Source: Malaysiakini - KJ John (View expressed here is solely the opinion of the source)
In Michael M Harmon's book, Organization Theory for Public Administration, there is a true story of a five-year-old boy who was battered to death over a period of time.
However, none of the neighbours and connected community, who knew something might not be right, did anything to stop the killing of that child by the stepfather. Harmon then postulates the question: Who killed the five-year-old boy?
My rhetorical equivalent question for our Cowgate Minister's resignation is: Who told her to resign? She swears it is of her personal volition and choice. But does she not know that the same option was there even on Day One when the news of the scandal first broke? Couldn't she have simply asked her husband whether this was true, and made her decision based on the truth?
Why did she have to wait for the entire country to get worked up over this turmoil before she announcing her resignation? My answer is that we may all have lost our capacities to assume responsibility for our actions in public spaces and more importantly, understand the nuances of such public roles and responsibilities.
We assume that our public role-assumptions are our personal property and authority and we can keep them so long as our intentions are pure, that we do no wrong ourselves, even if our family or organisation or community are involved in questionable operations. My teacher, Jerry Harvey, would call this a ‘Trip to Abilene' - adults who willingly and voluntarily collude with wrongdoers and then claim innocence!
Therefore, in developing my Theory R further, allow me to expand on the second R of responsibility: our ability to respond to truth that we do know! Responsibility offers two options when we assume any Role (ie, the third R). In any role we assume (which is more than playing a role), we are either are agents of some entity or we are independent actors responsible fully for all our volitional actions in that role.
Such responsible actors more are like kamikaze pilots: they are always willing to sacrifice themselves for any greater good. It may also be the same with the Japanese art of hara-kiri; it is a definitive act of apologising for wrong-doing, or a demonstration of failure of any assignment. It is bearing full responsibility personally for the failure of a public action and role.
The actor assumes full responsibility and actually gives up his role in life as a demonstration of this failure. In some Japanese companies and parts of their community, this view of shame is still actively practised. Of course, they do not kill themselves anymore, but resign as a matter of shame.
Four-letter word that's lost its traditional meaning
In Malaysia, this concept of shame or malu is a four-letter word and we have lost all our traditional meanings attached to this concept of malu. Therefore, let me further argue that by resigning from her post willingly and voluntarily, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil or Kak Zat has actually set a higher standard than the many other crooks and her colleagues.
Therefore, she may become a good role model for recovering this Eastern value of shame in the light of different kinds of failures that are often visible in public life. For that matter, to me, it would also be honourable for the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) leadership and management team to resign as well as a consequence and appoint turnaround experts to make the serious and fundamental changes needed.
Come on and let us be honest. Those of us who know her husband; he is no pushover and will not merely do wrong things or simply concede to wrong-doing - unless he has no choice in the matter. This, assuming that we have all the requisite information about the viability of this project and the process of acquisition.
Nevertheless, Kak Zat cannot claim that she had no dealings or awareness of the matter. She does not mean that cabinet never discussed the matter! Then, who could have approved such a sweetheart deal? Only the cabinet has such authority.
Her real argument, maybe, is that the husband and children represented themselves and did not represent her or her Wanita Umno. In short, they were not her agents. I agree. They were responsible actors, even as she has now demonstrated that she too is one.
But, for the national interest, who then is responsible for all the wrong-doing? Could she not have agreed, beforehand with her husband and children, that they cannot do business with the government because of potential conflict of interest, because of her role as a cabinet minister? Or, could she have not declared potential conflict of interest at the right time, even in cabinet?
Is that not what we would consider tak malu, in everyday parlance? How can we do business with the family deploying public funds, and with the approval of the cabinet for such a sweetheart deal and then claim innocence?
Can all other Malaysians with such crazy ideas and ideals be given similar consideration then? For that matter, how can we even forget that it was the same cabinet that closed down an entire public corporation, called Majuternak, not so long ago for the same reasons about the non-viability of the cow business! It was also under the Ministry of Agriculture.
Therefore, we need responsible actors in every arena of public life. Irresponsible actions in public life are called criminal actions and therefore come under criminal law. The minister's action of resigning voluntarily is also responsible action. Let us not call it anything less.
I pray that the nation, if we have learnt anything from the Look East Policy, has learnt that malu is an important four-letter word that we must not only defend but reinstate in our public discourses and public life, as we must still cherish this value!
Well done Kak Zat! You have set a higher standard. Move on and make Wanita Umno the centrepiece of Najib's government and try to provide the real quality of true leadership that you are so very capable of!
May God bless you all in Wanita Umno as you all try to do the same; at least for the remainder of your journey of public life! God bless Malaysia.