On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Civil servants must live up to their name

In two days, he received more than 2,600 SMS although only
200 of them were related to complaints against his ministry.

Since then he has calmed down, and probably changed his mind
over the need to personally handle every complaint from the public.

But the fact remains that people are fed up of bringing
their problems directly to the authorities simply because they feel there would
be no follow-up.

We are happy even if we can get through to a clerk who will
listen to us, record our queries or complaints, and refer us to the appropriate
department for a real follow-up.

We don't need a minister to attend to us. That would be
asking for too much.

The sad thing is that most of us have gone through enough in
our dealings with the authorities to be able to write a book about how we are
often passed from one person to another, or from one department to another.

The mentality of a bureaucrat is that the public must write
an official complaint to the right person at the right department before action
can be taken, if at all. A letter is a form of record. A telephone call or an
e-mail would not be encouraged.

Rightly or wrongly, that is the perception of our
bureaucracy. No wonder Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is still
stressing on the importance of the delivery system after two years in office.

Just make a cursory check on the complaints made by the
public through the various newspapers. Almost all these complaints get no
response from the affected departments.

It is the job of the public relations officers to respond to
these problems highlighted by the public but not many are doing their job.

The only ones who regularly reply to these queries and
complaints are from the Employees Provident Fund and the Internal Revenue

Last week, I voiced my unhappiness in this column about the
numerous potholes along Lebuh Bandar Utama from the Aman Suria area. Following
that, the MP for PJ Utara, Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun, directed the municipal
council to patch up the holes.

Residents are grateful to Chew who, as an MP, shouldn't
really trouble herself with such matters. But although she got the workers to
show up, they did not really do a good job.

We noticed that they had used poor material to just fill up
the holes and we wondered if the regular downpours these past few evenings
would wash away all their hard work.

Well, that's what has happened. Our temporarily patched-up
potholes, sad to say, are now looking more like craters.

But the point is that prior to Chew stepping in, we had gone
through the proper process.

According to the Bandar Utama Residents Association, they
had complained to the council direct.

I also sent a letter to the Bukit Lanjan Assemblyman Yong
Dai Yin, where the road is said to be located, but received no reply. The
letter was sent by fax and also couriered to her.

I am sure there are similar situations elsewhere. Yet, we
can be sure that roads will be freshly tarred by the councils come election
time. And then we will hear no end of the promises of our politicians promising
us another five years of dedicated service.

I have since sent a letter to the council thanking the
officer for the immediate action but pointed out that a quick job just won't
do. As taxpayers, we deserve better service. I am not sure whether there will
be a reply.

Such apathy is not just confined to the local government
level but also at state and federal levels.

The Singapore
government expects its officers, at home or abroad, to reply to all letters and
e-mail, in particular complaints made through the media, as it is serious about
protecting its image.

Its Foreign Ministry expects its press officers to defend
the country's position and they are required to send rebuttals, with
well-researched statistics and arguments. Nothing is too small or too trivial
to merit a response.

But over here, it would not be wrong to suggest that not
only are the letters ignored but no follow-up action is taken.

It is because of such frustrations that Malaysians tend to
bring their unhappiness to the media.

In the age of the Internet, the public must be able to file
their complaints through the websites of the various authorities. In turn,
these authorities must also ensure that they respond and that their websites
are also properly maintained.

One country, for example, makes it a point to send a
reminder to passport holders as the expiry date of their travelling documents

That is being efficient. Why can't we do the same?

There is really no need to travel to South
Africa, Mauritius
and Egypt on
so-called study tours at our expenses.

One councillor boasted that he visited more than 10 toilets
during his tour, in an effort to justify the trip. Big deal, most of us visit
our toilets more than 10 times in two days at home and at the office.

A colleague some years back decided to test the efficiency
of several town councils in the United Kingdom
and Australia
by sending e-mail to the press officers concerned for information.

He received immediate responses and in cases where they
could not assist, they suggested alternative links and e-mail addresses.

I dare say that none of our local councils dare to take up
this challenge, much less to answer every complaint and query within a
stipulated deadline.

Civil servants, as the name implies, means being civil and
being a servant to the public.