Punish the bad, reward the good

By R. Nadeswaran, TheSun

THE civil service, rightly or wrongly, has been maligned by various quarters. From the man who cannot get the council to clear the drains to the woman who is still awaiting her citizenship after 10 years, the chorus appears to be: “Bloody useless government servants.” This writer is no exception, having previously described some of them as “pen-pushers”. No apologies are needed because at that time and in a particular context, that term fitted them.

In the many years of practising journalism, we have come across and dealt with hundreds of civil servants. A handful are downright crooked; some believe that it is their right to impose their will on others; and some take the stand that they are merely carrying out orders and refuse to budge however nonsensical their stand appears to be.

A good majority of them are decent, honest civil servants whose integrity can never be questioned. It has been and always will be a pleasure dealing with civil servants who have these qualities, the aptitude, passion and commitment to their jobs. They brook no nonsense and are willing to stand up to their political masters on matters affecting the efficient running of their departments. Unfortunately, some good people have left the civil service because they could no longer work with people whose souls and ideals have been compromised. There also are a few who have turned down appointments to tender boards because their conscience will not allow them to show favour to anyone on the behest of their political masters.

The same can be said of appointments to the boards of government agencies and statutory bodies. You find many excellent people but a few have tainted pasts. Some take their assignments very seriously and hence, are willing to stand up to ministerial interference and offer their resignations. Some, as in the case of the Port Klang Authority, have refused to accept responsibility for the Port Klang Free Zone losses and make all kinds of claims which border on absurdity.

It has always been argued that if you give someone discretion, there is a likelihood of misuse; leading to malpractice and corruption. But when there are standard operating procedures, and when it is explicitly stated that if that all conditions are met, an application should be approved within a stipulated time, there’ll be no room for anything untoward. The problem, it seems that so much power is centred on selected individuals that they have the power to approve or reject an application although all pre-requisites have been met.

So, has the time come for a change in which discretionary powers are cut or taken away so that the process of administration is not hindered? The Immigration Department now processes applications for passports within hours if all documents are in order. The director-general has no discretion to reject the application or “make it difficult” for the applicant unless there are compelling reasons to reject the application. So, if other departments apply the same principles, they too can expedite the services to the people.

Our civil servants need to be protected from the predators that impose unacceptable practices and policies. The average civil servant is worried about the implications of stating his or her objections to directives which he or she perceives as wrong. He or she does not want to incur the wrath of the political boss and neither does he or she want to be transferred to some God-forsaken place. The result is that he or she falls back on the “saya yang menurut perintah”, however wrong they may be.

Perhaps, the government should reward civil servants who point out the flaws and the mistakes by their political bosses. The time has come to publicise the feats of brave men and women who truly work for the rakyat and not any individual who has vested interests. Perhaps, it would be appropriate for you to directly receive complaints from civil servants who have been directed to do the wrong things and in the process, break the law. This is in no way undermining all the politicians as some of them recognise the true meaning of the phrase “separation of powers” and remain policymakers and allow the civil servants to implement the policies.

The media has often been accused of “hanging” errant civil servants. Now, give us a chance to praise those with integrity who have stood up to the might of political power.