Category Archives: Thinking Aloud

The Consequences of Sexual Harassment at Work

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By Mariam Mokhtar

mariam moktharColumnists and journalists receive a lot of correspondence from readers who would like to highlight a problem, share their fears, or get help. Many have no reservations about extending their trust and confidence to us.

When some friends related their stories about sexual harassment at work, their concerns were aired in a short article in the Ipoh Echo on March 1. Subsequently, more women from Ipoh have been in touch, some anonymously, to share their experiences of sexual harassment at work.

The stories are harrowing. Anyone with a wife, mother, daughter, niece or aunt, would be horrified to find that such blatant sexual abuse is being perpetrated on a daily basis. Sexual harassment is not confined to women; men are also affected.

One young girl, a foreign worker found that she could not escape the clutches of her boss, who would show her lewd pornographic videos in a back room and force her to perform similar acts on him. She contracted venereal disease from him. His wife subsequently left him but the worker was trapped as her boss had confiscated her passport.

Another woman alleged that male colleagues would touch her and ignore her protests or laugh them off.

These women felt helpless. They did not know what to do. They feared retribution. In family run businesses, the perpetrator could be a family member. They feared being disbelieved. They were unaware of company policy and procedures, or disciplinary action, which would deal with the sexual harassment. They were ashamed to approach the personnel managers or supervisors, who were mostly male.

Most of all, the women feared being sacked and did not want their ordeal to be discussed openly. Many women tolerate the advances of male colleagues or bosses, because they need the job. With families to support and ageing parents to care for, many women, in Ipoh, and throughout Malaysia, suffer in silence.

Not everyone feels confident about going to the police. Previously, Ipoh Echo highlighted the laborious process of making a police report. Will victims receive sympathy or will they be turned away like the victims of domestic violence?

The University of Malaya (UM) conducted a study, involving 657 women employees, into the extent of sexual harassment in the Malaysian workplace. This research was published in the Asian Academy of Management Journal, July 2007. Previously conducted local studies showed that the degree of sexual harassment of women ranged from 35% to 53%. The problem is more widespread than is reported.

Physically attractive women are more inclined to be sexually harassed and receive undue sexual attention. A person with low moral values would not consider harassment as immoral.

Open workplaces and companies with proper grievance and reporting procedures showed lower incidents of sexual harassment. Companies which punished sexual offenders deterred potential harassers.

Sexual harassment dominates in organisations where sexist attitudes prevail, as women are more likely to be treated as sex objects and inferior to males. Organisations which are unprofessional, where swearing, public reprimands, disrespectful behaviour and employee participation in nonwork related activities, also record higher levels of sexual harassment. The same is seen in companies with an unbalanced ratio of males to females.

How many incidents of sexual harassment in Perak companies go unreported? How many women report their colleagues or bosses for sexual harassment? Women in low status jobs often find themselves threatened if they refuse to cooperate. In some cases, they are promised rewards for their silence and continued “co-operation”.

Sexual harassment affects both the company and the victim. The workplace will suffer from low productivity.

Women workers have low self esteem and low job satisfaction. Many will stay away from work. Depression and falling sick easily will take a toll on their health, They will also suffer from mental health issues and the stress will affect their quality of work and their relationships, at home.

Companies which do not have a clear policy on sexual harassment will have a high turnover of staff, are not as efficient as they could be and will have low productivity levels. They will also record high levels of absenteeism and workers will be difficult to motivate.

If sexual harassment goes unchecked, some companies may find that workers could take them to court, for ignoring complaints about sexual harassment. The overall cost to the company is great; payments for damages, court costs and they may have difficulty in attracting suitable staff in the future. They will also receive negative publicity.

People who are sexually harassed at work can do the following. Keep a record of when they were harassed. Note the time, day and type of harassment – harassment can take many forms; verbal (offensive remarks), nonverbal (leering), physical (touching), visual (showing pornographic material) or psychological (sexual invitations). Keep mobile texts as evidence or enlist the help of a colleague as witness. Tell a union representative, if there is one.

With this information, seek an appointment with your supervisor, boss or personnel manager and tell him about your problems. Prepare a written complaint, with a log of the incidents, to be handed to him, at the end of your meeting. To be fair, you must also state a suitable time frame, for him to conduct his own investigation, for instance a two week period from the date you lodged the official complaint.

You must stress that sexual harassment is a serious matter and that if he is not prepared to deal with it, you will see the boss of the company and take the matter up with the Labour Department.

If you find that you are threatened, either by the perpetrator, the supervisors or the boss of the company, it shows that someone is scared and is trying to bully you into silence, or to make you leave. If this happens, do not feel intimidated. Simply, lodge a complaint with the Labour Department, and call an NGO which deals with women’s rights to give you support, if you wish. You could also make a police report if you feel that your safety is threatened.

Many victims have found that having the support of the NGO will speed up the investigation by the Labour Department. Moreover, the NGO is versed in your rights in the workplace. They have legal consultants and experts who can give you emotional support.

Sexual harassment is a serious problem in Malaysian workplaces and much of it is undetected. If the majority of Malaysian men were forced to endure sexual harassment at work, then it is highly probable that many male MPs would have tabled an act in parliament to criminalise sexual harassment.

Perhaps, Rohani Karim, the new Minister for Women, Community Affairs and Family Development should make the problem and solutions of sexual harassment, her top priority. After all, women make up half of Malaysia’s population and dominate the workforce. Every woman is entitled to do her job, without fear or favour.

Just Another Day in Ipoh

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Thinking Allowed

By Mariam Mokhtar

At around 2pm one Friday, Amy decided to go to the car park at the Old Catholic Centre in Ipoh to leave a bag in her car. She slung the bag over the shoulder on which she was carrying her handbag, and left her office.

Nothing seemed amiss as she stepped off the pavement onto the slip road – a young man was walking along the road, another was sitting in his car. As a motorbike sped past, driven by a man in a black T-shirt, with a pillion-rider, wearing a green T-shirt, Amy continued on her way.

With people milling about, Amy felt safe. The area had recently seen a rise in theft and two women from nearby offices had been robbed at knifepoint, after work.

At the car park, Amy unlocked the rear passenger door and slid the bag off her shoulder to place in the car. As she removed the bigger bag, she felt a gentle tug on the strap of her handbag. She also heard someone mumbling. Amy turned around to find herself staring at the blade of a knife, held by a young boy, who appeared to be Malay. He was clad in dark trousers and a green T-shirt. He also wore a helmet.

He tugged again at her handbag. This time he barked, “Bagi saya wang!” He wrenched the handbag off Amy’s shoulder and ran away. The speed of the attack left Amy stunned and motionless.

Before she went to lodge a police report, Amy cancelled her credit cards and handphone. At the Sungai Senam police station (crimes in this particular area are covered by this police station), Amy noticed a young Malay girl waiting to report a theft. They swapped stories.

The Malay girl said that she had been in the Ladies’ toilet of the Ipoh Parade, around noon, when a young Malay-looking boy in a black T-shirt held her at knifepoint and demanded money. When she told him that she had none, he seized her handphone.

Having completed the police report, Amy was told to see the ‘A’ team. This meant a trip across town to the “A” team office, which is near the Ipoh Railway Station. The Malay girl whom Amy met earlier, was waiting to be seen.

As the Inspector whom Amy should have seen was busy, she had to discuss her ordeal with a policewoman. Amy asked about the necessity of making two reports, and was told that the preliminary report at Sungai Senam was only a brief report, the one compiled by the “A” team would be more detailed.

Amy requested a copy of the detailed police report, but was told that the report is “tak sah” (not valid) unless it was paid for. For unspecified reasons, the policewoman could not give Amy a receipt for her own copy of the police report, but advised Amy that she could obtain a copy from any police station.

The following morning, Amy went to the local police station, to obtain a copy of the police report. She was told that she should have obtained it the previous day, after making the report. Having heard Amy’s explanation, the policewoman on duty phoned the Sungai Senam police station for help with printing a copy of Amy’s report.

After paying RM2, Amy was issued with a receipt but she could still not get a printout because the clerical staff, who printed these reports, only works during office hours. Furthermore, the officer-in-charge who had access to the system and knew how to print the reports, was unavailable, so nobody could print one.

Amy said, “The mind simply boggles at the way reports are handled. I had to go to three police stations or visit the police station three times just to make a report and get a report.

“Why do we need to make two reports? No wonder the police do not have enough people on the streets when they spend their time doing reports.”

She claimed that she has never seen a policeman in the Greentown/Syuen Hotel/Excelsior Hotel area, which is reportedly high in crime. Many of her colleagues know of someone who has been robbed. One girl was pushed into a drain and her handbag snatched.

The previous day, the policewoman at the “A” team in Ipoh told Amy, “There are patrols but these guys are very smart. They attack only when the police patrol has passed.”

Amy wonders about the effectiveness of police cars and said, “They are just alerting these criminals to their presence or absence. I also have never seen police walking around the area. It looks like our police are only seen at roadblocks or on lonely roads near where I live, preying on poor motorcyclists”.

This is Amy’s second experience of being robbed. Her first was when her handbag was snatched in front of the Creative Music Academy, opposite Jusco and a police pondok. She is worried about the escalating crime, and does not think that the barriers which have been erected specially to deter snatch thieves are of any use.

She has a suggestion, “How difficult is it to use a policewoman as a decoy? The barriers won’t stop them. The money would have been better spent beefing up the police force.”

Many people will empathise with Amy. Despite her frustration and anger, Amy was pleased to note that the policemen were very nice to her. They showed concern that she wanted to have a printout of the report, “especially when she had to pay for it, too”.

It seems obvious that a victim of a crime would need a copy of a police report for several reasons. First: to keep a record of what happened. Second: a copy is needed to make an insurance claim. Third: if there was a breakthrough in the case, the thieves were caught or the items in Amy’s handbag were recovered, the report serves as proof of ownership.

Many newspaper reports claim that crime has decreased. If making a police report is a hassle and people decide against making them, many crimes may go unreported and the false figures would indicate an apparent decrease in crime.

(Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

 

Know Your Rights

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By Mariam Mokhtar

Know Your RightsHave you ever returned home, only to find that the dress you bought has a rip or a stain, an electrical item has a crack which you had not noticed in the shop? Maybe the vegetables looked fresh when you bought them, but some are withered.

Do you react like the majority of people, who simply shrug their shoulders and blame it on bad luck or carelessness? Are you more pro-active and return to the shop and explain to customer services, that the goods you bought are faulty?

Different shops have different refund policies. Some give a maximum of two weeks from the time the goods were purchased after which no refunds will be given, but almost all will say that the goods must be in their original packaging. Some items, such as underwear or medicine, cannot be returned once they are purchased, for hygienic and health reasons.

If the sales assistant appears to dismiss your complaint, do you scream and demand that your money is refunded? When do you decide to request to speak to her supervisor or manager?

Shopping can be a curious experience; sometimes when you least want the attention of the sales staff, they crowd around you and destroy your buying pleasure. At critical times, they are nowhere to be found. Some shops are like that. They are keen to make you part with your money, but when things go wrong, they don’t want to know.

Many shop employees are not properly trained to deal with returns or refunds, so you must be vigilant and never be fobbed off by assertions, that the shop cannot help and that your only recourse is to contact the manufacturer.

You paid for the item in the shop and your contract is with the shop. You should not have to put up with poor quality or damaged goods, or endure poor service from shopkeepers when complaining. You should not be afraid to kick up a fuss. In today’s world, some employees are put under a lot of pressure by their employers. Be persistent but remain polite.

It is handy to know that it is often worthwhile to contact the head office of the shop or store you purchased your item, by phone and with a follow-up letter, if your complaint has not been properly addressed.

Perhaps, being aware of your rights, will prevent you from being conned in the future.

The rule of thumb which one consumer site advocates is to remember the acronym – ‘SadFart’ – when you go shopping.

S – Satisfactory quality
A – As
D – Described
F – Fit for purpose
A – And last a
R – Reasonable length of
T – Time

Every time you purchase an item or pay for services, even if it is an online purchase, or eating in a restaurant, you are entering into a contract with the seller. Although it is not within the scope of this article to cover the details of the law regarding the purchase of goods and services in Malaysia, it is clear that the item you purchase must be “as described” and that you should be happy with its quality.

If you buy some expensive writing paper, and find that the quality is not what you normally expect, you are within your rights to return the pack and either have your money returned or the faulty goods exchanged.

Perhaps, you bought a printer, but find that after a few week of normal use, it breaks down. It is reasonable to expect that consumer goods should last for their design life. If a printer malfunctions soon after purchase, you are within your rights to return it to the shop to have the issue resolved.

The most important things to note are that the company must be contacted immediately after a fault is detected; be polite when explaining your predicament and stick to the facts. Follow up with a letter, addressed to the appropriate person and take the details of the person you’ve spoken to, the time, the date and what transpired in the conversation. Letters should be sent by recorded delivery and copies of all correspondence filed for future reference.

If the shop does not want to listen, there is always the appropriate government department or a consumer association which could help redress the problem. Bear in mind that some issues will not be solved overnight and may take longer to resolve.

Recently, an important organisation promised me and several others, that the ink we were supplied with was indelible, and that it would remain, on the surface to which it was applied, for about a week.

To our horror, some of us found that this ink could be washed away after gentle scrubbing with detergent and a nail brush.

If we applied the ‘SadFart’ rule to this indelible ink, it will be obvious that the ink was not of satisfactory quality, the product was not as described, it was not fit for purpose and despite the assurance of the organisation, which supplied the ink, it did not last a reasonable length of time. What a rip-off!

Can Cosmetic Changes Improve Character?

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By Mariam Mokhtar

At one time, the Kinta Heights tower block, built in 1982 was also known as “The 20 Storeys”. When it was commissioned, it became the highest building in Ipoh surpassing the Sungai Pari flats, a low-cost housing initiative built in 1963, which was affectionately called “The 15 storeys”.

Kinta HeightsBesides being an Ipoh landmark, Kinta Heights plays an important role in housing low-income families. With 280 units accommodating around 1500 to 2000 residents, its prime location in the city-centre, close to Little India in Ipoh’s ‘Old Town’, meant that its occupants have easy access to shops, schools, banks and various public departments and amenities.

The high-rise unit which is owned by the Ipoh city council, recently underwent a major cosmetic change. This was part of a beautification project by the Housing and Local Government Ministry to spruce up the image of public housing areas and improve the living conditions of its council tenants.

From its upper floors, visitors can take in breathtaking views of Ipoh, the changing city skyline, the spread of the city, the limestone hills in the background and the river meandering through the city.

Despite its towering presence, Kinta Heights has been besieged by problems which commonly affect public housing projects. Residents often complain about the lack of maintenance of the units, vandalism, the poor general upkeep of the communal facilities, mouldy growth on the walls, litter, poor security and a failure to upgrade the facilities.

During the ‘80s and ‘90s, Kinta Heights, and a few other high-rise buildings in Ipoh, became a Mecca for suicides. In 1995, after public concern about the building’s increasing suicide rate, the authorities erected metal grilles on all windows from the third floor upwards.

Residents were angry that the lifts were continually breaking down, but the council pointed out that some people had been using the lifts as toilets or pressing all the buttons simultaneously to inconvenience other users.

In 2008, two lifts were upgraded and the council erected a guard house to improve security as well as monitor the movements of people entering Kinta Heights. A police beat-base in the grounds of the block and CCTV cameras in adjoining streets acted as effective deterrents to crime.

Complaints about leaks from the water tanks, situated on the roof of the block, triggered an investigation which revealed that the tank had not been replaced since the flats were built in 1982. The residents also complained that vandalism and theft had rendered the fire-fighting system in the block useless.

As a result of the residents’ complaints, it was announced that the block would receive a new fibreglass reinforced polyester water tank costing around RM66k as well as a fire-fighting system costing around RM100k including installation and maintenance.

Despite the various upgrades, the council is concerned that the attitude of some irresponsible residents towards cleanliness, vandalism and theft, has not changed.

Councillors have complained about council property being damaged and the effect this has on maintenance and replacement costs. They also criticised unscrupulous residents who would chuck plastic bags of rubbish from their flats onto the ground below, which meant that workers had to be delegated to clear the area of garbage, every day.

The authorities also urged residents to cooperate and keep their block of flats clean and treat it like their own home. Residents were told that Kinta Heights will have regular visits from enforcement officers to curb anti-social activities and that the officers have the power to issue compound fines and blacklist tenants from renting council property, if they were found guilty of vandalism or littering.

In mid-April, Perak Menteri Besar Zambry Abdul Kadir officiated at the completion ceremony of the Kinta Heights beautification project and said, “Whether the people support the government or not, the government will still implement development projects in the area for the benefit of the people.”

Zambry is right. Housing, like other developments, should not be politicised as it is the responsibility of the government to look after its citizens and provide for those from the lower-income bracket.

One observer who witnessed the ceremony said, “The brown and dirty yellow of the old Kinta Heights is thankfully gone, but the new colour scheme makes the building look like a set of child’s building blocks. It is a major improvement from the previous shabby look, but did the council have to litter the tower with those blue party flags?”

Another person said, “We were told that this was part of the ‘My Beautiful Neighbourhood’ programme of Ipoh Old Town. Is someone trying to give out a subtle message of “My BN”? Is there also an attempt to make a party political broadcast with residents wearing blue T-shirts emblazoned with party logos?”

These observers are naïve to think that a politician can control his urge to politicise anything, even housing.

End this culture of back scratching

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By Mariam Mokhtar

When several handouts like BR1M are given to certain sections of the rakyat, it would be prudent to start a national debate on this apparent generosity of the government, because the country cannot isolate itself from global economic turmoil.

End this culture of back scratchingThose who benefit will be pleased, whilst the ones who do not qualify will be disappointed. The money has come from the public in the form of taxes paid to the government; both the taxes paid on income and those which are included in the cost of food, clothes, petrol, etc. The taxpayer and the business community funded the largesse of the government, but neither played any role in the decision-making process of giving out these handouts.

A young couple who lives in Ipoh was naturally pleased about the windfall although the husband’s response was more measured. He is a despatch rider in a travel agency and his wife has taken a break from teaching to look after their first child.

He declared, “I have misgivings about the RM500 BR1M payment. At first, we were pleased for we managed to buy some things for our baby. I now wonder if perhaps, the money could have been better used for child-care facilities to help parents and young children.”

“In a few years time, my wife would like to return to work, but with child-care being so expensive, I wonder if the government handouts could and should have been used to invest in this scheme. I think that there are better uses for the RM500.”

A surveyor from Taman Meru was furious that his hard-earned money, paid in the form of taxes, was used to subsidise someone else’s lifestyle. He said, “I work hard and pay taxes, just like any other responsible citizen. I cannot claim any of that back, but my neighbour, who is unemployed and lives off his young wife, is qualified to receive the BR1M payment.”

“It is not fair. I would rather the government used the money to create jobs or taught people some skills, so that they could contribute towards the state. My neighbour has chosen to remain unemployed. Unlike him, I have no choice but to pay my taxes otherwise the inland revenue department will hound me.”

One pensioner has claimed that the handouts are “demeaning” to people. She said, “The payments may help some of the very poor people, but the danger is that it gives them a sense of entitlement, for the wrong reasons. Soon, they will regard such payments as a must and demand them from the government. What happened to hard work? Are we going to end up a welfare state?”

The BR1M payments and other handouts would appear to be an attractive inducement for the electorate to vote for the party which offered the money to them. Some people have questioned if this is a responsible decision or if the people should tell their MPs to allocate the funds to improve school standards, medical services or other public facilities in the state.

A bank clerk said, “In my line of work, I have noticed that recently, people are easily getting into debt. Many cannot pay off their credit card bills. One old lady I know, keeps complaining about the rising cost of goods and services. She is worried that she may have to get rid of her part-time maid, as her own pension does not stretch as far as before. She wonders if the government will have more incentives to help old-timers like her.”

To a very poor person or someone whose income is below the poverty threshold, RM500 is a princely sum. Most people I spoke to wondered if the concerns of ordinary voters have been taken into consideration and not just the ongoing and current worries of the government. Some people worry if this largesse will spiral out of control and create a worse culture of dependency for the rakyat. People are crying for fairness and justice, not just for one section of the community, but for all.

Perak MP Spearheads Cost Cutting

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By Mariam Mokhtar

Perak MP Spearheads Cost CuttingWhen the Defence Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also the MP for Bagan Datoh in Perak, rallied Malaysians to unite against a common enemy, he was not disappointed. Last month Tony Fernandez, the CEO of AirAsia, the budget airline, answered the call of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to help defend Sabah against an armed incursion of Suluk invaders.

The MOD needed to deploy extra soldiers, quickly, to boost the security forces in Sabah. Fernandez came to the rescue and rescheduled the airline’s tight timetable, so he could divert a few Airbus aircraft, to fly to Lahad Datu.

Despite mounting criticism that he had deliberately inconvenienced commercial and fare-paying travellers, Fernandez was adamant that serving one’s country was of paramount importance.

A pilot who refused to be named said, “I was proud to play a role in national security and ferry our troops to defend Sabah. I hope the flight was comfortable and with minimal delays.”

His call was echoed by a member of the cabin crew who said, “The men were very disciplined on board, unlike some fare-paying passengers. It was a pleasure to serve them, although some were disappointed with the choice of food sold on board.”

Fernandez had twice twittered to an irate public, “Flights are rearranged today as we are helping the army transfer staff to East Malaysia. Pls be patient,” and later, he said, “As mentioned please be patient with some flight arrangements on flights as we are helping the army”.

Switchboard operators and check-out staff at AirAsia counters faced a barrage of complaints from furious passengers because of postponements and cancellations. They were concerned about compensation and refunds, but claimed that their concerns were ignored.

The patriotic Fernandez was praised by security chiefs, for his efforts in promoting national security. The flights carried at least two battalions of soldiers so that the more cumbersome military aircraft could be deployed to transport heavy artillery, tanks, lorries and supplies to Sabah’s east coast.

Zahid had waved off the first of the battalions at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) and was pleased with the trial run of transporting soldiers by commercial airline. He was satisfied with the rapid response of AirAsia and at the cost savings made by the MOD.

As a consequence, he has proposed that AirAsia be utilised for further troop movements and that some AirAsia planes be painted in military camouflage colours. Various defence officials have made additional requests – the cabin crew would be allowed to retain their short skirts and figure hugging uniforms, to boost troop morale but they would have to wear camouflage and not the current red uniforms.

Unconfirmed sources allege that the test run by AirAsia prompted Zahid to set up a special committee to look into ways to reduce spending. Several proposals to tighten the government belt were presented to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak in an attempt to avoid future austerity measures.

Zahid’s proposals initially caused a stir in government circles but his background as a banker persuaded Najib that these measures would convince the rakyat of the government’s seriousness in tackling the budget deficit.

Political insiders have alleged that ministers and senior state officials were delighted to spearhead these spending cuts. One proposal involved a ban on all government servants using the national carrier, Malaysia Airlines (MAS); in future they would fly AirAsia, if the routes were served by the budget carrier.

A senior civil servant said, “If our law-makers were to use AirAsia, its management might be induced to improve their services, as MPs want to make best use of their time. It would also help our politicians and civil servants empathise with the public.”

One junior official said, on condition of anonymity, “Millions of ringgits would be shaved off the ministerial budget. Our annual expenditure for overseas assignments is wasted on excess luggage charges incurred by officials and the shopping of their spouses and the bloated entourage.

“In future, if MAS was the only option available, no official will be upgraded. With more of the expensive seats available for legitimate fare-paying passengers, the revenue for MAS would increase.

“On AirAsia, officials will only be allowed one piece of luggage at the taxpayer’s expense.”

Another committee member examining the cuts said, “We also looked at reducing at the size of the entourage. Accompanying spouses will be banned, as they are a distraction. All officials will travel exclusively by economy class with MAS.

“Officials on overseas assignments would share a room, and use only budget hotels like Tunes. Heads of Departments or Pengarahs may be upgraded to a ‘bed-and-breakfast’.

“Airline employees or Malaysian High Commission or Embassy staff will not be allowed to meet the government servant on arrival, or see him off at departure, as it wastes valuable working time. The head of the overseas mission, will be entitled to use the national car, the Proton, as it will show our pride in our local car industry”.

According to this civil servant, the same vehicle proposal has been outlined for Cabinet ministers and state officials. “Imported foreign cars will be auctioned off and only the Proton will be used. No outriders will be allowed for ministers, and the Agung will be allowed one outrider.

“Ministerial spouses and children will not get preferential treatment. Where possible, the use of public transport will be encouraged. If ministers use their cars and get stuck in the traffic jams, so be it. It is time our politicians get a grip on the transport woes of the rakyat. They can only do  so if they were to experience the same suffering as the taxpayers”.

According to a source in the PM’s Department (PMD) and the offices of Menteris Besar throughout Malaysia, the initial resistance to these measures was overcome when senior politicians agreed that the benefits outweigh the minor discomforts that they would have to endure.

Freak accident or culpable negligence?

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By Mariam Mokhtar

Many people are afraid of using lifts because they fear heights or being confined in an enclosed space. A few, who have been trapped in a lift, vow never to use the elevator again. They say that when they were trapped, the alarm did not work, or that they were in darkness, suspended many floors above ground. Our fears have been reinforced by Hollywood movies depicting lifts plummeting to the ground.

mariam mokhtarThe ordeal of not knowing when one will be rescued will cause some to panic and hyperventilate. The recent incident when a family was trapped in the lift at the Perak Golf Club  is testimony to shoddy maintenance and a delay in rescue.

One wonders if incidents involving lifts are recorded by the health and safety department of the state? Do the public have access to these figures? Will statistics show that lift accidents are a relatively rare occurrence or a growing cause for concern?

A quick trawl through the internet will show that accidents related to lifts are not common but surely one faulty elevator which results in injury and death is serious enough to warrant our attention and that of the relevant bodies.

On February 15, it was reported by Berita Harian and Harian Metro that a lift at Pangsapuri Blok A25, one of the 10-storey apartment blocks located on the naval base in Lumut, had plunged five floors to the ground. The victim’s neighbour, who wanted to remain anonymous, claimed that screams had been heard just before the loud crash, made on impact.

A team from the Fire and Rescue Department searched the wreckage and found the unconscious victim, suffering from severe head injuries. Despite an emergency operation and the best efforts of the medical team at the Seri Manjung hospital, she could not be saved. A steel cable had broken and it struck her head and neck. She succumbed to her injuries the following day.

The cause of the accident was alleged to be a snapped cable. The victim’s husband, a naval officer, blamed the tragedy on the lack of maintenance and said that the tragedy could have been averted if the lifts had been properly maintained. He said, “I am sad that my wife is now a victim of this carelessness”.

It was alleged that residents were reluctant to use the lifts as they would rattle and make weird noises when in use. One person said, “I believe this happened because the steel cables are old and worn because prior to this there was leakage from rainwater and that may have caused rust.”

The Manjung District Police Chief, Assistant Commissioner Jaafar Bab classified the case as “sudden death”. Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar of the Royal Malaysian Navy has ordered an investigation of all apartment lifts throughout naval bases in Malaysia. He also said that the navy was not taking any risks despite the lifts being ‘well-maintained and installed with quality parts’.

In a letter to various newspapers, the Institution of Engineers of Malaysia (IEM) have said that the tragedy at Lumut could have been prevented with a “good and committed maintenance programme”.

A spokesman for the IEM said that lifts have several safety features and he could not comprehend how all the safety features could fail simultaneously, in the Lumut incident. The IEM speculated “poor maintenance or even no maintenance” as the probable causes of the accident. It questioned the technical expertise of the technicians tasked with the maintenance of the lift and the quality of the parts used.

The IEM recommended that the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) ensures only authorised lift vendors be permitted to perform lift maintenance and that DOSH addresses the shortage of technicians skilled in lift installation and maintenance work.

Around the world, irresponsible companies try to save money by taking shortcuts, by using shoddy equipment, or by reducing maintenance. We see the results of incompetence and mismanagement in many areas of our life; impressive roads which are washed away after a few months, gleaming buildings which leak or slide downhill after heavy rain.

Are figures for accidents involving lifts in Perak collated on an annual basis? How many resulted in injuries? How many fatalities were there? Is our safety record for lifts good or bad? Of the incidents, how many were deemed serious and how many were not? Did the serious ones involve power outages or were they through a failure of the lift’s safety mechanisms?

Is the maintenance of lifts in Perak strictly regulated? How scrupulous are the maintenance, examination and testing regimes? Is there a different system for domestic or public/commercial lifts?

Malaysians tend to be complacent about maintenance, checks and regulations. It is a fact of Malaysian life that the authorities only react when things go wrong, and when injuries are sustained or lives have been lost.

Sexual Harassment at Work

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By Mariam Mokhtar

Sexual HarassmentYour friend confides in you; she is pale, admits that she has not been sleeping well and you have noticed that of late, she is jumpy and makes careless mistakes at work. She attributes these to the unwarranted attentions of a colleague.

She says that the workmate has been making lewd comments about her, both in public and on the few occasions when they are alone in the office. Despite declining his invitations to dinner or the movies, she says that her colleague has not been discouraged but has stepped up his charm offensive. He now sends her text messages which are getting increasingly sexual in nature.

Your friend is afraid and has refused to work overtime even though she would like the extra money. This has also not gone down well with the boss. This job is only part-time but the money helps to pay for her college fees. Your friend’s health is affected and her tutors have noticed the deterioration in her studies.

Many of you may have heard of similar stories experienced by your work colleagues or family members. Perhaps, you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace.

A friend who could not tolerate the persistent attentions, resigned. It was a well paying job in a company which she had enjoyed working in for a decade. Her problems started when her former boss retired and a new manager was recruited. Unable to take the strain of his suggestive comments and his behaviour at work, she left. She found it a daily struggle to avoid him and she was afraid to complain, in case she would not be believed, or worse, lose her job.

Similar stories of sexual harassment describe the victim’s ordeal and the feelings of helplessness and anger. Helpless because there was no one they felt they could turn to for help, and insufficient guidelines to help them deal with the situation; angry because very little attention has been given to sexual harassment at work, which is a serious problem which is not given sufficient attention.

Many women who have been sexually harassed feel vulnerable and that their dignity has been violated. They feel degraded, humiliated and are forced to work in an atmosphere which is both hostile and offensive.

Most remarks are about a woman’s breasts or about her sexual proclivities. Many also complain about being “touched” in inappropriate places or being leered at. Almost all feel that they will not be believed, that their complaints will be regarded as a trivial matter, or that by complaining, their own character will be questioned.

Sexual harassment is not confined to the normal places of work like the office, factory floor, supermarket, warehouse or market stall. Over the years, reports have been made about female Members of Parliament being subjected to lewd comments in parliament. If parliamentarians are not censured by the Speaker or condemned by other MPs for making sexist comments, where does that leave the rest of the population?

If the majority of our MPs lack the drive, energy and moral fibre to take the problem of sexual harassment seriously, does this help explain why Malaysia does not have any laws which deal specifically with sexual harassment in the workplace?

It is important that anyone who feels that they are sexually harassed at work, do the following:

Avoid the work colleague and if possible, do not work alone with him. Tell him if his behaviour is inappropriate, such as standing too close, continually touching or sending text messages with a sexual connotation.

If communicating your disapproval does not work, make a record of the incidents. Keep a notebook on your person, and record the date, time and details of each incident. Any text message or e-mails should also be kept as evidence of his behaviour. Record his sexist remarks on your mobile phone. All the evidence gathered may be used against the harasser.

Tell a trusted colleague at work, who can also observe his behaviour. The more senior the person in the organisation, the better.

Be prepared to make a formal complaint. See a union leader if you are a member. If the boss is guilty of sexual harassment, make the complaint to his superior. Copy your formal letter of complaint to the CEO or Managing Director of the company, and also the Personnel Manager. Keep the letter short, and include a reasonable time-frame for action to be taken. Do not let the matter be swept under the carpet.

If no further action is taken, seek further information from an NGO which deals with such matters or make a police report.

Employers must also take their responsibilities seriously and help free the workplace environment from sexual predators who bully and prey on defenceless women and men.

No one should tolerate sexual harassment at work and no one should be made to suffer in silence or leave their job.

Call Ghostbusters

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By Mariam Mokhtar

When Perak Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri DiRaja Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir heard that a ‘pocong’ or ‘hantu bungkus’ (wrapped ghost) had been seen roaming around Kampung Raja Bashah in Kuala Kurau, he could not help but quiver with laughter, rather than fear.

According to the Sinar Harian Online, a Malay-language newspaper, the ‘ghost sighting’ in the kampong was linked to a development project in the area and had allegedly been started by Opposition members to play on the superstitions of the villagers.

Sinar Harian alleged that the appearance of the hantu pocong was “a bad omen to the villagers, that the project would bring bad luck”, implying that the Opposition was trying to influence the villagers’ response towards development projects in the area.

An amused Zambry had quashed the ploy saying that it made “no sense” and was “hilarious”. He believed that the Opposition was desperate to use superstition to tar the image of the state government.

He said, “Actually the kampung tersusun (planned village) development project in that village is an example of the state government’s concern towards the people’s welfare, when it agreed to build a new settlement once the (villagers’) current location has been taken over for the flood mitigation plan construction.

“The situation in the village now is very different from the time when I visited it for the first time, and I hope the people will evaluate the change that the state government is trying to implement wisely.”

Zambry may have brushed off the ghost sightings but last October, witnesses claimed that many of them were petrified and have refused to leave their homes after dark. An eyewitness, 52-year-old Mohd Desa Ahmad, said that news of the pocong had been spreading since July and that there had been three sightings since then.

Mohd Desa claimed that the pocong had appeared 10 metres from him, just outside his home whilst he was having a smoke. Another witness, 58-year-old Mat Salleh, said that he saw the pocong around 11pm, at the back of his home, when he went out to investigate what he thought was someone loitering near his home.

Old timers from the village recount similar stories that surfaced when the village was first opened in the eighties, when the nipah forests and jungle were cleared to make way for housing. They claim that many old unmarked graves had been disturbed and desecrated.

When contacted, a few Perakians who do not believe in ghosts and the supernatural have poured scorn on the sightings, whilst some have wondered if Kuala Kurau and other so called haunted sites in Perak could be made into a haunted trail, to attract tourists.

In London, the Jack the Ripper Tour, a walking tour through the streets of London where Jack the Ripper murdered his victims, is very popular. Various hotels in India have reported sightings of ghosts wandering aimlessly along their corridors and in Alcatraz, the infamous penitentiary is known to have cold spots.

There are several other haunted sites in Ipoh, such as St Michael’s Institution, Anderson School and the Brewster Road Convent. Ipoh’s Tambun Inn is supposed to have a resident ghost, as do many of the army houses down the road near the barracks, on Jalan Tambun.

In Batu Gajah, Kellie’s castle is reputed to be haunted as is Alma Baker’s house, where the “Lady in white” wanders around the grounds and house.

A former Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) boy once said that he was terrified when walking along the road which leads to the railway station because there was a ghost that used to disturb him as he passed one of the oldest raintrees.

A woman who lived along the road gave a different version of that story. She claimed that when she was a child, she and her sister had been trying to tackle the MCKK boys and would throw pebbles at them, to attract their attention. They dared not go out of the house to chat because of their strict father, but to their consternation, the boys would run away.

Back in Kampung Raja Bashah, Zambry and the Opposition might have another problem to deal with during GE-13 – pengundi hantu!

Believe in Yourself

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The altercation between self-styled motivational expert Sharifah Zohra Jabeen Syed Shah Miskin and law student Ms K.S. Bawani in a local university, the University Utara Malaysia (UUM) has provided an interesting glimpse into Malaysian student life.

Sharifah ZohraThis was supposed to be a discourse between the panel of five experts and some 2300 students, but nothing constructive was gained when the moderator, Sharifah Zohra acted in a confrontational and aggressive manner simply because she felt offended by Bawani’s remarks.

The students listened to the panel from mid-morning until 2pm, then just two questions were asked. Two questions from a gathering of over two thousand students do not represent a high level of participation or interest. Perhaps, the topics were boring and failed to inspire questions. Perhaps, students had lost concentration and switched off.

If the tirade which Bawani was subjected to is normal practice for motivational speakers or lecturers, perhaps the parents of the students at the university should question this hostile approach.

We could learn from this talk and rebrand it as “How to de-motivate students and destroy their confidence.” Is it right for a moderator of a forum to grab the microphone from a student posing a question and tell her to “Shut-up!”? Is respect and common decency not to be accorded to students?

According to a relative studying at UUM, students who disagree with the manner in which Bawani was treated are afraid of speaking-out, lest they get into trouble with the authorities. Is our youth conditioned by a culture of fear? Are they prevented from exploring their minds? Are our students denied the opportunity to respond to challenging situations? Our youth should be allowed to ask searching and probing questions and find answers and explanations which are sound.

In a video of the episode, which has been released on the internet, Zohra was seen grabbing the microphone from Bawani before silencing her with a string of invective which lasted several minutes. The tirade was personal, insulting and off-topic.

Students may have felt intimidated by the personal nature of the abuse. Perhaps the other panellists were shocked into silence, because they did nothing to save Zohra from making a fool of herself.

They may have wanted others to see this nasty side of Zohra’s character. The final result was that it was Bawani who can hold her head up high with her dignity intact, whilst Zohra’s reputation has been torn to shreds. Zohra’s latest video-log shows that she is not contrite but despite her coquettish smile, seems to be secretly rather pleased that she is now “a celebrity”.

Bawani has beseeched the public to refrain from turning the incident into a racial issue. Several days later, Zohra released a statement and video alleging that the video of her berating Bawani had been spun to benefit members of the Opposition.

With such an accusation, is it any wonder that Zohra has incurred the wrath of the public? She displayed no remorse nor was she prepared to accept that she had acted with impropriety, and crossed the normal bounds of decency.

Different people are motivated in different ways, but comparing their needs to those of animals, or by ridiculing them in public, is demotivating. A manager, teacher or parent who employs such tactics will fail to inspire his charges, who will end up with low self-esteem.

The failure of Zohra to engage positively with the students in the hall, shows her incompetence and lack of training. She should have taken a back seat and encouraged others to take the lead. Her failure to consider other people’s opinions is a sign of her selfishness.

The question Bawani posed was about the provision of free education to Malaysian students. She was not after free education for herself but wanted it for all Malaysian students. She knew that nations which are less well developed than Malaysia were able to provide free education for their youth.

If Zohra was unable to answer this question, she should have said so and invited views from the floor, or the panel. If Zohra was not committed to giving fair treatment and understanding to students, how did she expect to gain the students’ trust? The command-and-control style she exhibited is highly damaging and does not inspire participation.

Cultural differences are important in most types of engagement but Zohra’s failure to show respect to students by belittling their beliefs, their opinions, their education and background means that her dictatorial style is demotivating and damaging to morale.

Her behaviour discouraged bonding and increased resentment among the students. This cannot be good for the future leaders of the country, some of whom could have been amongst the audience.

Mariam Mokhtar