No place for rudeness

immigrationCivil servants who deal directly with the public seldom have it easy. Members of the public come with all kinds of temperaments. Many are often impatient, and they can be abusive. That’s why it’s not surprising to read about the Singaporean family remanded for allegedly abusing an immigration officer at the Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex.

According to press reports, a Singaporean woman who was travelling with her two teenage children in a car with tinted windows would not obey the officer’s instruction for her to lower the back window to allow him to inspect the occupants. It was said that they verbally abused the officer and one of them made a rude hand gesture. When they were arrested, they claimed that the officer had demanded a bribe.

If the investigations reveal that the three were indeed abusive and had told a lie about the officer, the full force of the law should be applied against them. They are being investigated under Section 56(1)(g) of the Immigration Act, which carries the maximum penalty of five years’ jail and a RM10,000 fine.

No one should be subjected to abuse, either physical or mental, just for doing his job.

But then, what about civil servants who abuse members of the public? Some of us are reluctant to complain because we are at their mercy. Our land applications may be rejected. Our requests for planning permission may be placed at the bottom of the pile or become lost in the system. We may be denied our work-permit or visa extension without an explanation.

A few readers have said that some civil servants are abusive towards members of the public who can’t speak Malay, who have not completed some departmental forms, who look poor or who are unable to communicate well. They say that they were shouted at and roughly addressed by civil servants. Who will ensure that these rude civil servants are investigated and disciplined for their bad behaviour?

Last April, an immigration officer allegedly punched and kicked a foreign worker. Her co-workers did nothing to restrain her. The officer appeared to be a demented woman who got her thrills from kicking others.

If she finds her job stressful, then why not ask for a desk job or a transfer to another department or ministry?

The video of the assault was uploaded by MyWatch Chairman R Sri Sanjeevan to his Facebook page. It showed that another immigration officer was nearby during the assault. Two men, presumably also migrant workers, also stood by watching. Perhaps they didn’t intervene because they were scared they might incur the department’s wrath.

There are so many stories of similar assaults or public dressings down by civil servants. Few people complain because they are desperate to see their applications processed smoothly. They do not want any retribution from the department.

We may applaud the speedy action taken against the Singaporean family, but will the same happen when civil servants abuse members of the public?

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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