Leadership deficit

The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon.

— Kurt Vonnegut, American writer

DO orangutans kill people? I thought they were of a gentle nature.

However, a recent statement made by a federal minister is at odds with my perception and I am sure your perception as well.

In a speech on Jan 5, our Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin claimed that in Malaysia, if a human were to see an orangutan, it would kill the human first.

She later claimed that her words were taken out of context. After watching the video of the speech, it is difficult to take this part of her claim seriously.

It seems that to support the oil palm industry in Malaysia against international criticism, she went off script and made an uninformed or ‘overkill’ statement.

This statement labelling orangutans as killers of humans (when in fact some would say it is the other way around) swept through social media and started trending on Twitter.

Some netizens even speculated that perhaps she mistook the movie Planet of the Apes as a documentary.

On some websites, it is stated that the orangutan is one of humankind’s closest relatives as it shares nearly 97 per cent of the same DNA. This in fact would make it a close relative of the minister and of course all of us as well.

Sadly, the orangutans are on the endangered species list. I recently saw a picture on FB taken at a rehabilitation centre by photographer Anil Prabhakar that showed an orangutan reaching out to help a man out of the mud.

The author of the post stated, “At a time when the concept of humanity is dying inside humans, sometimes, animals guide us back to the basic principles of humanity … “

Unfortunately, Zuraida’s uncalled for statement of labelling orangutans as killers of humans might have damaged conservation efforts to help the ape.

This could create the perception among people that the orangutans do not deserve public support towards conservation efforts.

That’s why our politicians need to be more informed and careful about the statements they make. The consequences can be negative and at its worse appalling with dire consequences.

My point in highlighting the above issue is generally about the level of knowledge and leadership capabilities of our national politicians.

While not all politicians can be or should be tarred with the same brush, there is clearly a leadership deficit in the federal government.

Integrity and honesty are essential components for good leadership and the lack of these two attributes is obviously an issue.

Making racial slurs and stoking racial sentiments rather than unifying our peoples is also a destabilising factor in our communities.

Highlighting this deficit in their leadership abilities is not an attempt to denigrate them or pull them down, but to emphasise that people would like to see them perform better at their job and carry out their duties and responsibilities effectively.

An issue for debate among academics sometimes is whether leadership is a different function and activity from a position of formal authority.

I am sure our politicians possess elements of leadership; otherwise, they would not have followers who voted them into power.

I am sure most of us do not expect a perfect form of leadership. We are human after all.

However, as long as a politician is committed to serving people, on a sliding scale their leadership characteristics and abilities should at least be above average with efforts to continually improve. It is always a work in progress.

These ongoing statements by our ‘foot-in-mouth’ politicians reflect badly on the IQ of the people in our country and project an image of a poorly-governed nation. This may have many consequences, such as a drop in business confidence and foreign direct investments.

While in Sarawak, we too might have the occasional ‘foot in mouth’ politicians; however, it is not yet endemic.

With the current good leadership provided by our Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, I am sure the politicians in the Sarawak government are following him by example.

We seem to be always making news for the wrong reasons. Let us encourage and motivate our politicians to make news for the right reasons. Do praise them when they do it.

Ultimately, it is all down to the electorate to choose which politician they want to lead the nation.

The challenge and dilemma seem to be that those who do possess leadership qualities are now a rare breed.

Let us pray they do not become extinct — perhaps we need a conservation programme to breed good leaders.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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