Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mourning the Sultan of Johor ... A PR ERROR of the Mentri Besar

It is good that the Johor palace has come up with an official statement on the dress code for the citizens during the mourning period as the Johor MB did not handle the matter in a clear and professional manner; thereby contributing to the confusion and possible abuse of authority by a few enforcement officers.

This was my own experience of the matter :
I attended a Speechcraft program for IRDA trainees from about 9:00am to 5:00pm and two trainers had their arm-bands prepared.
As I had not heard the news report about the dress code nor read about it, I was a little upset that the "authorities" were imposing of fine of RM300 to RM350 for those who did not wear the proper attire.
In fact the only information I found in the Star was this entitled New Sultan to be named today in which the MB "Abdul Ghani declared today a public holiday and said a seven-day mourning period from today had been declared.
He said Muslim males should wear songkok with white bands while non-Muslim men should wear a black armband on their left and black tie.
Muslim women must wear white headscarves while non-Muslims must wear a black armband on their left."

The article did not mention any penalties for non-compliance or under what authority or legislation he made the declaration.
Does the MB have the authority to impose such a dress code on anyone?
I double-checked with my brother and he also advised me to get an arm-band and he even told me it had to be 3inches wide.
My first reaction when I heard the news or rumour in the morning was that enforcing such a dress code would result in more a negative emotion rather than feelings like love, homage and respect. I mean if you had to fork out RM300 to some corrupt official who was "enforcing" such a rule you would not think so affectionately of the deceased.
I remember during the funerals of my two parents and my in-laws, we did not wear any black arm-bands and no one used any specially made clothes. We simply picked an appropriate set of clothes that were not too colourful but of subdued design.
So I was a little worried when I returned to Singapore late Sunday night and I had prepared an armband for my return trip on Monday.
I figured that a Singapore-registered car would probably not be pulled up for spot-checks on the arm-band. However we noticed there was a police road-block on the north-bound PLUS highway just near the beginning.
When the MB makes such an ambiguous announcement, some unscrupulous people will try to exploit the situation like the corrupt police officers and those selling the arm-band materials.
So how did I solve my armband problem? I cut up a black plastic bag to make the armband and used 2 staples. When I came back on the public transport all the way to Taman Adda Heights, there was no enforcement. But on the bus I heard a few guys talking about the fine and maybe 10% of the passengers sported an armband.
The other problem with the clarification is that some people who do not read the papers will not know about it and will continue to wear the armband under protest.
So even now we really cannot tell if people are wearing the mourning attire out of love and respect or simply based on fear.
The state authorities should have clarified with the Palace better on the handling of the matter even though it is a difficult period.
The newspapers too could have played a more effective role in educating the public about such matters.
If I had been the MB, I would have issued a statement more like the latest official statement from the palace.
For the paying of respect, I would have also provided the materials free for the armband and the songkok for those who wanted it before they entered the palace area and no one should be turned away.
For the general public, I would have announced that some 7-eleven stores in Johor had been appointed to distribute the materials free for those who wanted to mourn the passing of their ruler.
Of course the matter would be discussed with the family first.

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