A Think-Tank is Neither to Tarnish nor Burnish <—

Malaysia Penang Pedestrian in King crosswalk

* Civil society under attack in Penang Malaysia: This letter to the editor in response to warning issued to civil society by Penang’s Chief Minister

– By TK Chua, 8 July 2016 m.malaysiakini.com

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng is under a lot of pressure lately. However, his advice to Penang Institute, the think-tank funded by the state government, not to tarnish but burnish the image of the state government, needs some comments.

I think the purpose of a think-tank is neither to tarnish nor burnish the image of the state government. Both would be wrong.

A think-tank should be allowed to research and tell the truth of its observations on current events and issues confronting the state and the country. So long as motives and intentions are right, the think-tank should be allowed to carry out its work uninterrupted.
To tarnish would signify deliberate intention to belittle or damage the reputation of someone. On the contrary, to burnish is to polish or perk up the reputation of someone. Both would suggest “intervention” to telling the truth.

We set up a think-tank because we want to hear the truth, honestly conveyed. Otherwise, we are no difference from emperors of the past, who only wanted to hear pleasing news and stories.
If we tell the think-tank not to tarnish but to burnish, we are effectively telling them to sacrifice the honest truth. It is not necessary to set up a think-tank if we only want to hear nice stories. Surrounding ourselves with “polishers” would suffice.

I do agree that sometimes the truth could be hurtful and there is a need to manage it judiciously. Instead of saying publicly, the think-tank should be allowed to brief the top leadership in the state on the true situation prevailing in the state and country.

When state leaders become insular, arrogant, abrasive and overtly gung-ho and unreasonable, who would be most suited to provide the best feedback, if not the think-tank the state government has funded to provide such a service?

I have heard enough of inauguration speeches of presidents and prime ministers when they first come into power. Inevitably, they would promise an inclusive government willing to listen from near and far. However, usually after a while, they will no longer listen. In fact, they will become intolerant of honest views.

I think all leaders need honest feedback on themselves. If not in public, it must be told in private, right to their faces. This is the only reality check they must subject themselves to.

The late Lee Kuan Yew was known for his dominant and strong personality. But I read that he has never failed to seek feedback from pertinent people – successful entrepreneurs and business people, researchers and trade union leaders – when assessing a situation or making policy decisions.

So, over to you, Lim Guan Eng.


Reference: Guan Eng Warns Penang Institute Over Safeguarding State Govt Image  –
Full text of elected government’s warning to Penang’s civil society of 7 July 2016: http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2016/07/07/guan-eng-warns-penang-institute-over-safeguarding-state-govt-image/

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About the editor:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at https://goo.gl/9CJXTh and @ericbritton

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