Rude immigration officer, the cowardly tyrant - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Monday, October 22, 2018
Malaysiakini : “Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate
talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools
whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of
their loyalty.” – Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
COMMENT | People often ask me if I think all these high-profile
corruption cases of Umno potentates are politically motivated. Truth be
told, these cases do not concern me. The political elite cannibalising
each other for taking from the trough is part of the zero sum game of
No, what bothers me – besides the nurture of religious extremism –
are cases like the immigration officer who was rude to the pregnant
woman and her husband, and which has got Penang Deputy Chief Minister II
P Ramasamy all worked up – and rightly, too. Claiming that I have mostly positive experiences with the bureaucracy
is irrelevant. What is important is that every day, people from
disenfranchised backgrounds, who do not have privileges that come with
being “middle class” (regardless of ethnicity) are at the mercy of petty
tyrants who exercise power merely because they can.
What really bothers me about this whole incident – and I know it
should not – is the way how this immigration officer responded to
someone who was of higher authority and who wanted to resolve a
situation that this immigration officer created.
The unmitigated gall of this officer to accuse Seberang Perai
municipal councilor K Jason Raj of misuse of power when, I am sure, if
this were an emissary from the former Umno regime, this officer would be
on his hand and knees attempting to remedy the situation as quickly and
painlessly as possible.
Can you imagine what the Umno response would be to lackeys speaking
rudely to them? Can you imagine the response that this rank
insubordination would receive back in the good old days of Umno rule?
Instead, this officer has suddenly discovered his cojones, most
probably because he thinks that there is nothing the Pakatan Harapan
political elite could do to him, because this is supposed to be a ‘New
Malaysia’ and he probably assumes the Harapan political apparatus does
not want to spook the civil service.
Many years ago, I found myself in a similar situation with different
results. I knew this young plumber who married a Vietnamese girl and
they were going though similar problems with an immigration officer.
Their papers were in order but as usual, the bureaucracy revealed its
ugly, often racist visage.
After weeks of frustrating engagement with this officer, the young
man came to me for help. I knew him because he did work around the
apartment complex I was living in at the time. Speaking to friends in
the immigration bureaucracy, this matter was classified as discretionary
in nature and since the young couple had the requisite paper work,
there really should not have been a problem. As usual, this is about
pushing around the little guy, Thaya, a friend cavalierly intoned.
I accompanied the young couple for their meeting, and there in the
office of this immigration officer, my blood started to boil. Listening
to this cretin endlessly drone on about mutual associates in the state
security apparatus, reminded me that I needed to get new friends. The
old air conditioning unit emitted irritating clicking noises, which
sounded like a countdown to my imminent explosive rage.
Officer’s overtly racist statements
What was worse was his overtly racist statements about the young
couple, whom he thought could not understand his broken English, which
was his preferred method of communication even though I began the
conversation with my adequate Malay. No doubt, all this was done to
impress me and exclude the young couple from the conversation.
He was talking about how there were too many “foreigners” in this
country and that maybe this young man married this young girl because
she was "morally loose". I sat there with teeth clenched , a snarl which
looked like a smile slowly escaping my lips. Since the goal was helping
this young couple and not feed my sense of self-righteousness, I just
kept quiet hoping my silence registered as disdain.
Sitting there listening to a racist blather on about the people he
knew, that we knew and the state of politics in this country, surrounded
by religious accoutrements to signify piety where there was none, was
an exercise in self-restraint. I remember the cold coffee which we did
not touch and that stupid grin on his face whenever he thought he said
After a while, maybe because he was bored or perhaps, because of the
murderous look that was slowly emerging from my face, he signalled that
this meeting was over. He signed whatever papers that needed to be
signed – that should have be signed – and the kids and I made our way to
lunch. What really bothers me, is how thankful this young couple were
and that they were sorry to inconvenience me. "Uncle, they always, treat
us like", they said. "They" meaning the bureaucracy. I suppose.
Whenever I read these stories in the press about these petty
bureaucrats stomping on the little guy, it pisses me off. These cretins
are the people who truly make life difficult for people, even more so
than the politicians. We pay their salaries and they dare behave like
this? Some folks do not understand how difficult it can get. If you are
poor, disenfranchised from what many of us take for granted, it can be a
hellish experience engaging with the bureaucracy.
If you think you have your horror stories, try reliving them, when
you do not have much money, are not educated enough to know that there
are other avenues to get remedies and when you present an image where
these petty tyrants assume that this gives them the licence to trample
all over you.
I realise in the greater scheme of things that this new story does
not mean much. We have a whole host of issues that demand our attention.
I suppose I am disconnected from the mainstream of political discourse
because I read all these reports from various NGOs, especially
Tenaganita, which deals with issues like these every day. Or listen to
the grassroots of political parties, who do not get the spotlight that
political operatives get.
I sincerely hope that whatever Ramasamy does, it makes life miserable
for this immigration officer. I need my dose of schadenfreude.