Sunday, March 22, 2009

Continuing MMA Controversies—Time to move forwards

I had hoped that all these controversies could have been put behind us once and for all after the last year’s AGM. I humbly apologise for revisiting this troubled sequence of my flawed but not fatal inattention to detail—I believe I have contributed sufficiently all along to the MMA, to merit some good sense, rather than skeptical scorn, which some have continued to inflame.

I readily admit that the past few years for the MMA had been challenging and tendentious. But these challenges against the activities and actions of the Council and Exco of the day, began much earlier on, at least 3-4 years ago.

Rightly or wrongly, these seething animosities snowballed due to the perceived lack of transparency, alleged wrongdoings and possibly weakness and indecisiveness of the leaderships.

Personally, I attribute all these to differences in leadership styles, which should have been better accepted by members, but which were not for some reason or other.

Perhaps our expectations as members have risen beyond a few notches. Perhaps there just are members who thrive and revel in the manufactured comeuppance and schadenfreude of others that they oppose or envy…

Perhaps, there are just those who believe mightily in the oppressive to-the-letter constrictions of constitutional legalism, above the spirit of the customary camaraderie of the association…

Perhaps, the recent reversal of the Bolam principle and the rollout of the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Regulations have frustrated our sense of fair play and paranoia.

Perhaps the rising tide of political awakening has sharpened everyone’s senses for greater public accountability and transparency, amidst mounting cynicism of all authorities that be. Whichever, the reasons, I believe that not to recognize these problems would be remiss!

I will not address the issue of my membership lapse because that is already well known to members. This was made very clear and plain before the ‘second’ election of the President-elect. But this ballot was blocked by recriminations and complaints to the ROS, until this was somewhat resolved with the SGM convened last year.

The fateful SGM

I’m sorry for describing again this unfortunate crisis, but I feel I must clarify lest those who have not been following the saga, would have the notion that I have unconstitutionally usurped the role of the President-elect.

It is sad that there are still members who opposed my eligibility, but the SGM last year was not as indecisive as what was generally made known through the Berita MMA or otherwise.

In fact, because the tenor of the SGM and debate was heading towards a defeat for those who requisitioned the meeting, the detractors quickly assessed that a vote should not be taken! This brought relief to the beleaguered MMA Exco members, and the decision not to vote on the resolution was readily but wrongly (in my view) taken by the then chair—i.e. the president. I can understand the immense pressures that surround the Exco all these months building up and up…

Instead, a compromise was hastily pitched together, to adjourn the meeting by grudgingly empowering the Council/Exco to meet up with the ROS and try resolve the problem—pinning the Exco with threats “that should deregistration occur, this would be on the heads of the current leadership”, to quote a past president.

Opening the Ballot Box—the Ultimate Referendum from the members at large

At any rate, emboldened by this unexpected show of support from the membership, the very next few days, the MMA Exco authorised the Election Committee to open the ballot box.

The results clearly endorsed the views of the majority of the membership. I believe most of the MMA membership could see that one administrative inattention and unfortunate lapse of mine as just that, and see beyond the murky partisan politics of so-called “righteous integrity and constitutional legalism” adopted by many of my critics.

In fact during the Kuching AGM, a keener sense of rational calm descended on our battle-weary members. Thankfully, both sides of the divide came together to resolve many of the contending issues, under the insightful leadership of several members.

The AGM then in its wisdom endorsed my position, for which I am grateful. I do believe that the members and the delegates had spoken and are supreme in deciding whatever’s best for the MMA, and not simply for any one single individual, including myself, or any of the past presidents.

A Stronger MMA beckons through greater give and take

So although we went through an era of uncertainty and at times bitter acrimony, I believe that we have all emerged stronger, better prepared and more engaged than ever. In the final analysis, good sense and compromise through sincere dialogue rather than mistrustful innuendos triumphed.

I’d like to thank all our MMA members for their diligent pursuance of bipartisan peacemaking and concessions. In particular, I would like to single out Dato’ Dr. Ronald McCoy, Dato’ Dr. Abdul Hamid, Dato’ Dr. Mohan Singh, Dr. Kerpal Singh and Dr. Sarjeet Singh, who laboured through the wee morning hours in Kuching, to seek closure of this conundrum. The president Dato’ Dr. Khoo and MMA’s legal adviser Mr. Philip Koh helped spell out the legal jargon of some of the conciliatory resolutions. They were instrumental in hammering out a workable compromise. I understand the misgivings.

However, these series of protracted problems highlight what is also already known to many of us—that trying to helm a disparate body of strongly opinionated and individualistic doctors can be very trying, often exasperating, and in many instances, quite thankless!

We recognize that misunderstanding and differing interpretations of executive or councilor decisions or indecisions can sometimes blow up into seemingly uncompromising, implacable positions of conflict—the like of which an association such as ours can ill afford.

In manmade crises such as these, it is important to remember that mistakes or miscues are often committed without willful intention to cheat or defraud the association or its members. Most inadvertent errors if not all, are made with noble intentions, sincere inattentiveness, or simple miscalculations. Some members however, may misconstrue such irregularities, as breaching constitutional laws—but in truth, are not fatal to our cause. If one wishes to be picky and faultfinding there will be no end to any society’s nitty-gritty problems.

I call on all, especially those who are passionately opposed to my election, to look forward rather than to indulge in the past, looking for ghosts of mischief, while becoming the detractors of lost causes, themselves.

I respect dissent, but I must respect the Majority more…

While I greatly respect dissent as a legitimate facet of any democracy, dissenters too must also recognize realities for the common good, and perhaps be a tad more sympathetic if not more forgiving. We should not resort to trying to harm the MMA just because our views conflict with our tenacious beliefs.

It is useful to remember that those at the diametrically opposite end may hold equally contrary if honest convictions. No one has that exclusive prerogative to be righteously correct all the time.

The views of the majority must be the supreme arbiter of what our members want and decide, and not those of a few, or even a sizable minority number of vocal detractors.

Prior to the second voting exercise, I had explained my unfortunate position and had vowed to abide by the MMA’s electoral voice. Thus, I have steadfastly stood by this. That there were 5 candidates meant that members had a great chance to decide on their choice. This should serve as the basis for all disputes. Our membership at large is the rightful supreme master of our fate. The postal elections therefore served as a defining referendum on whoever the members felt should lead our association.

During the Special General Meeting and then at the last Annual General Meeting, and the finally counted postal election, the majority of the membership had spoken loud and clear—more than 60% have clearly voiced their impatience for change, and I thank them for their confidence in me.

Final Votes:

The final results speak for themselves (this was not disclosed publicly by the EC out of courtesy, but I feel duty bound now, to disclose for greater transparency):

Dato’ Dr Jaspal Singh 105

Dr Mahendran Markandoo 100

Dr Mohd Namazie 305

Dato’ Dr N Tharmaseelan 457

Dr David KL Quek 1491

Of the 2458 total ballots received, 1491 or (60.7%) had voted for me to be the President-elect. This margin of endorsement is one of the largest ever in the history of the election of MMA president-elect, despite there being an unprecedented 5 candidates and the so-called ‘scandal’! Previous presidents had been elected on slimmer margins of sometimes less than a hundred even…

Some dissenting stalwarts of the MMA…

Therefore, I feel vindicated and strengthened in my belief that I have been given a clear mandate to lead our august Association, notwithstanding the continued dissent of some esteemed past-presidents—Dato’ Dr. Sreenevasan and Dato’ Dr. Selvarajah.

I am surprised that these members of the Special Committee (SC) had chosen to revisit this issue.

The SC was empowered by the AGM to try and resolve the impasse and move forwards. The remit is not to derail the future by adherence to partisan legalistic interpretations. I believe the SC was set up to look into the constitutional problems and to find ways to rectify problematic issues of membership in a retrospective manner, by offering solutions such as amending the MMA constitution to resolve lapses of the past. It was certainly not to complicate the issue as to my eligibility or otherwise. This had already been referred to the members at large for their supreme decision, i.e. the PE postal election with 5 very credible candidates.

The members through the ballot box had already spoken clearly: 60.7% of the members had elected me and given me the mandate to lead the MMA. Whatever membership problems are administrative issues, which would and could always invite whatever possible interpretations according to divergent views.

Dato’ Dr. Sreenevasan and Dato’ Dr. Selvavarajah had written in to the president Dato’ Dr Khoo to voice their dissent. That is their right, but in this context of their roles in the SC, totally out of place. I am not afraid to record their just concerns. Much as I respect their personal views, I humbly beg to disagree with them. I have on the other hand, endorsements from at least 7 other past presidents. I am sorry that I could not get everyone’s support, which would be unrealistic, anyway.

Let me share with you the unmatchable wisdom of one of America’s greatest founding fathers at the signing of the US Constitution Convention on 17 September 1787. Benjamin Franklin then 81 years old said, and I quote:

“I confess that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present; but sir, I am not sure I shall never approve of it, for, having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that, the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgement of others. Most men, indeed, as well as most sects in religion think themselves in possession of all truth, and that whatever others differ from them, it is so far error… Few express it so naturally as a certain French lady, who, in a little dispute with her sister, said: ‘But I meet with nobody but myself that is always in the right.’

“When you assemble a number of men, to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their positions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expressed?”

“Thus I consent, sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors I sacrifice to the public good… Much of the strength and efficiency of any government, depends on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of that government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its governors…

“On the whole, sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the convention who may have objections to it, would, with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this institution.”

This is not to say that we should never voice and abide by our own opinions and our heartfelt convictions, but that sometimes, we have to consider the greater public good, where other diametrically opposite convictions hold the majority sway and thus the ultimate voice of determination. In any civil society, the majority verdict must be for that time period, that which any organisation or even any political order must comply with, otherwise there will be chaos and gridlock impasse.

Nevertheless, I urge every member who has the wellbeing of the MMA at heart, to close ranks and work together to help address the many issues, which continue to beset our medical profession and practice. Members will find that their faith in me will not be abused and will not be misplaced. I will be our members’ and our profession’s strongest and most fearless advocate.

Greater transparency

I believe that by revealing these undercurrents of malaise, we can become stronger. This will be the standard of my efforts to promote transparency in my 2 years’ tenure as President.

There will be those who will oppose or disagree with some of the things that I believe in or do. Yet, there will also be those who will support me, earnestly. I will err on the side of courage of my conviction and my perceptions of the right things to do, for the medical profession and our members’ interests.

I will do the best I can and as I see fit. I will make some mistakes along the way. I may be criticised for some of my actions and decisions, but I will not shy away from airing them, and will defend or justify them if need be.

Disagreements will be tolerated with dialogue and a listening ear, but with least recriminations and personal self-hurt—we must rise above partisanship and self-righteousness.

There will be neither cover-ups, nor will there be any glossing over of misdeeds, or inappropriate vested interests.

Neither must we become bogged down by actions and affairs past, which only serve to stalemate our progress and our course.

While we should learn from mistakes and history, we must not always be looking backwards all the time.

I would like to quote political scientist Geoff Mulgan (one of Britain’s top 100 intellectuals) who said, and I quote: “Good government should be illuminated by the future. But many governments live with their eyes on the rear-mirror, refighting ancient battles, and reigniting ancient enmities”.

I believe we should not let such rearguard activities from overwhelming our administration and policies. While we welcome feedback and constructive criticisms, we must not allow administrative or technical issues from derailing our purpose and our goals. We will empower independent commissions/committees to address any reasonable misgivings or legitimate queries to the satisfaction of some of our ever vigilant and watchdog members.

That we have nearly broached the fragile edge of a potential constitutional crisis should make us more careful and prudent that some of these mistakes (most of which were of technical mis-steps) should not have been allowed to go on for so long. Clearly, these should not be allowed to recur.

At the same time, it also augurs sadly on our Association’s less than sterling administrative standards, and portends greater alertness expected of our usually sedate membership. We will continue to strengthen safeguards for better accountability, guided but not straitjacketed by individual or skewed interpretations of the constitution.

Moving forwards

Notwithstanding this painful episode, it is nevertheless an important learning experience. Doctors, who would normally have been uninterested and couldn’t care less before, have been prodded unwittingly into becoming more involved in the affairs of our own association.

It has also been said that many doctors have been put off by the goings-on of these past few years, and that is regrettable but understandable. But just choosing to stay away and adopting a “couldn’t care less” attitude would not be the best reaction in response to these problems.

Instead, such crises create opportunities for improvement rather than pessimism and skepticism. It is by being involved and engaged that we as concerned members, can help shape and guide MMA’s direction and purpose.

That said, we deserve the leaders that we have sanctioned to serve us, because we—the members—by ballot or by default, have elected them; as I have been, by those of you who have voted.

I urge everyone from all sides of this artificial if political divide to look beyond the past tribulations, to come together, to progress and to work forwards. We need everyone’s help to make our association stronger and more in tune to tackle our staggering professional issues ahead.

I want to personally thank all parties from various sides for their magnanimity in accepting the greater purpose and common good for our beloved association.

I sincerely apologise to all who have been offended by my trenchant pursuit of what I felt was just and necessary. I believe I have a duty now to perform even better.

Let’s put the past behind us, and move ahead with greater purpose.


loonshin said...

Just lead, David. I wish you a good presidency. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Ho Loon Shin

Dr D Quek said...

Thanks. I intend to do just that.