The award of titles in Malaysia (the conferring of the title of Dato’/Datuk [and its meaningless variations], Tan Sri’s, Tun’s, and other lesser awards like AMN, JPK, ETC. ) has paralleled political developments in our country since Merdeka – a steady unflinching march from honour to farce.

Penguin Knighted
Sir Penguin ate a lot of small fish

In my childhood during the 1980’s meeting a Dato’ was an occasion because they were rare (and so rarer still was the Tan Sri-ship and Tun-ship). Back then the government and Sultans (well, not all of them) appeared to possess a semblance of restraint and a much higher standard in recognizing selfless devotion to country. The title was awarded to a few people and usually only to those with unimpeachable integrity and character. And often you could trace easily what contribution they did for our country.

This is how it should have continued to be.

But since Tun Dr. Mahatir desecrated most of our hallowed institutions to achieve materialistic glory for our country, the conferment of awards has followed this materialistic reckless trend. The discretion to award titles may have been secret before but their choices at least reflected patriotic concerns. That discretion now is exercised so generously and perversely that just about every Tom’s Hairy Dick can buy one. Throw a stone these days and you will hit at least half a dozen titled people before the stone finally hits the marbled floor.

My grossly inaccurate estimate evisages that if this trend continues by 2020, half our nation will be comprised of Dato’s. These are some of the ways the government and the Sultans have ruined the titles in Malaysia:

Remember Abdul Malik Mydin? In 2003, the 28 year old that was awarded a Dato’ship for his glorious feat of mediocrity by swimming the English Channel with barriers in 17 hours and 42 minutes with great accompanying fanfare. In contrast, Lennard Lee, a 20 year old Oxford medical student from Malaysia in 2004 swam it for charity without any barriers or fanfare did it in 9 hours 45 minutes hardly garnered a mention in our local press never mind a title. Dr. Lennard Lee in 2008 then conquered the Gibraltar Straits in 3 hours 45 minutes. Question: Has Datuk Abdul Malik Mydin done anything worthy of mention since 2003? If you do let me know because I cannot find anything of worth about him on Google.

Or how about our career sportsmen, Datuk Nicol Ann David or Datuk Lee Chong Wei? I am proud of them, think them great athletes and wish them the best. But the awarding them a title in the midst of their careers is just wrong. You confer an award for a lifetime of accomplishment and integrity not simply a promise of great things to come. By awarding them those titles, they have cheapened the titles awarded to the earlier great sportsmen of our nation who received their award after their retirement from the game. Do we hear of the Queen of England awarding knighthoods to athletes during their careers? What next for Malaysia? Win the Batang Berjuntai Open and get awarded a Dato’ship at the podium too? Buy RM 5 million worth of property in Putrajaya and get a Dato’ship for yourself and a friend?

Or how about the anonymous young special officers in the Prime Minister’s ministry that were awarded Dato’ships? What sacrifice, what significant initiative did these fine gentlemen do for their country instead of merely manufacturing lies, concocting fraudulent policies and wasting all our time and money for the current regime?

Or how about all these businessmen who throw their titles about? What sacrifice have they made for our country aside from merely enriching themselves? What novel industry have they done to enrich our country? And is merely being businessman sufficient criteria to be awarded one of those titles? Or how about all those half-baked politicians or gangsters or criminals?

The government and the Sultans themselves have reduced the honour and nobility of titles to such a state that I dare say those things have become near worthless as symbols or badges of integrity, honour and patriotism. Their generous bestowments have perverted the idea behind the conferment of a title to such a degree that if you have a Dato’, the rebuttable operating presumption is that (i) you are dodgy, (ii) you paid for it and (iii) you are or have been up to no good.

Some are fortunate enough to possess enough integrity and honour to rebut those presumptions, but they are in a minority. The government and the Sultans fail to realize that by issuing (because that what it really is) titles they have not only soiled it but soiled the titles possessed by those truly deserving too. Does anybody think Tun Eusoffe Chin on par with Tun Hussein Onn or Tun Dr. Mahatir? Is Tan Sri Dato’ Eusoffe Abdoolcader the equal of Tan Sri Vincent Tan? There is much incongruity in the personalities awarded such titles.

But if you think that is the bottom of the barrel, you are wrong. In Malaysia, you can go past the bottom to those that cling and feed to the underside of the bottom of the barrel.

In this category of persons are those that seize on their father’s titles by putting them at the back of their names, for example, Encik Tak Tahu Malu bin Tan Sri Dato’ Paduka Dr. Haji Bontot (any resemblance to any person’s actual name is unintended). I have seen and been given a fair amount of cards with such misdescriptions. I tend to refer to these people as Belakang Punya Dato’ (BPD). Those that tend to do this are generally the Malaysian Malays because the format of their name permits it. Malaysians of Indian heritage can do this too but I have not seen it.

Why bottom of the barrel?

First, it is bad enough that the integrity of our locally awarded titles are near non-existent.

Second, to actually attempt to use that title by putting it at the back of their names after the bin is so crass. After your name is supposed to be your father’s name. That’s all. The purpose of that was to trace your lineage. So it is not a holding place for you to slide “Tan Sri Dato’ Paduka Dr. Haji” upon your father’s conferment of those titles. That’s not part of your name. And that part of your name is not for grand standing.

The sorry part is that this notion of sticking your father’s title at the back of your name is so ubiquitous that now people simply do it without even asking whether you are comfortable with it. I know this because my father is one of those that were conferred with a Datukship (entirely deserving of course!) a few years back. Soon after word got around, I started receiving letters addressing me as “Fahri bin Dato’ Azzat.”

That is wrong on 3 accounts: (1) I have no bin in my name. I have adopted Azzat as my surname, so it is now my surname and not separate from it (2) My father was awarded a “Datuk” (from Federal) not a “Dato” (from the States generally). (3) That is not my name.

I cringe whenever I am addressed in that offensive manner. The sender may think it shows respect and sensitivity but as I have explained it demonstrates the contrary.

What does an attempt to use one’s father’s title by sticking it at the back of one’s name suggest?

It suggests an acute sense of inferiority borne out of their own mediocrity, or perceived mediocrity. They have no worth of their own, so they try to borrow some of their father’s glory. They think using their father’s title in their names, would add value to them; it would show others that they have some influence and are “connected”. They fail to realize that doing that merely demeans themselves, their father and the title itself.

It suggests a highly narcissistic tendency because by assuming that title at the back of their names they have “bestowed” that title on themselves by insisting that it be used in their names. Finally, it also shows them to be cheapskates.

I mean, if you want one so bad, go buy one yourself. I’m sure a discount can be negotiated or an instalment plan worked out. This is Malaysia. I would certainly be very disappointed if a person cannot purchase a title at a high-class mall with with a credit card and easy payment plan because it would mean that our government and royalty are not keeping up with the times where titles are concerned.

But then what does a mere Encik like me know? They may have other more important lucractive businesses or bourgeois sporting functions to attend to.

LoyarBurok Editorial Note: “Encik” is the equivalent of “Mister”. If you want a summary of the Malaysian titles and name pre-fixes, go here. Note that cops in Malaysia would prefer if you call them “Encik” instead of “Datuk.”

Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it...

40 replies on “Belakang Punya Dato’”

  1. The comedian Datuk, if you had kept track of his record has raised huge amounts for the society, he recently raised close to 1 mil. for some homes, orphages and even my church. I read that he helped raise 400k for Sri Eden and huge amounts for the Taman Megah home as well, 120k for a monastery, sorry I had to come to his defense as he had helped me too, adding on is the St. Thomas More Church and the Church of the Holy Spirit and raised funds for a Hindu Temple damaged by lightning and lots more, pls. don't condemn him as he is a true asset to society.
    Jacklyn D

  2. The comedian Datuk, if you had kept track of his record has raised huge amounts for the society, he recently raised close to 1 mil. for some homes, orphages and even my church. I read that he helped raise 400k for Sri Eden and huge amounts for the Taman Megah home as well, 120k for a monastery, sorry I had to come to his defense as he had helped me too, adding on is the St. Thomas More Church and the Church of the Holy Spirit and raised funds for a Hindu Temple damaged by lightning and lots more, pls. don't condemn him as he is a true asset to society.
    Jacklyn D

  3. Titles pander to the Ego of the receipient. He or she feels great and considers himself or herself many classes above the others. If all Tuns, Tan Sris and Dato/Datuk etc read this article there would be a riot all over town.

    Titles also help the poorer of the Rulers who dish out these Titles. It helps 'middlemen' earn a living.

    All these Titles become a torture to most of us when attempting to send out an invitation letter or card. Miss one Title in the receipients list of Titles and you are a goner.

    The writer writes about a Defence Forces Chief with more than 9 Datoships. He may be having more now with a 'Bravery' Dato thrown in. The weight of the medals on his chest would by now have made him a hunchback eligible to act in the role of Quasimodo of Notre Dame fame.

    There is a joke ( it may be true ) of more than a hundred Tan Sris and Datos accompanying Tun Dr Mahathir to Moscow on a Trade Mission. All of them had their Titles prefixed for their Hotel Reservations. The Hotel Reception staff apparently had a horrendous time sorting out rooms for everyone as they could not identify or relate the rooms to the relevant Tan Sri or Dato.

    Well. Is it not time for Pakatan Rakyat to get rid of these illusary titles when and IF it takes power. Of course the Rulers and the 'Middlemen' would not like that. Nor will those already bearing these Titles. But would not life be easier for most of us?

  4. Average Rm100,000 X 200 datoship awards per year = A very BIG birthday present! Not to mention the full Bolehwood-style regalia and paraphernalia to go. HAHAHAHA!

    I have a my own YB latoships to award to the deserving lot. But it will only come about once every couple of blue moons. My YB is very flexible and can cope with any situation.

    Yang Boleh or Yang Bodoh or Yang Bijak or Yang Biadap or Yang Bo-Chup, or Yang Bersumpah tipu or Yang Beli or Yang Bankrupt or man, you can go on an don…the flexibility is there for you. You pay for what you get lah.

    Yang Benggung lato HurricaneMax, A.S.S.,Du.H,O.A.F (Los), D.L.L., KN.N.

  5. oh that pub singer datuk ah? iknw lah singing in pubs around kl and pj.chinese fella. that one ah? dato celup lah.of course beli one lah ,clown like him ,how can he get a datukship? that fella frm penang

  6. no need to mention names lah,but if frequent pubs often u may knw it. singer,comedian,guitarist,watever lah. so undeserving,really. some people has done so much for the society their efforts go unrecognized,some people when given the datukship they decline it.lthis datuk title is really like pasar malam item lah. luckily its not buy one get one free.

  7. u all can say what u want as if the government cares. got buyer,got seller ok. like wat i said earlier, a local pub singer,and comedian can also get a datukship. how is that so? answers please

  8. its really up for sale lah…so disheartening! in what way can a pub singer become a dato? i dont get it..

  9. Another thought is that it may be a mistake to fully blame the title-holder (/buyer). Instead, these titles should be seen as a reflection of the political system that places a premium on having (selling) these titles as part of the path to attaining success. If the current system of predominantly Malay political entrepreneurs and predominantly Chinese economic entrepreneurs were reformed to make their relationship less symbiotic, would the titular system become less important? Perhaps the titular system is the most efficient way for Chinese people to show that they are Malay without actually becoming Malay and hence becoming a potential political threat. However, I'm not sure if the titular corruption is predominantly Chinese or if it is equally shared by all races…

  10. Another entry to the Malaysian Book of records. Beside satay terpanjang and ketupat terbesar we also have dato terbanyak

  11. Very soon Saiful will become Dato' Saiful if Najib can nail Anwar.

    As for the Along Datos', three (Dato' Boon, Dato' Andy and Dato' Rocky) have been restricted to detention centres or to other districts for illegal moneylending but their titles have not been retracted. A few years back, a Dato' was shot gangland style in a KL restaurant. It is an open secret that many involved in criminal activities and gangsterism are bestowed with Datoships'.

    Just a few months back, I was stopped by a police patrol car for a traffic offence. The police officer came to me after I had stopped by the road shoulder at their behest and from my name which is rather similar to a well-known MCA Dato', he mistook me for being that Dato' and he quickly and profusedly apologised to me for stopping me and while continuing to mutter "Maaf, Dato, maaf Dato'", he directed me back to the road. I saved on a traffic summons just because they mistook me for being a Dato'. Perhaps I should just print a Datoship in my namecard and start getting preferential treatment. Who is there to check as there are tens of thousands of Datos'?

    Someone asked whether there is a Bumiputra discount for Datoships. It is a very funny question but it does reflect deeply and fundamentally on what is wrong in Malaysia – too materialistic, corrupted and racially fragmented. It has become a laughing stock.

  12. Fahri,

    I would say with 15 issuing houses the latest being the WP getting on in the act there is certainly an overproduction of the titled with many receiving the datukship many times over.In comparison for the whole of the UK there is only one awarder and a person is awarded the Knighthood only once in a life time. I remember the last peace time Chief of Defense Forces in 2006 was getting his ninth datukship and still counting.With a single person receiving multiple datukships and thousands of datuks running around it must cause the taxpayers millions of dollars which could be better spend on helping the poor and destitute.

  13. There is a certain Malaysian billionaire who is often referred to as Tan Sri even though he is not one. His office has informed the press several times that he is NOT a Tan Sri but still the papers insist on inserting that title in front of his name. The reason he is not a Tan Sri is because he has declined the title several times – being plain Mr. is his preference because he doesn't need someone else's validation to make him feel good!

    That is true self-esteem.

  14. Cant blame those buying the title, but the leader leaders of this country. As to survive & fight for better life, they need to have that title to gain respect from the givernment.

    This is the culture nutured by the government. corrupted gvt.!

    Seriously i rather to be addressed as Mr than Datuk/Dato. Embarassing!

  15. Oh, forgot to say that if u can't get an award in malaysia u can get it overseas. Remember Lim Kok Wing? He is an emeritus professor with a tan sri to boot and a university under his own name. What is he academically compared with Ungku Aziz? Not a single tome has he produced. Malaysia Boleh.

  16. So many sour grapes. How many of the commentators got any award? Tarak lansung, that's why they pour scorn on those who got them. The more Latuks the merrier I say. If they want to pay for it, that's their business. And in any business, if there is no seller where got buyer, and vice vesa. I wish they would give me a Tun Tan Ting Tong, but I got no money, honey.

  17. What about Dato' Seri Farid Ridzuan? For the life of me I still can't figure out what great contributions he has given the nation. Jom Heboh – for making Malay parents let their school-going children watch the artists perform live for free when the next day is a school day?

    Viva DS Farid Ridzuan! You are a real "Pejuang Bangsa".

    P/s – I have nothing personal against him. I'm just curious.

  18. Agree with you in those days the Datos were much respected. They were often being approached for help and they did helped sincerely.

  19. Fahri,

    You are spot-on! Let me relate to you this actual encounter. I met an old friend whom I had not met for past 3 years at Sri Hartamas Square 2 days ago.He got his Datukship on 01 Jun 1983 on Agong's birthday at the same time when I got my award too. He is a deserving Datuk for what he had done for the country. On Investiture Day the whole lot of us were at the Istana Balairong Seri.But he had to queue-up behind me to receive his Datukship. So was Tan Sri Salleh Abas(former Chief Justice) and Tan Sri Teh Hong Piow(CEO Public Bank) going for their Tan Sriship with about 15 others. I was first to receive my award as according to protocol as my award is the highest the nation can bestowed on me as Tunship even rank 3rd but my award carries no honorific title. On meeting this Datuk friend, I of course, address him 'Datuk' and before we even sat down to talk he said to me, "Brother, please don't embarrass me calling me 'Datuk', just address me as brother will do". I was taken aback and asked him why. His reply to me was " Nowadays even illegal 4D 'towkeys and 'alongs' are Datuks and Tan Sris – malu lah". So, what you had mentioned and the general perception of the public is very correct. A plain Mr or Encik will suffice with no embarrassment or discomfort to some people like my humble friend even though he is totally not in that 'pot of worms'.

  20. Kopi Suam,

    If you hadn't known what Dato' Azzat has done to the society at large please shut the fuck up and do not make such innuendos.

    Not all dato' or datuk's are underserving of their title. You have a problem with fahri's article, go ahead and punch him (because that is probably the only way you know how to disagree with other people's opinion). But please lah. Spare all of us your rudeness.

    Fuck you!

  21. Sidebar: It's disheartening that long-serving government servants only have the conferment of those lesser titles at the very end of their career to show for their years of excellent service. Many have been bypassed of deserving promotions and "melintangs" for not being "connected" and simply for being of the wrong race. Where was the appreciation while they were still in service? It was a proud moment when my parents were conferred AMN and PJK, but at the same time it's such a cop-out consolation from the government when I look at it in its entirety.

    On top of that the farcical way the "greater titles" are being conferred sort of makes me feel that the lesser title became even lesser, and its consolation… disconsolate lah.

  22. Nice post Fahri. In some respects it seems Malaysia, in spite of the rhetoric, is deeply entrenched in a colonial-era bubble. It was in these colonial "outposts" that class consciousness was often even more pronounced than "back home", the use of titles (helped by a relatively visible military presence) was an important way to climb the ladder, and government made most of its income from monopoly/oligopoly concessions (raw materials, gambling, commodities, etc) – perhaps further reinforcing the need for a title. In today's Malaysia, the class/titular system and the political economic structure vis-a-vis its relationship to non-competing (often due to race) conservative business interests is remarkably similar to pre-WW II colonized Malaysia. Social insecurity about where one stands on the social ladder also seems remarkably similar (based on what I've read) to that of families in the colonial era. Interestingly, I read that class consciousness in the colonial era only really developed when Brits started bringing out their wives. So assuming the mass-printing of dato-ships doesn't succeed in thoroughly devaluing their worth to extinction in the next few years, another alternative would be to ship all wives out of Malaysia. Seriously, just think of how we could let loose and party…

  23. Well written… I wonder whether this so called "Titles" can still be used upon death. I think the titles should revert back to the institution that confers it upon death.

  24. Fahri…you're gonna get into trouble. You will definitely hit more than a few raw nerves. Remember our erstwhile radio DJ Patrick Teoh now of the Niammah fame? Can you remember what happened to him after he wanted to know, over the radio, what these Dato's did to deserve their titles? Next day jobless lah.

    But I am so grateful for what you have written. About time someone came out and called a spade a spade. Well done. You are absolutely right.

    Cliff Richard, Elton John, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Bob Geldorf all had to sing their hearts out for decades before they were knighted. And everyone in the whole world knows what 'Sir' stands for. Step outside Malaysia and no one has a clue what Dato means. That's why mistakes are sometimes made overseas when introducing Malaysian illuminaries as Mr. Dato ….full stop.

    That is why I admire the principles of the DAP in refusing titles as they are regarded as having been tainted by the perceptions that go with them. Bravo Lim Kit Siang and Karpal et al. You are much better off as plain 'Misters'. No necessity for people to try and figure out where you got the RM200,000 to pay for something you don't need. A title necessary to embellish a frail ego and absence of an inner self esteem.

    Good luck to all you seekers of illusionary grandeur. There are just too many of you around to make it worthwhile any longer.

  25. I also wonder what a recent young banker has contributed to the society to be conferred the datukship title.

    Maybe he just so happen to work in the banking group belonging to the brother of the PM.

  26. "… the anonymous young special officers in the Prime Minister’s ministry that were awarded Dato’ships? What sacrifice, what significant initiative …"

    Remember the non-entity who said 40% of the population were descended from prostitutes and beggars? I suppose he specialised as a spy, doing what his master himself would have done in times of yore. If he sat next to your group at a teh tarek stall, you would't notice him.

  27. Kopi Suam, read and understand what loyar burok wrote:

    "conferred with a Datukship (entirely deserving of course!) a few years back"

  28. Hmmmmm

    That reminds me of Dato Manimaran of Malaysia Airlines.

    He is a graded staff n reports to a General Manager based in Subang, but has found himself a place in the KLIA Golden Lounge. He has done up his JD (Job description) which is to attend to the needs of all VIPS and 'royal' persons.

    In KLIA Golden Lounge, he marked a place for himself and got office furniture for his 'operations', without going through proper procedures (management keeps both its eyes shut on this case) and is now the authority to tell the staff what to do and when to do things – for the VIPs.

    He is so powerful even though as non-executive, that he can even upgrade himself to higher class, even though he is only allowed to travel economy class on seat-available basis. Cabin crew and tech crew dare not report about his antics as they fear that he may use his 'VIP' connections to land them in trouble.

    The Head of the Golden lounge has learnt this the 'hard' way – now being investigated due to the 'evidence' cooked up by Dato' Manimaran.

    I agree with the writer, this Manimaran is also a BPD, but this is the way the national carrier allows such fellows to hold the institution to 'ransm'.

  29. Datoships are now as common as toilet paper.

    Tan Sris are just the coloured ones.

    Tuns? They're the scented ones.

  30. When my children bear my grandchildren, then they would call me Datuk. So I shall wait for that moment rather than paying my clean $ for some dirty titles.

  31. I don't know about Malaysian armed forces. Being residing in down south for a long long time, knowing from Singapore reservists that

    Encik reserved for Non Commisioned Warrant Officer.

    Yes Loyar, that XXX$%@XXX Warrant Officer barked at recruits during marching orders

    By the way, the marching commands are in malay. Some Singaporeans would come to ask me what those commands stand for

    Singapore style is far better…..All Saudara…..Even for LKY or even the current Chief Justice of Singapore, Chan Sek Keong. Ipohite, Andersonian

    Hmmm…..Any chance of Chan Sek Keong taking over the current Malaysia CJ. NH Chan would agree unanimously

  32. Well, I am given to understand a Datukship from a certain state can be had for around RM200k including go between fees for the middlemen. Quite popular with a certain type of businessman who needs some letters behind his name to sound important. The entire issue of state titles is a comedic farce reflecting a feudal value system that has no place in a modern progressive society. Federal titles may have more value if it is also not progressively devalued. You have to admire the Americans in this matter, no one is titled, not even the President.

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