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Jakarta Post

Malapropism or unprofessionalism: A look at the Home Ministry case

  • Nurul Fitri Ramadhani

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, June 10, 2016   /  01:31 pm
Malapropism or unprofessionalism: A look at the Home Ministry case Pictured is an envelope on which a Home Ministry staff member mistakenly typed the name of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in Indonesian as the “Corruption Protection Commission” for a letter dated June 7, 2016. (tribunnews.com/-)

People often accidentally use the wrong word in conversation or when writing, and it can be troublesome if it impacts official matters. Using an incorrect word in place of one with a similar sound can result in a fatal utterance.

This problem, defined by scientists as malapropism, usually happens when someone is suffering stress or fatigue. The media picks up on such mistakes immediately among politicians or civil servants who are subject to media attention.

And the consequence? You could lose your job.

This happened at the Home Ministry on Thursday, when Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo fired a staff member for mistakenly typing the name of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in Indonesian.

The staffer meant to write “pemberantasan” (eradication) but instead typed “perlindungan” (protection). The fatal mistake was displayed on an envelope sent to the antigraft body on Tuesday. It went viral when the KPK returned the letter and asked the ministry to correct it.

Tjahjo, who was irritated at the blunder, said the sloppiness was a cause for shame, as it was the first time the ministry had made such an error. "[We have] dismissed [the staff member] in disgrace," he said, adding the incident was alleged to be sabotage.

However, the ministry's director general for politics and general administration, Soedarmo, clarified that the mistake was a human error by an outsourced staff member who had worked at the ministry for only three months.

"The high-school graduate staff member has yet to fully understand about writing official letters. We have questioned him and he admitted to his mistake. But, still, he had to face dismissal as a consequence," Soedarmo said, adding he hoped that other employers could learn from the incident.

Reckless bureaucracy

Does firing the culprit solve the essence of the problem? Apparently not. The malapropism case shows how recklessly our bureaucracy works, as Soedarmo admitted that the outsourced staff member was not the one in charge of writing the letter.

He added that specific administrative staff were responsible for such letters, but a higher-ranking staff member had asked the high-school graduate to do his work. "Therefore, we also warned the higher staff member about the carelessness," Soedarmo added.

That is not to mention the lack of internal controls and supervision in the government’s bureaucracy, specifically in the Home Ministry. One might ask how dozens of civil servants at the ministry did not notice the issue on a formal letter destined for another institution.

The minister sent an official letter of apology to the KPK, and Soedarmo also said he regretted the lack of control of his directorate. "It's also my responsibility," he said.

The dismissal, he said, did not violate the law, because outsourced staff members can be dismissed at any time if the person is proven to have made a serious mistake. Other staff members with civil servant status continued to work as usual, with no serious punishment.

"On the other hand, if a mistake was made by a civil servant, we cannot arbitrarily fire them because the mechanism is regulated under the ASN [State Civil Apparatus] Law," Soedarmo said.

This statement indicated another problem in our bureaucracy, when unprofessionalism does not always lead to serious consequences for civil servants. (ags)

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