Don’t politicise civil servants

As a former secretary-general, I wish to congratulate the Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin for urging the “need to respect the political views of civil servants” on “Street Time with KJ” on TV Alhijrah.

I am sure the 1.4 million civil servants will welcome this unique and bold appeal from a serving minister, to protect the dignity and integrity of the whole public service.

It is essential that the civil service, particularly at the most senior levels, should be free and independent of partisan politics.

While they may have their own political and party affiliations, they, however, cannot and should not bring to bear their political preferences on their policy advice and in the implementation of public policies.

Civil servants are influential and pivotal and, therefore, must be neutral and professional. They should not indulge in petty party politics. Neither should they be subject to political pressures, to do the bidding of politicians, regardless of the national and public interests.

Unfortunately, there has been some tendency to encourage civil servants to be loyal to the political parties that form the government, in order that civil servants be regarded as “loyal civil servants”.

This should not be the case, as indicated by the sports minister, quite sportingly! A civil servant can be a loyal public servant and yet not be a political party member or supporter of the government.

However, some political leaders do not see this subtle difference. They privately label some civil servants as “disloyal”, if they are members or supporters of opposition political parties.

They can lose out on promotions and favoured postings, if they are deemed to be non-government party members or supporters. This is an unhealthy attitude which has and can erode the independence and integrity of national institutions, like the civil service, police and even the judiciary and other bodies.

Thus, I agree with the minister that no civil servant should be forced to support the political party that the government represents.

If and when this happens, the morale and self-respect and maruah of the civil service could be adversely affected.

Then this loss of morale can be reflected in the poor performance and inefficiency in the civil service. Worse still, it can cause the decline and even the downfall of the government apparatus and institutions. So please don’t politicise the civil service.

But the minister also raised another valid question – why do many civil servants not vote for the government?

More than in the past, this trend could be gathering momentum. Khairy rightly suggests a study of this phenomenon.

But I could readily respond to the minister. Civil servants are permanent employees who generally have a dedicated and professional pride to serve God, king, country and the rakyat, with a longer term perspective and sense of service.

On the contrary, most politicians tend to look forward mostly on a short-term basis, until the next election.

Hence the more committed civil servants tend to have more serious concerns with the scourges of corruption, wastage, politically motivated projects and programmes and poor management practices and cronyism, etc.

Hence civil servants react unfavourably to what many politicians preach and they notice how differently they practise what they preach. They witness first-hand how many politicians often make generous promises, but fail to deliver.

Nevertheless, civil servants, regardless of their political affiliations, must faithfully implement government decisions, once they are made without fear or favour. They should also not distort policies through dubious practices and act as Little Napoleons.

Those who sabotage government policies should be severely dealt with, for all to see and for the people to respect government itself.

Hence, for the sake of our long-term national unity and progress, the government of the day, whether at federal, state or local levels should respect the political views and preferences of all civil servants and should not politicise the civil service, for its own long-term survival and sustainable national stability, progress and the people’s wellbeing.

Please respect the political views of civil servants and don’t politicise them.

Then the civil servants will give more respect to the political leaders of all kinds and serve the country and rakyat better.

Article published in The Malaysian Insider.

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