When most Malaysian cabinet ministers open their mouths to talk, you might not expect much in the way of reasoned debate or intelligent conversation.
But James Masing, rejoicing under the stupendous title of Senior Minister (for land) in Abdul Taib Mahmud's Sarawak cabinet, ought to be different.
He has a PhD in anthropology. He was once a dissident, a leading light in the opposition Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS).
PBDS was a 'pan-Dayakism' party that nearly toppled Taib in 1987, but then crumbled under the prolonged and canny pressure of Taib's iron fist. Eventually, nearly all PBDS leaders were bought over to BN, by Taib's promises of power and timber concessions.
Masing himself has now been accused of profiting from his wife Corinne Bua Nyipa's extraordinary good fortune. According to the website Sarawak Report, a gadfly to Taib's cabinet, Masing's wife enjoys a huge logging concession (although she has no obvious credentials as a lumberjack).
She is a prominent shareholder and director of companies that have been showered with government contracts worth RM100 million to build roads and rural classrooms, and to run electricity generators in Kapit's deprived schools.
Sarawak Report has systematically exposed the skeletons in Taib's cabinet in recent weeks. The website has run shocking stories on BN ministers and elected representatives, buried to their eyeballs in government largesse and conflict of interest.
Perhaps this helps explain Masing's outburst a fortnight ago. He told voters: "Jangan lawan tauke" – warning them not to go against the boss.
Politics in reverse
Masing later spoke out to defend his view, brandishing textbooks of political science. He insisted that elected representatives are 'the bosses' during the five or so years after each election.
"The confusion, it appears, is on the role of the legislature – which is the elected representatives or YBs. All YBs are elected by the people/voters. During the polling day, the 'rakyat' (people) who have been registered as voters are the boss. The power is invested on the 'rakyat' by the legislature, to elect who should be the administrator/boss of their lives for the next five years," he was quoted as saying by the Borneo Post.
"Once they have elected their YBs or the administrators, the role changes. The elected representatives become the administrators/boss of the 'rakyat', while the 'rakyat' plays a subservient role and will seek assistance from the YBs from time to time.
"If their YBs, for instance, pass a law which tells the 'rakyat' to walk backward, the 'rakyat' must walk backward… Within the period of five years, the elected representatives have the freedom to decide what is best for the 'rakyat'. If one or two people feel being neglected by their administrators/YBs, they have to wait for five years to change their elected representatives."
As retired MP Sim Kwang Yang has pointed out before, Masing surely understands the principle of the social contract espoused by Locke, Rousseau and Hobbes.
This is, of course, not the witless and racist "social contract" imposed on Malaya by the departing British. The social contract is a mutual agreement: the population gives up certain individual liberties to the state, in order that the government exists to provide security and services to the people.
"A government is legitimate morally as long as it looks after the personal security, the prosperity, and the natural rights of citizens," Sim wrote in 2009, in an open letter to Masing.
"When that government fails in its duty to the governed, then the people have the right to change the government – by a revolution even, according to Locke."
In his erudite history 'The Age of Revolution', Eric Hobsbawm remarked on the 'birth certificate' of modern democracy in the French Revolution – the seminal constitution established by the Jacobin regime in 1793.
"The people were offered universal suffrage, the right of insurrection, work or maintenance, and – most significant of all – the official statement that the happiness of all was the aim of government and the people's rights were to be not merely available but operative," Hobsbawm observed.
Distraction by hyperbole
Two centuries later, Masing continues to pretend modern democracy begins and ends with regular elections every five years, where votes are paid for out of the taxpayers' own money.
Masing gets full marks for using highly publicised, overtly stupid political statements, in an attempt to deflect attention away from the torrent of Sarawak Report articles exposing the huge contracts awarded to companies fronted by wealthy ministers' families.
But can this smokescreen hide the allegations of corruption indefinitely?
KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist – 'anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia'. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted at email@example.com
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