SUNDAY INTERVIEW The public will be the judge of government’s performance finally

THE NEW government administration taking over during a credit crunch and politically fraught times has the un enviable task of getting everything perfect from the word “Go.” What does the Najib government need to do to show the people that it is doing a good job of running the country? ANIZA DAMIS speaks to Integrity Institute of Malaysia president Datuk Dr Mohd Tap Salleh on integrity and Key Performance Indicators.

By Aniza Damis (NST)

Q: We now have a new administration, what does this administration need to do to ensure its integrity?

A: Since even before he became prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has been stressing on integrity. I think this is a good start, and it shows commitment. But we’ll have to wait and see.

The people have got two years to make the judgment. The time has come for politicians to realise that you cannot promise and not deliver. Because the playing field is slightly different from before. Before, they can make promises, but ot deliver it in full; but now, it is not that possible any more.

The people are expecting so much from the promises, it needs to be delivered. If it is not delivered, then the people will speak.

But it’s not just simply the delivery of services as per normal public service delivery system.

The question here now is, the time has changed; the citizens have also changed. The citizens’ demands are also different. One person’s needs might be different from an other person’s needs, so it’s not a question of you just delivering a service which the government thinks should be delivered.

People are better informed now. The new administration cannot take things for granted.

Politicians cannot say, “You must be thankful to us, because we provide schools and clinics to you.”

If you are in the government, that is your function.

Last time, you could say, “You must be thankful; vote for us, because we provide you will schools and roads.”

But we cannot do that anymore. Times have changed.

But, if you can provide better service, better schools, better roads, for the same cost, then you can tell people, “You must be thankful, because I am able to provide a better quality service.”

But you cannot simply say, “You have to vote for us, because you have to thank us for giving you schools.”

Whomever is elected to government, that’s their function. That’s what taxes are for.

Q: And the federal government has to provide, even for an opposition state, isn’t it?

A: Being in the government means you have to provide the service. You cannot say “You have to be thankful, because I have provided you with this and this.”

If another government is formed tomorrow, they will be doing the same thing.

But, you can demand whatever you want to demand, if you can provide a better service, that is cost-effective.
Q: It’s an open-tender system?

A: That’s right. This is something which whomever is a leader will have to understand.

The citizens’ demands are very simple: They want services which they need. It is not the services which we think they need.

To know their needs, we need to engage them.

Hopefully this will become the culture of delivering services.

These are the changes that need to be looked at by the administration.

So, the government’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) would need to take this into account. Before any drawing out of the KPIs, the people will have to be consulted.

Q: Politicians make campaign promises all the time. And they have absolutely no shame in never fulfilling them.

A: But these are not normal times. This is a new environment we are in. The prime minister has stressed on the fact that we need to change or be changed. This is his mantra at the moment.

The other thing the new administration stressed on was that it should be “people-centred, not self-centred”, and I thought this is something which they should realise.

The people have realised this a long time ago, and the next election may be another two or three years, and this would give the new administration ample time to deliver. And hopefully it will be delivered. By the sounds and statements that have come out from everybody, especially from the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, I’m very optimistic about this – that it’s going to be delivered to the people.

The government has consulted the people. Consult means, not asking the citizens to develop policies, because the policies are already there; but, how to deliver the services, because, for so long, the government has delivered services that it thinks the citizen wants or needs. In the past few years, the public services around the world have changed, and you will notice that – we used to talk about, for example, “We need to consult the people.” It is no good to simply get people together in an auditorium and then ask them, “What are your problems?”, because first, you have to educate the people as to what they need to ask. One basic example is problems with strata titles; but, they need to be educated in terms of the building by-laws – and on their rights – what is it that they can get from the government, or developers.

So, the function of the government now is not simply to tell people, “If you have any problems, tell us; we’ll take action.” We can’t do that anymore. We need to educate our citizens. Not by sending them to universities, but to educate them on their rights, on the workings of the government.

My assumption is that when Najib asked for KPIs for all the ministers and ministries, he stressed not only on the ministers, but also on the ministries.

It’s basically these things: you have to deliver services, it’s got to be transparent, you’ve got to be accountable – you cannot simply make a decision “This is what we want to do.”

The KPIs, I presume, will have an indication as to whether the decision made is in the interest of the public, or specific groups. He said a few days ago that decisions should not be in the interest of specific groups or elite groups.

When you are making a decision, you have to ask yourself, “Is this going to benefit some people, or a lot of people?”

If it benefits the public, then, that’s a good decision. That’s a start. At least, when citizens ask, “Why do you give the project to A, B, and C?”, then you can account for it. And this is what the people want. The people don’t want to meddle with the government. I don’t think they want to develop policies; but once the policies or the regulations are there, to administer them, they must be consulted. And I think what the PM and DPM have stressed in this past week, at least in their actions, is to take people into account.

I’m very happy when he says that we should have less form and more substance. When you go down (to the ground), you don’t need all these fanfare.

I attended a forum on anti-corruption and integrity in South Africa a year ago. President Mbeki was in attendance, and a few other ministers. It was a very simple opening ceremony, attended by 1,000 – 2,000 delegates from 180 countries. The ceremony was very simple, and the salu tations was simple. The Public Service Minister said, “President Mbeki, president of South Africa, and all protocols observed.” Meaning, whomever is important, is considered important.

She had only this sentence just before her speech; recognising the VIPs and all the delegates. And I thought that was the most beautiful introduction: she gave recognition to the president, and “all protocols observed.” I asked, “Is this how it is done in South Africa?” and they said yes.

I’ve worked in the UK for a few years, and it’s very simple there. I’ve been introduced to the Queen at dinners with diplomats. You just bow, and then she says, “Hello” and asks you a few questions. There’s no such things as an announcement of her arrival; they just ring a bell, and “the Queen has arrived.” That’s it.

This is something which we should learn.

To me, when Najib says “Go to the ground”, and he walked in Petaling Street, does a walkabout in Brickfields, I thought this was a good start. No fanfare, nothing.

Q: But all prime ministers do some kind of walkabout in the beginning, and then you never see them walking again…

A: He’s the sixth prime minister. So, hopefully the sixth prime minister, and onwards, will change.

To me, I’m very positive with this, because he also men tioned, if you remember in one of the interviews, “I cannot understand for the life of me, that photos of prime ministers and ministers are in the posters.”

To me, this is something that I have been very upset with myself.

The Tourism Ministry wanted to promote holiday spots throughout Malaysia, and they have photos of the prime minister and the ministers. Why do you have to sell yourself at the government’s expense?

Q: Maybe it’s for tourists who want to come to Malaysia just to meet our politicians?

A: When he says we should be simple, we should go straight to the people, I think this will hold true in the future. What he says about posters having the faces of the ministers, it’s not necessary. And in terms of integrity, it’s not right. Because you are advertising yourself. So, to me, when he mentioned this, I thought it was good.

This combines with the South African salutation, and the fact that he went on walkabouts, and he dropped in unan nounced at the Sikh celebration for Vasakhi, tossing chappatis.

Of course, that is what politicians do. Kissing babies and all that. But hopefully they’ll do it with less fanfare. I think this augurs well with the people. At least they are not special; they are ordinary people. And I saw the other day, the DPM in shortsleeves, just talking to people.

I’m an optimist, and I hope this will last.

There are occasions when of course we need to be very formal, that we cannot do without. But (cutting down) will save the government a lot of money.

Q: We are so protocol conscious. It’s impossible to have a meeting without half the budget being spent on the preparations.

A: This is what I think should change. Because the people have complained that you have all these expenses, and yet, the trickling down to the ordinary people is minimised because of these expenses.

If you have a programme, to get the flowers ready, to get everything ready, it costs a lot. And you need to engage an event management company just to handle this. Why do we need that? Having event managers to manage your programmes is a bit costly to be borne by the ministries; especially when the money should be given to projects proper themselves.

To me, that’s a good start, and I’m very happy that it is happening. Because the public service, the government has got to change. Everybody talks about this, and he (the PM) talks about this.


Q: The prime minister has said for the Cabinet KPI, there are four indicators: Integrity, Capability, Loyalty, and Dedication. How do you measure any of these?

A: For Integrity, you can measure it through the level of complaints that you receive, or the reports made against you on corruption. It’s not difficult.

With Capability, if you are supposed to complete three schools this year, why is it only half-completed? You’re not capable of managing or allocating resources?

I don’t think measuring these is difficult.

Q: And Loyalty?

A: Probably if you don’t vote against the government, that’s loyalty, isn’t it? (laughs)

Q: To whom should this loyalty be?

A: To the government in power – whomever is holding on to the government.

But this loyalty must be taken into account with integrity. If something is against the good of the citizen, then a person is not bound to be loyal to that kind of decision.

So, when you say you are loyal to the government in power, it should be conditional on the fact that it is not against the rules, the regulations, and not against the people.

Q: This KPI will determine whether a person is going to be promoted, or whether that person is deemed to have to performed or not. Is loyalty something that you even need?

A: We have not seen the finer print yet. We are just speculating on what the terms for loyalty are here.

There are already set procedures and laws governing a government servant and ministers. As long as you do not go against that, that would be integrity. If you know for a fact that you are going to move people because some of your cronies are going to get a project there, that, to me, is not very loyal to the citizens.

Q: Is loyalty even a value that’s needed in a service? At the end of the day, the customer only wants you to do your work.

A: You are working for the government that has been voted in by the people. If you are in Perak, then you are loyal to the state of Perak. If you are Kuala Lumpur, then you are loyal to the government that has been put in by the people.

Q: ‘Loyalty’ suggests that you must not only do your work, but that you must also love the people that you work for.

A: Not ‘love’ in that sense; but to me, you are there being paid for by the public. And the public has put a government in power. So, you as a public servant, should be loyal to the government in power, because the public has put that government in power.

The moment you are not able to do that, that means the trust of the people that put the government there is not there. What’s to stop you from leaving, if you basically do not agree with what they are doing? It is not a question of loving the citizen, but the citizens put the government there, and the government employs you; so, you’re supposed to work for the government.

Q: If you do your work honestly, do you need loyalty? Are we mistaking this demand for loyalty for the requirement not to shirk responsibility?

A: We do not know the finer prints of this ‘loyalty’ that they talk about. But to me, it’s about being loyal to the government in power. Maybe your leaning is towards a different political party, but you cannot compromise your position; you cannot be disloyal to the government in power, even though you do not agree.

Q: The fourth indicator is Dedication. How do you measure that?

A: It’s subjective; but if you have people working with you, you can pick some people with extra dedication. If something needs to be done, they will go the extra mile to do it.

Let’s say take your colleagues: you know that some people will go the extra mile just to get the right story with the facts and everything; but there are others who will just flip through, and that’s it. 9-to-5, and that’s it. There are others who would go beyond that, and that is dedication.

If I’m the prime minister, I would know which ministers perform well. If the ministry is performing very well, then, to me, that’s dedication. It’s subjective, but you can make that judgement. It’s not difficult.

Q: The first KPI report is supposed to come out in November. If someone is found to be not performing, what action should be taken?

A: I presume there would be a cabinet reshuffle. Wouldn’t that be what should happen?

Of course, before that happens, as a good manager, the prime minister would counsel the minister.

Maybe the performance of the ministry is not due to the minister, but due to the others. So, it’s not fair just to sack a person just like that. It has to be looked at as to whether the minister is at fault for not giving directions, or the fault of the public servants who don’t do the job.

There will be difficulties. For example, if I’m the Education Minister and one of the KPIs is me to build 20 schools in a year. But I do not build the schools, because the schools are built by the Works Ministry. So, how do we judge the performance of the Education Minister, vis-à-vis the con struction of the schools?

Should it be the Works Minister, or the Works Ministry that would be judged, in terms of competency and efficiency? Tis is an area that has to be looked at when they draw up the KPIs. It’s not simply about having a target and meeting it; sometimes there are inter-ministerial programmes and in volvement.

It’s not just a straightforward thing. They have to develop a mechanism to make the judgements or to make sure it is fair on the ministers.

But at the end of the day, if they are not performing, then there would be a cabinet reshuffle, which has been done before.

Q: Should this report card be made public?

A: What is the purpose of it being made public?

Q: To name and shame.

A: Now, even without KPIs, a minister that does not perform in a ministry has been brought to task by the public and the media anyway.

Q: By having a KPI that’s made public, you acknowledge that this is how you’ve performed. If you’ve performed well, you acknowledge it; and if you haven’t performed well, you acknowledge that, too.

A: If Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak wants to be an open administration, it can be made public.

Q: Should it be made public?

A: I don’t think so. I’m probably a traditionalist. If I have a disagreement with my manager, I wouldn’t want the whole world to know. It should be an internal issue to correct that. The powers of the prime minister is that he can change the cabinet members anytime he wants. So, basically, name-and- shame would not solve the problem.

Q: What happens if the prime minister doesn’t perform well? What if his KPI is low?

A: The people will speak.

Q: Who’s to know?

A: The whole country will know! How can he hide it, if he’s not performing?

Q: If his cabinet colleagues don’t perform well, he can reshuffle cabinet. But which prime minister will actually say, “I am going to reshuffle myself out of this cabinet.”?

A: Ultimately, the people will make the decision; he cannot hide behind the desk, even though he is the prime minister.

The whole government will be judged by the people. The failure of the prime minister to take action against, or to improve, any ministry’s delivery services will fall on him at the end of the day.

Q: The thing about the KPI is not about the people making the government accountable; it is about the government being proactive in being accountable for itself. If we wanted to wait for the people to decide, it would only be once every five years. This is about making sure that corrections that need to be made now are made now.

A: The prime minister will make corrections to make sure that he is seen to be performing.

The judgement as to whether a prime minister is per forming well or not is the sum total of all the ministers’ performance. So, for him to say, “I’ve done a good job”, he needs to make sure the ministers are performing or keeping to their KPIs. The solution is not to kick them out and put in somebody else.

At the end of the day, if they don’t perform, the prime minister will be judged to not be performing. He doesn’t have to say, “Somebody is going to judge me,” because whatever he does or is not going to do to all the ministers and the ministries, the delivery of service to the people is the sum total of his performance.
That, in itself, is his KPI – whether he’s able to keep in check the performance of the 27 cabinet members.

The prime minister’s KPI is that all the ministers and ministries deliver all the programmes that have been promised to the citizens.

He doesn’t need another body or commission looking at his KPI. But, if he doesn’t make sure that the 27 ministers perform, then, his KPI is kaput.

And of course, he cannot kick himself out. But for politi cians, the judgement day will be every five years.

Even if he doesn’t hold any portfolio, his KPI is every six months, when he reviews. If there are any weaknesses in any of the ministries or ministers, then he has got to correct it. Because that will be seen as his weakness.

Q: So, if he sees a problem and doesn’t do anything about it, that is also under-performing?

A: Exactly. This is one area I thought the new admin istration must look at, in terms of enforcing laws and regulations that we have. We have enough laws as it is for everything. But it is a question of the government enforcing it; whether it is traffic fines or corporate fraud, if the government is able to enforce all the laws that we have, I think the people would be very happy.

Look at the discussions in the media these past few days, in terms of taxi and tour bus licensing. Some say they do not have the power, and that the power is resting with another authority.

To the normal citizens, they are not interested as to where the power lies. To them, what matters is the power of enforcement; of making sure laws are being observed, that the taxi drivers behave as they should. They’re not interested in whether the authority is with the CVLB (Commercial Vehocle Licensing Board) or the Transport Ministry. If the laws are not enforceable, then it’s the government that’s to be taken to task.

This is something that the current administration will have to decide on. We have the laws, so we have to do it (enforce them).

The prime minister’s responsibility is that: If we have certain regulations, so we enforce them. If we have any shortcomings in the ministry, he has got to counsel and make sure that this will not happen or take longer for them to correct themselves.

And of course, he is being helped by the head of the public service, because at the end of the day, the performance of the ministry is also the performance of the public servant within the ministry. Everybody has got to play their part.

Any inability to enforce or make sure that all these KPIs are adhered to or being followed strictly will reflect on the prime minister’s performance. He knows that.


Q: To a certain extent, society is becoming racially-po larised. So, for instance, on some issues, you get someone saying, “This is a Malay issue; don’t get involved.” Someone says, “This is an Indian issue,” and you don’t get involved. So, in the end, you don’t get involved in anything.

A: This is another statement made by Najib at a press conference after the first cabinet meeting: he said, if you see a road accident victim, why should we talk about he’s a Chinese, Indian, Malay? – He’s a Malaysian!

Malaysians can identify themselves when overseas. I’m very happy when he says about this 1Malaysia concept – that we should not be thinking about our race.

If somebody knocks you down, you should get angry with that person, not with him being Malay or Chinese or In dian.

This is something which we have to protect. In Sierra Leone, you see neighbours chopping the hands of the neigh bour’s children because they come from another tribe – although they look the same physically.

I’ve seen this in Uganda. But Sierra Leone makes you think about human beings. When the rebels come to the village, they will ask the children, “You want long sleeve or short sleeve?”

Short sleeve is when you chop (off the hand) at the elbow. Long sleeve is when you chop at the wrist.

Sure enough, when I went to this compound, you see children with short and long arms.

We do not want that to happen here. We have experienced May 13, 1969. we shouldn’t be going through that.

I was a student in Monash in May 1969. When it happened, we saw it broadcast over Australian tv – such horrific pictures of the riots. You don’t want to go through that, and I’ve seen this in Africa.

So, what Najib said on Wednesday was very good. It needs to be done.

If we start thinking of all problems in terms of race, then the future for us will not be good.

We need to change. 

Q: In the way that people are trying to define 1Malaysia, we are already divided. There are some people who say that 1Malaysia means a Malaysian Malaysia, and then there are people who say that Malay rights will still be protected. And then you have a newspaper frontpage headline which screams “Bangkitlah Melayu” (Arise Malays).

A: That is why the statement by the prime minister a few days ago is critical for us to really understand, when he says that, when you talk about this so-called affirmative action, it will be there for the poor – there will still be affirmative action; that will not be erased.

But what he is saying is that, there are poor Malays, poor Chinese, and poor Indians. So, these will be helped ac cordingly.

What he is saying is that, it is not for us to deny that we are Malay or Chinese or Indian, but we need to look at issues not in terms of a Chinese issue, Malay issue or Indian issue; it’s a Malaysian issue. That is why Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui says that if we cannot accept this 1Malaysia concept now, then, where are we heading?

To me, we have to make a stand that this is what we want to do. Otherwise, there are so many countries that have shown that this (racialism) is not going to be helpful for our future. We have seen countries like Burundi, Uganda – these are things that we have seen on tv. This is the real world. So, if we do not still change in terms of how we see things, then, this is where we are heading.

Q: All this talk is the sort of stuff that you want national leaders to talk about. Not only to talk about, but also to act on. But is it possible for these national leaders to fulfill it, given that they are also political leaders who are dependent on votes?

A: They have to change. This is what the prime minister said – we have to change how we see things. And I presume he will be talking in the cabinet and stressing these issues.

Q: But do these politicians have enough integrity to say, “I am going to push this through, regardless of how I think the voters are going to react.”?

A: They have to ask themselves: What kind of Malaysia do they want for their children?

Do they want a kind of Malaysia like countries that have suffered from racism or tribalism? We have seen, almost every day, on tv, where problems such as these are not strategically or seriously addressed – with neighbours cut ting each other’s throat. This is happening in other parts of the world.

If politicians are only interested in their own political future, which is a short-term game because you want popularity by playing the racial line, then, there’s not much hope for the future.

This is something which the politicians have got to answer themselves: Do you want to play along racial lines, or do you want to play Malaysian lines?

We can only hope that they make the right choice. And I think the prime minister has shown the way. He has stressed on this, and these are issues we have to seriously talk about.

On Wednesday, a newspaper frontpaged a story that went against what the prime minister is talking about.
We have to seriously think about this.

Q: Do you think that this country has enough leaders, whether in government or opposition, who have enough love and sincerity, to actually push this one Malaysia concept together?

A: I only hope that they will do that.

I can’t say whether they will be doing it seriously as a group, or 100 per cent, but hopefully, the majority will buy it.

Irrespective of the fact that it is coming from the prime minister and Barisan Nasional, this is an issue that is already on the table.

We need to be seriously praying that our political leaders will accept this across the political divide. It does not matter which political party or political beliefs, this is something in which we have to be united on.

This is something which, for the past 10 years or so, you see that the issue is getting more serious, and the demands by different groups is getting worse and worse. If it is not addressed seriously, then we will be in for a rough time.

A lot of people say there are various ways (to achieve 1Malaysia), but the government has not come up with a blueprint for that yet.

Hopefully we’ll see it soon.

The fact that they have a minister in charge of integration, hopefully the minister will come up with something concrete that everybody can accept.

The basic principles need to be agreed upon by people across the coalition.

I think this is critical. We are becoming so polarized now.

I look at my son, and he has evenly racially-balanced friends. They come to the house, go for holidays together.

But I also see my neighbours who do not behave this way.