Warpped around old-fashioned civil service

As appeared in The Malay Mail today.

Haresh Says
By Haresh Deol

TWO lunch sessions with interesting personalities in a span of three days spewed forth the refusal of civil servants to embrace changes involving attitude – and dressing.

I refuse to accept the bureaucratic attitude. I totally refuse to accept what they expect people to wear when they visit a government department, leaving aside an official event.

So, after both meetings, I wondered: Is the civil service stuck in a time warp? Are bureaucrats attempting to stamp their authority on freedom of expression? Are they expecting us to be a rubber stamp of themselves?

If they are, the civil service is doing a disservice to open-mindedness. If they are, public servants are being judgmental of the very people, the taxpayers, who put food on their table.

That’s not acceptable. That reeks of a cranky public frontline that’s narrow minded.
Just what has dressing to do with intelligence? Does a tattoo make a difference? Does long hair make one any lesser? Does walking into a government department with jeans lower one’s dignity?

I met with former youth and sports deputy minister Gan Ping Sieu last Friday and two days later with the magical Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing for different reasons but inevitably ended up speaking about a similar subject – the need for a change in mindset when dealing with civil servants.

I met Gan in my usual outfit - a pair of army shorts, rock-themed t-shirt and sneakers. I was bemused when he commented:

“I’ve not worn jeans for the past 10 years and when I was with the ministry, I thought I could occasionally shed the corporate look.

“One day I wore khakis to work and an officer told my driver that I should wear pants and a tie to work instead. Khakis are apparently too casual, according to the officer” said Gan while relating his three years’ in the ministry.

On Sunday, I met with Lim. Honouring Kelantan who had just won the FA Cup football final, I was in a Red Warriors jersey and jeans. Joined by fellow news editor Pearl Lee, we spent more than two hours with Lim, speaking about a wide range of issues.
Suddenly, the mentality of the civil service cropped up.

“They are so used to the same thing they have done for years that they find it difficult to adapt and embrace changes.

“Their mindset is like a template - a sheet of paper with boxes and one will be judged based on how many ticks you get on that paper,” said Lim.

That reminded me of my days studying civil engineering in a local public institution. The institution was so fixated over obtaining International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) status that the lecturers were bogged down with paper work which affected our classes.

Government departments are so wrapped up in bureaucracy and stuck with a certain "template" when performing a certain task. They simply fail to see beyond.
It is not about what “we must do” but about what "we should do” – two different meanings that offers two different results.

The change of mindset needs to be seen across the board - from those brainstorming over a new policy to those tasked with implementing and executing such policies.

I would rather have a fruitful discussion in shorts and sneakers while sipping teh-o kosong at a mamak shop than to be in a ridiculously icy-cold meeting room filled with corporate looking individuals with hideous ties, hiding behind power point presentations.

Right after our meeting, Lim tweeted: “There’s so much we can learn from the young. If only we’re prepared to listen with an open mind. If only we don’t jump into hasty judgments.”

I would like to believe Lim was referring to Pearl and I.

HD says: And to quote Lim during our second meeting session yesterday - "When I met them many years ago, they were in jeans & sneakers...just like you. Today, they are world leaders."

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