Is it the dress code which makes the guard or the civil servant act in an officious manner?
OR is it the fact that the guard or the civil servant knows that in a government department, the public is at his mercy?
So, if there was no dress code to observe, one would expect the guard or civil servant to be nice and accommodating……but in real life, our experience shows it not to be true.
Ahhhh….a real chicken and egg situation…
The recent controversy over a dress code surfaced in Gombak, in Selangor. Spare a thought for the rest of the population, who live in poorer states like Perak. For two decades, the provincial folk have been subjected to power-hungry, gormless civil servants and guards, who make it their duty to make the life of the rakyat a misery, on a daily basis.
Dare we complain? The majority do not, because that would incur the wrath of the civil servant. Some of the more daring ones write to the papers, but the mainstream papers, in the days before the internet, would seldom publish anything critical of any government department.
Members of the rakyat who live in the provinces and the smaller towns like Ipoh, who visit a government department to pay their rates, to renew their licences, apply for housing, or pay their bills, are often, on edge; many do not know what nasty surprises lie in wait for them.
On 1 May 2015, The Ipoh Echo (http://www.ipohecho.com.my/v3/article/2015/05/01/dress-code-confusing) reported that a smartly dressed corporate affairs executive was stopped from entering the Ipoh City Council building, by a security guard in the foyer of the building.
The guard told her that her dress and jacket did not match the requirements of the poster showing the â€œdress codeâ€. Pictures of a man wearing a shirt and trousers, and a woman wearing aÂ baju kurungÂ (traditional Malay costume) andÂ tudungÂ (headscarf) were shown on the poster.
The Ipoh Echoâ€™s â€œDress Code Confusingâ€ article encouraged other people to write and list other government departments in Ipoh, such as the Urban Transformation Centre, the State Secretariat Building and the Meru government office, which regularly turned people away.
It looks like this petty mindedness has finally left the provinces. This week, on 8 June, Suzanna Tan visited the JPJ office, at Wangsa Maju in Gombak, to finalise the sale of her car. The Star Online reported that her blouse and skirt was against the â€œdress codeâ€ of the JPJ, and she received flak.
For most of us, the dress code, for visiting a government department seems unnecessary. Most people dress decently anyway and do not visit a government office, unless it is absolutely necessary. We would never dream of scuppering our chances of a favourable meeting, with acivil servant, by dressing like a slut or dressing in a slovenly manner.
Noor Farida Ariffin, the spokesman for the G25 group, blasted the RTD, in a MalayMail Online interview, and said it was â€œabsurdâ€ and â€œunacceptableâ€ to force Suzanne to wrap a sarong round her hips, before the staff would serve her.
She said, â€œIt shows the infiltration of religious conservatism into public administration. This is a cause for concern especially when it encroaches on the rights of non-Muslims. The RTD is acting beyond the powers and mandate, conferred under the Road Transport Act, if such is its policy.â€
Noor Farida should have carried this further and queried the dress codeâ€™s application to Malays and Muslims. What about Malay women who are dressed decently but not in tudung or baju kurung? Will they be turned away too? Will a woman in a baju kebaya be turned away?
If everyone is to follow the â€œdress codeâ€, parliament should pass legislation to compel women to dress in baju kurung and tudung.
In both the Ipoh case, and in Suzanneâ€™s experience, security guards were involved. Did the pengarah know what these security guards got up to? Has the security guard been made a scapegoat? Has the security guard made his own interpretation of some petty ruling?
Despite the furore over the dress code, we may be overlooking something very obvious, which is the power hungry, petty-minded bureaucrat.
Men, and women, who have little or no power, assume another persona when they don a uniform and cap.
Perhaps, the Islamic dress code is not creeping into our lives.
Instead we have experienced the excesses of a petty-minded, power hungry, small person who grabs a chance to make himself feel important.
He abuses his authority and succeeds, because in the past, no one has bothered to stop him.
Version of article printed in FMT 12 June 2015