Transferring is not the answer

Public Service Department director-general Tan Sri Mohd Zabidi Zainal has publicly announced that 50 civil servants holding “sensitive posts” will be transferred within a week. He also said this exercise would be “ongoing”.

I wonder why the haste and how many more will be transferred out. Has the problem of sensitivity and corruption in the civil service suddenly become very serious? Is there now a kind of crisis about this stagnancy of officers in sensitive posts and making money?

This drastic exercise also begs the question as to whether the person or the post is the sensitive problem. If it’s the person and he/she is performing badly or dishonestly, he or she could be dealt with under the Government’s disciplinary rules or General Orders.

If the problem is the sensitive post, then for the sake of good governance, please desensitise the post. Introduce tighter procedures so that so-called little Napoleons do not find loopholes to exploit for their personal gain.

But who are the little Napoleons? They are those recalcitrant officers who specialise in abusing their authority for personal pomp, power and greed. Apparently, there is a growing number of them in the political and administrative arena now. How else do we account for our worsening position in the international Transparency Corruption Perception Index?

However, the problem common to both the cases of sensitive posts as well as sensitive persons is abuse of power. It could easily be corruption too. Broadly defined, corruption is the exploitation of public office or posts for personal gain or unfair benefits. Most Malaysians are aware of these problems but now appear helpless to do much about them!

Nevertheless, in either case, if the abuse of power or corruption or both are involved, will the mere transfer of the sensitive officials or little Napoleons solve the problems?

Actually, we may perpetuate the problems and even inadvertently reward the errant officials by allowing them to practise their fine art of misconduct and devious manipulation of the system in their new posts.

So what is the solution to the abuse of sensitive posts? Simply put, like in the business world, staff found to be suspect should be speedily identified, counselled and guided to the straight and narrow path.

But if the errant officer continues with his wayward ways, he should be sacked or reported to the police. If the present rules, regulations and laws do not allow for stiff disciplinary action to be taken, then please change the laws.

Our country and taxpayers are losing out on our diminishing capacity and patience to tolerate, afford and, sadly, support these abusers of public funds. Why should we coddle the minority of dishonest public servants at the expense of the majority of dutiful ones who practice integrity and reject corruption?

The transfer of officers indicates that something is badly wrong with the civil service. It also shows that we are going for quick fixes, which definitely are not sufficient.

There has to be reform in the civil service or these problems will go on forever, hence the following recommendations are seriously proposed for the Government to consider and to implement as soon as possible.

1. We have to hire the best graduates in all fields and retain them.We used to pride ourselves with a top class civil service that could compete with the best in the world. I am not sure if we enjoy that kind of reputation today.

2. We have to pay more to attract the best recruits. In the past, we had highly competent civil servants like the members of the G25 and their colleagues. We will also need to stress better quality of work, higher productivity and better services, and more civility to the public. It’s the public who, as taxpayers, are actually their pay masters. Civil servants tend to forget this.

3. We should be scrupulous about attracting, recruiting and retaining staff with integrity and devotion to duty. We used to be ingrained with the ideals of serving God, King and Country. Do we insist on these qualities today? Those found wanting or corrupt and inefficient should not be tolerated. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

4. The Government of the day should ensure there is professionalism and independence in the civil service. Political interference of any kind is poisonous to the health and strength of any civil service. Our public institutions are generally perceived as weakening today. If this is true, then it is a dangerous public perception, as we can have elements of “state capture” taking over the institutions and reducing their independence, integrity and inclusiveness. Our national institutions like the judiciary, civil service, police, armed forces and so on can only be strong and effective if they are staffed by the best people in our country. Do we have our best and most competent and honest sons and daughters serving our beloved country? This is for the public to judge.

5. Our civil service has to reflect the blessing of diversity that we enjoy as a multi-racial and multi-religious society. But parochial politics and some short-sighted politicians go against the grain in our country. Those of the same racial group tend to show more empathy to their own kind, hence a basically monoracial civil service which tends to alienate other groups, even inadvertently, and resentment builds up over time.

It is gratifying that the Public Service Department has openly recognised that there are serious problems at the highest levels of the civil service. But the public are left to wonder what the real state of affairs is at all levels of this huge bureaucracy.

The Government and leaders in the civil service cannot be seen to be merely transferring the problems. The rakyat must be assured that the Government will take all the steps necessary, however politically unpopular, to solve the problems, and this can only be done effectively by reforms in the civil service.

Have the Federal and state governments got the political will to do this? Is there a strong enough political will to reform so that our beloved Malaysia can move forward with integrity and pride?

Article published in The Star and The Sun Daily.

Sharing is caring!