Saturday, 27 February 2010

Tyranny of the M’sian bureaucracy

CPI Writings
Written by Dr Lim Teck Ghee
Friday, 26 February 2010 13:14

During the last few days we have had two clear examples of how tyrannical and vicious the Malaysian bureaucracy can be, and how unyielding it is to any reform measures or initiatives. This Mr Hyde side of the Malaysian bureaucracy is not the usual dark side that the Malaysian public is familiar with – one associated with inefficiency, laziness, poor service, abuse of power or corruption.

It is one that is part and parcel of the hidden racially-charged context of our institutions and it smacks of the ideology of Malay dominance – or even Malay supremacy – that the civil service has come to personify. This is the dark side that is generally kept away from public scrutiny and accountability, not only because it runs against the grain of what a modern, progressive and representative civil service is, but also because it is regarded as politically incorrect to discuss or analyze it.

The first example appeared just two weeks ago when a courageous whistleblower, Dr Selvaa Vathany, a doctor from the Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA) Hospital, Gombak made startling claims of rampant malpractice, misappropriation of resources and other wrongdoings by the hospital staff and associated agencies of government dealing with the Orang Asli.

Dr Selvaa is not your ordinary whistleblower. Providing details on the importance of healthcare and medical assistance for the Orang Asli – their children are 15 times more likely to die from malnourishment compared to other children – she revealed that for entire communities “essentials given out are limited to one to two bottles of cooking oil, six to eight tins of canned food, two packets of 400g Milo, 15 to 20 small packets of milk powder, 10 to 20 diapers, two bottles of detergent and 10 to 20 pairs of slippers, per visit. These are distributed at random …. If the villagers are lucky, distribution could be as frequent as once in every two to three months”.

She noted that “a tin of infant milk is divided into six small packets with 15 to 20 packets distributed to a village of between 250 to 500 people”.

All of this is strong circumstantial evidence that resources meant for Orang Asli communities are hijacked, possibly by the very people entrusted with the responsibility of distributing them to these vulnerable groups.

In her press conference, she also pointed to an institutional defect in which individuals without medical training and incapable of following Health Ministry protocols and standards were made hospital administrators and were appointed from the Rural and Regional Development Ministry.

Most tellingly, she pointed to an extensive cover-up of the scandal with little or no follow-up to the complaints made to the Prime Minister’s Department, Rural and Regional Development Ministry, Health Ministry, Chief Secretary, Public Service Department and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

The only follow-up that has taken place appears to have been the thuggish and unacceptable response of the team from the Rural and Regional Development Ministry who “questioned the complaint… made by the Orang Asli in an unprofessional manner”, and threatened and attempted to intimidate them.

For her professionalism and integrity in speaking out on behalf of a marginalized and impoverished community, Dr Selvaa is now being transferred to Kedah where presumably she will be left to rot and to rue her courageous challenge of the status quo.

Outsiders controlling the Orang Asli

The second example also relates to the Orang Asli and it concerns the response of the Orang Asli Affairs Department to the demand for increased representation at the management level in government agencies formed to handle Orang Asli affairs.

According to the group raising these concerns, the JHEOA is staffed by over-80 percent non-Orang Asli, resulting in decisions not favourable to their needs and the marginalization of Orang Asli voices in important policies that affect their livelihoods.

This is not the first time that such concerns have been raised. During the past 50 years we have had a constant stream of written petitions, memoranda, press statements, expert reports and academic work that have drawn attention to the way in which the government has violated the basic rights of the Orang Asli and analyzed how the JHEOA and associated government agencies have been the main instruments for control and repression of the community.

In response, the Government has simply ignored them or opted for delaying tactics.

In this particular instance, in typical foot-dragging response, the department’s Director-General Mohd Sani Mistram said that the group should have gone through the “proper channels” to air their grievances and that it was an “internal matter” between the Orang Asli and the department.

Both these cases – the punishment meted out to a whistleblower and the cold shoulder treatment of legitimate Orang Asli grievances – epitomize how dangerous it is for our democratic system to remain silent or passive in the face of an increasingly out of touch and unrepresentative civil service. They are the tip of the iceberg of many unexposed and undisclosed abuses that needs to be put in the spotlight of public scrutiny.

At the end of the day, the most effective public scrutiny that can realistically have an immediate impact on these cases of rogue individuals and agencies of the civil service that are throttling the Orang Asli is that coming from Malay intelligentsia and Malay civil society.

Indeed, some Malay colleagues have shown goodwill in helping the Orang Asli to correct some of the “historical injustices” that have been perpetrated on the original inhabitants of the Peninsula. It could make a difference if Malay leaders are willing to take up the case of Dr Selvaa and stop her victimization by the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development.

At the same time, more Malaysians of conscience need to step up to the plate if the Orang Asli community is to regain their rightful place in the country.

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