Saturday 4 February 2012

Lost in Translation

I was asked to share my views on corporate governance with a group of directors, with one caveat, it would be in Malay. I did a lot of presentations and participated in forums before, mostly in English. This would be a new experience for me as most of the references on governance which I normally refer to are in English.

Naturally, I had to slog to translate the slides from my previous presentations for this occasion. Luckily there were Google Translate and the online Reference Centre for Malay Literature. I was cautious not to overlook words which could "poke people's eyes".
The Malay term for corporate governance is "tadbir urus koperat". Out of interest I explored further the meaning of "tadbir". Apparently, is has deeper meaning especially if it's Arabic root is considered. Simply, "tadbir" is to reflect the outcomes of a particular action and to proceed if it results in goodness and to refrain from proceeding if the outcomes is bad. This seems to be similar to one of the principles popularised by Stephen Covey, the author of the book The Seven Habits of Most Effective People, start with the end in mind.

Such definition of "tadbir" is very powerful, from the perspective of governance. Reflecting outcomes requires a person to think, consider options and determine actions leading to the achievement of the plan. Is this not strategic planning, one of the responsibilities of directors? 

Deciding whether the outcomes are good or bad requires certain reference point. If the person believes in divine revelation i.e. religion, that could be his or her first port of call. Otherwise, the reference point could be what is commonly good or bad. For Malays, they can't run away from the teaching of Islam, as commonly argued by many of them nowadays. I suppose if they are truthful to their claims, we should not be facing with many governance related issues.

More importantly, the act of reflection as suggested by "tadbir" focuses on the person rather than the corporate arrangements and structures. This positions a person as human to be at the centre rather than the corporate arrangements which are normally associated with corporate governance. A person is driven by the voices in his or her heart. If the heart points the person towards righteousness, the outcomes would be good but if otherwise, we could expect disasters.

If such strong concepts of governance already existed in the Malay language, I wonder why they are not translated in the behaviors and actions of Malays? Could they have understood the word "tadbir" differently or it is only relevant to "Pegawai Tadmir" or administrative officers?

Could the real meaning of "tadbir" was lost in translation?

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