Chief Secretary’s remarks on civil service reshuffle are reassuring — M. Santhananaban

JANUARY 7 — The Chief Secretary, Datuk Seri Dr Ismail Bakar’s assurance that transfers within the highest echelons of the Civil Service had nothing to do with political factors but were driven by considerations of operational efficiency and improved delivery mechanisms should be welcomed. The Civil Service has a critical role in translating into action and implementing policies set by the political leadership but has to be apolitical, incorruptible, professional and prudent. Appropriate feedback must also be provided by civil servants when certain policies formulated with the best of intentions do not work out satisfactorily.

The current government has repeatedly emphasised the Supremacy of the Constitution and the Rule of Law in all its actions. Civil servants have the heavy responsibility of observing these two overarching prerequisites in carrying out their duties while minimising protocol.

Key decisions have yet to be made in respect of improving the quality of Health, Education, Transport Services and the protection of our Environment. Issues regarding the rising cost of living, the provision of reasonable housing, Water, Sewerage, and Energy Services have also to be addressed in some remote rural settlements and urban fringes.

While addressing these issues the Civil Service has the added responsibility of re-examining its role and downsizing gradually its non-uniformed component. More training and discipline functions held by the Public Services Department (PSD) can be assumed by specialised agencies including the Ministries of Health and Education.

The PSD is a successor of the original Establishment Office, the nerve centre of the British Colonial establishment. It is somewhat of an anachronism today as it has failed to delegate and devolve its functions to specialised agencies and statutory bodies like institutions of higher learning and specialised ministries, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The PSD should engage with other central agencies in discussions to downsize itself.

It is also imperative that the Civil Service oversees the gradual withdrawal from running GLCs and other Government-linked Investment entities with serving and retired civil servants so that there is ample space for private enterprise to operate in a free, fair and competitive environment. Civil servants should also refrain from assuming positions in corporate entities that they had had oversight responsibility for when in active service. There should be at least a full year’s break when there is such movement. These government linked entities and companies should not become the sanctuaries for political chameleons and turncoats, retirees and compliant civil servants. Politicians noted for their probity should be carefully selected to serve in some of these entities.

The Bureaucracy should confine its role to providing a broad vision and direction, anti monopoly and anti corruption initiatives and direction, a regulatory framework and appropriate infrastructure.

Ownership and direction of the economy should be largely entrusted to private enterprise with adequate oversight by regulatory bodies.

Entrepreneurs who are not risk-averse and business executives rather than bureaucrats should be in business. Government has no business to be in business.

*Datuk M Santhananaban is a retired Malaysian diplomat whose last assignment was ambassador to the Republic of Korea (2003-2008).

**This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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