“Imbued with Integrity, Endowed with Ethics:
Foundation for Managing Malaysia through Enlightened Value-Driven Leadership”
Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh
Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim
Alhamdulillah Beta bersyukur ke hadrat ILAHI kerana dengan izin dariNya juga Beta dan Raja Puan Besar dapat berangkat untuk menzahirkan titah di majlis santapan malam anjuran The Malaysian Institute of Management.
- Allow me to begin by saying what a pleasure it is for me to be presenting this 25th Malaysian Institute of Management’s Tunku Abdul Rahman Lecture, dedicated as it is to our founding Prime Minister, a man of great vision and honour. This lecture series has a distinguished lineage and I am very pleased to be able to join the long list of illustrious speakers. This list includes my father, His Royal Highness Sultan Azlan Shah, who, in giving the eleventh lecture in 1984, spoke about the supremacy of law in Malaysia. His Royal Highness spoke last month at a seminar in Perak on the need for judicial independence and impartiality, showing that after 25 years, his passion for the law and, most importantly, for justice, remains strong and undiminished.
- The topic given to me this evening is integrity, ethics and value-driven leadership. I do not think that I have to define what each of these terms mean. They are pretty much self-evident. They are so self-evident, in fact, that I run the real danger of making nothing more than some banal statements in the course of the next twenty minutes. Suffice it to say that the one presupposes the other. If there is integrity, there will be ethical behaviour, and if there is ethical behaviour, there will be strong value-driven leadership. Suffice it also to say that integrity, ethics and values do not exist or operate in a vacuum. They are consciously and subconsciously taught, learned and reinforced by the everyday events and examples that unfold around us.
- This evening I want to explore the gritty reality of integrity, ethics and value- driven leadership. After all, why are they the subject of this public lecture? Is it because they are in such abundance, in which case there is cause for celebration? Or are they in short supply, in which case we should be mourning the fact? The answer is obvious: We raise these matters today because they are more significant by their absence than presence. If we accept that this is not the product of some random action but has deeper underlying reasons, then I think we should carefully examine them. We should also reflect on what integrity means to us in our specific time and context.
- The dearth of integrity is true the world over and the global financial crisis is a case in point. The financial crisis has been attributed to many factors, such as excess money supply growth, subprime mortgages and other risky financial derivatives? But is not the heart of the matter even more basic than this? Does it not have to do with inner human motivations, of personal greed over the greater social good, and of recklessness over prudence? In many respects, the global financial crisis is foremost a crisis of integrity, ethics and value-driven leadership. Only secondarily is it a financial crisis. Indeed many, if not most, of the world’s problems are a direct result of the lack of these qualities and the ensuing consequences of fear, mistrust and anger.
- Yet we can take comfort in the fact that the recognition of a problem is the first step towards its resolution. Open and civilised discourse does not happen often or easily. An immoral society will rarely ever admit to it being one. It will instead seek to disguise its true state behind ambitious mission statements and grand-sounding slogans. Labels such as ‘democratic’, ‘united’ or ‘people-led’ quite often describe the very opposite condition of what these hope to portray. But when an enterprise, be it a country or company, starts to frankly address its weaknesses and shortcomings, there is the real prospects for change. With the prospects for change comes hope, and with hope comes constructive thoughts, words and actions.
- Recognition is, however, only the first step for change. One might desire to move to a higher plane of integrity, ethics and values but there are obstacles, opposing visions and conflicting interests all working to either entrench the status quo or to upset it. It would surprise no one here that there are those that stand to benefit immensely from dishonest, immoral and unprincipled behaviour. The corrupt, for example, would like nothing more than a state of lawlessness where they can operate at will. The idle and indolent would like nothing more than an environment that rewards the deserving and undeserving alike so that they can share the spoils without putting in the effort.
- But we should not to be afraid of opposing views. At times, there may be set-backs. Mistakes may be made. This should not discourage us or lead us to be trapped within the realist’s dismal paradigm. Less than 180 years ago, it was perfectly legal for one human to own another. Today slavery is unthinkable. Seventy years ago, Europeans were committing the most murderous acts against one another. Out of this violent morass has emerged some of the most civilised and tolerant people on earth. Black Americans fully secured their right to vote only 45 years ago. In 2008, Americans elected a black president. China was a feared and fearful country just 30 years ago. Today it is confident and every country is beating a path to its doorstep.
- Such examples, however, are not only to be found in distant parts of the world. They are to be found within this country as well. The very fact that Malaysia was established as a nation was a supreme act of integrity and value-driven leadership. These led to the bonds of trust that defines the spirit of Merdeka. How else could the various races have come to believe that the provisions of the Federal Constitution meant anything? Having done so, why was there confidence in the leadership of the first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj and his cabinet members. The answer is, of course, Malaysians believed in his integrity and in the integrity of those he chose. They believed what they said they would do and they trusted them to do the right thing.
- Tunku Abdul Rahman was just one leader who had the confidence of the people because of his moral compass. Tun Tan Siew Sin, Tun Sambanthan, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Dr Ismail, Tun Hussein Onn, Tun Ismail Ali, Tun Suffian and Tun Mohamed Azmi were among many other fine gentlemen of honour and integrity. This is not to say that they were perfect. They were subject to the same foibles that beset everyone. As national leaders, however, they were keenly aware that their behaviour and decisions would profoundly impact how those around them thought and acted.
- Nation-building is not an orderly process, especially not when the different communities are all competing and clamouring for their rights. With every political compromise made, there would be a chorus of accusations of a political sell out. Still, our leaders stood their ground. They knew that whatever they did, however noble their intentions, their efforts would be criticised. Many were willing to pay the price, sacrificing their personal esteem, comfort, health and, quite often, their very lives. Under the watch of these value-driven leaders, chief ministers, cabinet ministers and even Rulers, were held accountable for their actions. None were free to do as they pleased. Those who tried, even politically popular ones, paid a heavy price.
- These leaders had two distinctive qualities: First, they were driven by an overwhelming sense of duty to the country and its people and, second, they had unqualified respect for the law. Their unswerving sense of duty was something that was taken on willingly and not begrudgingly. Long before taking their oaths of office, they had already decided that their lot was to serve the country and its people. They understood that it was always going to be a case of their contributing more than what they got back. And they accepted it. There was no question of personal glory and privileges, let alone money. They retired – or expected to retire, for you will remember that Tun Razak and Tun Dr Ismail died while still in office – to only what the government had provided. They did not have multimillion dollar mansions or jet-setting lifestyles. Yet they were prepared to do so because they considered the building of Malaysia a great and worthy work.
- Such dedication, selflessness and modesty may seem old fashioned and out of touch with the times. Some would say that these values were alright in an innocent and unsophisticated age but have no place in the world of today. They would argue that materialism and greed are realities and that the best people can only be attracted to positions of leadership if they can make fortunes in the process. But if all of this is true, why is there a fundamental distrust of politicians and governments around the world? If a sense of duty, honour and service are qualities of the past, why is there such a great outcry against personal agendas, greed and non-accountability? The answer is that these qualities are not outdated; integrity, ethics and value-driven leadership are as relevant as they ever were.
Ladies and gentlemen:
- If I am to be completely candid about issues of integrity, ethics and value-driven leadership, I cannot in all good conscience be silent about the situation in my home state of Perak. I do, however, have to be careful in what I say as many issues are still before the courts. My statements can be easily, and quite often deliberately, misconstrued. I nevertheless think I am not giving anything away when I say that what has transpired is something that is beyond unfortunate. It is a situation that must be resolved but resolved in accordance with the law.
- I want to start by making an obvious point but one that bears repeating: Their Royal Highnesses the Malay Rulers are above partisan politics. This is what a constitutional monarchy means and what the Rulers themselves assiduously believe. For until and unless Rulers are placed above everyday politics – and the controversies that will inevitably follow – they will be unable to carry out their constitutional functions properly. These functions are necessary for the operation of democracy in this country.
- The present situation in the state stemmed from a political problem, that of political crossovers, but was very quickly compounded by other decisions and actions of questionable legality. By the time the Ruler became involved, it had escalated to such a point that it was not so simple as to press the reset button as some would have liked. When rights may have been violated and laws infringed, one cannot just conveniently wipe the slate clean and pretend as if nothing had happened. The Ruler cannot take sides in political contests, whether with acts of commission or omission. He has to make decisions based on justice and the rule of law.
- Which begs the question: What does it mean for a Ruler to make the “right” decision? In any situation, what is the “right” thing to do? How can the Ruler act in a manner that is fair and impartial and be seen to be so? In my opinion the answer is clear: the Ruler must be guided by the constitution. The constitution encapsulates all the values that we hold dear – values that form the very foundation of our society. It defines who we are and governs our relationships with one another. Men and women of integrity have always understood that the constitution is the very bedrock of our society and many a misunderstanding could have been avoided if the principles it embodies are firmly upheld. In the Perak case, the Ruler adhered closely to the letter and spirit of the state constitution. After all, as most of you know, His Royal Highness Sultan Azlan Shah has considerable knowledge of the law, having spoken and written about it extensively throughout his career.
- When I spoke to a gathering of student leaders two years ago, I emphasised how important it was for them to read and understand our constitution. This was true then and it is all the more true today. With society in its present volatile state, we must resolve to hang on to this document as never before. There are those who wish to do away with our constitution and in its place impose their version of utopia. We must not let this happen. There are those who wish to exploit the freedom provided by our constitution to undermine the institutions that underpin our system of government. We must not let this happen. We must uphold our constitution, not only when it is convenient for us to do so, not only when it is advantageous for us to do so, but at all times.
- In any functioning democracy, there are rules as to how society is to be governed. In Malaysia, these rules are enshrined in our constitution. Democracy does not mean anything goes. It certainly does not mean mob rule. Our constitution spells out not only what our rights are but also what the limits to those rights are. These limits ensure that decisions are not made by those who wield the most power, shout the loudest or behave in the crudest manner. If we seek to settle disputes through mob rule and lawlessness, our disputes will never be settled. They will only become entrenched and lead to deep social lesions that will never heal. If every party to a dispute were to act with integrity and honour, differences will be settled in a civil manner and we can move on.
- There will always be differences of opinion as to how this or that provision of our constitution is to be interpreted. Under our system of governance, the judiciary has been entrusted with the task of being the final arbiter in matters relating to the interpretation of the constitution. Once the courts have made their decision, it is the responsibility of all to abide by them. Judicial decisions will inevitably result in winners and losers but justice must never be a casualty.
- Precisely because we have so much riding on the judiciary, it is vitally important that there is judicial independence and impartiality. Without them, the rule of law cannot prevail. And when the rule of law has become unhinged, it must be fully restored. His Royal Highness Sultan Azlan Shah himself has emphasised this time and again.
- Since our last general elections, political contestation has become more common and more intense. This is likely to continue for some time to come. But whatever our differences, our overriding concern must be to create the type of nation we can all be proud of. We must never turn our grand positive sum nation-building endeavour into a fractious and destructive zero sum one. We have a good system of governance in place that has served us well. We should seek to improve on and strengthen this system. Wherever there are weaknesses, we should acknowledge them and strive to overcome them.
Ladies and gentlemen:
- On this day exactly 52 years ago, the Federation of Malaya Agreement was signed between Their Royal Highnesses the Rulers of the Malay States and the British High Commissioner, thereby paving the way for independence. As we move into the month when we celebrate Merdeka, let us endeavour to revitalize the spirit of that time. Let us endeavour to restore a culture of civility and respect towards each other as we did 52 years ago. We should have no tolerance for words and actions that are offensive and that disregard the rights of others. Let us also pledge to resolve our problems and disputes not on the basis of might but with rationality, empathy and justice.
- I hope the things I have said today can contribute to the process of healing and rebuilding. I hope that we will see the tremendous potential that we have as a cohesive rather than a fragmented entity. May the Almighty continue to bless this land and infuse our minds with the knowledge that to be a Malaysian is far better than to be Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan, Dusun, Iban, Dayak, Bidayuh, Kelabit or Murut and others. This was the dream Tunku Abdul Rahman had for this nation. Let us strive to make it a reality.