Campaign to instill courtesy in government servants when dealing with the public

Adjournment Speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, at the Dewan Ra’ayat on 13th December 1971

Campaign to instill courtesy in government servants when dealing with the public

My fellow parliamentarians in the DAP and I, in the course of our meeting with the public, have received recurrent complaints from members of the public, particularly from the laboring class and the illiterate, that government employees had been very rude and discourteous when dealing with them.

We read in the press from the letters to the editor’s column, of similar complaints. These incidents happen to the educated. We can well imagine what treatment the illiterate, the old women, and the laboring class receive at the hand of the rude and discourteous government servants.

I know of an instance where workers who had been unjustifiably dismissed by their employees went to the Labour Office for help. Their first treatment was to be shouted by a Labour Office employee, who yelled out at them:“Do you know what place is this?”

To the illiterate, government departments is a place of some dread and awe. Coupled with their illiteracy, they are easily cowed and frightened. They go away with the strengthened impression that government departments are places where you go to be humiliated, and not to be assisted.

Another fruitful place which is a mine of public complaints against rude government employees are the general hospitals.

The poor and the illiterate hate to go to the general hospitals, especially the outpatient departments, for they have the accumulated experience of their class that they are hectored, shouted at and even abused. But they have no choice but to go there when they are sick because they are too poor to go to see private practitioners.

I know that the Hon’ble Minister will ask me for specific instance and report it to the Complaints Bureau or to the relevant authorities concerned. The educated can complain, but what about the illiterate?

My adjournment speech today, however, is on the general tone and atmosphere of public service meted out to the public in departments which come into frequent contact with the labouring masses, the illiterate.

No individual complaint of rudeness can really solve the problem, unless the government from the top, set the tone all down the line to all its government employees that they must ever be polite and courteous with the public, however illiterate, and ignorant.

I am aware that there had been Courtesy Campaigns in the past, but these had generally failed to achieve results.

To be successful in its campaign to instill courtesy in its government employees when dealing with the public, the Government must be able to communicate to all government employees that they are not the people’s masters, but their servants, and that the Government is deadly serious in its resolve to have a courteous and polite public service.
Unless the government can communicate this resolve, and back it up with action, a thousand ‘courtesy’ campaigns among public servants will be merely empty propaganda.