17 April 2014

Shoddy work is considered normal and we now accept standards which are much lowered.

SOME years ago, I remember there was a lot of discussion on the “tidak apaattitude” in our country.
Many Malaysians, it seems, had a very nonchalant outlook on their work. If anything was not quite working well, “tidak apa lah”. It doesn’t matter. If someone hadn’t finished their work but it was time to go home, “tidak apa lah”. When something is made shoddily, “tak apa lah”.
We put up with below par products, attitudes and work because they all still functioned, more or less. So why put in the extra mile to do something properly?
After years of the “tidak apa attitude”, we now have the logical follow-up catchphrase: “biasa lah”. That’s normal. And usually it refers to when something goes wrong.
Let me give two illustrations.
Some years ago after I had moved into a new house, there was a huge power surge which blew out a total of 27 electrical appliances and lights. One power outlet melted and burnt a patch of my parquet floor. Phones that were being charged were all fried.
When the technicians from the power company turned up, their explanation for this phenomenon which could have burned my house down was “biasa lah”.
Apparently it is perfectly normal for the earth wire on the electrical poles outside houses to be so badly fixed that there is nothing to stop power surges that are so strong, we could still get a shock from the microwave oven even after the power had been turned off.
After I made some noise, the power company told me to claim compensation from them for all the repairs that needed to be done.
To cut a long story short, it took me nine months to be compensated but not before we had to endure many unanswered emails and made to feel as if we were claiming more than we should have.
When I complained about this, I was told the same thing: “Biasa lah.
Another story: When I needed to fix broadband in my house, five young men turned up from the phone company. They were dressed as if they were going to hang out at the 7-Eleven.
It soon became clear that only one young man was doing the work while the other four stood around to watch.
Things naturally did not proceed at jet speed. It soon got dark, making it difficult to see the cables they were trying to lay in my garden.
Did they have a torchlight so they could continue to work? Of course not. Instead they innovated. Four of them stood around the sole worker and used their mobile phones to give him light to work in.
Seeing their plight and feeling a bit frustrated by now, I lent them my torchlight. When they finally completed their job, they packed up and went home, torchlight and all. I had to spend another two days tracking them down to get them to bring it back. But, “biasa lah”.
What all this means is that after years of tidak apa, we have come to a situation where shoddy work is considered normal.
We have become so inured to it that we accept standards which are much lowered. People now tell you that they didn’t reply your email from two months ago but provide no excuse for it. That’s just the way it is.
I really wonder where this is going to lead. Are our standards going to deteriorate further until, despite our fancy buildings, we truly become a Third World country again?
The street sign where I live displays one street name on one side and another street on the other side. How could that have happened in this bureaucracy-obsessed country? Doesn’t anybody supervise their subordinates’ work?
I am afraid that if this “biasa lah” attitude carries on, we will see a real deterioration in all our services and professions.
Already, sales people who can’t answer any questions have a tendency to disappear rather than face an irritated customer.
Sooner or later, our trains will be even later, roads will go unrepaired and more strange radar blips will be ignored.
Compare this with my recent experience in Japan. I was buying a T-shirt in a boutique. When I went to pay, the cashier looked at it, left and returned with another T-shirt identical to the one I had picked.
“The one you chose,” she told me, “is from this season and therefore has no discount. The one I brought is from last season and is 30% off. Which would you like?”
I can be excused for gaping for a while at such beyond-the-call-of-service honesty. But that is the mark of a really advanced country. In Japan, “biasa lah” means you just received exemplary service.
Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.