By R. Nadeswaran, The Sun
MANY years ago, the only form of communication between the citizen and the government was letters. You typed or wrote the letter, had it delivered by registered post or hand, obtained an acknowledgement slip and kept it as proof of posting or delivery.
If you had sent it by ordinary mail and if the agency to which it was addressed to says “tidak diterima”, it was back to producing evidence that it had indeed been sent.
Many government departments had “acknowledgement cards” which read something like this: “We acknowledge receipt of your letter and be informed that it is being attended to.”
In many cases, once this card is dispatched, the department believes its job is done. The letter will be filed with a quagmire of other documents, only to mysteriously disappear into officialdom.
With the advent of electronic mail, government departments have to be more alert and are subject to a higher level of scrutiny should they fail to respond. At the press of a button, the citizen re-sends the letter, reminding them of their failure to act on the initial note.
Instantaneous communication is now the order of the day.
Therefore, when the government announced the launch of the 1Malaysia email initiative, the objections raised did come as surprise. Initially, we were told that it would cost taxpayers RM50 million, but it has since been clarified that it is a private sector initiative which could cost us nothing. So, why then are there so many objections?
Promoters say that such a service would provide direct and safe communication between Malaysians and the government as well as improve government service delivery to users and businessmen.
But herein is the catch: It is not what email one uses, but the attitude of government officers in responding to the people.
One argument for the 1Malaysia email is that the people can immediately respond to the government on any issue or policy. Such a system, goes another argument, allows engagement and openness, which would facilitate interaction with the government departments and agencies.
Agreed, but how different will it be from the same objective being achieved if one uses a Yahoo!, Hotmail or Gmail account? Are we to assume names bearing 1Malaysia accounts will get priority over the others?
But the key issue everyone seems to have forgotten is to first change the work culture and mindsets of civil servants to respond to queries or letters sent to them – by email or snail mail. We can create all kinds of email names and accounts, but if the person at the receiving end just ignores them or fails to take immediate action, the whole initiative goes back to zero.
However, it would be certainly out of order to paint all civil servants with the same brush. The chief secretary to the government, Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan replies all his mail almost immediately, with some responses coming early in the morning.
And there are many secretaries-general in ministries who make it a point to reply and even forward emails to the respective officers for their input or replies. In all fairness, some directors-general of government agencies fall into this category, but they can be counted on the fingers of both hands.
The selling game for the promoters of 1Malaysia email initiative is “better interaction” but as the word “inter” suggests, it has to be between two parties or more. If one party does not respond, it becomes a “mono” sort of thing where one party keeps sending mail without getting any replies.
So, let’s get started with the basics by starting at the local council level. Make it mandatory for officers to respond to queries within 48 hours. Put a big brother in charge to monitor official mail to the council who will demand explanations and reasons for mail not attended to.
Once this culture is inculcated into the minds of officers (it may take years), then export such a system to the state governments and then at federal level.
What we need immediately is a change in attitudes with the taxpayers being treated as a client or a customer and not a burden and a nuisance by the civil service.
Once this is achieved, the battle is won and we would be able to see at least one limb of the 1Malaysia motto in place – People First.
27 April 2011
By R. Nadeswaran, The Sun