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When the line is crossed

The line that separates personal use from public use must hold firm


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In the public sphere, it is important to observe that a line that separates the public good from the private one must not be blurred, as it involves a measure of ethics, integrity and moral fibre.

That is why it has become a subject of public concern: the reported allegation that Bachok MP Nik Abduh Nik Aziz had requested the Kota Bharu City Council to provide facilities and services for his two children’s double wedding.

In defence of Nik Abduh, the Kelantan state executive council member for state housing, local government and health, Dr Izani Husin, insisted that the council eventually turned down the request for help to provide waste management services, tables, chairs and flower decorations.

Even if it is true that the council did reject the request, Abduh should have known better than make the request at all in the first place because it would be construed as an abuse of power to use public facilities funded by taxpayers for personal purposes.

Besides, workers in a government department may at times feel compelled or pressured to entertain a request from a person of higher authority, especially in a feudal setting, opening the door for possible abuses.

For some people, this issue may be considered too trivial to bother. But then, we must remind ourselves that it is important that the vital line is not broken.

Similarly, there are people who might not make it an issue if, say, one of the component parties of the ruling coalition holds a meeting in one of the government buildings in Putrajaya. But if the same principle is applied, the party concerned would err in using state facilities.

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This explains why Caliph Umar Abdul Aziz of the Umayyad Caliphate was careful to use the correct candles for work and play. The oft-cited story goes that he had two candles in his office. He would use the candle belonging to the state to write about state affairs and use the candle he bought with his own money to write personal letters. The line was not to be crossed.

Not only that. All the jewellery and valuable gifts brought before him were deposited into the state treasury, instead of him taking them for personal collection.

By today’s standards and practices, not many would be able to hold a candle to Caliph Umar – even among those who are familiar with Islamic history and teachings. It would seem like a Herculean feat to them.

Pilfering of huge amounts of money from the national coffers, which has become a common occurrence in contemporary Malaysia, would obviously make the likes of Caliph Umar quiver.

Money meant for the public good that finds its way into the personal pockets of public officials is blatantly violating the line that is considered ‘sacred’ by such people as Caliph Umar. This is crossing the line with a wider stride.

It is also disturbing to some people that a few Umno leaders became part of the entourage that accompanied Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who was on an official government mission to the UN in New York recently. In this context, it is the fine line between political party affairs and the government business that had been blurred – even if the costs of travel were borne by the party leaders themselves. It is regarded as unethical as well as unprofessional.

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When the line – no matter how fine – is crossed, it will eventually have the adverse effect of making a wrong in the public domain seem right. Don’t allow the blurring to become normalised. – The Malaysian Insight

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Dr Mustafa K Anuar, a longtime executive committee member and former honorary secretary of Aliran, is, co-editor of our newsletter. He obtained his PhD from City, University of London and is particularly interested in press freedom and freedom of expression issues. These days, he is a a senior journalist with an online media portal
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5 Oct 2022 5.40pm

The fact that Nik Abduh made the request in connection with his children’s wedding showed Nik Abduh’s feeling of entitlement.

It does not reflect well about his sense of propriety and one does question his personal integrity.

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