A public affair

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If Malaysia is ever going to realise its elusive Vision 2020, public service providers must buck up and heed the many complaints, writes Shannon Wong.

Here’s a conundrum that hit me while I was receiving a team of workers from the local municipal council.  They had come to address the problem of a fallen tree obstructing the road outside my house.

The only problem was that I had made the complaint two months ago….

By now, that same tree would have grown new saplings, if not for the measures I took to remove it by calling in workers from a local nursery instead.

But the irony of the situation made me think about a situation I’ve long known but have never really given a second thought – the degree of efficiency or, more aptly, the inefficiencies of the ’perkhidmatan am’.

The replies I usually get from other fellow Malaysians experiencing dissatisfaction with the public services provided usually include the phrases “Well, this is Malaysia for you” or the ironic use of the term “Malaysia boleh-lah” whenever an issue such as this is discussed.

The real question, however, is when have the weaknesses of the public sector become something of a private joke and shame among the rakyat?

What is more frightening is that there are some who actually accept it readily as part of Malaysian culture with a detestable smugness: what was once a recognised flaw has now become an admired negative trait.

According to official statistics published by the Malaysian Public Complaints Bureau (PCB), there was a slight but notable increase in miscellaneous complaints received: 705 were received in 2013 and 877 were received in 2014. The figures provided for also showed an increase in complaints about the abuse of power by public service providers: 148 complaints received in 2013 and 150 complaints received in 2014.

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The figures proved interesting because they showed that Malaysians were actively voicing their discontentment, be it towards unnecessary and bureaucratic red-tape, misconduct on the part of public service providers or downright counter-productive services. But it may also be an indicator of an increasing weakness in providing what should have been rakyat-centred services.

The same statistics showed also a whopping 143 per cent increase in the complaints received for the inadequacies of policy implementation and the law.

Such figures prove not encouraging when the Government Transformation Programme(GTP) to push Malaysia nearer to the Vision 2020 goal was first launched four years earlier. It makes us wonder if this was just another empty vote-catching promise that would only lead to disappointment.

Serious concerns about accountability and transparency surface when such promises are made to the people. As Auditor General Ambrin Buang said in a presentation on Economic Crime in Asia: A Global Perspective (1 October 2008):

“Transparency is the right of the stakeholders to know the outcome of the government programmes and projects. Stakeholders are the public. They are the taxpayers and non-taxpayers who not only wanted to know the result of the programmes but also to benefit from them.”

To make matters worse, the statistics provided for by the PCB also noted an increase in the complaints about the failure in the enforcement of rules and regulations from 2013 to 2014 as well as a failure to adhere to set procedures.

This indicates a divergence between the regulations and actual enforcement of such policies, with which the public sector is supposed to comply for the benefit of the people.

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As a result, we start to question the integrity of the public services provided. Quoting the Auditor General again:

“ … integrity does not only relate to corruption but also to do the best in performing one’s responsibilities. It also applies to a person who is incumbent to comply with procedures, rules and regulations. Even if a person fails to comply with procedures not because of corruption but because of knowledge he/she is still considered as not having the integrity.”

That being the case, are we to conclude that some of public service providers are sorely lacking in integrity amongst other things as the complaints statistics suggest?

If Malaysia is ever going to realise the elusive Vision 2020, these flaws must be addressed.

But putting Vision 2020 aside, Vision 2015 must see the public sector having the integrity to comply with exactly what the BN government preaches constantly on every billboard and pamphlet: “People First, Performance Now”.

Shannon-WongShannon Wong is a hopeful philosophy, politics and economics student who believes deeply in the Socratic method of questioning.

She participated in the Aliran Young Writers Workshop on Multiculturalism, supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.

Of the workshop, she says: “I enjoyed the stimulating intellectual debate. It was good to see academics taking an active stance to keep our government in check. A bonus would also be that I learned how to produce powerful political commentary just by changing minor words…”

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