The death of duty!/image/image.jpg

Is it far-fetched to assume that officials who neglected their sworn duty helped spawn the current mess in Sabah? 

A. Kathirasen, NST 

DUTY has become a dirty word. There was a time, not too long ago, when duty reigned supreme. A father, for instance, had a duty towards his son; and a son towards his father. Both had a duty towards society, just as society had a duty towards them as individuals.

Today, right has kicked duty off the pedestal. Right is the in-word, the cool word. It is my right to choose who I wish to marry, regardless of what anyone else thinks. It is my right as a teacher to seek a higher salary or give tuition. It is my right as a taxpayer to park at road junctions. It is my group’s right to be accorded pole position. It is my right as your child to be given an iPhone.

This shift is seen in the family, in politics and public life, in the way people and institutions — such as banks and monopolistic firms — do business.

I’m afraid we are descending into a “what’s in it for me” society.

Take parenting, for instance. On March 1, police revealed that the number of child abuse cases had gone up by 17.8 per cent from 242 in 2011 to 285 last year.

Naturally, we expect love for the child to be the prime motivator in parenting. In its absence, there is such an obligation as duty or responsibility: it is the duty of a parent or guardian to care for his or her child. Has that sense of duty dissipated?

The incidence of babies being dumped, and foetuses being killed, is on the rise too. There were 79 cases in 2009, increasing to 91 in 2010 and 98 in 2011.

If young people have a right to savour sex and seek satiation by, as Shakespeare puts it, “making the beast with two backs”, they also, surely, have a duty to the consequence of their act?

And the number of parents being sent to welfare homes or left abandoned in hospitals is rising. Between 2008 and 2011, according to the Welfare Department, there was an increase of one per cent per year in the number of old folk admitted to its nine Rumah Seri Kenangan homes.

In 2011, according to Hospital Kuala Lumpur’s medical social work department, 205 patients aged 60 and above were abandoned at the hospital.

Indubitably, it is the right of the adult children to have a good life. But don’t they have a duty towards the two people who birthed and nurtured them, too?

Talking about hospitals, a friend was admitted to a private hospital three weeks ago with a heart problem. The hospital promptly placed two stents in his arteries, and a bill for RM60,000 in his hands. His insurance, unfortunately, covered only half the amount and now he is trying desperately to raise the balance.

Does it really cost that much?

Sometime last year, I had an accident and was hospitalised for six days. The bill came to RM11,000, excluding follow-up, although no surgery was done. Fortunately my insurance covered 90 per cent of the bill. Does it really cost that much?

My bill would have gone up considerably higher if I had listened to the advice of the plastic and reconstructive surgeon who wanted to do a skin graft on my knee. I preferred to let nature heal it but he felt strongly that a skin graft was needed and seemed in some haste to get it done.

I sought the advice of a couple of doctor friends who agreed with me, after I described the size of my wound. I then told the surgeon to let it be, as the Beatles would say.

Sure doctors and hospitals have a right to charge patients. But don’t they also have a duty to society and the sacred Hippocratic Oath that they take upon commencement of their vocation?

Civil servants have almost always been slammed for dereliction of duty but, I must say, some of them have improved in their service to those whose tax money goes to pay their salaries. The wonderful people at the Employees Provident Fund, for instance, serve the public with smile, sympathy, speed, and scruples.

The EPF is worthy of emulation by officials in other government departments and agencies, such as the Immigration Department and the National Registration Department.

The ongoing Royal Commission of Inquiry into the illegal immigrant issue in Sabah, for instance, continues to reveal the blatant dereliction of duty, disregard for rules and a lack of scruples on the part of some officials in these departments, and others yet to be named.

Add to that the unfolding drama in Lahad Datu, Sabah, where more than 27 people, including eight policemen, have so far been killed in fighting between our policemen and armed Filipino intruders and their local sympathisers. Is it far-fetched to assume that officials who neglected their sworn duty helped spawn the current mess in Sabah?

The concept of duty seems foreign to more than a few politicians, too. If they have struggled hard to become division leaders, for instance, they think it is their right to reap the fruits — even if such fruits are not above board.

Supporters are no different. There are quite a few who think it is their inalienable right to receive largesse for loyalty. And if the leader does not provide patronage and pelf, they take their loyalty elsewhere.

This has contributed to the sorry state of our politics today.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against individual rights. I think it is very important that individual rights are respected, and fought for.

What I would like to see is a happy blend of rights and duty.

“Performance of duty is not for reward: Does the world recompense the rain cloud?” — Thirukkural