IWAS taken aback to read from the letters written to NST on Monday that Sugiman Sabri from Kulim had died on July 31.
It is sad that he departed so suddenly, and it must have been a shock to his family, as he was only 44.
Although I don’t know the man, I have grown to admire his letters to this column and his way of looking at this country, as opposed to those who take a racial approach in describing our problems.
As a mark of respect to my soulmate, let me lend my support to the last two letters that he wrote to NST, one on the meaning of being Malaysian and the other, on his remarks about the pressure from politicians calling for the government to step in to control social media.
Their reason for government control is the proliferation of pornographic materials that they claim are corrupting the younger generation.
The other is that government critics have used social media to spread articles about 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) issues, embarrassing the government and creating instability in the country.
The public, on the other hand, think that there is a good side to social media, especially in giving people the alternative story and widening their knowledge of controversial subjects.
They suspect that the real reason for wanting to restrict social media is something else, raising fears about Malaysia turning into a police state.
As we have seen from the human tragedy in other Muslim countries, from a police state they became failed states and a breeding ground for extremists who use ethnic divisions and religion to spread their ideology of hate towards democracy and the freedoms it stands for.
If the government introduces controls on social media, this will be seen by the international community as a retrogressive step for Malaysia and coming at a time when there are concerns about harassment of the institutions of state in connection with their investigations into 1MDB.
The conclusion of the world and the public will be that the real reason for muzzling social media and print media is because their news content and the commentaries are critical of the government.
Malaysia is on the US watch list on human trafficking and the treatment of refugees.
Our currency is sliding more than it should based on fundamentals, and relative to other regional currencies, the ringgit is the worst performer in Asia this year.
Western newspapers are making damaging remarks about our politics and our economy. Our students abroad are worried whether they should come back after their studies.
All this is making the public wonder whether the weakness in the stock market, the net outflows of funds and their effect on the ringgit could be related to worries about the political stability here.
Any move to control social media will be seen as a sign of weakness in the government and confirm their doubts about the ability of leaders to cope with the crisis of confidence.
It is not too late to make amends. Leaders should renounce punitive strikes on freedom of expression as a first step towards rebuilding the image of a government confident in its own righteousness and that it can prove critics wrong.
At the same time, there should also be a special session of Parliament for the government to table a white paper on 1MDB to address the facts behind the transactions, the RM42 billion debt and explain the plan to rescue it from financial collapse.
In addition, a bill to regulate political donations should be tabled quickly.
Donations should be made transparent through a system of checks and balance to ensure compliance by political parties.
The most immediate action the government can take to calm the situation is to stop the harassment of government institutions, particularly the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and Bank Negara, as they are professional organisations that must be free from political interference.
The sanctity of the civil service and the whole system of public administration must remain intact so that we can be like other democratic countries, where the prime minister can come and go but the country continues to function under a system of laws established by the constitution.
It is the administrative system that generates trust in a country, no matter how many times the prime minister changes.
The civil administration and the rule of law are the two pillars of strength in our economy.
Now, more than ever, their supremacy must be safeguarded so that Malaysians, businesses and foreign investors can feel confident that the country will soon be normal again.
TAN SRI MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM, KUALA LUMPUR