“couldn’t care less” syndrome

Social activist Irene Fernandez, who was my wife’s childhood teacher while schooling in Sg Petani, was acquitted by the High court after one of the longest trials in Malaysian History.

This acquittal should be welcomed by all in the civil society, as her case has been viewed as a case of persecution rather than anything else.

The worrying thing about this acquittal is however the ground on which she was acquitted. It was not by facts but rather by trial materials being “incomprehensible” as a result of ‘systemic errors”.
Malaysiakini reported this:

On Aug 5, the case was brought to a standstill when Fernandez was told a computer virus had wiped out a portion of a specific volume of notes required for the trial.

Two months later, Fernandez’s lawyer M Puravalen said that the 8,988 pages of handwritten and typed notes amounting to a total of eight volumes of documents were “incomprehensible”.

Judge Mohamad Apandi had subsequently set today to hear arguments on the issue.

Fernandez’s 13-year ordeal began in 1995 when she exposed the poor conditions at immigration detention centres in a memorandum entitled ‘Abuse, Torture and Dehumanised Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centres’.

She alleged incidences of torture as well as deaths of illegal immigrants who were detained in the camps.

Fernandez was arrested and charged a year later under Section 8A (1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984

I doubt her case is an isolated one. If her case notes are incomprehensible, it is logical to assume that there are many other cases wit the same problems.

What happens if the accused in another case is, unlike this iron lady,  really guilty? What happens if a real criminal is acquitted because a clerical mistake making trial notes ‘incomprehensible”? What happens if a serial killer is let off because of this technical point and starts killing again?

How low has our judiciary sunk?

This, in my opinion, is part of the bigger syndrome of loss of excellence. Because of this syndrome, people tend to have “tidak apa” ( “couldn’t care less” type of) attitude.

I suspect many in the service has this type of routine: Come in at 8am.  Punch his or her card, then goes out for breakfast or a cup of coffee. Then moves about making small talks and gossips,  with frequent tea breaks thrown in;  take a leisurely lunch break, and maybe ask for time off to go to banks or attend to personal business. 

with so much of distraction , there is little wonders that they are mistakes and errors in his or her work. When an error occurs, there would be no shame of not doing a job well. Afterall, everyone else does it. 

 When the peer group is like that, the whole service would have no more drive for excellence. The head will try to cover the mistake of his or her staffs. You scratch my back, i will scratch yours. In the end, it does not matter whether a job is well done, as long as one gets a fat checque at the end of the month.

This is the whole syndrome that is affectig many of the civil servants, police , schools/universities  and judicairy. Productivity is low. Mistakes are common. A culture of “couldn’t-care-less-ness” slowly evolves.

To counter this culture is an uphill task. Perhaps a start must be made at the education system. Adopt meritocracy and slowly introduce meritocratic principles into police, civil service and judiciary, as well as fair competition in business fields.

There must also be more accountability of civil servants to their mistakes. Rules must be changed so that perpetual error-makers must be sacked.  Others must be retrained and mindsets changed. There must also be a system where promotion and salary increment is tied to performance, and not to how many times a person goes for his tea break.

Tough times need tough measures. Are we game enough for this change to bring back excellence?


22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. clearwater
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 13:40:01

    The ‘mediocrity’ culture and ‘iron ricebowl’ attitude is prevalent in the government departments and the civil service. Its pervasive influence mirrors the decline of excellence in Malaysia and rise of patronage as a political tool. Corruption flourishes in such an environment as does the love of pecuniary things above all other values. We are only too aware how the rot started in the 80’s and how it is now so entrenched it may bring down this nation if
    left uncorrected. How do we bring back excellence? Once again it must start with a change of government for the present one is unable to do so. Sorry to be so fixated on this but I see no other way to move forward.


  2. daffodils
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 16:04:33

    Education system ripe for major overhaul. This was the heading of a letter written by DR TAN ENG BEE from Kajang. She/He commented on the doubtful A’s scored by the present day students.

    For those of us who sat for our Higher School Certificate exams run by the Examination syndicate University of Cambridge, scoring a B was something of an achievement what more an A.

    No doubt there are those who are genuinely good in certain disciplines but as long as the mark achieved is not shown next to the grade as in the UK Alevels, a lot of adjustment can be done to push up the grade by lowering the bar.

    It is common knowledge now that one do not need to score as high as 80% to score an A for certain subjects. It is also a known fact that government scholars who were chosen based on their string of A’s could not make it in internationally accepted exams.

    Compare to that of the entry qualifications of NUS and NTU where admission is base strictly on merit and special talents, one needs at least a commendable 3A’s in either STPM or Alevels to clinch a place.

    Besides that the teaching faculty comprise of lecturers from top notch universities like London School, Harvard, Yale etc. That explains their top position in the THES rankings of universities worldwide. NUS is even placed higher than London School of Economics, University of Melbourne,, Washington and some other well known universities in UK,USA and Down Under.

    Meritocracy way to go, Dr Hsu. It has to be entrenched in our system to get the best people to run the government.


  3. nick
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 16:12:02

    Dr. Hsu, I haven’t log into your site thinking you were still on hol but glad to see the old warrior back and sharp as ever. I wish to share an actual experience. I wrote a e-mail listing out several questions pertaining to an important topic on the proposal by the MOF to convert LMW/FIZ companies into Export Processing Establishment (EPE). The time-line is as follows:-

    11/11 – attended Putrajaya briefing with ~300 people.
    13/11 – send my query on behalf of my (MNC) Group
    18/11 – acknowledgment received
    Till today, no response?????????????????????
    What kind of MOF do we have? How can I explain to my bosses in Singapore? You asked the question: “How low has the judiciary sunk?”. What about the Ministry of Finance? I think they must have gone on holiday like their new Head (APEC).


  4. CYC
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 17:26:48

    The easy way to gauge our civil service standard is just walk into any local council office or district land office. You can see and feel for yourself why our country is going backward in the field of economy and education. Of course if you wish to know what happen in the higher hierarchy of civil service, just watch RTM1, TV3 & Astro Awani’s talk show where local professors and their peers being interviewed in regards to such financial, economic or even education topics. You would probably feel very proud of your own level of intelligence and knowledge.

    What is the incentive to work so hard when you don’t even been encouraged to study hard during schooling days. UiTM used to prepare their accountancy student for external exams such as ACCA and CIMA, but has since “abolished” as our government simply accepted their Advance Diploma as good enough to be admissible to be an MIA member. On the hand TAR College’s Diploma in Commerce has yet to be accepted as qualification admissible to MIA till today. So, why make yourself difficult when you have an easy option.

    Our country’s civil service workforce is so large that there is about 2-3 receptionists at most of the department of any local council. Yet you will encounter delay as mentioned by nick.

    Go tell Koh Tsu Koon, you can’t improve the education system by setting up Wawasan Open Uni. alone. This is a stupid move. This will only absorb the government’s lack of initiative rather than overhaul the system itself. Malaysia is moving to no where as long as our mediocre education system is left unchecked.


  5. nsdi
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 18:24:50

    Please help me
    Email::( mr.samudin@yahoo.co.id )
    TELL +62851071814680

    I want to invest my sum of US$5.2millions in your country with your help if you are interested.

    If you are interested to invest with me ,reply back to me so that I can give you my full information and the source of this my money and on how this transaction will take place.
    God bless you for your prompt attention.
    I need your guidance.
    I am a boy of 27 years old and I inherited this money from my late loved father.
    ( mr.samudin@yahoo.co.id)


  6. nick
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 19:04:07

    Dear Mr. nsdi, please don’t waste time on this blog. We are not interested in your money. Go and stuff it in Citibank. They will know how to advice you how to invest in principal-guaranteed notes.


  7. Justin Choo
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 20:17:52

    Dr Hsu,

    You keep on prescribing first class prescripton, but there is no patient to take it.


  8. A true Malaysian
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 20:54:44

    The ‘tidak apa’ attitude is the same as what commented ‘gaji buta’.

    We can comment until all the cows come home, but ‘tidak apa’ still there. They can even accusing us racist, touching on sensitivity of certain people.

    I have friends of these people but they rather joint private sectors as they are pissed of with the ‘tidak apa’ attitude.

    I hope our friends here will not feel bad here. I am not here to belittle anyone. ‘Tidak apa’ attitude will mean life or death to other people. Can we just close one eye for this?


  9. robertchai48
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 21:59:17

    They are good, bad and ugly civil service servant. What is need to be done is proper enforcement on those who slack in their work? Accountable, integrity and professionalisme should stress in the civil service. With the Competence Evaluation Test in the civil service, they is still a lot of loophole. Every idea started is a good idea but the implementation is the problem here.

    With the various alternative technology, maybe we can show it live through the internet who is working or not working. Maybe we can gauge their performance or big brother is watching


  10. Dr Hsu
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 22:19:32

    Justin, i will speak until I drop dead… Hopefully , maybe a 20 year old future leader somewhere in Malayisa is reading all these , and hopefully these articles and comments will made him or her realise that the way to go is meritocracy, nonracial politics, liberalism, accountability and transparency.

    Maybe in 20 years time, this he or she will become head of the country, who knows? Maybe by then he or she will prescribe certain remedy based on the principles above.

    Then it will be all worth it…If it is 20 years, we may still live to see it. Even MOnster will only be 90 and will be able to witness this… since he is so strong and able and adopt Justin’s famous folk remedies, he can live up to a hundred.

    A tiny spark can cause a fire that burns down a whole mountain, there is a chinese saying. So if a tiny spark can do that , maybe a tiny candle can also do it… as long as nobody blows the candle off..

    There must be change in this country . Not just change but drastic change…If BN does not change, change the government, nevermind it is another 4 years’ wait…

    If gerakan does not change, vote it out completely…. I will feel sad as it is my party but what to do.. If it still helps the bad guys, it deserves to be wacked!!…


  11. A true Malaysian
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 23:22:23

    Dr. Hsu,

    I was telling our good friend Justin the same thing about his ‘Life Is Like That’ blog, though in different words.

    I told Justin that what he wrote in the blog contains a lot of truth, will benefit future generation, maybe his grandkids, great grandkids will come to know him better when get to read his writings in the blog concerned, unless the host, Google has gone bust in future or decides to banish his blog one day.

    Likewise, those who commented in blogs as visitors will be ‘forever’ there for our own offspring to know us better and judge for themselves if there are any truth in what we said or commented.

    As I told Justin, for those who believe in ‘rebirth’, maybe our own future life will get to read his / her own ‘past life’ writings / comments and found familiarity in those?

    Take my words, it is worth your 2 cents to read “Life Is Like That”. For friends and foes with other beliefs, read this blog with open mind, it won’t weaken your faiths.

    You read, you decide.



  12. JC
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 00:37:48

    Dr Hsu

    First time comment on your excellent blog. Thank you.

    Let me tell you my story about Tenaga Nasional. My father had a loan with them and when we sold our house last June there were still some outstanding amounts to be paid off.

    Fine i thought, just get the settlement amount from Tenaga and settle it and that would be that.

    Imagine the shock i got when that settlement figure points to us still owing Tenaga 50k for a loan of 75k after paying for nearly 22years of the total 25 years needed to pay off the loan!!! This is compounded by the fact that i am in the UK and my parents depended on me to settle this. We were lucky as my father kept all the receipts when he made those payments ages ago and the fact that my friend personally went to Tenaga HQ to sort them out. Imagine the poor souls out there being saddle with problems such as this.

    i agree with one of your commenter that we can talk and talk but the kind of work practice we see in companies associated with govt would never change unless something drastic ie 180 degrees turn kind of change happens


  13. Dr Hsu
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 09:55:29

    JC, welcome to the blog.

    This part of the malaise that is crippling the government as well as GLCs.

    The attitude is ” that is not my problems as long as I get my pay”.

    Those of us who are in private sectors will go the extra mile to make customers happy, because life is about helping others and lessening the problems of others , and we get our emolument as part of that help.

    Anyone thinking that emolument is their birth right will not do their work to the satisfaction of others.

    Look at even the foreign workers. they are so much more hard working because they know that it is not their birth right but rather they need to earn their livings.

    Until and unless people think like that , mistakes like what you have mentioned will be the norm rather than the exception.

    I am sorry that the country has gone to such a state… Change is definitely needed.


  14. Meng
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 11:46:35


    Went to your blog on meditation. Posted a very short sentence but could not find my posting there.

    Posted this “”On meditation, what are the experience you have had. Perhaps we could exchange some notes on the personal matter.””…through email preferably


  15. A true Malaysian
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 11:49:17

    I hope the situation that we see now have not reached the stage of :-

    “this in my rights to be employed, none of your business, don’t ever challenge my rights”.

    JC is right, Malaysia need 180% change, before we reach that kind of stage that mentioned above.


  16. Meng
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 11:59:48

    Dr Hsu

    The theme is “” why work hard, work smart”

    This is applicable to all government servants esp when one who has worked well obtaining 2 excellence awards but was bypassed for promotion. How do you feel when you are in this situation. Never mind but when you see your friends who are just plain lazy and most of the time coming to you asking how to do the job, gets promoted ahead of you???.

    On top of that while in college they were the ones who plagiarize, whole paragraph lifted from research material and yet given high marks.??

    So where do we go from here.


  17. A true Malaysian
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 14:34:39

    Since certain group of Malaysian form or monopolise the workforce of civil service and GLC, any in good faith constructive criticism, which is for the benefit or welfare of the whole country is seen as ‘belittling’ this certain group of people.

    Politician of both camps, be it PR or BN should act responsibly in dismantling such barrier as such ‘monopoly’ will become ‘rights and previlages’ over time of this certain group of Malaysian, and there will be no end in this matter.

    Daffoldils rightly pointed out, we want quality As, not ‘superficial’ one.


  18. Richard Loh
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 18:27:01

    I love this phrase:

    Tough times need tough measures. Are we game enough for this change to bring back excellence?

    We the common laymen are always ever ready for such changes. But to those people who are in the government service they are thinking that they are not facing the tough times. Good or bad time they still get their monthly pay, perks and allowances so do you think that they are game enough for changes? Do we expect our leader to act on it, I do not think so because they are also in the same boat as the others.


  19. monsterball
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 20:10:06

    I will try to C4 myself….if I live to 100.
    That for sure…will be burden to society…and my love ones.
    I am only interested to take Doc’s advise…to talk…till I drop dead…and at my age..near 70…one must be practical and sensible enough…to know…the end is near for me.
    But still smoking at least 10 cigars per day…eating…shitting and futting well….life goes on…like I am 56 years old….hahahahahaha
    Just go off..in my sleep ..anytime is best!
    Seriously speaking….on the subject…I am so happy for Irene Fernandez. I do not know her…but read so much about her…that I feel..with that ..with the court case finally over…favoring her…..she will be one social worker…we are going to read more and more..going from social work..to be on individual NGO … supporting change of government ….participating in big walks and demonstrations.
    She will have thousands of her own admirers following her.
    The more inhumane UMNO project themselves…trying to fool others…the more confrontations of words…disobediences from Malaysians will be shown to them…without fear.


  20. Justin Choo
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 13:47:32

    You can email me if you want.


  21. kokky kok
    Nov 30, 2008 @ 19:55:14


    This is part 1 of a story about a young doctor (let’s call him k) in a small developing country.

    K was sent to a small district after completing his training. Life was good as he was happily learning his clinical skills, admin management and also being able to enjoy good sceneries, seafood and good rapport with the local friends. At one point he even thought he was a semi-retired man…

    Until one day, he saw an under-age girl, who came for help….

    This was an uneducated girl, she came because her tummy was getting bigger by day… her parents were not around, she was staying with her grandmother and step-mother.

    K asked the girl a few questions and he quickly did an ultrasound scan on that girl…. He found out that that girl was already pregnant for a few months then.

    K investigated further, he found out that the girl had had an PID(pelvic inflammatory disease) & labia majora abscess…. He almost fainted when that girl later on told him that she was being gang raped by more than 10 men!!!!!!!

    K wanted to help that girl, he questioned the girl further…..the more he asked the more furious he felt…. Especially when he heard that the alleged gang rape was done by the army of his own country!!!

    To his horror, he found out that that girl wasn’t the only victim….

    (he was shocked for quite some time, he always thought the army was supposed to be protecting the people)

    Initially that girl wasn’t really keen to report to the police… she was apparently worried about some revenge by these strong guys with weapons….

    K, called a few people he trusted for consultation…. To his dismay, many told him that this is not an easy straight forward case…that he might even get himself into trouble…

    K thought he should no matter how, try his best to help this poor girl and other victims..and he thought he has the responsibility to help putting such a shameful “culture” to an end. So he brought that girl to the police and tried to make a report…

    In 48 hours, k had to go to the police station twice, to clarify things. Someone inside there (kind of a powerful fellow) actually told him unofficially that this case won’t be easy.. and he might get into deep shit. K sensed that they were actually trying to give him a hint that it’s better for him to back-off and close that case so that everyone will have an easy life….

    K doesn’t know what to do… he knows if he stops there.. most people will be happy but this thing will keep going on… what if one of the victims is their relatives? Have they thought about that?

    But if what they said was right, he might get himself into trouble if he insists on investigation….

    He has no one to turn to…can he trust the police? Can he trust the army? He has no answer…


  22. A true Malaysian
    Dec 01, 2008 @ 22:46:03

    kokky kok,

    I am indeed very sad to read the young doctor’s encounter.

    ‘Tidak apa’ has been misused to the core. The young doctor should go to PKR, DAP and PAS or RPK for helps.


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