Sep 11, 09
But Sidek (right) said that most government servants are just trying to do the best they can.
The top civil servant commended the media organisations on their reports highlighting various lapses in the civil service and encouraged them to continue to chastising those who are deemed to be 'political' in performing their jobs.
However, he said credit should be given where it is due and the top civil servant said he also hoped that the alternative media would give kudos to the majority of civil servants who have done a 'good job'.
Sidek argued that everyone wants a pat on the back once in a while, even golfers like Tiger Woods and Greg Norman, and so do the civil servants.
In the interview, the chief secretary addressed some of the public's concerns about the service, especially areas concerning efficiency and corruption.
The following is part 2 of Malaysiakini's interview with Chief Secretary to the government Sidek Hassan
Malaysiakini: By and large, 99 percent of the civil servants are doing the best job that they can do, but the perception is the one percent are political. For example in cases against the opposition, investigations will completed in 24 hours, charged in 36 hours. But if the cases is against another person, it takes a long time. So, despite the claim about being professional, when it is a political matter, there are some issues.
Sidek: Focus on what you said, 'by and the large civil service are okay, 99 percent'. That will make my day.
But the one percent is still political?
Fair enough we recognise the 99 percent.
And you also 'bambu' (chastise) the one percent.
We still need to deal with that one percent or 10 percent or whatever it is.
Of course. I am not denying that, whatever percentage, 'yang tak betul, tak betul la' (what is not right, is not right).
Are there any safeguards for senior civil servants like DGs (director denerals) and sec-gens (secretary generals) when they retire. We notice a lot of senior civil servants, after retiring, getting directorships in companies which they had a lot of dealings with at the time they were in office. Is there any directive that they are not allowed to join certain companies?
Not at the moment, except maybe for certain posts.
For example, the toll concessions or any other kind of licensing or concessions where DGs and sec-gens play a major role, would it not be a good idea - to avoid corruption and conflict of interest - that they are prevented from joining and receiving directorships from these companies after their retirement?
Let us be professional about the whole thing... I give you an example. If you are in the government, if that is the case that your point is, then you shouldn't be getting anyone from the private sector joining the government now, or anyone from the government joining the private sector. Or we shouldn't have any consultant at all. Because deep in our mind, we think that people cannot be professional. You don't trust them.
If you start from that premise, then we shouldn't allow anyone, say for example, from a cross exchange programme. Say for example, in your case you are so good a person, we would like you to join the government, but better don't because you bring the Malaysiakini mentality here. Is that what you are saying? That we cannot trust people?
We should be professional enough to say that if you join someone, that is where your loyalty lies. I mean if I for example, were to leave the government, and I join you. The reason I join you is because I think that I will add value to it, to contribute a person has to have that character. That's it.
You couldn't say, 'we shouldn't because then he will bring all the government influence', that should not be the case and vice versa.
If I am a director-general and I am going to retire in one year's time. Somebody comes and say, look help me with this and I will take care of you upon retirement. Wouldn't there be a temptation?
As much as there would be temptation for people joining the government now. Are you trying to say that, it is not good? Let us take the best in people.
In many countries there's practices like 'gardening' leave, when you are about to retire and you spend an 'x' number of years not involved with companies you have dealt with.
In our area are there any other countries... Singapore doing that? I think Singapore is a good model. In terms of the efficiency of the civil service. Is Singapore doing that?
From a public perception, during the toll concession issue, it was found out that former director-generals are now sitting on the board of toll concessionaires. The person involved, may not be corrupt, and maybe he is good. But the question is about public perspective. Is this an area of concern?
Maybe that is something you can look at, but I think people should be professional and have enough integrity.
It's one thing to say that you require people to be professional, but we also need to set up a system to ensure that they are professional. If the system is not there, and there are no rules and regulations, chances are there will be instances of temptations that they will not be professional.
But even if you don't, assuming that we don't allow, but if someone is a naughty guy, he can do a lot of other things and be naughty and not do that. You follow me?
So basically you have to have a system where you encourage people to be good and you trust them to be good, and we train them to be good, it's a whole culture.
There is the argument that the civil service is bloated partly because it includes a lot of graduates who finds it hard to find employment elsewhere - that the civil service is a last resort for them to be absorbed. Is there any truth to that argument?
During certain times, yes. When the economy is bad, when they cannot get employment elsewhere and it is important that people get employment. We are experiencing economic difficulties in the world. Other countries are doing that, including developed countries.
Therefore in the context where businesses, the private sector are not absorbing as many, (and) in fact some of them are discharging a number of their long time employees. Someone needs to take them up.
So just like the central bank is a bank of last resort, a lender of last resort, the government is perhaps a last resort for people to get employment. If they don't get employment, they become a social problem.
But the issue is that the civil service is less efficient. The people are there, but not being utilised properly. In other countries, they do more with less. Can Malaysia do that?
That argument is right, it applies to any sector of the economy, be it in the public service, be it in the private sector, or be it at home. I don't have a maid at home. Somehow my wife does not believe in having a maid, but I have two children who are still with us at home. And sometimes, my wife says, she can do with more help from the children.
But as far as the public service is concerned, we have been trying, to work much smarter, as you said. We want to do that. And I for one have been pushing for that. And that's how our country can be competitive. Not only the public sector has to work smarter, the private sector has to do that, and at home, we must do that. So it applies to everyone.
Have you had any successes so far, in forcing the civil servants to be a little bit more productive?
I believe so, and it starts from my office, generally I think, we have done well, we have tried to improve. Granted, we can do much better. Much as for example our country can do much better. Our country, meaning not only the public sector, but also the private sector can do much better.
The prime minister recently appointed Idris Jala to be minister so he is in the civil service, do you see a possibility of more senior people from the private sector brought into the ministries?
We have been doing that. The prime minister also announced in April, there is an exchange of officials, our officials, 20 of them going into the private sector, particularly GLCs (government-linked companies) and about the same number of people, coming from GLCs into the government, that is one of the programmes. This would allow cross fertilisation of ideas and best practices.
Tan Sri, how far do you think this will be effective, because the government is known to have this inertia of a giant bureaucracy, and we are having 'hotshots' from the corporate world coming in at management level. At the Ministry of Agriculture at one time, Effendi Nawawi tried to corporatise the ministry. In the end, the measures fell to pieces. With that as a benchmark, how far do you think this will go?
We have to start somewhere, we follow the British model, in fact our Malaysian civil service was a throwback to the British time here. And the British are changing themselves too. And when they first changed, it was not as if all went very smooth sailing, so it has been the same thing, we are learning from them.
I think that, in spite what people might say, our country has done very well. Not only relative to the countries in this region, but worldwide, I think we can be benchmarked.
And the reason is because the public service has done well, of course the leadership is good, our government has been good, but beyond that, the public service has been supportive of the government. We are ahead of the curve, so to speak.
For example even after and during the Asian financial crisis, 97-98, we have come up and we have done things differently from what the norm was, that's why we have been able to come out pretty well.
Even right now for example, as our countries are experiencing economic difficulties, our country has done much better than many others, and that is because the government and the public service have done well.
About what you said with the experience in the Ministry of Agriculture, well there were many successes as well. And I do hope and I firmly believe, that we can succeed in this endeavour that we