Abdullah should head a Cabinet Committee to arrest and reverse the sharp decline in the sensitivity, efficiency, quality and image of the civil service
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Wednesday): Last Sunday, the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in Penang that he was puzzled why a bus driver, who had been charged thrice with traffic violations and issued with 39 traffic summons, was still allowed to operate a tour bus, who caused the death of three passengers along the North-South Expressway at 3.10 a.m. on January 8.
The driver, S. Visvanathan, 36, had pleaded guilty at the Magistrate’s Court in Rembau, Negri Sembilan on January 24 to reckless driving which caused the three deaths, Lim Kean Seong, 28 and Lee Hoi Seng, 31 both from Taiping and Lee Huay Then, 21, from George Town, at the North-South Expressway tragedy.
Abdullah had asked the right question, as it is also a question which had been asked by thinking Malaysians all over the country for more than three weeks. It would have been better, however, if Abdullah had not only asked this question three weeks earlier, but had also instantly directed the Police and the Road Transport Department to stop giving excuses and hide behind technicalities for such slipshod and fatal enforcement of the laws and be in a position last Sunday to assure the country that there would be no such recurrence.
This is only the latest example of a terribly long list of a serious breakdown of civil service commitment to high standards of public service – a disease which had reached Ministerial levels.
Last week, for instance, the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, made the astounding statement that long queues and waiting periods in government clinics and hospitals will be permanent features in the country’s healthcare system, and that if people cannot wait, they will have to turn to private clinics or hospitals. He said the situation is the same in any other part of the world and anyone who expects fast service can seek treatment elsewhere.
Is this the new spirit of the “caring society” of the Barisan Nasional government in the 21st century?
Chua’s callous statement was most outrageous, expecially as it was in response to a local press report of the sufferings of many elderly people in Penang who had to wait in long queues at government hospitals, and who had urged the authorities to create special lanes and counters for them.
Senior citizens had to be at the Penang general hospital as early as 6.30 a.m. for an 8 a.m. appointment, and often getting to see the doctor only some five or six hours later at around noon – before another long wait to get their medicine.
This is a complaint not peculiar to the Penang general hospital but typical of the situation prevailing in all government clinics and hospitals country-wide.
A Health Minister really committed to “a caring society” and had not lost his sensitivities for the sufferings of the ordinary people would have looked into the proposal of fast lanes for elderly and disabled people at government hospitals as well as simplification of procedures to cut down waiting time – instead of dismissing them with the peremptory response that they can “take it or leave it” by going to private hospitals. This reminds Malaysians of the infamous remark by the French Queen Marie Antoinette before the French Revolution that if the poor “have no bread, let them eat cake”!
Abdullah, who is to become the fifth Prime Minister in nine months’ time, should head a Cabinet Committee to arrest and reverse the sharp decline in the sensitivity, efficiency, quality and image of the civil service, and restore public confidence in the trust and the good governance of the public authorities.
The recent survey and investigations based on complaints from the public by the Public Complaints Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Department, which found that laziness and untrustworthiness of civil servants are major problems damaging the government’s efforts to maintain the quality of service in the administration, reinforces the urgent need to establish a Cabinet Committee to restore the sensitivity, quality and commitment to service of all public servants.
The Cabinet Committee to raise the sensitivity, efficiency, quality and image of the civil service should hold public hearings to receive public complaints about the sharp decline of standards of public service in the country.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman