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Jul 01, 2015 Features / Columnists, Peeping Tom
It was refreshing to hear from the Minister of Tourism that the government is going to place emphasis on courtesy. This time we know the new campaign is not simply a war on bad manners but an institutional emphasis on ensuring that when public officials speak to the public they do so in a courteous and respectful manner.
Public office is a stressful job and it is not always easy to keep your cool under provocation, as one Minister under the PPPC found out to his detriment just before the elections of May 11. The public is however entitled to service, and this service has to begin with a smile and respectful language.
The way government officials speak to the public is of paramount importance. The manner in which they respond to the public is of equal importance. But more than all of that the way senior government functionaries relate to one another is critical to the whole process of rebuilding decorum and respect in public service.
I am not going to get all caught up with this notion that public service is one of the highest callings that anyone can have. I have known of many who served this country faithfully and professionally, and were booted out of the service. I know of many teachers who taught for many years and were forced to sell sugar cakes to their students in order to survive. I know of policemen who behave as if they have supreme powers over you. They are supremely confident when they stop you on the road and they like to flaunt their power. There is no honour in serving and being paid poorly. There is no pride either in leaving public office with a reputation as an uncouth person.
Nothing stinks like that of a public official who speaks down to his subordinates. Nothing is more humiliating than the way some public officials speak to others. Many speak from a position of superiority and they speak to the public as if the public are inferiors.
Many a member of the public has been rudely spoken to. Sometimes when you go for a public service, some public officials make it seem as if you are a bother and they are ones who are doing you a favour. They do not seem to understand that it is the public, by demanding a service, that is doing these public officials a favour, and in so doing, allowing them to keep their jobs.
Courtesy is good. But courtesy has to begin at the top. Our leaders have to set the examples. Sometimes as you listen to some of these leaders on television, you feel the bitterness that they have for other political leaders. No wonder people are shying away from active involvement in party politics. They cannot stand the bitterness and the venom that is spouted.
I have heard many a story about persons going for house lots and being spoken to as if they are dogs begging for food. I have heard many a story about members of the public being kept waiting outside the offices of public officials. I have heard many a story about some public officials verbally abusing their staff and members of the public.
It makes no sense, therefore, trying to promote good manners within the public service, if at the level of the political directorate there are persons who are prone to haughtiness, arrogance, hubris and the use of obscenities.
When a citizen is embarrassed and humiliated by a public official, that person never forgets how he felt at that moment. And as we know, it is not what someone did to you that you never forget, it is how they made you feel.
The new government promised that there will be change. This change has to begin by ensuring that no one is treated badly and as an inferior, no one is abused, no one is insulted, no one is made to feel small, when they visit a public official. This is where the promotion of courtesy has to begin.
It has to begin at the top, not just at the bottom.
You sucking the dry seed of your own mangoes, while the foreigners eating sweet flesh.
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