Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Nepotism Shnepotism!

Being a journalist, and a brother to a politically knowledgeable intelligent person, I am, more than a regular guy (defined as those who wear regular pair of jeans, as opposed to boot cut), tend to be exposed to discussions on local political scenario.

During weekends, I hear my brother present his own, rather liberal, views on what is happening. During press events I talk to some senior journalist. Of course, my own colleagues are super-knowledgeable to what had happened or is happening, that I sometimes wonder if they were in it too. They are that convincing!

Recently, during a press event, involving the PM, I had the opportunity to talk to some senior journalists about the current government and the political state. More often than not, the words nepotism and cronyism kept creeping in the conversation. So much so, that a thought struck me: Did I leave the cloth iron on at home?

As disturbing as the thought was, responding to the conversation I felt a slight pang of guilt. To accuse some people of that, people of power of nepotism and cronyism I felt like a hypocrite. Let’s face it; we practice those despicable acts too!

Let’s look at what the Oxford dictionary has to say about the two words:

a) Nepotism - favouritism shown to relatives in conferring offices or privileges.

b) Crony - a close friend or companion

In a simpler word, it simply means sharing with your friends and family, whom you trust. Doesn’t that happen on day-to-day business, to you, sometimes practised by you?

Let’s take business, for example. You will never hear, at the grass root level at least, a grocery shop owner saying, “When he grows up, I want my son to be a poet and let some talented, educated, degree holding dude run my shop”.

Or let’s zoom to the past. The cavemen, for example. I am sure the cave dwelling early homo sapiens would want their sons to be skilful in the art of wielding weapon in shielding the clan from dangerous animals like the sabre-toothed tiger or kill a brontosaurus for meal. It’s nepotism when it involves the head of that clan, especially when the son takes over the territory peeing chores.

Aside: I know, I know. Brontosauruses was long extinct before first human-like being came abroad the vessel called mother earth. You know and I know, but the cavemen didn’t know that. End of aside.

Here’s a more personal scenario: When you have two chocolate cakes in your hand that you can have only one, you might immediately offer it to your best buddy, because you know, deep in your heart, the next time you screw up his project and he screams at you, at least you can say, “Hey, watch your gratitude buddy boy, remember that chocolate cake?”

You don’t give the cake to, say, the best candidate in appreciating the art of eating chocolate cakes. For all you know, he might find way to get more cakes through his own enthusiasm and deprive you of all those delicious things.

What about people in power, you may say. This involving governing the whole nations and with billions of Ringgit at your disposal for proper usage.

If I were a PM, I’d appoint my brother as the minister in PM, because I trust his brain. I think he is one of the most intelligent person I had ever met, knowing the ways of the world and, especially, of Malaysia.

But guess what, there could always be someone smarter and wiser than he is. But would I want to appoint him? No way, what if during meeting breaks I want to talk about Tamizh movies? Who better than my brother. Besides, we do that Tamizh movie bitching every weekend and I am too used to it to let it go.

Speaking of blood ties, my mom’s brother is actually an associate professor teaching political science and international relations. He used to work in a think tank organisation and still runs classes for some military officers. Would I invite want him to lead, say, the defence ministry? I can, but I will get hell from my mom who was once insulted by him during a family function.

So, in any political scenario, blood rules, especially mommy.

Let’s look outside of Malaysia. The most successful democracy in the world, the US, had two Bushes and almost two Clintons within two decades! How did that happen? Think about many political and financial scandals there…it reeks of cronyism. How about Singapore? Think of its prime ministers. And who’s controlling some of the biggest entities in that little Island? Pua Chu Kang and his family?

Okay, I am still naïve when it comes to the subject of politics, Let me turn to a subject I know a bit more- religion. I mean, the power that controls religions is the most powerful, right? But then, why are there brothers, sons, wives, mothers, friends, and consigliore, nephews involved in sharing of power?

I am no authority in religion, but if there is one religion that I know a little of, it is the religion I grew into – Hinduism. Now, we have Siva, his wife, Shakti, his son, Ganapathi, and his second son (accepted in Southern India, not so in Norhtern India) Murugan. Then, there is Shakti’s brother, Vishnu, his wife Letchumi. Many of Vihsnu’s reincarnations are powerful, Rama and Krishan to name to the most influential. If this is not nepotism, then I eat my shoe and the buckles!

So, is there nepotism there? I don’t want to judge. It’s too confusing. There is practise of nepotism and cronyism in every government in the world. People are crying blood in many countries because of that. Hell, people are spilling blood because of that. Before I blame the current government, or the opposition parties (which also has this father-son thingy going on). I don’t want to be judgemental, as I would judge myself to be a hypocrite. You do the judging.

Right now, I got to think who to give this door gift I just got from a press function – a fine Parker pen. Should I give it to someone I like and trust, or someone I think is qualified, educated, intelligent, smart and apparently a stranger to me?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sexy Account(ant)s

One day, and this is pretty normal of me, I decided that I should get into trouble with my fiancé. I told her, “Whoa! I went to this event, and it was full of accountants. Lots of sexy accountants,”

“What do you mean?” she said, her fingers curling over the cleverly concealed little sharp implements that she uses occasionally uses to make a point or draw a line, whichever more painful.

Laughing sheepishly (does sheep laugh?) I told her that it was accounts which as gone sexy. There were so many young girls doing important accounts related job that it must be sexy.


Anyway, the point is that too. It was an event jointly organised by ACCA (to lazy to define it, find it yourselflah) and Securities Commission (they usually enforce company regulations) and naturally, there were hundreds of guests, most of who are accountants, auditors and financial officers. I know, it is difficult to figure out which is which, like the Power Puff Girls.

Now, remember the image of an accountant that we know, male, usually clean-shaven, square thick-rimmed glasses, and the demeanour of a geek and nerd with a touch of class? Well, all that is gone now. You see mostly gals, looking dashing in their smart office dresses, with melting smiles and great pair of…I mean, eyes that are very friendly. There were smattering of men there, but I voluntarily chose to ignore them.

Believe it or not, somewhere in me there is an accountant. Its true…hey, don’t go and name the part where the accountant is. You will not believe it, but once I actually attempted to take the highly tough and hopes-killing ACCA course. What led me to that decision, I wonder?

Going back in time (think of the era of the emergence break dancing, baggy pants, Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan and, ugh, those mullet hairstyle), when I went to high school, I was placed under the agricultural stream. You have three streams those days, trade/business, agriculture and industrial. This concept is, without doubt, was designed by some sexist prig, because under the industrial stream, male students get to work with machineries while female students get to cook!

Anyway, bright students of that year (yes I was one of them, can you believe it!) went to agricultural stream. After second year, I was transferred into another school and the bright students there were placed under trade/business stream. An uncle of ours was an important teacher there. He arranged to have me placed in that stream instead of the agricultural stream where some still couldn’t spell basic stuff.

Aside. This is probably a favour that he probably would have regretted as he hinted to me when he had to rescue me from the can wielding headmaster. That’s another story involving sitting position. End of Aside.

In that stream, I learned a new subject; Perdagangan (trade, but it had accounts and business stuff) and I hated it. I was happy with the agricultural stream, and I think I would have inherited my mom’s green hand (as opposed to the Incredible Hulk’s). And they put me here. It’s like taking a cabinet minister who was handling agriculture to lead the international trade and industry ministry. Wait a minute….

So, I hated accounts. Then, for fourth or fifth year I was happily put in the science stream. It proved to be an inspired choice, because I flopped miserably during for my form five SPM examination. Perhaps, my talent actually lied in accounts, not science. How would I have known as the most accounting I did was whether I had enough cash left at the end of the day to buy Rokok Batang (Academic magazines for those who don’t understand Malay, hehe).

After form five, while waiting for the (expectedly horrifying) result, I worked as an office boy in, ta-daaa, an accounting firm. The boss was a newly converted protestant, whose brother, next door, was always inviting me for “free lunch with talks”.

The thing is, no thanks to the treatment I received in that office, I hated accounts further. But it just drew me closer, as I would realise later. When finishing my form six, I was brought to KL by an uncle who got me the job as an administrative assistant.

Despite the ambiguity of the name, I was basically a clerk and I ended up working in the accounts department. I used to report to a visiting auditor, Juswanth Singh. Juswanth was a nice man, then in his forties, who loved to eat mutton until one day a mild heart attack suggested him otherwise. Of course, he has recovered and is doing fine, still striking terror to many account clerks hearts.

Juswanth suggested that I should take up accounts course. I had this in mind, when I went off to work in Singapore. First thing I did when I got a job was to sign up for ACCA course. In return, they gave me papers and books, which are thick enough to be used in interrogation room.

One week into the course, I realised something: ACCA is not as easy as getting into a phone booth and changing into a superhero costume. Lots of people drop along the way, like those forced to walk the plank in pirates ship. This is one tough mother of a programme. If you survive it, it means you went through an insurmountable task that only proves that you are not human. Well, most accountants those days were not humans anyway (don’t ask which planet they used to be from, but it has to be hostile).

So, for a year, I struggled. Well, not much of a struggle really, considering that I never attended most of the classes – movies provide greater religious experience . After a year, I quit. I told myself, “look, you keep going to accounts but it is slipping away. That’s not you. Maybe that’s part of you in a way that in the intergalactic…” At that point I wanted to slap myself.

So, my ambition in accountancy went out of the window and in came my love for writing. And here I am, bugging the life out of you readers.

But, the ACCA event recently, after thirteen years of my own little adventure in accountancy, suggested to me that maybe accountancy has become more interesting over the years that they attracted all these attractive ladies. Those yummy looking… shoot, Linda might be reading this. I’d love to continue analysing the link between lovely ladies and accountancy, but I have appointment with my auditor.