On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Cut the frills, make it simple

I am not sure if the uniforms are meant to symbolise single-mindedness or unity to meet some objectives or if it is just a need to use up the budget.

It’s understandable if these uniforms are meant to be used again and again but, unfortunately for taxpayers, they tend to be made specifically for one occasion.

In some cases, more money is spent to engage an event management company to stage a dramatic or theatrical launch which would probably last only 10 minutes.

Then there would be the customary presentation of a token of appreciation, which everyone seems to receive. Sometimes even the organiser himself gets a gift.

At one point, there was a suggestion that local fruits should replace the tacky pewter or metal plaque tokens but the idea never caught on. So, the VIP receives the memento which would most probably end up in a dusty corner of the office.

And in true Malaysian hospitality, refreshment is then served, and this sometimes ends with a buffet meal.

Even those arrested during the Bersih 2.0 demonstration recently were treated to a buffet. Only in Malaysia. Presumably, Malaysians expect a buffet during any event.

Most public functions start around 10am and end shortly before lunch, which means that after having our famous jamuan teh, we then all go for another round of food, this time lunch.

If the function begins at 3pm, it should end before 5pm with a jamuan teh. By the time we all get home, it’s already time for dinner.

And don’t forget the door gift which you receive with a “Thank you for coming and we hope to see you again soon” as you leave the hall. It has become so common that no civil servant would want to put a stop to such waste of money.

It isn’t just about money but also the loss of productivity as meetings have to be held to organise such functions. There would be endless hours chasing after the aide of a VIP to confirm his attendance and, of course, the entire staff of a ministry or agency would be held up as they have to make up the crowd.

I guess it will be difficult to convince our government officials to keep the functions simple and short. Form rather than substance seems to matter more, unfortunately.

It does not matter if it is a Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat event. Both seem to have the same mind-set and wastage.

So it came as no surprise when the Sultan of Selangor, known for his no-frills principle, snubbed a Yayasan Selangor event to commemorate its 40th anniversary last year. The bill for the celebration ran up to RM996,472 for the entire event, with RM387,232 allocated for lunch, which then had to be cancelled. Another RM200,000 was allocated for souvenirs and clothes. Uniforms, presumably.

Malaysians are sure such wastage is not just confined to Selangor but that it also occurs in other states, and the amount spent could be even more.

Not too long ago, when the issue of preventing wastage cropped up, there were suggestions that government agencies should stop holding their functions in expensive hotels. Well, the bad news is that lobbying from the hotels was so strong, the government finally dropped the idea altogether.

Many hotels were alarmed as their revenue would be hit if the local sector – meaning the government – did not hold their meetings and functions in their premises.

And what many civil servants will not tell us is that for such out-of-base, meaning out of their offices, seminars, retreats, brainstorming or whatever excuse for an event one can think up, allowances also need to be paid for those attending them.

We long for the day when politicians would just walk straight into the hall (why the need for a holding room?); a short opening remark is made by the host; the speech (not a lecture please); the VIP to declare the event opened without performing any gimmick; and for the VIP to then leave the place after the customary handshakes. Everyone should then just go back to work.

Just one gentle reminder to the VIP before we end this week’s column: Could you please be punctual for the function? We are busy people, too. And thank you so much for coming, it’s an honour, Yang Berhormat.