Honorific Titles Up For Grabs

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The recent arrest of 60 hardened criminals, including four bearing the titles “Datuk” and “Datuk Seri”, amplifies the extent of the title-for-sale racket. Those arrested were from two criminal gangs operating on Penang Island and in Province Wellesley.

They are members of the 360 Devan Gang and Gang 24 who are involved in car hijacking and theft, drug-pushing, loan-sharking, prostitution and other related criminal activities. The gangs would resort to maiming and killing if their demands are not met by their victims.

The fact that their leaders have acquired honourific titles to give credence to their illegal activities has affected the sanctity of titles bestowed by sultans and governors on those who genuinely deserved them. And this is compounded by the oft-quoted joke about throwing a stone in the air and it landing on the head of a datuk. It says a lot about the value of the title “datuk” which is the local equivalent to the Queen-knighted “Sir” of which only a handful of Malaysians are so privileged.

The 360 Devan Gang has the most number of Datuks arrested. The leader of Gang 24 was nicknamed “Datuk M” (Datuk Muda) as he was only 32 years old when he met an untimely death at the hands of his bodyguard.

A fortnight ago a number of Datuks were being rounded up by the anti-corruption agency, MACC for corruption and money laundering. They will be charged in court soon.

Malaysia has gained much publicity for the wrong reasons. We are the country with the highest civil servants to population ratio. At the rate of 1:19.37 we are well ahead of Singapore (1:71.4), Indonesia (1:110) and China (1:108). Soon we will be the country with the highest number of titled crooks.

So why the obsession with the title “datuk” when it is now associated with those from the underworld? The reason is simple. There is this feeling of pride and of fulfillment that come on the heels of those titled “datuk”. If you are a “datuk” you have made it even if you may have nothing much to show in terms of service to the country.

I was at a restaurant recently when an acquaintance announced, rather proudly, that he had just got his “datukship”. I congratulated him. But when I asked which state was his datukship from, he seemed a little reluctant to answer. “Pahang”, he said sheepishly. I think he knows why Pahang’s datukship is being frowned upon.

Incidentally, the state has been dishing out the title in great number. Anyone with the right kind of money can acquire one “over the counter”. It is said that a discount is given if you purchase more than one. According to a Kuala Kangsar-based business entity, orders from Pahang for scrolls, sashes, ribbons and medals are huge.

What is most glaring about the whole episode is the absence of security vetting done on those about to receive titles and awards. That explains why hoodlums and the less savoury are privy to such privilege.

In the old days getting a medal was reason enough for a “kenduri” (feast). I remember my late granduncle who was awarded an AMP (Ahli Mahkota Perak) in recognition for his services as a village chief; the feast lasted a few days. I wonder how much the poor guy spent to feed the whole kampong. It meant a lot to him then although it was just a minor award.

There were many who refused titles while in office and had only relented when they retired. One was the late Wong Pow Nee, the first Chief Minister of Penang and the other was the late Dr Lim Chong Eu who became a “Tun” upon his retirement. Maxis and Astro boss, Ananda Krishnan, is another living example.

And there are those who insist on being called by the many titles. So you have “Tan Sri, Dato Sri, Dato so and so” when one title is sufficient. Come on, you can’t take your datukship to your grave.

The worse are those who acquire their datukship from bogus sources. There is one in Ipoh, I am told. Many are aware of this guy’s illicit activities.

Will this title-buying spree ever stop? I don’t think so. For as long as there are people who are prepared to give an arm and a leg for a datukship, the business will thrive. The source is irrelevant.

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