The soundness of morality-Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz www.thesundaily.com

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The soundness of morality

By: (Fri, 30 Jul 2010)

By: (Fri, 30 Jul 2010)
THE SUN yesterday reported: “The government’s decision to allow graduate teachers to enter politics is designed to help create a morally-sound political environment, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak said yesterday.”So many questions, like a flotilla of keropok simultaneously puffing up in a wok of hot oil, soon crammed my brain. Why was it a government decision in the first place? Why were they prevented from entering politics in the past? How does entering politics create a morally-sound political environment?

Whatever the sometimes unfathomable justifications used to defend government policy (and this happens all over the world), one can still agree that a policy is an improvement on the past. In this case, I think the fact that teachers can enter politics is better than a situation in which they cannot.

A large number of individuals now enjoy a freedom they did not previously possess.

The rationale for having them barred from politics in the past was that they are government officers; and the rationale for removing the bar now is that they do not hold any executive positions.

If you’ve been reading Abiding Times for a while you’ll know that my preferred solution would have been to liberate teachers from central control; let them form their own associations as they choose; empower them to negotiate their own pay packages with schools directly according to their ability and ambitions instead of according to a list of pre-determined grade scales; and in so doing cutting the size of the civil service, eliminating inefficiency, rewarding the best educators, creating a market for teachers and providing parents and students with a more dynamic and competitive education system that would, undoubtedly, help us achieve that coveted high-income status far more swiftly than any amount of government micro-management would; and the morality of whatever other public activities these emancipated teachers did apart from teaching would be for the consumers to judge. For at the end of the day, this decision can be reversed at the click of Putrajaya’s fingers.

I sometimes get quizzical looks when I explain that one of IDEAS’s objectives is to promote limited government. Well the above is just one of the reasons why.

The idea of relinquishing control over things is so abhorrent to most politicians that it lays bare the aphrodisiac of power. When I say “most politicians” I do so without regard to political party, because those in opposition would be just as gleeful in getting their hands on such power to use and abuse according to their own whims and fancies. The only fix is to take back the unnecessary powers held by politicians, and then ensure that strong checks and balances – inhabited by people other than politicians – prevent the same mistakes being made again.

The closure of non-Muslim societies at Klang High School (and apparently others) that Citizen Nades exposed also exemplifies the dangers when civil servants get too powerful.

Regular readers will predict that I utterly oppose the idea that a school should get permission from a bureaucrat to open a society. In the tradition of education that I was lucky enough to experience, it is unbelievable. And it is a little tepid merely to say that non-Muslim societies that have been around for ages won’t be closed down.

If the government were truly
keen to protect the freedom of association, then it would repeal the offending rule in the Education Act 1996.

The original Napoleon was reportedly not very pleasant, and I doubt his wannabes, however little, are either. And yet I understand the urge to be a Napoleon. Anyone who has ever played SimCity or similar games will have felt the sublime satisfaction in seeing one’s civilisation expand and flourish in one’s image: bulldoze a tower there, build a park here, whack a nuclear power plant there. But perhaps not everyone would be happy with it there, and that is precisely why we must prevent anyone from enjoying power without accountability.

After decades of increasing centralisation and interference, it will be difficult for the rakyat to take back such powers.

The economic liberalisation agenda is the best opportunity we have had in a long time to do so by severing some of the tentacles of state that hinder our progress, and that, apart from the economic arguments for reform, is why we in IDEAS support it so strongly. It is probably a more robust method of ensuring the moral soundness of the political environment, too.

Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz is president of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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