This is a reproduction of the keynote speech, “National Integration with Integrity” which I delivered on 1 December 2018, at the “Oriental Hearts and Minds Society Institute’s” (OHMSI) second Dr Tan Chee Khoon Lecture Series.
I give special thanks to OHMSI’s founder and director, Dr K.J. John, for inviting me to present the speech, and Rebecca Ho, Gary Ragumaren, Tan Kong Beng and Nat for their support.
Thank you to Dr Tan Chee Khoon’s family, in particular Prof Tan Poh Ling.
My deepest respect and gratitude to the audience, for their support, vision and investment in Malaysia Baru. Dr Tan would have been proud of what was achieved on 9 May. We could not have done it without YOU!
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for giving me the honour of addressing this event, and a special thanks to the organisers and in particular, KJ John, for inviting me.
I am here, because of one man. Dr Tan Chee Khoon. Some of you may have been his friend, many of you will have heard of him. Others, especially the younger ones, probably have not. Do read his autobiography, about a man who envisioned a truly multicultural Malaysia.
Although we have never met, and I do not claim to be a giant like Dr Tan, we share many values. We both love to read, we collect books and we firmly believe that politicians should be kept on their toes.
Dr Tan wrote for the Star, under his by-line, “Without Fear or Favour”. I tried to write for the mainstream papers, but was rejected. Perhaps they thought I created fake news.
For critics like us, silence is a luxury we can ill afford. The country cannot sustain another 61 years of suffering, nor can we be certain that there will be another man as formidable as Dr Mahathir to save us.
There is no doubt that education was an important feature in Dr Tan’s life.
Unlike him, I went to a Mission School, as did my mother, her two sisters and most of my cousins. I was a day girl but my mother boarded at the Light Street Convent in Penang.
In those days, school life was a reflection of the multicultural Malaysia which we inherited from the Tunku.
We were happy to eat, play and work, with girls of other races, faiths and cultures.
We visited one another’s homes, especially during the Festivals – Raya, Christmas, Deepavali, Gawai or Chinese New Year.
We enjoyed the best inter-faith and inter-cultural integration. Mission schools and universities were highly regarded.
School was not just for acquiring knowledge, it was also a place where we learnt how to face challenges, build on our strengths, overcome our weaknesses, accept responsibility and by virtue of mixing with others, learnt about social cohesion and tolerance.
The TEN basic rules
Today, education has been dumbed down, in the name of bangsa (race), agama (religion) and negara (country/nation), at the expense of integration and integrity. We can reverse the damage that has been done.
Perhaps we could use the 10 basic rules which guided Dr Tan in his approach to life, which I hope will also inspire you.
First. Don’t do things for money.
Dr Tan did things out of love, and not for money. He was passionate about education because education had lifted him out of poverty. He funded various awards and scholarships for top performing students in schools and university. He also encouraged others, to help the poor.
When you do something with passion, the money will follow. Dr Tan’s love of the community impressed the then Selangor Mentri Besar, Haron Idris, so much, that he gave Dr Tan a piece of land, on which to build the Sentosa Medical Centre. The two men were from opposite sides of the political divide.
In 21st Century Malaysia, many politicians would sell plots of state land, for a tidy profit, and personal gain.
Second. Cure your Periuk Nasi Syndrome (PNS).
For decades, leaders broke the law, but we kept quiet. We suffered from PNS (Periuk Nasi Syndrome). The symptoms are fear of losing our jobs, a contract and our place in society.
We also developed a bad habit of only listening to people who were “somebody” in society, like the Datuks, Tengkus, or doctors and lawyers. Voices of the ordinary person like the housewife, labourer or homeless were ignored.
Remember! Your voice is important. If you want leaders and civil servants with integrity, do your bit. Ask questions. Demand high performance.
Dr Tan did not suffer from PNS. By speaking out, he was called the “Conscience of the Nation”, and also “Mr Opposition”.
If there had been more Dr Tans around, three generations of suffering under unjust policies, would have been avoided.
Third. Learn to communicate.
To serve his community more efficiently, Dr Tan added Tamil and Punjabi to his repertoire of languages, which also included Latin.
Despite his support for Malay, Dr Tan warned that nationalists might derail the speaking of English in Malaysia. His predictions came true. Today, some people think that speaking English is unpatriotic.
As a family, we speak both English and Malay, at home, but in his first week at a Mara boarding school, my nephew was beaten-up for speaking English. One of his aggressors was his teacher.
Today, languages have become politicised as a tool to control us, instead of being used to open our minds to the world.
Fourth. Fear God, but not religious symbols.
When one has faith, everything is possible, but when one is insecure, one will bully others.
In nearby Taman Medan, a church was forced to remove its cross because some villagers claimed that the youths in the area might be proselytised. This had nothing to do with fear.
Some of you who went to Mission schools may recall our morning assembly. The nuns and brothers wore Crucifixes. Crosses looked down at us from the walls, while the congregation said the Lord’s Prayer.
Some non-Christians may still remember the Lord’s prayer to this day. Did we become Christian after our 12 years of schooling? No, but I think we became better Muslims, or better Hindus, or better Buddhists, in spite of the crucifixes and the Christian prayers.
There was no television in Dr Tan’s childhood. His mother entertained her children with stories from the parables. Faith was his guiding light.
Fifth. Families that eat together, stay together.
In the convent, it was common for us to share food, during break, but today, some teachers scold Malay children for sharing their food with non-Malays.
In my youth, the school canteen remained open during Ramadhan, but today, non-Muslim children are forced into changing rooms, to eat. In some rural schools in peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, non-Muslim children are allegedly forced to fast during the fasting month.
Today, some Muslims refuse to eat, or even visit the homes of their non-Muslim friends, despite their friends making a special effort to provide halal food.
Eating together is not just about sharing food. It is an opportunity for people to come together, chat, and forge friendships.
When I visit Thailand, I observe many Malaysian men frequenting the flesh pots. The irony was that afterwards, for supper, they were desperate to find the nearest halal restaurant.
Sixth. Education, not brain washing.
A few years ago, I asked some secondary school Muslim girls, what they learnt in sex education classes. They said that the teacher advised them to learn to cook several rice dishes – briyani, tomato, paella…They learnt nothing about birth control or Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Anyway, how would Dr Tan react to these leaked exam questions? The first question suggests that Malay children in government secondary schools, are taught how to beat their wives. The second question suggests that only Islam condemns corruption. These questions will not encourage national integration or unity.
Is it any wonder, that many Malays send their children to Chinese schools, and if they can afford it, to international schools.
Seventh. Serve the public, not yourselves.
Dr Tan’s life was to serve the public. The Sentosa Medical Centre enabled him to serve more people.
He spoke out on the peoples’ behalf, and was both feared and respected by his fellow MPs. He declined several invitations to join the then government. Fast forward to today, party jumping appears to be the norm.
If you recall, when Tunku took over the Umno leadership from Onn Jaafar, the party had no money, so Tunku sold his house in Penang to fund the running of the party.
Today, some leaders steal the taxpayers’ money to fund their extravagant lifestyle, of foreign homes, pink diamonds and designer handbags.
The corrupt leaders’ definition of integrity is, “Do as I tell you, but don’t do as I do, and when things go wrong, lie and deny.”
Eighth. Stop blaming others.
When some of us claim to be superior to others, a culture of mistrust is cultivated, and blaming others becomes a national pastime.
If the economy was terrible, the DAP, the Christians, or the Jews, were blamed. When business was bad, the Chinese were blamed. Recently, a former Home Minister said that the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in Indonesia were a punishment from God, because some citizens had indulged in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual (LGBT) activities.
If it is not blaming others, it is failing to take responsibility. When 30 children died in a tahfiz school fire, religious heads assured parents, that the victims had gone to heaven. This was a tactic to divert our attention. The school failed to enforce fire safety regulations. The perennial drug-use among the people who started the fire, was conveniently sidestepped. The authorities had failed in their duty of care towards the victims.
When teenagers race their bicycles in the early hours of the morning, and are killed in an accident, we should not blame the police. What about parental responsibility and discipline?
Ninth. Don’t be afraid of hard work.
Not everything about technology is brilliant. Most teenagers waste countless hours on their smartphones doing very little of substance.
Contrast this with the teenage Dr Tan, who would have spent his weekends helping his parents tap rubber, tending the livestock and the vegetable garden.
He crammed in boy scout and debating activities after school. He was a voracious reader, and read on average four books a week, when many Malaysians, today, can barely finish four chapters in a year!
Despite his busy schedule at his clinic, he spent at least two days a week with his constituents. He achieved all this despite being blind in one eye from an accident at 13.
Nowadays, the ones who are spoon-fed and given extra privileges, have become lazy and demotivated. Superiority has robbed them of any self-respect.
Not everyone is as disciplined as Dr Tan and I agree, that some children need to be pushed, to work hard. That is why they invented mothers.
I had a tiger mother and tiger grandmother. No-one messed them about. When one of my articles upset the former IGP, the police were sent to the house, to speak to me, but when they heard who my mother was, they left. I think mother might have been their teacher.
Tenth. Think and Choose wisely.
Malaysia is blessed with natural resources, and is rich in human capital, but we are short of one commodity, and that is leadership, or rather leadership without ego.
Leadership is a gift. You either have it or you don’t. You can’t buy it, although one former PM tried.
Reject leaders whose egos have to be continually massaged because they have a strong sense of entitlement.
Reject people who demand respect, like the state assemblyman who yelled, “Do you know who I am?”
Reject leaders who say, “I can do my job better, if I became a Datuk Sri.”
A leader with integrity will practise what he preaches. He will speak the same language when he is overseas, and in front of a local audience. He has the same message for both the non-Malays and the Malays. He will not tell the rakyat to do one thing, whilst he does another.
Remember too, that our leaders, including the Prime Minister, should be drawn from the most capable Malaysians. The operative word is “Malaysians”.
Should integrity matter?
Integrity is essential to a country’s success and development. It protects the country from corruption. It is the foundation of good governance.
The lack of integrity affects the lives of Malaysians, in many ways. From approved permits to awards, from films to Fast-Food outlets, housing to hotels, Jakim to the judiciary, from schools to sports, supermarkets, and Syariah courts, from the police, to the prison service and political parties.
Today, when you visit a government department, the staff focus on your clothing and not on providing an efficient service.
Without integrity, many of our best talent and brains, who want equal opportunities and justice, will continue to be forced overseas.
The late Yasmin Ahmad was a film director whose productions bridged the racial divide. We need more of these type of film.
Don’t erase our shared history, because this country has its foundations in the blood, sweat and tears of all the races.
Stop having quotas for race, in sports, at school.
Only a transparent and accountable government will help foster national integration, but how committed are you to national integration?
Are you committed to national integration?
Integration with integrity is not a myth. It can happen, if all the obstacles that divide us are removed, and we start to respect one another’s cultures and faith.
If you want national integration, this is what you must do:-
- Get rid of the bangsa and agama in our identity cards.
- Ban racism and affirmative action policies.
- Reduce the wealth gap between the haves and have-nots.
- Do not politicise languages.
- Treat east and west Malaysians equally.
- Allow media freedom and freedom of expression.
- National integration is like a marriage, or relationship; it needs hard work, a good sense of humour and mutual respect, to be harmonious.
- A high maintenance wife, will destroy a happy union.
- A jealous husband will stifle the marriage.
- A domineering mother-in-law will wreck everyone’s lives.
- Favouritism will create disharmony.
- Communication is vital and you must talk about sensitive subjects.
Integrity begins at home
The events of 9 May, provided the catalyst for a new beginning. Next we should muster the courage to move forwards. We start now. We may not see the fruits of our work, but our children and grandchildren will.
They say that charity begins at home; but so does integrity, and truthfulness.
Remember the jar of life? Dr Tan prioritised the most important things, and so should we. Like him, you can have the strength of character to act with integrity. You can determine the direction of this country.
Happy New Year!