Hi latok, apa macam?

I don’t understand the public’s fascination with having titles added to their names to such a point they are willing to fork out ridiculous amounts of money.

– Datuk Seri Michael Chong, MCA public services and complaints department chief

So, you wish to have the title ‘Datuk’ in front of your name? The awarding of such honorifics by rulers and heads of states has hit the spotlight again.

Late last month, the Pahang Palace stripped and revoked the ‘Datuk Seri’ title from fugitive businessman Nicky Liow. Pahang had bestowed the title on Liow when he was only 27 in 2015, in conjunction with the Sultan’s 85th birthday.

Liow is on the run from the authorities allegedly for criminal intimidation, causing hurt and drug-related offences.

Several other national VIPs with state or federal honorifics have had their titles revoked — chiefly for criminal activities — in the last one or two decades. Just do a Google search and you will come across their names.

I am just wondering if rulers or heads of states or anyone empowered to award honorifics are aware of the credibility and worthiness of those being honoured.

These days many young people are made datuk or datuk seri which raises several questions. Are they vetted properly?  Do the police conduct a comprehensive character and background check?

Are the Insolvency Department and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) seriously vetting these people’s applications?

The roles of the police, MACC and Insolvency Department used to be crucial in determining the eligibility of a person for a title or award. I hope none of these agencies are being bypassed.

We have become a status-conscious society; some people are prepared to seek shortcuts to be recognised as someone important in society without making any significant contribution to society or nation.

Not many are aware of the criteria for awarding such titles or awards. Maybe you and I can apply for such titles with the recommendation of senior politicians or eminent people of society. Of course, there are deserving people who have received titles without applying for them. These are the people who have contributed much to society and the country.

There are also others who have contributed a lot, like academicians, activists, writers, philanthropists and even opposition politicians, but somewhat have been bypassed year in year out, mainly perhaps they might have been too vocal or do not know how to curry favour with the powers that be.  

I also know of many civil servants who are not given any titles or awards after years of dedicated public service upon their retirement. I hope those who are involved in making recommendations for such titles do not leave out the faithful, hardworking civil servants. And my advice to these government servants is to keep working diligently for the good of society. You are the pulse of the government machinery.

Honorifics have become a status symbol in our culture of instant gratification. I know of some politicians and cash rich entrepreneurs in Malaya who forked out between RM160,000 and RM480,000 to receive ‘datukship’ or ‘tan sriship’ from a certain state.

It’s not that difficult. I read somewhere that all you have to do is to make as much money as you can — legally or illegally; get connected to agents in certain states and make “donations” the amount of which will be determined by the agents; attend the investiture ceremony and pose for a picture with the Sultan as evidence.

And finally, another SOP, which should not be ignored — get your families, friends and relatives to insert full page congratulatory adverts in popular newspapers.

A fellow columnist once confided this to me: “If there is much benefit to secure such titles or awards apart for the prestige of owning them, then the economic and financial returns must be great too.”

You are right, brother.

People go to great lengths and pay a huge amount to be made a datuk not only for personal ego, but also for business purposes and the opportunity to make more money.

Perhaps, each state should impose a strict quota for honorifics. At the rate the numbers of our datuks are ‘proliferating’, they will soon be seen everywhere.

Several years ago, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said if one wanted to give value to anything, it must be limited.

“If you produce a million Ferrari cars, nobody will care about buying a Ferrari.

“Before, if you threw a stone, you would hit one datuk. Now, you throw a stone you hit two datuks!”

In 2016, Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, whose state gives out the least number of honorifics, made a joke of the awards: “If you throw a stone, it would hit a datuk and when the stone rebounds, it would hit another datuk.”

Anyway, before I go, let me tell you how I respond to a friend whenever he addresses me jokingly (which can be very irritating) as ‘datuk’.

My standard reply: “When did I marry your nenek?”

This almost always keeps him and his friends tongue-tied.