Malaysia: Ceremonial Titles for Sale to Status Conscious Desperadoes

April 11, 2017

Malaysia:  Ceremonial Titles for Sale

by Dr.M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

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A prominent businessman who had hosted more than one Agong (King of Malaysia) as well as many Sultans was hauled away in his orange lock-up attire, desperate to hide his face, on charges of trying to bribe the Sultan of Johor over recommendations for a federal royal honorific title.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC) has yet to release the suspect’s identity, or the charges. The social and mainstream media have already condemned him, Malaysia’s corruption personified. It is rare for the two often very contrasting views to coincide.

Conspicuous by its absence is any mention of the complementary if not necessary role of the other half of the equation, recipients of his alleged bribes. If we were to focus on that instead, it would expose this corrosive and despicable aspect of Malaysian society. The man, as well as MACC Chief, the Sultan of Johor, and a few others would then emerge as heroes, and Malaysia the better for it. As for who the true villains were, we would have to wait.

The suspect was also alleged to have “brokered” on behalf of aspiring Malay knight wannabes among rich non-Malays, those willing to fork out huge sums for the privilege of donning the white songkok and the accompanying monkey suit during official functions.

The irony does not escape me. Non-Malays, the Chinese in particular, may be resentful if not disdainful of Malay community and culture, the consequence of being excluded from the New Economic Policy. Their elite however, are not at all bashful in pursuing feudal Malay titles. That reflects more the financial, social and other clouts such titles confer in contemporary Malaysia, less the honorees’ respect for Malay values.

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UMNO’s Hulubalangs (Warriors)

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Hulubalang- in-Chief: UMNO’s Najib Razak

Cases of Malaysian royal titles being bought, or allegations thereof, are not news. They are also far from being mere allegations. There is a portrait, viral in the social media, of a mongoloid-looking character barely out of his teens, all prim and proper in his official pose as a Malay hulubalang (warrior). I wonder what great service this prodigy had rendered.

I was once at a social function in America hosted by one of Malaysia’s many Sultans here on a private visit. I found myself in a quiet corner with some of the guests. The conversation drifted on the many titled ones in the crowd, and of royal awards generally. To clarify and confirm what I thought I was hearing, I inquired as to the prevailing price of such titles, specifically with this Sultan, known for his exuberant generosity in dispensing such honors. When told, I replied with nonchalant casualness that it was well within my affordability range. With the other sultans, the rates could be doubled, I was told.

Imagine my surprise when a few weeks later I received a phone call from Malaysia. The caller identified himself as a “Raja” and “well connected to the palace.” He wanted to pursue “the topic we had discussed!”

I burst out laughing and assured him that I had only been joking. He kept pressing me, unconvinced by my reply. He was so persistent that I had to hang up on him. I did not know whether he was genuine or a con artist trying to rip me off. I was not interested to find out.

Thus, when the Sultan of Johor exposed that bribery attempt, it elicited a yawn in me. What was new? There was indeed something new, or at least unusual. First, the manner of his revealing it – on his social media. My inquisitiveness then took over. Why him, and of much greater significance, why now and the manner?

When I was a surgeon in General Hospital Johor Bharu in 1977, a colleague was banished out of state within 24 hours for allegedly being rude to a sultan. No trial, no due process. Imagine trying to bribe one! I expected the royal keris to have been sharpened, as in days of yore, not a posting in social media. Not many would dare even consider bribing a sultan, except perhaps the Sultan of Sulu. That would not be a bribe as he has no official function or power, and thus no favors to bestow.

It is safe to conclude that the Johor Sultan was not the suspect’s first or only attempted bribee. It is also safe to conclude that he must have some familiarity with sultans generally and that of Johor specifically.

In Malay culture, peasants bringing tributes to their Sultans is the norm, much like Hindus their deities. That businessman could be trying to be a humble and loyal rakyat.

If MACC were to focus only on the briber, then this case would be no different from the many others. The same dynamics, comparable greed, and similar motives; only the personalities differ, and of course the size, nature, and purpose of the loot.

Circumstances create heroes. This is the rare and unique opportunity for the MACC chief to prove his mettle, to be a true, honest, and devoted public servant, as he without end claims to be. “Flip” this alleged briber; make him a prosecution witness instead of the defendant. Offer him immunity and a deal he could not refuse in return for the “goods” he would deliver.

It would not be an easy choice for the suspect. Coming from a culture that bred the feared Triads, not dissimilar from the Mafia, with its code of silence enforced with unimaginable brutality, being truthful would not come naturally, not to mention could be very dangerous. On the other hand, the prospect of a long jail sentence, and leaving behind your foreign wife and young children, is not palatable either.

Then consider the potential rewards, of being hailed a hero for exposing the seedy aspect of the royalty class, by Malays and non-Malays alike. He would then be truly deserving of his Tan Sri title.

He had it easy thus far, out on only RM200K bail. Peanuts to someone like him and in these days of the depreciated ringgit. From another aspect, the price of one Datukship from a cheap Sultan.

Imagine if he were to reveal all. A special tribunal, as provided for in the constitution (thanks to Mahathir), would have to be empaneled to prosecute those alleged corrupt Sultans. Imagine the electricity once the charges were proffered. Najib would sigh a huge relief as it would wipe off the festering 1MDB scandal from the front pages. His ardent defender, aka Attorney-General Apandi Ali, would also emerge as a hero among honest Malaysians, instead of as now, a renegade and protector of the corrupt.

On the political front, in one fell swoop Najib would outstrip Mahathir in striking fear and terror among the sultans. They are still chafing at their collective treatment by Mahathir in the 1980s and 90s when he stripped them of their personal immunity as well as their veto powers over legislations. The sultans have been asserting themselves lately, in tandem with Najib’s increasing vulnerability. Their not assenting to the National Security Act of 2016 was a non-too-subtle manifestation of this new assertiveness. The so-called First Lady of Malaysia outflanking the Queen and the various Sultanahs in the gaudy ostentatious arenas also did not sit well with the royals.

Expect UMNO newsletters Utusan, Berita Harian and The New Straits Times reprising the 1980s, filling their pages with lurid titillating details of royal peccadilloes.

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Forest City Project in Johor

What prompted Sultan Ibrahim, the son of the only sultan ever convicted of murder, to expose this alleged bribery? The Johore Royal Household is the wealthiest not just in Malaysia and not just among Sultans. Its involvement in the massive Forest City Project would ensure its wealth would remain undiminished for generations no matter how profligate their princes and princesses. Perhaps the amount of the alleged bribe was insulting.

Forest City is drawing much negative reaction, in part because of the mega sums, massive Mainland Chinese involvement, and unknown environmental consequences. To many Malays this development rekindles painful humiliating memories of what his great grandfather did to that little island across Selat Tebrau.

Then there was the sultan declining to offer himself for election by his brother rulers to be Deputy King a few months ago. As all kids know, the difference between not wanting versus not being given can be hard to discern. There is not much fraternal love lost between him and his brother rulers. This exposé could be payback time.

This high-profile case will not end up in the usual NFA (No Further Action) file. The only question is whether the suspect, together with MACC chief, AG Apandi Ali, and the Sultan emerge as heroes or renegades?

25 thoughts on “Malaysia: Ceremonial Titles for Sale to Status Conscious Desperadoes

  1. We live in exciting time where “respect” is not earned but can be purchased. Thanks Dr Bakri for the juicy thought of cleaning the systemic corruption in one go!

  2. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC) has yet to release the suspect’s identity, or the charges.

    If the MACC is sure of the identity of those being investigated and their wrong doings then why is there any reluctance in publicizing the identity of this and others who are under investigations?
    Further how is it they still continue to be referred to as YB Tan Sri/Dato as it may be more appropriate for the respective bestowers of these tittles to either consider cancellation or suspension until they are cleared? Just a humble suggestion.

    NAMING AND SHAMING PUBLICLY THE CULPRITS SYSTEM WAS EFFECTIVELY USED BY SINGAPORE GOVERNMENT IN ITS EFFORT IN ITS ANTI-LITTER LAWS. Some CEO/Directors/Rich were mandated to sweep and clean the roads and areas around their own offices for all to see.

  3. Recently we had a MIC veep with a Tan Sri title remanded for making false claims. It makes me wonder how such kind of characters made it in politics and honored with such titles. This one could have been bought but I am sick of the seller. These guys are supposed to be men of good character. It is probably how they were brought up by their parents and it I have to assume their parents are of no good character too. How will this guy make a good parent? Well it goes for the seller of the title too. Pity the kids.

  4. Pahang titles are for sale and it’s a known fact. The racket is being perpetuated by the many princes and princess who are without state allowances. They make a tidy sum selling these honorific titles. It’s pure business.

    I am told you get a discount if you buy more than one – buy three get one free. That’s why today’s hoodlums are titled. Some are in their early twenties. Their contributions? Cheating, maiming, kidnapping and killing. Even ah longs (loan sharks) get datukship!

    Like Bakri said, the “crooked” sultans should be exposed not the go-between. The middlemen are just opportunists who would sell their bums if an opportunity presents itself.

  5. How about some civil servants who sell their souls to get promotions and a title to go with it by protecting or covering-up for their political masters?

    Are these “titles” more deserving because no money was involved?

    • What would be the current rate for a degree in Accounting and/or Auditing? Many may be interested. Advise will be appreciated.

  6. Let’s be clear here, this case involve a person who is trying to convince a state ruler to influence the Agong to award a federal title and not a state title. State titles are determined by the State Ruler while certain category are determined by the MB. At the State level the highest title is Datuk Seri and Dato.

    The Federal titles include Tun, Tan Sri and Dato and are awarded by the Agong on his birthday and by the PM on Federal Territories Day. Apart from the Agong the federal titles are determined by the PM through the KSN. There’s also several classes of Tan Sri. This person is trying to get Tan Sri ship for his client which is a federal award. So who would make the decision here? You figure.

    • Hahaha. Henceforth, a federal ‘alpabet soup’ commands a higher price tag? It is still the same as buying kangkong in Chow Kit market. Only pricier by garbed sellers. No disrespect to the 1% who had truly earned their titled alphabets, thru service to country and community. To these folks I salute thee. . . The 99%? Siapa makan cili Dia rasa pedas. Poodah!

    • Yup, the post-nominal letters in Malaysia is like an alphabetical soup/zoo. There is a difference between the Datuk and Dato’, in which the former is awarded in states without a Ruler/Sultan and with the Agung as the titular head through the appointed Governor, while the later is awarded in states with a heritable ruler.

      The media has labeled all as ‘Datuk’ due to the complicated renderings and the difficulty in keeping track due to the sheer numbers of blokes insisting on their ‘dues’.

      See Here:

      The only Datukship truly worth having besides the Tan Sri (PSM, PMN), for any civil servant is the one awarded by the Agung (PJN), as these are for Head of Agencies-Department-Ministries above JUSA (Super-scale A) and Staff (Gred Utama Turus) Rank.

      All awards are divided into 4 categories – civil service, statutory bodies, armed forces and police, NGO’s-sports-charitable organizations, politicians and others.

      Me? At the moment single Datuk – genetically speaking. Wish for more though, but can’t buy..

  7. Suffering from a deep sense of Inferiority Complex Syndrome…this sense of constant inadequacy , and thus feel ‘hungry’ for one yard length of Titles….chasing & chasing … feeling that it is never enough….

    Don’t know why , but perhaps the Malay Community has been the most neglected since prior to the coming of the Brits , and as the original people (orang asli, or orang kuno ) they now desperately need ‘ RECOGNITION ‘ , & more & more….

    No, am not a Psychologist , but just gifted with a deep sense or feeling of how a person feels deprived…..
    More & more secular advancement of knowledge can help a lot… cure our INNER in adequacy …..

    (Dr Bakri Musa, resident in the US is a very enlightened personality….and sharp and scathing in his remarks & commentaries…kudos to you , Like Prof Fareed Zakaria or Prof Tarik Ramadan….) Good luck !

    • Wrong comment here, it is the non-Malays who are buying into the game, dud! Have money but no title, tak shiok-lah. being addressed YB here and there raise their dignity.

  8. Dato’ Din, on second thought & reading closely what the esteemed Dr Bakri was saying in this piece, its OK if you deem it fit to delete my comments, as perhaps irrelevant. Apologies to the writer …. TQ
    I see nothing wrong with your earlier comments.–Din Merican

    • Thank you for your retort, then leave it be….I may re-post it in another more relevant matters ,as & when it arises….. ( DM )

    • In the current times those with titles may be known more for their actions which are reported to be subject of MACC investigations and thus give the titled a bad reputation. Though the number may be small these small number may damage the reputation of others with titles received for good deeds and may be deserving.
      One solution could be for those bona fide recipients to temporarily not use their titles.

  9. What you said is true, orang malaya. At state level it’s the MB with the concurrence of the SS (State Secretary).

    I recall an incident that took place years ago when I was serving in Seremban. The SS then was a good friend and a golfing partner. We were chatting at the golf club house one day when the issue of whom to receive what for the coming Yang DiPertuan’s birthday was discussed. The state ACA director then was giving government officers a pretty hard time.

    The SS thought of a way out. He told his subordinate, who was in our flight, to earmark the director for a datukship. We all nodded in agreement. So, our ACA friend was made a datuk soon after. End of story.

    Deals, both good and bad, are brokered at club houses and at hotel lounges. Today, some are made at mamak restaurants.

    The wheeling and dealing continues unobstructed.
    Tok Cik,

    Malaysian civil servants are politically inclined; they should in stead focus on serving the rakyat. They all menerut perentah UMNO, bukan berkhidmat untuk rakyat. U know what I mean.–Din Merican

  10. Yeah, Pak Din, me know too well. I was there once.

    In the forces, it’s far worse. I remember an army golf tournament held at Ayer Keroh Golf and Country Club, Malacca years ago. All the top brass were playing and the organisers had paired them up with their kakis. I was in one but with my own kakis.

    As we passed by a wooded area, an OB by all means, I was attracted by some noises coming from the belukar. I walked into the thicket and was surprised to see a group of soldiers dressed in camouflage fatigues.

    I asked them what they were there for. What the corporal said got me laughing uncontrollably. Their job, he said was to pick golf balls that strayed into the belukar and replaced them back on the fairways. They, apparently, knew who and who was in each flight.

    The extent the army will go to please the high and mighty. All said and done, I am complicit, a fait accompli. Period.

    • The culture extends to spouses not only in armed forces but also in politics corporate sector organizations titles and also to children and close relatives.

  11. You know how it is Din. If you can’t earn it, just go out and buy it. This is Bolehland after all, where anything is possible. All one needs is hard cash and a bit of connection.

    • And there appear to be many who are willing to selling for a price including brokers who get the titles for commission and are known or connected to related to the sellers.

  12. Quote:- “If you can’t earn it, just go out and buy it”

    Perhaps those who bought theirs do consider they have “earned” it?

    After all being very rich, (through legitimate business means of course), and employing, say 1000 workers, is also a form of contribution to one’s immediate society and by extension to the country’s economy at large. Just that it could not be narrowly classified as “King and Country”

    So “public service”, with a more generous definition, can take more than one form, and such rich people perhaps feel that public recognition is due to them. There is no other way for them but to buy it.

    I know a few of these, mostly CEOs and chairmen of public companies. I mean just being known as “Mr.” So & So, CEO of …………. Berhad do not have a ring to it, unlike “Tan Sri, Dato’, Dr……………”

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