The Makings of a Civil Service Mandarin


December 24, 2018

The Makings of a Civil Service Mandarin

by Terence Netto@ www. malaysiakini.com

BOOK REVIEW | Sometimes the arrival of a book dovetails nicely with an issue that’s sparking in the public arena. Such is Hong Kong Confidential: Life as a Subversive by David TK Wong, a Hong Kong-born author living out his sunset years in Kuala Lumpur.

Wong served 21 years in the administrative service in Hong Kong, from 1961 to 1981. Hong Kong Confidential is a chronicle of the 89-year-old’s experiences in the civil service of the last British colonial outpost in the East which reverted to mainland China’s suzerainty in 1997.

The book holds valuable lessons and insights into what makes a good civil servant and how, perhaps, to foster and sustain a top performing service.

Since the 14th general election in May this year, when Malaysian voters ejected the long-ruling BN government and replaced it with the new broomism of Pakatan Harapan, the public has been inundated with what seems like a Pandora’s box of financial horrors left behind by the previous regime.

The steady drip of disclosure of the extent of the financial turpitude left top civil servants exposed as having been supinely complicit in their political masters’ plunder of the public till.

This tale of woe has turned Harapan’s nonagenarian head honcho, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, into a Malaysian version of Hercules before the Augean stables.

Staggered by the extent of the moral failings of civil servants, Mahathir has kept an eye out for civil service reform. A dip into Hong Kong Confidential might usefully aid the process.

The book is replete with cautionary wisdom against the temptation of bureaucrats which the first editor of The Economist Walter Bagehot described with his customary panache as civil servants’ imagination that “the elaborate machinery of which they form a part, and from which they derive their dignity, (is) a grand and achieved result, not a working and changeable instrument.”

Wong’s wry humour and knowledge of the world and Chinese history insulated him against the temptation of bureaucratic hubris.

Before dwelling on the book’s relevance to the issue of how a civil servant ought to comport himself or herself when tugged by the imperatives of duty to the state and service to the government of the day, some details on the author ought to provide perspective.

A solitary life

Wong has been living in Kuala Lumpur since 2009. After two failed marriages and raising three children, he lives the solitary life of a writer in an eyrie in the plusher precincts of the Malaysian capital.

Presently, he is at work on the fourth volume of memoirs.

Wong is fairly sure the fourth instalment would not wrap up all he has to tell about his life which is a composite of experience as a journalist, civil servant, corporate manager and author, spent in such places as Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, California (where at Stanford University he gained a BA with distinction and an MA to boot), Holland (where he did his postgraduate study) and England (where corporate and authorial affairs took him).

The problem with completing an editorial inventory of a multifarious life is that illness-free time may not be sufficient for the author to finish the compilation.

Wong suffers from macular degeneration, a condition that makes it difficult for him to read over long stretches. He husbands his vision by writing in brief bursts – and reading in still shorter spells.

However, a supple prose style and a prodigious ability to recollect the past is reason for optimism that Wong will complete the chronicle before his lease is up. Clearly, staying in touch with the muse does redound to a prolonged stay against mortality.

‘I write therefore I live’

In literary history, there have been cases of writers willing themselves to complete an unfinished oeuvre in the face of encroaching illness, a retooling of René Descartes’ formulation as “I write therefore I live.”

Wong had already written two novels and five volumes of internationally acclaimed short stories before starting on his multi-volume memoirs.

Having read his short stories, one could surmise the writer in him has emerged from an oyster-bed of a beset early life as a journalist and, before that, an angst-ridden boyhood in which the divorce of his parents left him lonely in the claustrophobic confines of his grandfather’s extended family in Singapore.

Suitably, he has kept memoir-writing for the sunset of his life, the better to sum things up with the sapience of age.

Hong Kong Confidential is the third volume of his memoirs, the earlier two being Adrift: My Childhood in Singapore and Hong Kong Fiascos: A Struggle for Survival.

Adrift, as the title indicates, is an account of his boyhood and teenage years in Canton, Singapore and Perth, the last-named place was where he lived out the years of World War II as a penniless refugee.

Hong Kong Fiascos is a chronicle of the early part of his years as a civil servant, while Hong Kong Confidential is a narrative of the later period when he occupied posts in the upper echelons, roles that not infrequently placed him on the horns of daunting dilemmas.

The fact that Wong came from a politically conscious family accentuated the pain of those quandaries.

It was a family that felt keenly the humiliations inflicted on China by imperial powers in the 19th century and first half of the 20th, when a bedraggled people and its fractious leaders were forced to acquiesce to unequal treaties and extortionate concessions.

Not infrequently, in Hong Kong Confidential and Hong Kong Fiascos, Wong alludes to one or the other of the humiliations, as if the act of peeling back the scab and exposing the psychic wound below heightened his determination to avoid doing anything that would let down the hoi polloi in Hong Kong.

Certifiably a scion of the Chinese intelligentsia, Wong’s paternal grandfather went to medical school in Hong Kong, worked under the British there before being transferred for work in Singapore in 1900. His maternal grandfather was the first Anglican Bishop of Canton.

The elder medic was a strong supporter of Chinese revolutionary leader, Dr Sun Yat Sen, in the latter’s struggle to overthrow a tottering Ching dynasty.

Deep knowledge of Chinese history

Wong’s pedigree accounted for his sensitivity to the impact on the man-in-the-street of measures proposed for the alleviation of problems in the city-state.

These problems arose in fields ranging from aviation to power generation, housing to hawking, and in public transport. On occasion, Wong had to grapple with organising relief when natural disasters struck.

Not the least of the skills he acquired were the delicacy and diplomacy necessary to assuage the irredentist impulses of Hong Kong youth brought up in a Eurocentric education system that could not smother their feelings for the motherland, especially when these were stirred by territorial disputes between China and one or the other of former imperial powers.

From time to time, seeking to resolve thorny issues, Wong felt the tug of conflicting imperatives while enmeshed, as the blurb on his book felicitously has it, “on a three-horned dilemma: how to serve the people of Hong Kong who paid his salary; the wider Chinese nation to which he was culturally and emotionally inseparable; and the demands of the British crown, to which he had publicly sworn his allegiance.”

Wong brought to his role deep knowledge of Chinese history, particularly of civil servants famed for the way they steered a course between imperial behest and societal good, between a weak emperor and his venal court on the one hand and a populace in need of protection from peremptory edicts and punitive taxes.

Wong reminds readers that China’s meritocratic 2,500-year old system of selecting public servants on the basis of grades obtained in the periodic Imperial Examination was adopted by Europeans in the 19th century.

While Hong Kong Confidential is clearly part of the genre of postcolonial writing where the standpoint is that of the subject talking about experiences under the heel of empire, it does not exclude or scant perspectives from the British standpoint, which Wong’s elevated position in the service afforded him the opportunity to evaluate.

He gained much from observing the attitude of John Cowperthwaite, Hong Kong’s financial secretary from 1961 to 1971, who was sedulous in looking out for the interests of the people of Hong Kong.

Cowperthwaite’s pragmatic bent imbued him with a suspicion of the foggier aspects of economic nostrums espoused by experts from the grooves of academy.

For Wong, this heterodoxy was reinforced by an encounter with Alec Douglas-Home, the former British prime minister and later foreign secretary whom he had to accompany on the dignitary’s visit to Hong Kong in 1973.

Douglas-Home’s candour and honesty had a bracing effect on Wong. He had volunteered the opinion that as prime minister, he had to face two sets of problems. One set was political which, he observed, were insoluble and the other was economic which he held to be incomprehensible.

As a civil servant, Wong’s grasp of the multiple facets to an issue or situation steered him towards navigating the shoals in ways that sought the most sensible and practical resolution.

Service as a civil servant, in Wong’s telling, is a public trust. Clearly, from his performance in the Hong Kong colonial civil service, his deportment placed him in a direct line of descent from the Imperial Examination mandarinate.

Hong Kong Confidential makes the case for comparable rigour in the testing and admission of candidates to a country’s civil service, and for the inculcation of an ethical code that the sage Confucius made famous and de rigueur for the corps that stand between the executive political class and ordinary citizens.

His book is a compelling text for a Malaysian civil service whose derelictions have brought a once competent service to rack and ruin.


TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Malaysia’s Disgraceful UnCivil Service


November 18, 2018

Malaysia’s Disgraceful UnCivil Service

by David Anandarajoo

http://www.malaysiakini.cm

INTERVIEW | Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently alleged that the “previous government had developed an attitude” for the civil service, which included “working for a particular party and leader, and not to work for the development of the country and not instilling high democratic principles.”

Former senior civil servant, Abdul Halim Shah Abdul Murad, who retired from the Public Services Commission in 2005 and sat on the disciplinary board of the Public Services Department, said that politicians and politicking by previous administrations have contributed to the drastic fall in the civil service’s reputation and efficiency.

“When politics became more institutionalised, that spelt the doom for the civil service, because civil servants served not in the public interest but were forced to be the errand boys of politicians,” said Halim, who has served in various capacities within the civil service in 37 years, including as director-general of the Legal Affairs Division in the Prime Minister’s Department.

According to the 73-year-old, part of the problem the current administration is facing is the continuous election of the same political parties over the last half-century.

Halim said it was “inevitable” that the civil service would “descend to its lowest ebb…when politicians more or less remained permanent and the civil servants became more dispensable in all the ministries and departments”.

“The fault does not lie with the civil service, but more with the so-called democratic system, whereby we allowed the same coalition to rule the country for more than half a century,” he added.

Image result for irwan serigar--a model malaysian civil servant

Mr. Irwan Serigar–Corrupt and Overpaid

Halim said that the “duress” experienced under previous administrations had contributed to the civil service’s rapid decline, with employees becoming “yes men” rather than able technocrats who could read the needs of a developing nation.

“If they have to serve under duress, then there is not much can be expected of them no matter how good they are as officers.”

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Former Secretary General of the Rural and Regional Development Ministry Datuk Mohd Arif Abdul Rahman (second from right), and his son Ahmad Zukhairi (left, blue shirt) were brought to the Sessions Court on corruption charges on Nov 14, 2018.Credit : BERNAMA

Choose the right people

Politics aside, Halim also lamented that the quality of recruits to the civil service has deteriorated to such an extent that there was a gradual dilution of the body’s services and efficiency, which has now come to be known as the PTD or Perkhidmatan Tadbir dan Diplomatik.

“At the very outset, we must select the right people to do the right job right. In the early years of Merdeka, the intake of people into the PTD was very much dependent on the output only from Universiti Malaya in Singapore which then moved to Kuala Lumpur.

“Only the best could have graduated from this institution and thus there was not much of a problem in selection. The pool was small and the number of civil servants recruited was very limited.”

Halim added that the key was quality. He said that the colonial service under the British had already laid the foundation of a sound administration with its established rules and regulations.

He added that there were “just a handful” of early civil recruits, otherwise known as cadets, with training being done on the job.

“They learned the ropes of government service from their mentors whose reputation was second to none in this part of the world.

“When I first set upon a compendium of colonial MCS (Malayan Civil Service) officers, which contained information about their educational backgrounds, most were educated in public schools in England and then graduated from Cambridge University and Oxford University,” he said.

Halim noted that another determinant, which cannot be overemphasised, is the ethos of the civil service prevalent today.

“By this, I mean the values espoused by the civil servants must be in consonance with noble virtues such as being God-fearing, morally upright, honest and of integrity.

“These sound virtues must be exhibited in their moral conduct and discipline, in their everyday lives and not become just mere exhortations.”

Halim added that public trust was civil servants’ raison d’être, and that they must uphold “the principle of neutrality of service, regardless of the political circumstances existing and prevailing around them.”

Improve recruitment methods

Halim feels that current methods of recruitment are already outmoded. “Technically, many things have changed, such as computerisation in short-listing of candidates, conducting evaluation and assessments in written form and through group activities, but they still fall short, because we have not done an evaluation on how valid and effective these techniques are.

Our interviews are also not standardised and unprofessional. I propose a thorough re-examination into the present methods be made and changes for the better be instituted,” he said.

Halim added that the suitability of candidates for recruitment must not only be based on paper qualifications, but other measurements that determine their aptitude or attitude, including their problem-solving abilities.

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“I am a firm believer that discipline must be imbibed by every fresh recruit into the civil service, because it is the cornerstone of character development of the individual,” he said.

As an example, Halim said that the Federation Military College (now Royal Military College) had instilled in him “the habits of punctuality and good grooming”.

He said that apart from developing competencies such as problem-solving, communication and tech-savviness, he proposes that civil servants must be a reservist throughout their first three years upon being recruited.

This means compulsory military training while still in service, where they have to undergo drills and annual camps as part of a comprehensive package in their appointment offer. Halim also said he noticed that the civil service seems to have deteriorated in terms of promoting deserving officers for promotions.

Image result for ahmad sarji abdul hamid and dr. mahathir mohamad

Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and his henchman, Tun Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid turned The Malaysian  Civil Service into the Putrajaya Branch of UMNO. Top Civil servants were seen at UMNO General Assembly. Worse still, during the Najib Razak era, Dr . Ali Hamsa,  then Chief Secretary to the Government was pictured taking instructions from the disgraced Rosmah Msnsor

Political interference should not be tolerated, and whenever a key position is involved, the criteria of political acceptability should not even be allowed to intrude.”

Look North, West and South, but East is still the Best–Time to look within at Malaysians


October 3, 2018

Look North, West and South, but East is still the Best–Time to look within at Malaysians

Image result for Mahathir and Shinzo Abe

by Amb (rtd) Dato Dennis Ignatius

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Not many people were surprised when Dr Mahathir Mohamad revived his Look East Policy. He has always admired the Japanese work ethic as well as the way they were able to rebuild their nation after the devastation of World War II. Of course, Japan’s accomplishments have been phenomenal and there’s much we can learn from them.

Corrupt officials with name tags

Cynics will, however, wonder whether anything qualitative has come out of the whole effort to learn from the Japanese, at least in so far as the civil service is concerned.

Civil servants come to work on time with the clock-in system and are readily identifiable by their name tags, but has it made them more productive, more committed to public service, less corrupt? Judging from Mahathir’s own harsh remarks about the civil service, it would seem that the answers to all these questions are a resounding no.

In fact, successive Prime Mnisters have complained about the civil service but all have been quick to also praise them (and raise their salaries) for fear of antagonising an important vote bank.

Image result for beautiful tokyo japan

We also spend millions, year after year, on civil service training programmes, and send civil servants abroad to study. Much of it is simply a waste of time and money.

Clearly, transplanting Japanese work ethics into the civil service, if it’s at all possible, is going to take a lot longer to realise. However, the experience of other countries when it comes to the civil service may be instructive: where there is uncompromising enforcement of rules and performance standards and a really transparent and competitive promotion system, public servants tend to perform better. The prospect of losing their jobs or being denied promotion is a powerful incentive to keep civil servants honest.

Thus far, there have been lots of complaints about the civil service but little sign of a serious attempt at reform. The rot has spread so wide that no one seems to know where to begin. The recent appointment of a new chief secretary is a step in the right direction but unless there is a commitment to undertake a radical overhaul of the civil service and the way it operates, we are not going to see the kind of qualitative improvements that our nation desperately needs.

Why Look East?

But why look East and not within in the first place? In his speech to the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industries of Malaysia (ACCCIM) in July, Mahathir himself noted that “the Chinese were the driving force behind generating wealth in Malaysia”. He went on to say that, “Our country is what it is today because of the contribution from the business community, especially the Chinese community because they are dynamic in many ways.”

He then called for a collaborative effort (presumably with ACCCIM and the Malaysian Chinese business community) to lessen income disparities so that everyone could share in Malaysia’s prosperity. It was not the first time that Mahathir has mooted such an idea.

Is renewed interest in the Look East policy a reflection of Mahathir’s disenchantment with the inability of Malaysian businessmen to work together? Is he looking East because he has not been able to look within?

Image result for people of japanese

It’s a provocative question, no doubt, but it deserves some attention. In the past, such collaboration may have been difficult – you can’t demonise a community and then expect it to be helpful – but with a new government in power it might be time to seriously look at ways to get more Malay and Chinese businessmen to work together. The government’s plan to privatise some of the GLCs might, in fact, provide opportunities for such collaborative efforts.

Waiting to be wooed

In the meantime, buoyed by Pakatan Harapan’s election victory and hopeful of a more inclusive future, many Malaysians are returning home. We must find ways to tap the expertise, skills and connections of all Malaysians wherever they are.

Some Malaysians living abroad, however, are waiting to be wooed. One group of them recently urged the government “to form a special panel to woo those living there to return home and join government-linked companies to contribute to the development of a new Malaysia”. They also asked the government to “provide incentives and remove certain restrictions to encourage them to come back”, to quote one report.

If they need to be “wooed” to come home or if they need “incentives” to move back (and to work in GLCs at that), they are better off staying where they are. After all, thousands of Malaysian students return home each year without asking for incentives.

Just ask Yeo Bee Yin, our Minister of Energy, Green technology, science, climate change and environment; she didn’t need incentives to come home to serve her country. It is good that she is now in a leadership position.

 

Dennis Ignatius is a former ambassador.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

Fear and Loathing in Putrajaya Redux


September 9, 2018

Fear and Loathing in Putrajaya Redux

Opinion
By  S Thayaparan
Image result for Putrajaya

Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.”

― Laurence J Peter, educator and author

COMMENT | While the White House is in a state of fear regarding the anonymous op-ed piece in the New York Times about the dysfunction in the Trump administration and the so-called “resistance” attempting to stymie the US President’s more egregious agendas, the opposite thing is happening in this country.

While I am not someone who makes excuses for the Harapan administration when it comes to their reform agenda, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is correct when he says that there are officials in Putrajaya who are purposely stalling the administrative policies of the new regime. There are a couple of points worth considering.

The first is the lack of experience of some of the ministers appointed. Much has been said about the “Call me bro” youth and sports minister, the education minister who wants more responsibility – or is that prestige? – but has no real reform agenda when it comes to one of the more important portfolios of this country, the defence minister who likes to cook, and of course, the finance minister who can’t seem to get enough of exposing the scandals of the past administration and nodding to whatever the Prime Minister says.

 

Fulfilling campaign promises is one thing but more damaging is a lack of vision of many of these ministers. Besides Gobind Singh Deo who seems to actually have a vision of what his Communications and Multimedia Ministry can accomplish and Transport Minister Anthony Loke, who you may disagree with some of the things he has done – at least, they are doing things when it comes to their ministries and not attempting to define their ministries by their polemics against the former regime.

While this is an important point, it should not detract from what I consider the bigger point – and what the prime minister rightly points out – the sub rosa moves by bureaucrats to hamper the progress of Harapan regime. I have been doing my own snooping around, calling contacts serving and retired, and there is a definitely a conspiracy of sorts to destabilise the Harapan government from within.

One example I put much stock in is when serving and retired state security personnel tell me that there is a movement within the Defence Ministry to “contain” the popular Mohamad Sabu (photo). This means different things to people but the general idea is that reform within the security services comes with the price of exposing the corruption, collusion and God knows what else, which ironically could prove to be a threat to national security.

Image result for mat sabu as pilot

He is no Robert Gates or Leon Penetta. I wouldn’t trust him with  the defense of my hen house. But if you want some light entertainment, you can attend his ceramah-Din Merican

Can you imagine what would happen if forces domestic and foreign, ever discover how compromised our state security apparatus is? So we get all these “investigations” which go nowhere and an inexperienced minister who is grappling not only with his administrative duties but also his political ones, believing that things are running smoothly.

In reality, the petty fiefdoms in the state security apparatus are making moves to conceal buried secrets that could not only bring them ruination but everyone in the food chain.

Infighting within

Furthermore, some minions actually resent that there is a new government. This resentment, depending on the cabal, is based on racism or religious bigotry. Years of the Biro Tatanegara (BTN) horse manure has created a culture that views any “interloping” by non-Malay political operatives other than from BN as trespassing on the provinces of the ‘ketuanan’ types.

No doubt, the propaganda of a New Malaysia rattles their precious sensibilities and these people are ever ready to demonstrate that the bureaucracy can strike back. One recently retired government official told me that these people not only resort to stalling but also hiding relevant documents, misdirecting new and inexperienced aides and attempting to portray everything done by the new Harapan regime as a “witch hunt”.

This, of course, does not take into account what I call the deep Islamic state and their operatives, who are considering working with the committed Islamists within Pakatan Harapan and carrying out their obligations for their handlers within UMNO. Whispering into the ears of easily-rattled Harapan political operatives of the precarious nature of the Harapan alliance when it comes to the Malay vote, they advance an Islamic agenda which is at odds with the supposed “secular” agenda of the new Harapan regime.

However, if you think that this is all UMNO’s fault, you are naive. The infighting within Harapan contributes immensely to the hampering of the reform agenda. My comrade, Malaysiakini columnist Hishamuddin Rais (photo) may have ruffled some feathers when it comes to his writings, but he is more often correct than wrong when it comes to the machinations of the political elites.

Image result for Hishamuddin Rais

 

There are elements within the bureaucracy who have decided to take sides and the infighting within Harapan plays out in how policy is carried out in Putrajaya. Various fiefdoms have erupted like boils within various ministries where busy factotums carry out the agendas of the Harapan political elite and this sometimes includes frustrating rival factions.

As one frustrated political operative lamented that she has to watch her back when it comes to the bureaucracy because not only has she to worry about the flotsam and jetsam of the former UMNO regime, which includes agents of MCA and MIC, but she has to be wary of not stepping on the toes of her political higher-ups who are wrestling for dominance in various ministries.

A still serving low-level bureaucrat in Putrajaya candidly told me that he is impressed that Harapan has been able to accomplish some of the reforms they promised because with all the crap thrown their way by their infighting and elements from the previous regime, it is remarkable that they are able to function.

Another source said, if only Mahathir was younger and had the support of a committed base, he would whip the government into shape. He has preoccupations which are political in nature which are hampering what he needs to do with the government, this near-retiring source claims.

This, of course, is all part of the political culture in Malaysia which is UMNO-based and something that people in Harapan, who are actually interested in reform, have to contend with. Coupled with their inexperience, they find it difficult to navigate the bureaucracy which is at war for itself and with itself.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Malaysian Civil Service Reform requires Political Will


August 20, 2018

Malaysian Civil Service Reform requires Political Will

Change must come from the political leadership. There must be an insistence on greater diversity at the intake level. There must be an insistence on promotion and posting based on fairness, meritocracy and competency… Soon, you will find top civil servants praising Dr Mahathir Mohamad sky high, just like they did with other Prime Ministers.–T K Chua

by T K Chua@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Malaysian Civil Service

 

I refer to the letter, “Is there hope for the civil service?” by Dr Amar-Singh HSS.

As a former government servant, I too can relate to what he was saying although I have tried to avoid writing about it directly.

The environment in the civil service is more than stifling. It is also where favouritism, parochialism and bigotry are allowed to thrive. Discrimination in terms of recruitment, promotion and posting is routine and done with impunity. Tokenism has evolved into a fine art. If you are assertive and smart, be prepared to be sidelined and marginalised.

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A Bloated, Mediocre, Unproductive Malay dominated civil service

The civil service values mediocrity – this is absurd but true. The top echelon of the civil service is not populated by the smartest, but they know how to play politics to the hilt. To survive and keep the goodies to themselves, all they need to do is to quickly align themselves with the new regime. Soon, you will find top civil servants praising Dr Mahathir Mohamad sky high, just like they did with other Prime Ministers.

As a body, the civil service has its own inertia. It is not known for efficiency and progressiveness. On the contrary, the service is often associated with wastage, lack of initiative and poor service orientation.

The civil service is essentially an input-driven organisation, i.e. it will not move an inch without additional manpower and resources. Redeployment, revamp and reorganisation are hardly part of its consideration. That is why the civil service is ever expanding, often not in tandem with the size of the economy.

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Reports like the above which was written by two top civil servants of the Mahathir 1.0 Era, Tun Ahmad Sarji and Tan Sri Mahmud bin Taib are useless when there is no political will to undertake serious reforms.

Left on its own, I don’t think the civil service will ever change. It will remain insular, discriminatory and even racist.

Change must come from the political leadership. There must be an insistence on greater diversity at the intake level. There must be an insistence on promotion and posting based on fairness, meritocracy and competency.

We must temper the rights and privileges of communities with the need for competition, efficiency and performance. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be talking so much about greater dynamism and competitiveness for this country.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

Wake Up Malaysian Civil Servants: Duty Beckons


August 16, 2018

Wake Up Malaysian Civil Servants: Duty Beckons

by Dr Amar-Singh HSS

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Dr Mahathir and the Malaysian Civil Service

These Civil Servants pledge to feather their own nest

We need to get rid of the culture of censuring those in the civil service who speak up when they see wrong being done.

I found the courage to write this after the recent strong words from Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to the civil service. He encouraged those in the civil service not to blindly follow instructions, and to speak up if there are wrongdoings, saying he will support those who have been “tortured”.

There has been a long-standing culture of victimisation in the civil service. Many of us join the civil service to serve the public. Some of us have better financial prospects elsewhere but choose the civil service because it offers us an unparalleled opportunity to serve the people of our nation.

Image result for Dr Mahathir and the Malaysian Civil Service

Top Goons of the Malaysian Civil Service with the Prime Minister of Malaysia

Unfortunately, as Mahathir points out, the civil service is now populated with those who are self-serving, to put it mildly. Over the years, I have seen people take advantage of their position to enrich themselves or abuse their power, so much so that the prevalent culture becomes “keep your head down and follow instructions”, even if things are wrong.

Those of us who attempt to speak up when we see wrong, or make the necessary corrections in the system, are often censured, at times with measures detrimental to our career. We are constantly reminded that we belong to “the government service”.

Allow me to share an example from my own life. I recently retired after being in the civil service for more than 35 years. In April last year, I received a show-cause letter saying I had brought shame or detriment (memalukan dan memburukkan) to my ministry and the civil service. I was also informed verbally that action was being considered at the highest echelons of the organisation to sack me without pension.

You may ask what I did to bring such wrath upon myself. What prompted this response was a tweet I had made, stating that we are “civil servants, not government servants”. I went on to say that it is “the taxes of the people that pay our wages”.

You may say that what I tweeted was factual and “mild”, but remember that this was in April 2017, before the election, when fear was prevalent and many were being censured. My tweet was forwarded by “cybertroopers” to the highest level of the organisation, and I was issued a show-cause letter.

It was a traumatic learning experience for me. I found that despite many years of work and bringing change/pride to health services (I received a number of international awards), no one was prepared to openly stand up for me. I tried meeting the senior civil service management, but was unsuccessful.

In the end, the previous health minister Dr S Subramaniam was kind enough to act on my behalf when I approached him. Even then, I still received a warning letter saying I had been found to have brought shame/detriment to the organisation, and was warned about future action.

Why do I bring this up? If the civil service is to have any hope, we need to get rid of the petty victimisation of staff and offer safe opportunities for them to speak up when they see wrong being done. The Regulations for Public Officers (Conduct and Discipline) [Peraturan-Peraturan Pegawai Awam (Kelakuan dan Tatatertib) 1993] have an overreaching “Peraturan 19 (1)” about civil servants speaking up. It was put in place to protect government policy, but is also used to silence those who speak up. It can be and is used arbitrarily, as was the case with me.

I hope the institutional reforms committee can look at this section and consider with the government an amendment to focus on government policy, not on personal statements. If there is no safe platform to express the wrongs that are conducted in the civil service, a mechanism outside the system, then many will not dare to support the necessary change for reform in our civil service. Even now as I speak up about the way I was treated (and it is frightening when you go through it), I have some fear that action can be taken against me after retirement.

If you wonder why sometimes there is low morale in the civil service, remember how I was treated for making a simple, true statement. Remember the lack of support within the system for staff who speak up.

It is time to bring back a civil service that we can be proud of. This requires a radical change in how we appoint leaders in the service and how much we encourage constructive dissent (voiced disagreement and discussion on policies and decisions). There is a lot of dead wood and many self-serving individuals that need to be removed, but there are still many who want to serve our beloved nation.

I hope the civil service can be found committed to ensuring the best services for our public and nation and not that of individuals.

Dr Amar-Singh HSS is a senior consultant paediatrician.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.