It’s election time and strange things are happening. Last week there was nothing more shocking than the Sultan of Kelantan’s withdrawal of the Darjah Kerabat Yang Amat Dihormati title from Pakatan Chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and the Datukship from Amanah vice-president Husam Musa and party state chief Wan Abdul Rahim Wan Abdullah.
No one knows the reasons for the revocation. The public is entitled to know why the titles were stripped from the affected individuals because it suggests that they did something that either brought the honour system into disrepute, or committed an offence that was outright criminal in nature. Why else would their titles be revoked?
Here the Prime Minister and the Menteri Besar of Kelantan are answerable. Surely the Government must adhere to a process when it recommends to a Ruler that such a drastic step is justified. They are the ones who recommend members of the public to be given titles and awards by the state Ruler, or in the case of federal awards, by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. They should therefore also be responsible for explaining why the titles should be removed. It is not acceptable in this day and age for anyone, not even the Prime Minister or the Menteri Besar, to essentially say: “I can do what I like”.
The United Kingdom’s system of honours and titles is somewhat similar to ours. The Queen grants the honours when so advised by the Prime Minister, and revokes them when requested to by the Government. However, there is a Forfeiture Committee headed by a top civil servant to advise the Cabinet of when titles need to be forfeited or revoked.
They take the revocation of titles seriously because it impugns the individual. The reasons for their decision are always made public. For example, Sir Anthony Blunt had his knighthood stripped from him when he was caught spying for the Russians. Lester Piggot, the champion jockey, had his title taken away for tax fraud, and Fred Godwin faced the same fate for being responsible for massive fraud in the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2008.
Can the Prime Minister and the Kelantan Menteri Besar tell us what crime or dishonourable act Tun Dr Mahathir, Husam and Wan Rahim committed that warranted shaming them publicly? Exactly what did they do to make them unfit to hold the titles that had been bestowed on them?
Here I urge the Malay Rulers to set up a special Forfeiture Committee to look into all such cases that come before them. This not only protects the dignity of title-holders from being abused by those who oppose them, but also protect the Rulers themselves from being accused of conduct unbecoming of a sovereign. Our respect for the Rulers requires them to be always non-political, impartial, fair and transparent when performing their duties. The last thing the Rulers want is to be unwittingly entangled in the maelstrom of dirty politics and abuse of power.