A responsible government has really little choice in the matter of providing leadership to govern well in the public interest.
Malaya, later Malaysia, a difficult multiethnic and multireligious country to govern at the best of times, has not always had an easy ride in social, economic and political terms.
However, if judged dispassionately against this background, successive governments have done a reasonable job of maintaining peace, security and creating general prosperity.
The government now faces the problem of maintaining growth and employment while keeping a lid on prices; and again if judged in a non-partisan fashion, the government is dealing with it in a pragmatic way. In the world outside, our country is a respected member of the global community, playing an active role in many United Nations sponsored initiatives, and generally well-regarded as a country that meets its international obligations squarely.
Yes, we could have done a lot better, and, I ask you, which country couldn’t?
Our leadership has by and large been responsive to the needs of the people. In discussing leadership in the context of social responsibility, while we see our political leadership has put great store by sustainable social development as part of the overall national strategies, the question that springs to mind is, social progress notwithstanding, what else are we entitled to expect from the leadership?
Social progress, seen as a human development process capable of freeing us from the constraints and tyranny of the cycle of vicious poverty, cannot be achieved and sustained unless we make a conscious effort to reduce poverty systematically.
The lot of the poor, given the right combination of imaginative planning and policies, can be improved so that they can be brought into the mainstream of national development activities.
Education holds the key to their future, and there is a need to review the kind of education being offered. An education system that produces hordes of educated unemployables is cruel, dangerous and criminal.
It is only through education that they will know their rights, including the right to realise their full potential, the right to make informed choices and, in a democratic society such as ours, the right to the benefits of good governance.
Through education, they will learn that with rights, they have concomitant responsibilities to society at large. All these will be impossible to bring about if there are serious ethical deficits in the systems of governance.
The leadership has a public duty to make good the credibility lapses as a matter of utmost urgency. Let the government not be economical with the truth and lead the people up the gum tree.
The opposition has the luxury of not being responsible to the people, but the government is accountable to the nation as a whole.
There is no escaping that duty.
The ethical dimension of governance cannot be neglected if the leadership is serious about its social responsibility to the people. This is an area of real concern because unethical behaviour, which inevitably leads to corrupt practices, has become a feature of public life in our country.
Not a day passes without reports of public service corruption hitting the headlines. This scourge is a blot on our ethical landscape, or whatever remains of it.
Why should we be concerned about corruption? Is the leadership concerned enough about it to allow, for example, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission greater freedom of action based on more effective legal measures? Or is the political leadership long on rhetoric and woefully short on political will?
Government officials are happy enough to join the feel-good chorus denouncing corruption as poison. If rumours and perceptions are to be believed, probably half the cabinet, and thousands of civil servants have greedily consumed the poison: and they should have all been dead and buried a long time ago.
Perhaps they have discovered an antidote which is bad news for those of us who want to see the back of corruption in our country. The primary overriding principle of any government with pretensions of high ethical standards of behaviour must be to create an environment in which public trust in the integrity of the ruling elite is a paramount consideration.
If the leadership is corrupt, lacks integrity and is motivated by greed, we may as well revert to the rapacious Elizabethan age of privateering. It was at least a respected profession.
A leader has to help shape the national environment by promoting and setting the moral, ethical and spiritual tone so that society may live and work in peace, harmony and prosperity.
As we have seen, the idea of social responsibility can be as narrow or as wide as circumstances require, and leaders have to have clear ideas of what constitutes their responsibility in this area.
Whether or not they see this as their duty, it is clear to us the long-suffering often dismissed as the chattering masses, in short the governed, where their public duties lie. They neglect their sacred duties at their peril. Is the leadership up to the challenge?
Tunku Abdul Aziz NST Home News Opinion 26 October 2015 @ 11:00 AM