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Sunday, January 31, 2021

It's only words


"It’s exactly where a thought is lacking

That, just in time, a word shows up instead." – Goethe, 'Faust', (1808)

I guess the civil service had a Faustian moment when it came up with its new sign-off on official documents: Prihatin rakyat: Darurat memerangi Covid-19 (Care for the rakyat: Emergency to fight Covid-19).

Wow, another deadly weapon in the arsenal arrayed against the dastardly Covid-19 virus. Their deadly days are numbered.

It’s illustrative of how politics has divided this country that such an inconsequential, piffling change (that won’t change anything at all) stirred up hornets, hot air about unduly justifying the emergency proclamation, even offering alternative slogans.

Missing the forest for the trees. Who cares? Really, who cares? Does anyone, including Public Services Department (PSD) director-general Mohd Khairul Adib Abdul Rahman who signed the memo, really believe that a government officer, dealing with dozens, hundreds of official documents a day, the slogan appearing as a matter of form at the bottom, will pause for moments through the day to absorb the "important" reminder, and then plunge with renewed vigour into his/her duties? Ha-di-ha!

I am of an age when the sign-off for many years was "Saya yang menurut perintah" (I, who obey orders). I believe this was the time when the terms “public servants” and “civil servants” started losing their currency in public discourse.

In pre-take-a-number-and-wait-to-be-called days, that slogan was more relevantly applied to the public - people in crowded offices, submissively herded into long queues or rows of seats, or in a chaotic jostle at service counters; touts helpfully feeding on the many baffled by the intricacies of the required red-tape. 

Definition of "public servants" - members of the public (if they are not titled) needing to be servile and obsequious to little Napoleons entitled by the government to lord it over them.

As for the term "civil servant" - civility? I would settle for a spark of attention from the official facing me. Or no impatient, exasperated tone, but a patient explanation of why I should have filled form B1c instead of form C2a.

To be fair, I must note that in recent times, pre-lockdown, the service has largely improved. I suspect it helps that I look like a decrepit senior citizen who needs to be guided out of my befuddlement.

The clearest illustration of the pointlessness of such verbiage is the "Saya yang menjalankan amanah" (I who am fulfilling the trust) that came in with the Pakatan Harapan government. That’s a laugh.

"Fulfilling trust" - it’s obvious why that slogan has to be abandoned. A few ministers in that government either didn’t take the promise to heart or had a very loose, expansive, all-encompassing understanding of “trust”, like Gombak MP Azmin Ali.

Judas clearly better

In his reply to a suit by voters alleging he had breached his fiduciary duty to them, he says his duty is to all Malaysians and not Gombak voters alone. He nominates himself to represent all of us, the whole country. What a man, disappointing Gombak voters because he must respond to the call of a larger cause, serving the nation literally.

He explains his change of heart about his membership in PKR because of the allegations of sexual improprieties of Anwar Ibrahim, immorality that offends the strictures of Islam. Talk is easy, where’s the proof?

Doesn’t Azmin have any sense of irony making such a charge, when he faced similar allegations a couple of years ago? Ah, a name-calling kitchen utensil.

He also distanced himself from responsibility for the collapse of the Harapan government in February last year. Nope, it had nothing to do with him. The government fell when prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned.

May I ask why Mahathir resigned? Wasn’t his moment of pique prompted by being uninvited to a gathering of plotting politicians at a dinner in a hotel?

I am reminded of English politician John Burns, who wrote of prime minister Joseph Chamberlain: "To have betrayed two leaders – to have wrecked two historic parties – reveals a depth of infamy never previously reached, compared to which the Thugs of India are faithful friends and Judas Iscariot is entitled to a crown of glory".

Gombak MP Azmin Ali

A bit overwrought in the language and analogies, but the sentiment rings true, fits.

Meanwhile, the country carries on enduring the onslaught of Covid infection and the restrictions on life and income, and the daily tally of new cases shooting up.

Selangor recorded a whopping 3,285 new cases yesterday, pushing the national daily tally to a record high of 5,728.

Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari said, among the reasons for the spike was a backlog of results, as far back as 10 days, from the screening of factory workers, prisons, private clinics and hospitals.

So, the numbers were much higher as of 10 days ago? No thanks for the depressing news.

Stay safe folks. Keep the faith we will survive this medical emergency, and be rid of the political emergency. 


THOR KAH HOONG is a veteran journalist. - Mkini

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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