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Pay heed to voices in distress

17 Feb 2020 / 19:35 H.

I HAVE vivid reminiscence of the days when the Public Complaints Bureau (PCB) was functioning at its peak performance and delivery under the Prime Minister’s Department when all complaints were attended to promptly. Sadly, such days are gone and there is only a weak link between people and the civil service now.

I am not the only one who feels the lack of avenues to voice our grievances over services being offered to taxpayers.

There have been letters lately in the newspapers penned by disgruntled people.

The PCB website is still active and even has a flow chart on how complaints are addressed but what we see is not what we are get.

Also, when it comes to public complaints, the performance measurement or the KPI would be the resolution time.

The PCB client’s charter reads: “To manage and resolve public complaints within 15 working days”.

Two weeks to resolve a complaint is way too long and by which time a complaint would have gone round the country and the globe with irreversible damage to the reputation of the parties involved.

With the advent of technology and with dedicated officers handling public complaints, is it too much to ask for at least an acknowledgement when a complaint is lodged? The thing is, we don’t even know if anyone has read it.

I recently tried writing complaints to PCB and nothing happened. Since the complaint was about a hospital, I tried calling the Health Ministry to lodge my complaint as an alternative. The call was not picked up even after repeated tries. I finally wrote a complaint to the Health Ministry and they replied two weeks later by which time it was overtaken by events. Now, where do I send complaints against PCB?

The new government came with a manifesto. Many of the pledges remain unfulfilled and what is even more annoying is that some of the best practices we had which were working well for the people have been wiped out.

With this, where do the people go for recourse? Now, I am not going to brand all government departments and agencies as being ineffective but we need checks and balances.

It is good that at many frontline service counters notices have been put up demanding officers are treated with respect, otherwise the officer concerned reserves the right to deny service. It is a fair warning but there is no such pledge to return that respect to the public seeking to be served.

According to United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, good governance has eight major characteristics. It is participatory, consensus-oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law.

It assures that corruption is minimised, the views of minorities are taken into account and the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard by decision makers. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.

As we know, in an organisation, be it government or otherwise, complaints are one of the key sources of insight about how services can be more consumer-focused.

But we know that across many public services, complaints are viewed more as a threat.

We have to imbue the culture of lodging complaints to the right people in the right platform.

Studies have shown that Asians are in general not attuned to going the extra mile to ensure a wrong is righted for the benefit of the future.

People are generally circumspect and apprehensive when complaining about government and people higher up. They are fearful of being victimised.

Yet, handling complaints is a fundamental component of government department performance.

Poor complaints management not only leads to disgruntled citizens, but also undermines public confidence. And, worryingly, it could also be indicative of a poorly structured and inefficient organisation.

In a paper titled, “Systemic Improvement of Public Service Delivery; Complaints as a Source of Innovation”, the then director-general of the Public Complaints Bureau, Dr Tan Weng Wah said Malaysia’s Government Transformation Programme (GTP) was formulated with the aim of transforming public service delivery to be more effective, efficient and accountable.

He contended that management of complaints is one of the vital components for ensuring the successful implementation of the programme in transforming the public sector.

It is commendable that the government views complaints as a source of innovation and creativity to bring about systemic improvement in public service delivery.

Tan had called on the government to eliminate irrelevant or obsolete laws, rules and procedures and create more people-friendly processes.

This should be relevant regardless of the change in government, but it is sadly not so.

Besides, we have a growing generation of people whose disassociation from the problems of the world is shaping the core of humanity the wrong way.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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