When the car ignores the driver

Why is a group of young people expressing their opinion about what’s happening in the country a threat?

EDUCATION in Malaysia seems to purposely avoid teaching us the true meaning of living in a modern, progressive and, most importantly, democratic country.

When we gained our independence from the British in 1957, we set the tone for where we want to be and how we should get there. It is our responsibility, each and everyone of us. But we have failed miserably in teaching our children what it means to have a civil service as the machinery to aid in making a decent and dignified living for all of us.

In a democracy, the civil servant is the car, and we are the drivers who decide where to go and how fast we should get to our destination. Somehow, after more than 60 years of independence, the car – or the machinery – has begun to dictate life to us and we are not steering any longer.

Last weekend, a group of youngsters wanted to use a public square for a peaceful demonstration but was denied by the municipal council. The municipal council had forgotten that it is the servant of the youngsters.

The municipal council’s role is just to keep the square clean and make up a schedule so that no two events clash. As long as the people taking part in an event carry no weapons and don’t incite violence, the municipality should ensure that the event can go on peacefully. How complicated is that? It is not rocket science.

The youngsters are the drivers, the municipality is the vehicle (or machinery). When did the municipality suddenly become the landlord of the square? Remember, the salaries of the municipal workers and officers are paid by the parents of the youngsters.
The police should also recognise that youngsters are the future leaders of the country and should assist them in their desire to express their opinions freely – freedom of expression, after all, is protected by the Constitution.

I saw that the youngsters were strictly following the pandemic SOP, and they were outdoors where ventilation was not an issue. What was the problem, officers?

Our children wanted to express their opinion about what is happening in their own country through a peaceful gathering. What’s the problem?

Our children were demanding action from the leaders whom some of them were old enough to help elect. It is their right as “bosses” to ask their “workers” in Parliament to shape up. What’s the problem, officers?

The youngsters did not insult the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, did they? The youngsters did not insult any religion, did they? The youngsters did not say bad things about one particular race, did they? In fact, they came from all races, religions and cultures. What’s the problem, officers?

The so-called “authorities” charged with law enforcement and maintaining guidelines for the public use of the square should take a course in a democratic system of governance. The youngsters, to me, did no wrong – in fact, they are exemplars of our future democratic leaders. I want my grandchildren to be governed by these youngsters, not those people on a hill hiding behind their vested powers.

Openness, transparency, dignity and honesty in leadership is what the youngsters were asking for. They were not asking for blood, money or titles. Just the decency of acknowledging the concerns of a struggling rakyat, the ones who are the bosses of the country. What is so wrong with that?

I pledge to these youngsters that come the next election, I will write and campaign for a way in which the people can take back the power to appoint the top civil servants of this country via a committee and also be part of the promotion exercise for all these servants of the people. This is the only way to ensure that the servants are not “besar kepala” and remember who they are.

I would give 30% of the evaluation points for the appointment or promotion of the head of a municipality as well as the enforcement forces to these youngsters. I’ll settle for just 20%. Thus, 50% of the marks will be by the people and not as practised today where the power to promote is held within the civil service itself. When servants appoint servants, the house no longer belongs to the owners.

This country has forgotten the foundation of its existence. Our country was not founded on wars and blood but on the ideals and ideas of dignity for all citizens regardless of race, religion or lifestyles. The three foundation stones are a civil service loyal and subservient to the people, a legislative that comes from the people, and royalty as guardians and advisors to the nation. When the servants and the legislature forget who they work for and threaten our youngsters, we can no longer call this a decent place to live in.

Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at UCSI University. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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