What Will People Say?

By M. Bakri Musa

When the late Tun Razak moved his family to Sri Taman, the Prime Minister’s official residence at that time, his children pleaded with him to have a swimming pool installed. The Tun, acutely aware of the costs to the public, would have none of it.

“What will people say?” he told his children.

Not that the Tun did not want to indulge his children or that he was being unduly stingy, rather he was conscious of the need to differentiate the personal from the official. Unlike many especially from the Third World, then as well as now, Tun Razak was the rare leader who did not consider the public treasury to be his. Even when there were grey areas, as with the swimming pool, he would err on the side of not burdening the public with the cost.

It could be argued that since Sri Taman was government property, expenditures on improving it as with building the pool should be borne by the public. However, as the pool would benefit essentially only the prime minister’s family and invited guests, he acted with an abundance of prudence and probity in refusing to have the pool installed.

There was another less obvious but more important reason for his not acceding to his children’s wishes. Malaysia of the 1960s was devoid of gleaming skyscrapers and towering condominiums. There were no modern suburbs with luxurious mansions sporting swimming pools in their backyards. Most Malays were still stuck in their kampongs leading subsistence living and sleeping under thatch roofs. Tun Razak was sensitive to that social environment; he after all had served as Minister for Rural Development. To kampong folks, a backyard pool would have been opulence on an especially grand scale. This more than the cost was probably what prompted the late Tun not to have the pool for his children.

“What will people say?” As Muslims we are reminded to have taqwa at all times, an awareness of the presence of Allah. “Closer than your jugular vein,” as the Koran put it. If you have taqwa, aware that Allah is watching you all the time, that does tend to restrain you.

“What will people say?” could be viewed as a secular version of taqwa, an internal compass to keep us along the straight path, away from temptations and ill deeds. For a leader, that would be a path that would meet the approval if not praise from his followers. The expression reflects the power of peer pressure, the universal human need for social approval. Yes, leaders need this too.

There is a cautionary note however, especially for leaders. Pay too much attention to what people say and you reduce your leadership to a wet-finger-in-the-air mode. That is not a recipe for success, much less greatness. For others, as well as leaders, you risk being reduced to a pathetic fool, as per the fable of the old man, the boy, and the donkey.

Leaders who pay too much heed to what their followers say risk pandering to their lowest common denominator, appealing to their baser and uglier instincts. That is the leadership of the Perkasa types, obsessed with “them” taking over “our” Tanah Melayu, and of chauvinistic leaders forever paranoid over losing their culture and language. In America this is demonstrated by the ugly spectacles of the current candidates in the Republican Party primaries.

Backyard Pool, Luxury Condos, Half-Million Ringgit Engagement Party

Our leaders today are a far cry from the caliber, competence, and integrity so publicly and unambiguously displayed by the late Tun Razak. We are being painfully reminded daily of these deficiencies, including and especially with his son, Najib Razak, the current Prime Minister.

It did not escape citizens’ notice that when Tun Razak died, his estate, while not exactly destitute, was definitely not brimming with assets. The same could be said of his immediate predecessor, Tunku Abdul Rahman, and successor, Hussein Onn. Today, our ex-Prime Ministers live in mega mansions and travel the world in private luxury jets. I do not know who foot their bills. At least American ex-presidents make a show of earning their wealth through their exorbitant speaking fees.

This brings me to Rafizi Ramli’s latest revelation: Najib’s recent half-a-million ringgit engagement party for his daughter allegedly paid for by the Prime Minister’s Office, meaning the public. Rafizi, who is Keadilan’s chief strategist, had earlier brought us the National Feedlot Corporation’s (NFC) “cow-gate” scandal.

Thus far Najib had issued only a general denial to Rafizi’s serious allegation. Significantly, Najib did it not through a formal press conference but through his Twitter site. He has yet to address the specifics. Perhaps Najib is waiting to consult his high-priced public relations consultants on how best to spin this.

I agree with Rafizi that Najib has to level up with the Malaysian people. A general denial would not do it; it insults our intelligence. As Rafizi has clearly stated, Najib has to address the eight points raised by the allegation. Even if the lavish engagement party were to be paid for personally, I shudder to think what the actual wedding would cost. Malaysia’s self-styled “first couple” is competing with the Saudi royals with respect to gaudy extravagance and obscene opulence. The audacity and hypocrisy for Najib to then lecture the rakyats on the need to save and be financially prudent!

As Rafizi rightly asserted, Najib has to show incontrovertible proof (as with copies of cancelled checks) that the funds came out of his personal accounts. That alone would not be enough; he would have to explain how he accumulated such wealth to be able to afford such extravagance. As alluded to earlier, he certainly did not inherit much wealth from his father, and Najib has been getting government paychecks all his adult life except for his brief tenure at Petronas. That too could be considered as a government paycheck.

As for Rosmah, her father, like mine, was a Malay school teacher. And I knew exactly what my father’s wealth was when he died, and he was a man not given to extravagance. Rosmah has to show that she had been a particularly successful entrepreneur to acquire such wealth. Anything less and the rakyats would have a right to assume that those riches had been illicitly acquired.

The sad part is that this obscene extravagance is but the latest show of unbridled rapacious greed in our leaders. Earlier there was that dentist and former Selangor’s Chief Minister with his million-dollar mansion that he bragged to have bought at half price through his “shrewd” bargaining. Then there was the sleepy head, Najib’s immediate predecessor, with his equally opulent mansion in Perth, Western Australia, and another one given to him locally.

Diligent citizens like Rafizi Ramli could not have exposed these shenanigans without the help of honest fellow citizens, especially those on the “inside.” The rash of such recent exposés signals a significant development. Malaysians are now no longer afraid of their leader or the state. When that happens, many wonderful things follow. Look at Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

With such sordid examples at the very top, no wonder lowly ministers and others too are in on the act. At least Women’s Minister Shahrizat had the decency to resign her cabinet post even though as she said, “I really have nothing to do with NFC except that I’m married to the chairman of NFC. But as a responsible member of the government, I feel the right thing for me to do is to step down.” Yes, she did indeed do the right and honorable thing in resigning.

Will Najib do the same? As for the engagement party, it certainly cost much more than the proposed pool at Sri Taman. We will know what people say come the next elections. More important however, is what would Tun Razak say if he were alive today? The unevenness of the tiles at Tun Razak’s mausoleum at the National Mosque was the result of his rolling in his grave. — www.bakrimusa.com

  1. #1 by Godfather on Monday, 12 March 2012 - 3:36 pm

    Bakri, Shahrizat didn’t resign. Apparently all she did was tell Najib not to renew her term as senator, and therefore she would not be eligible to hold a ministerial position.

    Shahrizat is not resigning her Wanita UMNO position, wisely so as she can then keep the enemies close to her ear.

    Now that her husband is charged with CBT, the question remains as to why the other directors were not charged. The prisons department should now think about building prison cells that can accomodate family members.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Monday, 12 March 2012 - 3:43 pm

    Honestly, UMNO-Perkasa/BN could not give two-hoots about what people say. In fact its possible they don’t even care What People Do? Given their plan cheating and ‘buy-election’ plan, they may not really care What People Do even..

  3. #3 by SENGLANG on Monday, 12 March 2012 - 3:54 pm

    Who care what other say? I do what I want to do. That their attitude. We have lost billions due to this arrogances. Can you how how the Pahang try to threaten the journalists who are just doing what their professions has to do. These people are arrogance. The other is present Agriculture minister. Another arrogance guy. These people will never care what other say. To them they can do what they want to.

  4. #4 by monsterball on Monday, 12 March 2012 - 10:07 pm

    Come on…if Mahathir can go to the North Pole twice and traveled around the world…in his last days as PM….we can all see the UMNO b ministers are totally different from the old UMNO party.
    Mahathir want all Malaysians to know….his UMNO b party is the Chosen One…to protect Muslims and he country belongs to him…to do as he likes…and so the chosen ministers follow the “Chosen One”….faithfully….for the reward for all is MONEY.
    One who goes against him…..the wrath of Khan will be demonstrated.
    Yip….Mahathir feels he owns Malaysia and let puppet run the show….while he have the last say…till the end of his life.
    Malaysians are so lucky….to walk freely…talk freely…with such a loving and caring Dictator.

  5. #5 by cemerlang on Monday, 12 March 2012 - 10:25 pm

    People will say nothing outright. But just watch the votes later. Or they will say they are the VIPs, VVIPs, bosses lah. So they deserve more. Without conditions attached.

  6. #6 by waterfrontcoolie on Monday, 12 March 2012 - 11:11 pm

    Wantonness started after the late Hussein Onn, a man of principle but could not find any decendant to follow his footpath! After over 30 years of wantonness, what can the country expect? Mother Teresa? No! The leadership was bent on creating a society basedon a cowed majority whose mind has been indoctrinated to fear their own shadows! They have stopped thinking for some time until 2008! With modern IT, the on-going leadership has cheated so frquently that they themselves have started to believe in their own sloganeering! And today, this is the result! They believe this country owe them a living! They have given the majority of them a life better than all the 4th world countries in Asia and Africa; especially Zimbabwe! By virtue of that alone, they are entitle to billion dollars free money for governing the nation better than the Arabs; that fact is enough to equate their achievements to the rest of the Muslim world! And that is their standard of GREAT ACHIEVEMENT!

  7. #7 by k1980 on Tuesday, 13 March 2012 - 1:57 am

    //“I really have nothing to do with NFC except that I’m married to the chairman of NFC… //

    Mona Fandley was also married to the man who murdered Datuk Mazlan in 1991. Why was she hanged?

  8. #8 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 13 March 2012 - 5:03 am

    Ppl say: “We r in love” – wife, husband, children ALL in love n CHEATING/STEALING bersama sama – playing Monopoly, buying n selling properties, also GO 2 JAIL lor

  9. #9 by k1980 on Tuesday, 13 March 2012 - 9:36 am

    Welcome to the SAFEST country in Asean and the 19th safest in the world (according to unmo, not me)


  10. #10 by cseng on Tuesday, 13 March 2012 - 10:08 am

    The problem with Razak’s family education is ‘what will people say?’. If you only concern ‘what will people say’, either you 1) don’t do or 2) do it and don’t let people know, choose the latter, you still get away with it. – just a petty joke la..

    A ‘kiasu’ leader is a dangerous leader, b’coz he refuses to coming down (for real) and he will do whatever to maintain his power/influece, even after his death his spirit still haunt the nation down. So the 1st criteria is he must willing to let go, many countries set the terms for top post.

    The biggest enemy of a leader is himself, like the power of our PM, many things he can hide. So, you can’t realy trust a human per se., human is not perfect, and power does corrupt people, ultimate power, corrupt ultimately.

    Hence, trust the system, the process of it, not individual, systems and processes taking many individuals in decisoion making. 2 parties system is a system (might not the system) that could right many abuses and manipulation of accountability and transperency. Competency then is a given (competency is FOC when you get accountability and tranperency).

    So give PAS as chance, give 2 parties system a chance, give yourself a chance. Vote PR!

  11. #11 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Tuesday, 13 March 2012 - 4:46 pm

    So what will ppl say? Huh? If I spend hundreds of thousands on electricity and another hundreds of thousands on water monthly on myself and my family, what would ppl say? If I spend hundreds of thousands of tax payers’ money on my daughter’s wedding, what would ppl say? If my wife spends tens of millions on a diamond ring what would ppl say? If I spend tens of millions to spruce up my image what would ppl say?

    Ha, good good good. That is what ppl would say. Look at the poll results. Quite obviously 69% of the ppl said so!

    So jib come on lets dissolve parliament now. You are guaranteed of a thumping victory. 40+% support could give you 2/3 majority in parliament. Your 69% support means you and umno can just about sweep the entire parliament floor clean.

  12. #12 by Loh on Tuesday, 13 March 2012 - 7:25 pm

    ///“What will people say?” he told his children.

    Not that the Tun did not want to indulge his children or that he was being unduly stingy, rather he was conscious of the need to differentiate the personal from the official.///–Bakri Musa

    One should not cheat even without people watching, that is the path. Tun Razak was doing the right thing in the open, what about behind people’s back?

  13. #13 by monsterball on Tuesday, 13 March 2012 - 9:20 pm

    For more than 3 years Najib..the appointed PM…never been elected at all… is slipping away into being a full clone of his master…Mahathir..but with different personality….different strokes..hoping to achieve same results…keep fooling Malaysians.

  14. #14 by limkamput on Tuesday, 13 March 2012 - 10:00 pm

    Someone wrote this in Malaysiakini:
    Let me dissect one by one why this engagement function, in whichever you look at it, will cause lots of dissensions among the people. Frist, if the PM has paid out of his bank account, it showed his opulent and extravagant lifestyle which was totally not in sync with most Malaysians. Second, if the PM has paid out of his bank account, he must explain how and why he was able to spend so much given is limited official income. If someone has paid on his behalf, we need to know who because there are no free lunch or unobligated favour in this world. Third, if the government has paid the bill, we need to know under which provision the payment was allowed. Fifth, assuming that as the Prime Minister he was entitled to the privilege (i.e. the government paid for his daughter’s engagement party), he still have to explain whether the grandeur and the extravagance were necessary and in sync with the deficit the country is facing now. PM, you are too elitist and too blue blood for this country. Like your socialite wife, I don’t think you ever know how to empathise with the common folks

  15. #15 by mickeytiger2006 on Wednesday, 14 March 2012 - 9:43 am

    Murder case can go free. What is half million?

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