Bad advisers should get the sack

At a book launch on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi stated in his speech: “The formation of a nation does not only depend on the kings and political leaders, but also on the advisers to the leaders.”

He is right to a large extent. But if by “formation of a nation” he means nation-building, then the leaders are solely responsible for good leadership of a nation, a company or even a family.

So please don’t blame the advisers. After all, if they give the wrong advice, they should be sacked. There is no point in blaming them when they were appointed in the first place by the leaders themselves.

The DPM also boldly stated that the “downfall of a leader is usually the result of his advisers.” I would respectfully disagree here. Why should any leader tolerate failed advisers? Is it not a reflection of the quality of the leaders themselves if they continue to accommodate bad advisers?

We cannot blame advisers for the weaknesses of a government or company or university, or for that matter any organisation. Leaders must lead and be seen to lead and also attract the best advisers on the basis of merit and performance.

Indeed, many leaders blame their advisers and staff when they should really look at themselves. Very often, some political leaders quickly blame their civil servants for their own poor leadership. Top civil servants can give the best professional advice but these can be rejected. But when policies and implementation fail because the good advice was rejected, civil servants are blamed unfairly not only by politicians but by the public too.

Leaders must learn to take full responsibility for any wrong decision and weak implementation by their people. They must set high standards for their own and their officials’ performance and integrity. Political leaders should consult all sections of society and NGOs to ensure that they develop proper policies and insist on effective implementation.

The DPM also said, and rightly, that: “A good adviser must listen to other opinions. If you stick to the old-fashioned opinion and just think about your ego, then just wait and see – the nation will fall.”

This is a warning that should be taken as constructive. Do leaders and advisers listen enough? How often have we experienced “flip-flops” in our decision making and policy formulation and implementation? In fact, are we not following some old-fashioned policies and practices that militate against competition? Don’t some leaders reject the good advice of those who have long-term professional solutions to our many national problems?

Similarly, the MACC need not blame the enforcement agencies alone. If these agencies are derelict in their duty due to corruption, then go all out after the culprits. Mere pledges to fight corruption will not work, as our experience has clearly shown.

Within the Government, I believe it is still possible to give sincere and honest advice. But many officials take the easy way out by keeping quiet or simply agreeing with the boss. Fewer now disagree openly with their bosses, even on legitimate grounds, as it could be uncomfortable and unrewarding to them.

In the corporate sector where party politics and race and religious undertones and concerns are far less, there can be more open arguments over the business issues. But when it comes to discussions on how to deal with government ministries and departments, and state governments, there is much discomfort and uneasiness. The question often arises as to whether government officials would be upset with business initiatives and ideas to improve and change public policies. Businessmen are often worried about reprisals from certain officials, hence frank advice is often denied to the powers that be.

However, it is in the general public domain and the media that people feel more restrained. Sometimes, constructive criticism can be misconstrued as being anti- establishment. In many cases, honest criticism can be even interpreted as seditious so a lot depends on who is being critical, how he says it and whether the critic is seen as causing social disruption.

The laws of sedition are too general for comfort and so most Malaysians do not want to speak up even when their conscience is clear. This is why so few really speak up publicly, and that is a pity.

The DPM’s warning that “the nation will fall if we don’t listen to other opinions and stick to the old- fashioned opinion’’ is valid. But please don’t blame advisers for any leader’s poor performance! Leaders must bear the full responsibility themselves for their good or bad performance, especially if they are elected to high office by the lowly rakyat.

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