Friday, June 25, 2010


RECENTLY, I was in Bandung, Indonesia, and I observed the security guards at the hotel I was staying in hoisting the Sang Saka Merah Putih, the Indonesian flag, at sunrise.

When the sun set, the guards lowered the flag. Then, it was folded without ever touching the ground and handed over to the reception counter. Apparently, in all government offices, it is the duty of the guards to raise and lower the flag.

I was also told that schoolchildren in Indonesia are taught not only what the colours red and white on the Indonesian flag mean, but also the history of the flag, the protocols and etiquette and even what the correct measurement should be.

During my five days in Bandung, I never once saw a tattered or worn-out Indonesian flag. Here, in Malaysia, have you ever seen security guards at government offices hoisting and lowering the Malaysian and state flags?

The next time you go to government departments or the local council offices, have a look at the worn out and faded Malaysian and Johor flags fluttering on the flagpoles.

In fact, most of us don't even know whether it is lawful to place those miniature Malaysian flags on cars, like what is done during the Merdeka celebration. I always thought that only royalty and army generals were allowed to place a flag on their cars.

I have also seen children dressed in Baju Jalur Gemilang, made from the Malaysian flag. I remember seeing the late singer, Sudirman Arshad, wearing a Baju Jalur Gemilang. Can we sew a Baju Jalur Gemilang?

The question is, how much do we know about the Malaysian and state flags, and the protocols and etiquette involved?

Last week, I took a drive from Johor Baru to Kulai. As I passed government departments, local council offices and business premises, I was disappointed to see so many tattered, soiled and worn-out Malaysian and Johor flags at these premises.

However, nothing prepared me for the ultimate insult - a Johor flag being used to wrap papayas on a tree.

I did a search on the Internet and there is a dearth of information on the subject. I found out that if a flag is to be flown at a certain spot, the static flag pole must not be less than 6.1m high.

If the flag is used as a decorative piece or flown for a certain period, the pole must be 3m high and no part of the flag must touch the ground. Did you know that a static flag is only allowed to be flown from 7am to 7pm, unless there is a floodlight on?

Flags at government departments are to be raised when the offices open in the morning and lowered after office hours (have you ever seen this done?). In schools, the flag is to be raised in the morning and lowered at the end of the last class.

When the national or state flag is flown from houses or shops, the flag should face the road and secured on a pole at 45 degrees. If two flags are flown, the Malaysian flag must be on the left side of the premises.

Most business premises can be seen flying a flag. However, many of the flags have seen better days. Some even position the flags at the wrong places, like on the air-conditioning compressor.

In Johor, the late Sultan Iskandar had decreed in 1985 that the Johor flag must be given prominence and flown on the right side of the Malaysian flag. However, on Merdeka day, the Malaysian flag takes precedence and is flown on the right side of the state flag.

If there are three flag poles, the Johor flag is flown in the centre, the Malaysian flag on the right while the departmental, corporate or institutional flag is flown on the left.

On Merdeka day, the Malaysian flag is raised in the centre and the Johor flag on the right.

During the Merdeka celebrations or official federal events, the Johor flag follows after every third Malaysian flag flown as decorations.

The cluster of miniature flags on a utility post also follows the same arrangement.

All flags used for decoration are to be removed two weeks after the event. How often is this done?

I hope the local councils know about this rule and ensure that the contractors engaged to put flags on utility poles also remove and dispose of the flags respectfully.

In its bid to to instil patriotism and love for the country, the government encourages all citizens to fly the Malaysian flag, especially during the run up to Merdeka day.

However, I think it is time the government also starts educating the public on the proper protocols and etiquette for hoisting and flying the Malaysian and state flags, and the right way to dispose them.

Frankly, I doubt anyone knows what to do with tattered or worn out flags. A friend told me that he burned his faded Malaysian flag and threw the ash in the sea across Lido beach. Is "cremation" the correct way?

With Merdeka day just two months away and after seeing so many tattered and worn-out flags fluttering in the city, I hope the authorities will carry out a spot check.

At the very least, it should send a circular to all government department and business premises directing that all tattered or worn-out flags be removed and replaced.

I believe the Ministry of Information, political parties and non-governmental organisations can play a role in educating the public on the protocols and etiquette for the flag.