By Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli
NSTP Johor Streets (2010/06/20)
Two prestigious awards conferred by the Johor Ruler in recognition of meritorious service.
Among the innovations Maharaja Abu Bakar introduced to Johor following his wide travels to England and Europe was the adoption of European court rites and culture.
This was part of Abu Bakar's forward thinking to modernise Johor and enhance her status as a premier state.
The Anglo-Johor Treaty signed between him and Queen Victoria's government on Dec 11, 1885 gave prominence to Johor as an independent state.
Abu Bakar himself was recognised as Sultan and sovereign of the state and its territories. This title absolved Abu Bakar from criticism that he was of nobility but not of royal blood.
Unlike other rulers of his time Abu Bakar did not wait for the British to tempt him with glittering baubles and titles. The British expansion plan was to exert influence and force Johor as the last of the states to come under its administration.
For 30 consecutive years Abu Bakar outwitted and outmanoeuvred the British. He literally took the battle to England and thus the Anglo-Johor Treaty was signed, ensuring non-interference from the British.
After moving his court from Telok Belanga to Iskandar Puteri in 1858, Abu Bakar set about to strengthen his government by forming a Jumaah Menteri consisting of 12 of his loyal and able followers, and a Dewan Negeri consisting of a further 12 members, including two from the Chinese community, to advise and assist him in managing the state.
He established a modern administrative system by setting up various departments including the police, courts, customs, treasury, health, education, survey, land and religion.
In fact his government was so efficient the British Governor reported to the Colonial Office that there was no justification in interfering in its affairs.
Abu Bakar found a way to reward his loyal ministers and officers.
Many of the posts they held were ascribed positions that carried the honorific Datuk, thus Datuk Menteri (Chief Minister), Datuk Bentara Dalam (Minister of the Interior), Datuk Bentara Luar (Minister for Land Development), Datuk Sri Setia (Commissioner of Police). Datuk Sri Amar DiRaja (Minister of External Affairs and Secretary of State), Datuk Penggawa Barat (Administrator of the Western Territories) and Datuk Penggawa Timor (Administrator of the Eastern Territories).
The honorific Datuk was used in the old Johor kingdom of the 15th century. Abu Bakar decided to perpetuate it by legal and physical means. Abu Bakar commissioned the Most Esteemed Order of the Johor Royal Family (DK) and the Most Honourable Order of the Crown of Johor (SPMJ and DPMJ). Both orders were conferred for the first time on July 31, 1886.
Among the first recipients of the DK were his siblings. The ministers were conferred the SPMJ and titled Datuk. The head of the powerful Ngee Heng Kongsi and member of the Dewan Negeri Tan Hiok Nee was the first Chinese to be awarded the SPMJ.
Abu Bakar, in his wisdom, embodied in the state Constitution of 1895 that the awards were to be placed on the highest pedestal of prestige and honour, with the Ruler having absolute right of conferring to those he recognised for their loyalty, leadership, meritorious service and contributions to the development of the state, and people with good character and high morals befitting a man of honour.
His son Sultan Ibrahim established the statutes and regulations for the awards in 1925 to further emphasise the Ruler's prerogative.
These criteria were used by Johor Sultans after him. In cases of doubt the nominees were referred to various government enforcement agencies including the police, the courts and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission for scrutiny and verification.
The wisdom of Abu Bakar is manifested in the limited number of awards being conferred. From the date of its inception in 1886 till now some 712 persons were conferred the datukship. Currently about 110 are still living. It is, therefore, ridiculous to say that if one throws a stone in Johor it most likely will land on a Johor Datuk.
Johor's Malay Datuks are by law members of the Council of the Supporters of the Country in confirming the heir as the next Sultan on the demise of a Ruler. This responsibility will test their loyalty and integrity.
It is imperative that before they accept the title they are to perform a solat sunah (non-obligatory prayer) and take the oath of sumpah syarie in renewing their obligations to Allah and be loyal to the Ruler and the state.
The imam reads the doa before and after the conferment, invoking Allah's benevolence to protect the recipients and keep them on the right path.
The motto Kepada Allah Berserah (Unto God Resigned) inscribed on the order's insignia is another reminder to the Datuk of his religious obligations.
With such heavy responsibilities and expectations, a Johor Datuk is duty- bound to be of best behavior and decorum and exhibit exemplary leadership qualities.
There was a saying that a Johor Datuk is berat alluding to the heavy responsibilities it carried. Once approved by the Ruler the palace normally sends out a letter of offer to the nominee.
If he feels he is unable to shoulder the obligations, the nominee can always turn down the offer. He will not be treated as having gone against the Ruler so long as his intentions are honourable.