Monday, May 19, 2014

Personality versus structure and process

If there is anything that the study of History teaches us, it should be that all the great feats of heroes come to naught if there was no structure in place that institutes fairness. I deliberately use the words "fairness" in place of the more commonplace word, "justice". I have found that when one uses the word "justice" everyone has a different understanding of what constitutes justice, whereas, when the word "fairness" is used there is an broader consensus.

So, what is this post all about?

Inasmuch as engineers and architects design physical structures that makes it as comfortable and sensible as possible for users to benefit from the process of using such structures for the longest possible time, laws created and enacted by political leaders must also undergo similar tests of relevance and robust relevance.

If you trouble yourself to read history books or biographies of significant personalities, look out for aspects of what these past personages did in putting in place values, rules or processes and, then, look at whether those values, rules and processes are still in place today.

In the course of my history readings I have come across, time and again, great events involving great leaders of the day where a good outcome involves a leader having the foresight and humility to institutes structures and processes that have a foundation in fairness. These outcomes have longevity and continued relevance.

In contrast, scenarios involving leaders who had great self-belief in their own sense of fairness and the impatience with the plodding pace of instituting structures and processes have often led to short-term gains with the attendant long-term legacy of pain and discomfort as a consequence.

Not many Malaysians remember the late Professor Hugh Hickling. In the course of his long career he had many roles in the nascent Malayan and Malaysian nation. One of his roles was that of the Commissioner for Law Revision for Malaya in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In that role, Hickling drafted the Internal Security Act 1960 primarily as a statutory tool to combat the threat of Communism that had so badly affected peace in Malaya.

In later years, Hickling always sought to expiate his role in the creation of the Internal Security Act 1960 that so haunted many poilitically active Malaysians and, Hickling himself. I had the opportunity to hear him explain, by way of expiation, that in the course of drafting that piece of legislation Hickling had expressed to the late Tun Abdul Razak, who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time, his concerns about the width, length and breadth of powers given by the Internal Security Act 1960 to the Executive Branch of Government. 

According to Hickling, Tun Razak's reply was that he, Tun Razak, knew how to utilise those statutory powers and, he knew where to draw the line, that is to say, what types of actions would constitute an abuse of those sweeping powers.

Needless to say, Tun Razak knew what he was doing, being an intelligent and legally trained leader. Tun Razak's sense of fairness is well-documented. This leadership trait was proven beyond doubt in the way he handled the May 13, 1969 riots when, as the Director of the National Operations Council he had dictatorial powers. Tun Razak's uncommon common sense and sense of fairplay shone through when constitutional and parliamentary processes were quickly reinstituted by 1972. 

The Internal Security Act 1960 was clearly in good hands under Tun Razak. Whether such powers were abused by subsequent leaders is a matter for historians and academicians. Suffice to say here that the Internal Security Act 1960 was an example of questionable structures and processes that worked only if the correct personality was holding the reins of power. In the wrong hands, such a piece of sweeping legislation was very much open to abuse.  

From the standpoint of my basic proposition about the importance of structure and process over personality, the Internal Security Act 1960 is one of the chief culprits for having engendered a legislative drafting culture where statutory powers are almost always drafted together with language that forbids or prevents an audit or review of the exercise of such powers. This makes the personage of the Minister or Government Officer very crucial. A cavalier personality will wield such powers freely and arbitrarily. A personage with a sense of fairmindedness will exercise more restraint. Such a structure cannot be good. 

Since we are on the matter of structure and process which has taken a legal twist, I now steer it back to a neutral position by leaving you with a piece of engineering wisdom-

An electrical, a mechanical and a civil engineer all sat down one day to try and decide of which of their faculties god must be to design the human body.

The electrical engineer says god must be an electrical engineer, for you only have to look at the complex nervous system powered be electrical impulses.

The mechanical engineer was sure that god must be a mechanical engineer, for the advanced mechanical systems, the heart a pump, the veins pipes and the tendons and muscles an advanced pulley system.

Finally after hearing the civil engineers arguments, both the mechanical and electrical engineer both agreed that god must be a civil engineer, for who else would run a sewer system through a recreational area!


Anonymous said...

The brain said that I should be the boss of the body because I do the thinking. The heart said no it should be me because if I stop all of you will die. The other parts of the body made their a case of their importance. Hearing all this the colon decided to have a shut down. After three days all agreed that he should be the boss.

walla said...

...At least here we know He is not a materials engineer. Too much form, not enough substance.

A good society is built on the foundation of fairness and humanity, wisdom and knowledge, principles and integrity.

Over so many years past to this present, all these elements have been untethered from the very bedrock on which this nation was founded just to chase selective voter support and evanescent popularity until myths and lies have been made mainstream to keep minds backward and anchored to nothing that can be supported factually and rationally.

Going forward we will only see more conflicts and losses. How can anyone not be unhappy and dissatisfied? How can everyone not suffer together? How will it all end?

Maybe He had started as a demolition engineer. Big bang, you know.