I refer to “Why Exclude Wong Pow Nee?” Making Sens  by Tan Siok Choo ( January 14) who seems to suggest that there is a larger subtext to the exclusion of Wong  “as a contributor to the formation of Malaysia from Year Six history textbooks for Chinese schools…” Incidentally the textbook she alludes to is a translation of the Bahasa Malaysia version used in national schools.

The exclusion of Wong has been made into an issue largely because the other Malaysian representative on the Cobbold Commission Tun Ghazali Shafie is mentioned as one of the contributors to the formation of Malaysia while Wong is not. As the textbook itself states on page 10, Ghazali was “given the task of realizing the formation of Malaysia” which underlines the fact that he had a significant role well beyond his membership of the Cobbold Commission.

And it is true that he was deeply involved as Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in not only the negotiations with those external components that became part of Malaysia but also in talks with Brunei (which did not join Malaysia) and in the meetings with officials from Indonesia and the Philippines who were opposed to the formation of Malaysia as well as in exchanges with British leaders who had direct authority over Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei. His role which is documented in various academic studies bears no comparison with that of Wong.  Given the issues he had to grapple with, his contribution was more fundamental than that of other civil servants from, for instance, the Ministry of Finance.

Nonetheless, by placing Ghazali among eight others from Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, who unlike Ghazali were all political leaders, the text book writers have compelled us to raise questions about the criteria used to select those who were instrumental in the formation of Malaysia. Siok Choo rightly asks how were these criteria determined and who are the individuals tasked with determining these criteria? In other words, she is implying that there should be transparency about the entire process.

It is because there has been a lack of transparency in the writing of history textbooks for schools that doubts and suspicions have risen about motives and agendas of those in charge of such exercises. Actions of certain public officials in relation to historical personalities from this or that community have sometimes lent credence to these suspicions. Since it is so easy these days to provide an ethnic slant to almost every word and deed, it is not surprising that history texts have also fallen victim to this obsession.

Image source: www.thestar.com.my

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