THIS has to be a record of some sort – a notorious gang of 60 hardened criminals including four low-level politicians with the titles of Datuk and a Datuk Seri, has been netted in a series of swoops.
The Gang 360 Devan gang, involved in murder, drug-pushing, luxury car theft and hijacking, has to be the gang with the most number of titled leaders.
Then, there is also the leader of the notorious Gang 24 – a Datuk Seri – who was among 22 men held in another spate of arrests.
Last December, a gang leader known as Datuk M or Datuk Muda was shot dead by his bodyguard while they were driving along the Penang Bridge. The Datuk was a detainee at the Simpang Renggam centre.
A day later, a video went viral showing a heavily tattooed man being violently beaten up by a group of men believed to be gangsters, at the late Datuk’s funeral.
Three days ago, there was a series of arrests by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC) which saw a number of Datuks being arrested and charged.
If we hold the record of being the country which has the highest ratio of government servants, we may also soon be the country with the most number of titled people.
And if we are not careful, we could well be a country which has the most titled criminals.
The people being conferred a Datukship seem to be getting younger and some are surprisingly under 30 years old, which begs the question – what have these youngsters contributed to society to deserve such titles?
Last October, Singapore’s Straits Times carried prominently a news report of a teenager who purportedly became the youngest “Datuk” in the country.
“The image that went viral shows the apparent recipient of the title standing in a crowded waiting room while dressed in ceremonial attire with the caption reading: “Youngest Dato in Malaysia … 19 years.”
The Malaysian media, which carried the news earlier, has not been able to verify the age of the person in the photo. And no one has denied the authenticity of the article, not even the person in the photo, who may actually be older than he looks.
Regardless of which state these titles are from, many Malaysians rightly deserve the recognition from the royal houses because of their community work, in various forms.
One or two states, especially Pahang, seem to be more generous in conferring awards while states like Selangor, Johor, Perak, Sarawak and Kelantan are more stringent in their selection.
The Selangor state constitution states that only a maximum of 40 Datuk titles can be conferred each year.
The Sultan of Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah has imposed stricter conditions – including the minimum age of 45 – for a person to be conferred the state’s Datukship, to limit the number of recipients and protect the image and dignity of the awards.
In the case of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar has expressed his frustrations openly, saying sarcastically “that it has come to a point that if you throw a stone, it will hit a Datuk and when the stone rebounds, it will hit another Datuk”, to illustrate the point that Malaysia is in danger of becoming a nation with the most number of decorated people.
While the increasing number of people with the Datuk title has long been a contentious issue, what Malaysians are concerned about is the number of such titled persons being involved in crime.
Pictures of a certain Datuk with a visible tattoo on his hand, purportedly depicting his gang allegiance, have long gone viral on social media.
Malaysians are asking whether royal houses submitted the names of potential recipients to the police for vetting before conferring them with titles. This is a practice of the Sultan of Selangor. If that were the case with every state, criminals would not have been awarded.
I have complete faith in the ability of our police force. They will carry out their duty of checking the background of such people if asked to do so.
But what is taking place now in Malaysia is also a reflection of our people’s obsession with titles, honorifics and even fake academic titles.
Our former deputy prime minister, the late Tun Ghafar Baba, was just plain Encik, until the day he retired from office.
In Tunku Abdul Rahman’s first Cabinet, after we achieved independence, only five of 15 ministers were made Datuks.
The finance minister at the time, Tan Siew Sin, only held the title of Justice of Peace – which is recognised in Commonwealth countries.
Penang’s first Chief Minister, the late Wong Pow Nee, had no title until he retired, after which he was made Tan Sri. Another was the late Gerakan president Dr Lim Chong Eu who only became Tun upon retirement.
In short, things were pretty simple back then, with proper methodology when it came to conferring decorations, medals and titles. But not today.
There are now so many variations of the Datuk titles – Datuk Seri, Datuk Sri, Datuk Paduka, Dato’, Datuk Wira and Datuk Patinggi (depending on the states) – it has become confusing, even to members of the media.
There are now calls from some titled people that the press should use their titles accurately. I can only imagine the number of corrections the media has to deal with if mistakes are made and some snooty individual gets upset.
In the 1970s, the media decided to standardise how these title holders should be addressed by calling them all “Datuk”. The press also decided to call the Datuk Sri from Pahang “Datuk Seri”.
It is just impossible to check every single title or pre-fix when naming a person.
The reporter does not ask the police where the criminal suspect got his Datukship. Neither can we ask the Datuk criminal as he is being led to the courts in handcuffs, “Where is your Datukship from, Datuk” ?
Besides Brunei, the Malaysian press must be the only one that includes the titles of individuals. Well, there is the British media but they only address those who are knighted with the title “Sir”.
The royalty shouldn’t be the only party blamed for the increasing number of Datuks. Malaysians are willing to go to all lengths to buy the titles, even from bogus sources.
But the titles must not be bestowed on any one with a criminal record or it makes a mockery of this honour.