Thinking Liberally

Published: Tuesday April 28, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday April 28, 2015 MYT 7:12:33 AM

Where are the manners?

We should treat everyone with equal respect, regardless of their backgrounds.

I GET easily riled up when I see people failing to show good manners or indulge in abusive behaviour towards others.

We hear so many of these abuses taking place, usually aimed at people who work as manual labourers. The foreign workers and foreign labourers from countries like Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh are common targets of the rude behaviour.

Just think about it. If we go to a shopping mall and we see a cleaner who looks like a foreign worker, do we treat him with the same respect that we give to everybody else? In fact, do we treat a white Caucasian foreigner equally as we would treat a non-white labourer?

I tend to take these cases quite personally because I was once a foreign labourer, too.

When I was in the United Kingdom, I worked as a cleaner for almost five years to pay for my studies. First, I was cleaning the wards and toilets at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. I was sacked in April 1999 when the minimum wage was introduced by the then Labour government.

I then found a new job as a shelf stacker in a supermarket in Anfield, where I lived at that time. When I moved to Carlisle, near the England-Scotland border, I started my day at 5am as a cleaner at Kwiksave, a budget supermarket before heading for university lectures and continuing again as a shelf-stacker at the same place in the evening.

Similarly, when I was doing my Masters in London, it was manual labour at a factory that produced industrial cookers that helped pay my bills. Every day from 5am to 10am I would be at the factory to clean the toilets, canteen and offices.

Thinking back, I had no problems at all when I was working there. I was obviously a minority and I was doing menial jobs. But I did not face any mistreatment, either from my employers or from the authorities.

It angers me to hear stories about abuse of power by people in positions of authority. Recently, I was particularly upset when I heard a story about how a fellow member of the National Organising Committee (NOC) of the Asean Peoples’ Forum (APF) was mistreated by our authorities when he came to Kuala Lumpur to attend our meeting in January this year.

I didn’t even know Aung Naing Win before this incident. He is a Myanmar citizen, working as country coordinator for a Malaysian charity in Yangon. In January this year, an email was circulated saying that he was detained at the airport and eventually deported back.

At that time, I did not pay too much attention to the email. But last Friday, I happened to sit next to Naing Win over dinner and we started chatting. I was shocked when I heard his full story.

Naing Win arrived at KLIA in the early evening of Jan 21 to attend our regional steering committee meeting. When he arrived at the immigration counter, he was not allowed to pass through, but instead he was taken to the Immigration Office and then to a detention room within the airport.

He was not offered any food or water and he was shouted at when he tried to get information on why he was stopped.

It got worse. At around 3am, he became desperate for water. When he asked, instead of giving him water, one of the officers punched and slapped him repeatedly for several minutes. The violence continued despite Naing Win’s protest.

This took place in front of almost 200 other people who were being detained in that cramped room. They helped wipe the blood off his face when the beating ended.

Eventually, after spending two nights under detention, he was deported back to Yangon. He was allowed into Malaysia last week to attend the APF, but until today he does not know why he was prevented entry in January, or whether the violent officer who beat him up had to face any consequences.

When I heard the full story from Naing Win, I immediately called up a friend who is a Commissioner in the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC). He was kind enough to help get EAIC officers to deal with the case immediately.

There were small hiccups because it was a weekend, but at the end, I managed to arrange an appointment for Naing Win with two officers from the EAIC last Sunday. So a formal complaint has now been lodged.

This type of mistreatment really has to stop. At enforcement agency level, bodies like the EAIC play a very important role to curb abuses. This was a body set up by statute in 2009, and they started to function in 2011.

The main function of the EAIC is to receive complaints about enforcement agencies, including the likes of the police, local council officers, immigration, and customs, and then to investigate and decide accordingly.

There is a huge role that a body like the EAIC can play to improve things in Malaysia. I hope the Government provides the EAIC with sufficient money and manpower. There is no point setting up such a body but then refuse them the resources that they need to function effectively.

The public, too, needs to use the EAIC. If you encounter difficulties with any enforcement agency, you should not hesitate to get in touch with the EAIC. My own experience has been a pleasant one.

But of course it is more important to instil integrity and just plain good manners into our society generally. Surely it is common sense that we should treat everyone with equal respect regardless of their backgrounds.

> Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs ( The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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