Dragging civil servants into politics

I wish to congratulate the Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, for urging the need to respect the political views of civil servants at his talk show “Street Time with KJ” over TV Alhijrah recently.

I am sure the 1.4 million civil servants in our country will welcome this unique and bold appeal from a 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 very influential and pivotal and therefore must be neutral and professional. They should not indulge in party politics. Neither should they be subject to political pressures to do the bidding for politicians.

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 ruling government .

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.

This is an unhealthy attitude which has and can erode the independence and integrity of the civil service.

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 pride 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.

The minister also raised another valid question: Why many civil servants do not want to vote for the Government?

The minister rightly suggests a study of this serious phenomenon.

But I could readily respond to the minister. The 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 general election.

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

Hence, civil servants react unfavourably to what some politicians preach but fail to practise. They witness first hand how some 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 like Little Napoleons. Those who sabotage government policies should be severely dealt with.

For the sake of our long term national unity and progress, the government-of-the-day, whether at Federal or state level 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.

Article published in The Star.

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