysia, feel free to get out of it, that’s today UMNO leader is telling many of us.

    The younger generation must realize but the problem is, Malay did not liberalize education and debates, seldom you see a Malay scholar criticizing what Malaysia has become? they lack the courage and intelligent to do so. The govt. intend for them to be forever in a confuse state and uncertain as well.

  14. #14 by Jaswant on Thursday, 23 July 2009 - 6:46 pm

    Pressure cooker is going to explode? I thought Made-in-China products are a lot better today? No?

  15. #15 by taiking on Friday, 24 July 2009 - 8:42 am

    Right from the begining no one in dap or pakatan draws any connection between the beng hock’s death and his chinese race or more precisely he was murdered because he was chinese.

    But the main umno papers saw it fit to draw that connection by the oddest of routes. Of course that odd route had to be created because the fact of the matter is no one questioned beng hock’s death from the racial perspective. So those stupid papers said that questioning the government is questioning the malay because the government is predominantly malay. Hong Kongers have an apt expression which I will repeat here (translated of course): Stupidity has no cure. Perhaps they are more than stupid. They are actually retarded!

    To spin such tale is to be malicious in ones desire and intention.

    Yes johnnypok is right. I too can sense that umno is crumbling under the sheer weight of its own follies, greed and corrupt ways. Najib is so bad that in comparison badawi’s years of do-nothing actually turn out to be better than najib’s window dressings, deceptions and superficial efforts.

  16. #16 by ShiokGuy on Saturday, 25 July 2009 - 4:16 am

    Scanned or Scammed Documents!

    Can the blogger answer my 2 simple questions on the documents he posted?

    Shiok Guy

  17. #17 by sA1nT_Jam3s on Thursday, 22 October 2009 - 9:25 pm

    Please check todays newspapers about an inspector who was with a lady who supposedly jumped off her 18th floor apartment.

    According to her friends, the events leading to her demise are suspicious.

    Kit, please highlight the case.

    The late Ms Kok’s funeral procession will be tomorrow.

    Rest in peace…

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