Civil service must be civil

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 03 Oct 2010

The country’s public service has come under the spotlight after two principals and a senior government officer allegedly uttered racist remarks against non-Malays. Are a few “bad” apples about to spoil an entire bunch?

A GENERAL service circular was sent out by Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan on Friday to heads of departments. The message was straight to the point; department heads were told to stop their officers from making statements touching on racial and religious sensitivities.

The government administration, he warned, would not allow any action and conduct contrary to the racial harmony that had been forged by public officers as implementors of government policies.

There are 1.2 million civil servants in the country and the Chief Secretary stressed that recent incidents involving a small number of public officers should not be seen as reflecting the stance of the Government.

On Aug 12, a principal from Kulaijaya, Johor, allegedly described non-Malays as penumpang (passengers) during her speech at the launch of the school’s Merdeka celebrations. Days later, another principal in Sungai Petani reprimanded 10 Form Three students for eating in the presence of their Muslim classmates during fasting month and allegedly told them to “return to their country of origin if they did not show respect.’’

And even before the issue has cooled down, it was reported that National Civics Bureau (BTN) Federal Territory branch assistant director Hamim Husin had, on Monday, allegedly made racist remarks during a closed-door event organised by Puteri Umno where he was guest speaker. He has denied the claims made by a news portal.

The BTN subsequently issued a statement saying Hanim was expressing personal views and did not make any official statement with the intention to insult anyone.

Given the recent developments, several senior government officials share their views on the role and direction of the civil service, stressing that bigotry has no place in the public sector.

“THERE is a place for all Malaysians in the Civil Service. The country’s development is mainly due to the contributions of the civil service which has been and is made up of all communities in Malaysia”.

Datuk R. Segarajah, secretary-general, Human Resources Ministry.

“HAVING been in the civil service for 30 years, my view is that it is definitely not racist. We work well together as a team and harness our diversity as a strength. I have full confidence in the civil service and have immense job satisfaction serving the rakyat irrespective of race. This is evident as my son is now also in government service through my encouragement.

With regards to the BTN officer, my view is that it is an isolated incident. We should not condone actions of racial slurs but we need to examine it objectively and take action based on severity of the case and not based on emotions or race. We need to think as 1Malaysia and inculcate the spirit of ‘give and take’ as to err is human.”

Datuk Dr Ong Hong Peng, secretary- general, Tourism Ministry.

“AS civil servants, we are duty bound to serve the Malaysian public. Equally, deep in our hearts and with all sincerity, we have to provide the best service to all, regardless of faith, ethnicity and status. Bigotry in whatever form has no place in society and I will never tolerate such narrow mindedness in thought and action.”

Datuk Mohd Zain Md. Dom, secretary-general, Domestic Trade, Cooperative and Consumerism Ministry.

“WE have to be cautious of the irresponsible few who make derogatory remarks on sensitive issues that create social disharmony and unrest and as members of the civil service, condemn such acts.”

Jaswinder Singh, undersecretary, International Relations Division, Works Ministry.

“IN my 30 years in the civil service, I have never consciously realised that my colleagues are Malays or non-Malays as I mix well with all. In fact, some of those whom I’ve worked very well with in the past are from different races.

I have also been fortunate to have had non-Malay bosses as well as Malay bosses who have coached and mentored me to be where I am today. I find that diversity only enriches the civil service as different perspectives in crafting policy inputs ensure a comprehensive and holistic approach in a nation such as ours.

As the secretary-general of the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, I value the diverse composition of officers and staff under my leadership for their contributions to the ministry. In fact, the ministry is blessed and represents the spirit of 1Malaysia because the Minister is from Sabah and the Deputy Minister from Sarawak.”

Datuk Madinah Mohamad, Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry.

“IN a large organisation such as the civil service, there are bound to be some individuals who make statements without reflecting on the possible consequences of such statements. I agree that those who make statements that belittle parti­cular ethnic groups, especially in a multiracial country like Malaysia, should be reprimanded.

Isolated incidents such as these should not be the basis for judging the civil service, nor does it reflect the racial harmony in the civil service. It should not deter specific ethnic groups from joining the service.

We have seen many positive improvements in the civil service over the last few years. Everyone has every and equal opportunity to excel and be recognised according to their performance, irrespective of their background.”

Ravidran Palaniappan, senior director, Asean Economic Cooperation, International Trade and Industry Ministry.

“THERE are many opportunities available for non-Malays but few takers and this could be because they are not aware of the opportunities. I myself am hopeful of a promotion soon.”

Josephine Juliana Arulanadam, deputy undersecretary, Development and Privatisation Division, Works Ministry.

“PUBLIC perception of the public service must take into cognisance our country’s history where there was clear economic involvement by race. However, racism is not tolerated and this can be reflected in the increase in the number of officers occupying top posts such as secretaries-general and directors-general in the public service.

I am sure I was appointed as the secretary- general of my ministry on the basis of ability and meritocracy. I am sure more officers of non-Malay race will be appointed to senior positions in line with our current leadership policy on inclusiveness and high income policy where we need to tap the best brains irrespective of race.”

Loo Took Gee, secretary-general, Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry.

“IN the course of our work or our social dealings, we may come across racist and discriminatory remarks. It is very important to take these remarks in our stride. It is not necessary all the time that a remark made was what we thought it intended to mean.

So, first of all, I would talk to the person and find out exactly what the speaker meant or intended to say. He or she could have intended it as a joke or humour with no ill intention behind it.

We live in a multi-racial society and there may be times when what was seen as racist in our own cultural context may not appear to be so by the speaker.

So, it is important that we clear the air, first and foremost and not jump to conclusions. My approach to people who make discriminatory remarks intentionally and consistently is to tell them off. To let them know that I do not like what is being said and after that to just ignore them totally.”

Datuk Yeo Heng Hau, deputy secretary-general, Housing and Local Government Ministry.

“IN a multicultural society like Malaysia, discriminatory remarks, whether in terms of race, religion, gender, age, social status or physical disability should not be condoned or tolerated.

Sometimes, we hear such remarks at home, in the workplace or at other social settings and we just think nothing of it.

However, as a society develops and becomes more mature, we need to be more careful about the words we use when describing people who are different from us. Terms that were perfectly acceptable before might not be acceptable now.

Likewise, terms that are acceptable in one context might not be in another. Therefore, we need to ensure that our officers who are serving the public are sensitive to the feelings of the different social groups.

Of course, in a large organisation, there may be a small group of people who continue to utter discriminatory remarks despite the specific rules and regulations against it.

In such cases, firm disciplinary action should be taken against them after they have been given adequate warnings and counselling.”

Datuk Dr Tam Weng Wah, director-general, Public Complaints Bureau.

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