2019: When Malaysian women led


Our down to earth royal: Tunku Azizah on the KLIA Ekspres, on her way to catch a flight at the airport. — Filepic

THE year 2019, I believe, will generally be remembered for its supine political leadership, broken promises, compounded race/religion rhetoric, incitement and provocation, and shattered hopes. But amidst all this doom and depression, 2019 should also be remembered as the year when women led the way in many fields.

This year marked the graceful retirement of Nicol David from competitive squash. Her seamless transition from world’s greatest female squash player to enabler, motivator, ambassador and, most of all, a young “elder stateswomen” of her sport should be a lesson to those who overstay their positions.

On the political front, female ministers showed the way. Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok showed us how to focus on one’s own ministry, to understand the challenges and to attempt to overcome obstacles. She was not one to wander into and interfere with her Cabinet colleagues’ portfolios.

Acquiring a home has been a great challenge to Malaysians generally. A roof over one’s head has been becoming increasingly unattainable. The phrase “affordable housing” is used even when prices are well out of the reach of the common man. I recall one instance when houses costing RM600,000 were described as “affordable.”

Into this scenario marched Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin. In one fell swoop, the ceiling price on “affordable housing” was brought down to RM300,000. In fact, she caused shivers in the developers’ community when she stated that it was possible to provide reasonable houses at not more than RM150,000. Zuraida was not shooting in the dark here. She knew what she was talking about. She knew that most state governments owned tracts of land on which really affordable houses could be constructed. This would be possible if state governments took an “egalitarian” rather than “business” approach in their dealings. Lamentably, many state governments conduct their affairs as if they are profit-oriented bodies.

Come May 2019 our first female Chief Justice was appointed. The legal fraternity welcomed her with joy and great relief – we just could not take any more of the “same old, same old”. Even in her days in the High Court, Justice Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat displayed judicial courage and independence reminiscent of a forgotten era in Malaysia’s administration of justice.

At her elevation, Tengku Maimun remarked that she wished to improve the image of the Judiciary. Truth told, she does not have to do much except to continue to be herself. As they say, morale filters down from the top. It would surely take some time but I’m convinced the administration of justice in our country is headed for better days. To top it all, for the first time we now have six women judges in our apex court. They have already begun deciding cases without fear or favour; a clear example is Justice P. Nalini’s lucid judgment on the extent and ambit of “the public servant”.

The appointment of Latheefa Koya to head the MACC (the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) was yet another highwater mark. Her detractors tried very hard to derail her, finding fault with everything from the manner of her appointment right down to the manner in which she wore her rank badges and ribbon bars. The nation was not impressed with her critics and the tough-as-nails Latheefa remained undaunted.

Latheefa has a most unenviable job. It is not easy to undo a culture of corruption that has been ingrained into the national psyche over three decades. Latheefa may want to persuade the government to pass legislation similar to Britain’s Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) to compel disclosure of unexplained wealth; the order would have to come from the High Court and any seizure of unexplained assets would also have to be by way of a court order. The UWO has two great advantages: information obtained in the context of an UWO cannot be used in criminal proceedings, and there is judicial supervision at all stages.

I would be remiss if I fail to mention Tun Dr Siti Hasmah in this appreciation of women leaders. She has reminded, indeed re-educated, everyone about the dignity of the person (not the “office”) who is the spouse of our Prime Minister.

Finally, the icing on the collective cake must surely be our Queen, Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah. In a country threatened with being torn asunder by politicians, her Majesty has been a beacon of hope. Her frank sharing of her Chinese heritage was courageous and must have irked the political beings who seek to divide and rule. Her simple and down-to-earth style, from her dance moves through her Twitter quotes to her train ride, has earned the affection of most.

I dare say that if a vote is taken now, our Queen would easily be “the best loved Malaysian”.

This song of praise would not be complete if I did not address the leaders of my gender. Other than very few expectations, our male leaders have failed our nation miserably. There is so much to be done to improve the state of our nation but positive energies seem to be expanded on negative undertakings. While this letter is not designed as a battle between sexes, nevertheless, the brotherhood has to get its act together and show greater will, desire and, if I may, scrotal gumption to keep up with the sisterhood.

Happy New Year, Malaysia.

WATSON PETERS

Advocate & SolicitorNote: The letter writer has been a practicing advocate and solicitor in Malaysia for more than three decades

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