Civil service exit policy could raise public confidence
The important announcement made by the chief secretary, Ali Hamsa, of the new exit policy for the 1.6 million civil servants, is most welcome. It has been long awaited by most Malaysians who want to have a more efficient and effective civil service to bring greater progress to the nation and better services to all Malaysians. The timing is also useful as it comes after several necessary salary increases, which also call for more productivity.
From now on, under this essential exit policy, civil servants who badly underperform, can and will be actually sacked from the service. This was never an established and widely practised policy in the past. Recalcitrant civil servants were rarely severely penalised and were just transferred around from pillar to post, carrying their inefficiencies complacently along, much to the resentment and demoralisation of most civil servants who are actually diligent.
About 2,680 civil servants have now been identified to have underperformed at a low performance score of below 60 percent. However, this is a very low proportion of the whole civil service. The low number could be much higher if the threshold of 60 percent is raised, as it should be raised perhaps gradually, as we need a much higher performance from our civil servants, as in the past.
But to be fair, even to just start with penalising poor performers, is a laudable move under the circumstances and must be commended to encourage the new policy to last.
Can the exit policy last?
After all these years, this bold exit policy has been adopted at last. But the question in the minds of many, is whether this new exit policy will really last? Or will it be a flash in the pan and not sustainable?
The reasons for this critical question, as to whether this exit policy will last, arise because:
1. The politicians and the public and the civil service itself have been quite tolerant of inefficiencies in the past and may continue to be ‘manja manja’ or pamper the civil service and condone with underperformance with a ‘tidak apa’ attitude. Hence the chief secretary has to be fully backed by the Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his cabinet, to ensure that the new exit policy is properly enforced and strictly followed, without fear or favour.
2. The public and the civil service must feel convinced that the appraisals of the performance of the civil servants are fair and reasonable. Any perceived abuse of the new exit policy, on the basis of political bias, will be rejected by the civil service. This would discredit the exit policy and make it untenable and unsustainable. Then it will not last.
3. The overall quality and performance of the civil service must be seen to improve considerably from now on. Thus any long coffee breaks should cease. Replies from government agencies to the public must be fast, fair and feasible. Administrative policies and practices must be regarded as universally applicable and not selective or subject to corruption and widespread cronyism.
There is also the decline of credibility in the quality of the civil service, as seen in the performance of the Immigration Department and in other places.
Then the public will view the civil service with more care and consideration and much less cynicism.
4. The support pledged by the Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) president Azih Muda is praiseworthy. But this Cuepacs backing must be strong and sustained. Even if union officials are found to be inefficient and sacked, Cuepacs should not intervene nor interfere, like some politicians would be inclined to behave.
The new exit policy is a bold step forward to enhance the standards of performance of the civil service, which is the backbone or ‘tulang belakang’, in the government’s administration. It will be readily supported and buttressed by most Malaysians. The public will be pleased with consequential better performance and the confidence in good governance.
This new sound exit policy could therefore raise the public confidence in government – if it works effectively and lasts well beyond its Big Bang introduction. But it can also be harmful and counter-productive if it’s not implemented with integrity, sincerity and good faith – from all sides. In other words, it could be a two-edged sword, if not handled well.
We all hope however that this new exit policy will work well and that it will make us all as Malaysians, feel swell.