the following is a series of email correspondences between a TOC reader and Ministry of Health:

Email from TOC reader:

I am writing to you in the capacity as a concerned citizen of Singapore. I am one of the many senior citizens who regularly visit KhooTeck Puat Hospital. I am an Indian who speaks the Tamil language.

In one of my visits to the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, I noticed that the clinic was labeled in English, Chinese and Malay. The lack of labels in Tamil for all the clinics alarmed me as Tamil is one of the four official languages and yet it was not given its rightful place among the other languages. This cultural insensitivity made me feel marginalized by association.

I had written to the hospital’s feedback unit and I received a reply from a Mrs XXX, the Chief Operating Officer/Quality Service Manager, on the 12 April 2011. The letter stated that they had taken note of my concern and they would work with the relevant departments to look into the matter.

However, about 3 months after the letter, I had visited the clinic in Khoo Teck Puat Hospital again and to my absolute horror, they had taken care of my concern in a unexpected manner. They had removed the Malay wordings from the clinics. This is aninsult to my query and both languages.

Is the hospital making an official stand that all are equal in Singapore but the hospital views some more equal that other.

I am well aware that hospitals are given autonomy in many areas. But should this autonomy include the marginalisation of minority languages. It would have cost the hospital just slightly more to add the labels in Tamil and this course of action would have created an inclusive environment. In a singular removal of the Malay labels,thehospitalhighlighted how it rather save pennies than earn goodwill.

I am wondering on what the official policy was for the Ministry of Health on the marginalization of minority languages?

Warmest Regards

Reply from MOH:

Dear Ms XXX,

The Government believes in an inclusive approach to maintain interracial harmony and social cohesion in Singapore. We do take your highlighted feedback about KTPH seriously and have checked with our hospital on this matter.

The service directory in KTPH’s main lobby is displayed in all four languages to benefit all Singaporeans. Patient greeters serving at the lobby complement these signages by actively directing patients and visitors to their destination. KTPH also encourages all their staff to pro-actively assist visitors anywhere in the hospital if they appear lost or require assistance.

At the clinics, KTPH made the decision to limit signages to two languages to avoid clutter. The choice of languages, English and Chinese was determined based on the hospital’s customer profile. These language signages are complemented by a boarding gate concept using alphanumeric coding like C31, B55 or A82 throughout the hospital to aid those who may not read both languages.

We hope that we have managed to address your concerns.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
for Quality Service Manager
Ministry of Health, Singapore

TOC reader’s reply to MOH:

Dear Mr XXX,

I am confused on how Khoo Teck Puat’s choice of eradicating clutter over following the four official language policy is a sign of maintain interracial harmony and social cohesion in Singapore.

An inclusive society is one which makes every single citizen feel part of the social fabric. It does not marginalise groups just because they are small in numbers.

To quote you, “The choice of languages, English and Chinese was determined based on the hospital’s customer profile. These language signages are complemented by a boarding gate concept using alphanumeric coding like C31, B55 or A82 throughout the hospital to aid those who may not read both languages.”

If I was an old Indian who only read in Tamil then, I should be satisfied that the need for clutter free environment supersedes the need to include me in society. I should be happy that I have things displayed prominently in one place (well you are a minority so 1 is more than enough). I should be elated that all I have to do is ask for directions and people will help me (well you are a minority so this is as far as we can go).

What I derive from all this is that, Malays and Indians are important but their numbers are too small so ‘we [the organization] should not bother’. Please do feel free to correct me if I have misunderstood the message.

My concerns have not been addressed (a brush off is not addressing one’s concerns).

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