Posted By rajlira On 30th September 2007 @ 10:00 In TheSundayPost
SOME years ago, a very senior officer from a Sarawak statutory body attended a top level board meeting in Kuala Lumpur and found himself in the awkward position of being the only person without an honorific title in attendance.
The other officers from the Peninsula at the meeting were puzzled that although more senior than most of them in professional ranking, the Sarawak officer was still their junior in social status.
They could not comprehend why an officer holding such a senior position had not yet been awarded at least the title ‘Datuk’ by his State government since it is the norm in all the other states for officers of his rank to be conferred one.
The Federal minister, chairing the meeting, remarked: “Itu lah Sarawak kedekut sangat beri anugerah (that’s why lah, Sarawak is so stingy in giving awards).”
The Sarawak officer who requested anonymity said experience had shown that Sarawak is very strict in conferring State titles to safeguard the institution for awarding such titles.
The Federal minister was right about Sarawak’s miserly policy on title conferment. Indeed, it is the most “careful” State in this regard as proven by the honours list given out on the birthday of the Yang di-Pertua Negeri every year.
This year, there was no recipient of the award Datuk Patinggi Bintang Kenyalang (DP) which carries the title ‘Datuk Patinggi’.
Only one person, State secretary Datuk Wilson Baya Dandot, received the Datuk Amar Bintang Kenyalang (DA) with the appellation ‘Datuk Amar’.
Two persons — Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan and PFM Capital Sdn Bhd chairman Tan Sri Arshad Ayub — received the Panglima Negara Bintang Kenyalang (PNBS) carrying the title ‘Dato Sri’ while the Panglima Gemilang Bintang Kenyalang (PGBK) which carries the title ‘Datuk’ was conferred on only four people.
The Darjah Bakti Sarawak (DJBS) with the title ‘Datu’ for only those in the government service, was given to two recipients while nine outstanding citizens from the private sector were conferred the Panglima Setia Bintang Sarawak (PSBS) with the title ‘Dato’.
The DJBS and PSBS recipients are the new Datuks, meaning this year, only 11 people were added to the titled elite of the State.
Despite the small number of new Datuks, 2007 is considered a ‘bumper’ year of Datuks in the State as in past years, even fewer people were awarded this title.
Last year for example only three received the DJBS and two, the PSBS.
Comparatively, Negeri Sembilan, a much smaller State than Sarawak, created 53 new Datuks this year through the conferment of the Darjah Datuk Setia Negeri Sembilan (DSNS) on 27 people and the honouring of another 26 with the Darjah Datuk Paduka Tuanku Ja’afar. Both carry the title ‘Datuk’.
In 2006, Penang created 66 new Datuks with the conferment of the Darjah Pangkuan Negri (DSPN). The practice in these two states generally reflects the generous allocations of Datukship each year in Peninsular Malaysia on the birthdays of their rulers.
For many, the title ‘Datuk’ is associated with wealth, power and prestige and its bearers are usually of high social standings.
While it is true that those having risen high enough in life to be honoured with such prestigious titles, would usually be in some position of power and are financially established, it is service to the State and nation — not power and wealth — that is the main criterion for the bestowal of these titles.
Those nominated for Federal or State awards should be someone who has rendered exceptional service to the nation or State in their profession, field of expertise or for their contributions to society through welfare, voluntary, social or religious organisations.
The awards are also conferred for long and exemplary service with the government or acts of gallantry.
The prestige that comes with the awards places heavy responsibilities on the recipients, requiring them to conduct themselves socially in a manner befitting the sanctity of the awards, and recipients risk having their titles annulled or cancelled if they failed to do so.
However, not all Datuks have been exemplary; some have been convicted of crimes while others embroiled in scandals, resulting in their titles being annulled to ensure that the integrity of the institution of such awards remains unblemished.
In 2003, the Sultan of Selangor removed four Datuks while in 2004, six Datuks, who were on trial, had their titles “suspended.”
The palace issued a statement through the State Secretary that the titles would automatically be withdrawn if the Datuks were convicted, or restored if acquitted.
The Sultan of Pahang also revoked the titles of two Datuks in 2004.
The number of Datuks stripped of their titles and the involvement of some in scandals or controversies have led to calls for more stringent vetting and a limit to their number.
Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, responding to the question of “problematic” Datuks, said the number of titles given out in Malaysia was a major factor in this issue.
He stated in one of his interviews: “Personally, I feel if you want to give value to anything, it must be limited … if you produce a million Ferrari cars, nobody will care about buying a Ferrari.”
The prerogative of conferring titles lies with the rulers or the Heads of State of each state and though there is a general rule on criteria, the level of scrutiny varies with each state.
Sarawak has arguably set the most stringent standard and every year, only a small number of people are admitted to the select group whose services to the State are recognised with the bestowal of titles on them.
A source from the Unit Perhubungan Awam dan Korporat (Protocol Unit) of the Chief Minister’s Department revealed that only 736 people in the State can be conferred titles at any one time.
The unit director, Bakrie Zaini, pointed out that the figure showed only 0.033 per cent of the total population could be appointed to the Most Esteemed Order of the State.
“The name Darjah Utama or Most Esteemed Order speaks for itself. Only people who have made extraordinary contributions to the State can be admitted into this illustrious and esteemed group.
“The small number of people in the State allowed to hold titles at any one time means that selection has to be very stringent … which enhances their prestige,” he said.
He added that his unit was in the process of compiling a new book on State awards to update present available information and would hold an exhibition on the medals and ceremonial regalia vis-à-vis the awards as part of the Civil Service Day celebration next month.
While Johor is the first state to institute its own awards in 1886, the titles of Sarawak date back to the days the State was part of the Brunei Empire when it was the practice for the Sultan to appoint governors and administrators to run his far-flung regions.
Before the arrival of the white Rajahs, Sarawak was confined to the region around the Sarawak River stretching to Tanjung Datu, geographically furthest away from the seat of administration of the Brunei throne.
The difficulty of looking after such a vast area forced the Sultan to appoint four Datus — three to look after specific areas of administration and one in charge overall.
The Datu Patinggi was the overall chief while security and order was under the Datu Temenggong. The Datu Bandar, as the title suggested, was in charge of the civil administration and the religious affairs was under the Datu Imam.
When James Brooke established his Raj, he continued the tradition and conferred the title Datu on the Malay leaders who presided over native courts as Native Officers (NO) or Senior Native Officers and the title remained recognised under colonial rule.
With the formation of Malaysia and the abolition of the post of Native Officers, the different grades of Datuk or Datu became appellations of the top awards, bestowed by the Head of State, and do not carry any administrative power.
Candidates must first fill the necessary forms and submit them to a selection committee, which, after scrutiny, will forward their recommendations to the Chief Minister for final vetting before the list is submitted for approval by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri.
Seven awards carry titles, and the qualification for appointment of the awards as stated in the Statutes of the 40th Anniversary Independence Commemorative Medal of Sarawak 2003, signed by Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Datuk Patinggi Abang Muhammad Salahuddin, is as follows:
“The persons to be appointed to the Grades of the Most Esteemed Order shall be persons, male or female, as have rendered or shall hereafter render meritorious services to the State of Sarawak.”
The highest order is Satria Bintang Sarawak (SBS)which carries the title ‘Pehin Sri’ conferred only on Heads of State in Malaysia and other eminent personalities who have rendered exceptional service to the State and nation.
The number of persons conferred with this title shall not exceed nine at any one time.
The other six awards are Datuk Patinggi Bintang Kenyalang (DP), Datuk Patinggi; Datuk Amar Bintang Kenyalang (DA), Datuk Amar; Panglima Negara Bintang Kenyalang (PNBS), Dato Sri; Panglima Gemilang Bintang Kenyalang (PGBK), Datuk; Darjah Jasa Bakti Sarawak (DJBS), Datu and Panglima Setia Bintang Sarawak (PSBS), Dato.
While the debate on the number of Datuks in the nation simmers amidst growing concern over the erosion of the prestige of the title caused by the misdemeanors of some of the holders, Sarawak continues to stand firm in safeguarding the sanctity of this time-honoured institution by enforcing strict scrutiny on the candidates for these awards.
Article printed from The Borneo Post Online: http://www.theborneopost.com
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