Last Saturday afternoon, my friend and I decided to have tea at my favorite JW Marriott Hotel, so off we went. The traffic leading to the hotel was unusually heavy but as my car was approaching the hotel’s lobby driveway, I was stopped by some unknown man. Seeing from far my car’s approach, the valet that knew me well rushed over to open my door and guided me to the lobby.
As I walk towards the hotel door, I saw a huge entourage of cars and traffic police motorbikes parked in front of the hotel as well on Jalan Bukit Bintang. So, these are the cars and bikes that created the terrible traffic jam around Pavilion. Then I was told the Prime Minister is in the hotel. I do a brief calculation; there must be at least 15 cars and bikes on his entourage. In the lobby, I saw him chatting with a Tan Sri and the bodyguards were closing half the lobby just for these two man!
I felt disgusted because this is the Prime Minister Najib that claimed that he cares for the people but is creating problems for the people with his huge entourage of cars and bikes. He doesn’t have a sense that traffic jam is a big problem for the people in the Klang Valley. Next, is it a need for his bodyguards to cordon off the whole front lobby of the hotel just because he is in there? What a waste to taxpayers’ money!
As I slip my tea, the memory of my former boss, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, lingers around me. Whenever she travels, she does not need such a huge entourage of cars and bodyguards around her. The most, there are only three cars - Two for the bodyguards and assistants and one for herself. In New Zealand, you will hardly hear the police car sirens asking drivers to clear the road for the Prime Minister or any VIPs to pass through.
Whenever she is in any public places, there won’t be hordes of bodyguards around or any need to cordon off any place just because she is there. Such was the simplicity of the Prime Minister of New Zealand. To her, taxpayers’ money must not be spent of unnecessary thing like a huge entourage of bodyguards and cars and bikes.
Her private house at Cromwell St, Mt Eden in Auckland is simple and does not even have gates and security posts! Whenever she is home, anyone can just drop by to say hello. On weekends, with her jogging attire, she will drop by neighborhood grocery shops to pick up milk and newspapers. And you don’t see a single bodyguard following her. Any passerby can just chat with her like a friend you meet by roadside. On a few occasions, she even drives herself to her constituency service center in her personal car! When she is not on official duty, she will not use the official car provided by the government. A country as rich as New Zealand does not even have a special plane for the Prime Minister's use. She commute with commercial flights just like everyone else.
One vivid memory that I won’t forget is the Auckland region Labour Party election candidate selection convention in 2002. The attendees were all seated and the Labour Party Chairman started giving his speech. Halfway through, Helen Clark in her smart casual wear just arrived quietly and took her seat in the middle row. When she rose to speak, many wondered since when she arrived?
Can you image the private home of the Prime Minister of Malaysia without gates and security posts? Can you image Najib jogging around his plush neighborhood, dropping by to get his newspapers without bodyguards trailing him? Najib driving himself to meet his constituents in his personal car? Najib arrived at a function without much brouhaha? I don’t think any sane Malaysian would even want to imagine all these!
So, these are the tales of two Prime Ministers. I just wonder, is it Malaysia is so unsafe that the Prime Minister needs so many bodyguards and escorts? Ah Jib Kor, to win the people's heart, you have to be like them.
PS: Helen Clark was New Zealand’s Prime Minister until 2008 and currently the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme based in New York. Helen, as she is fondly called by everyone, prefers trousers over skirts or dress even at state dinners and I think subconsciously, I am one too. It will be a blue moon day if you see me in skirts at work. We are still in touch.