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Creating world-class civil service

PUTRAJAYA, 15 Ogos -- Para Pegawai Tadbir dan Diplomatik (PTD) mendengar amanat yang disampaikan Perdana Menteri Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad pada Sesi Town Hall Bersama PTD bertemakan Langkah Ke Hadapan: Kebangkitan Kepemimpinan Tulen di Pusat Konvensyen Antarabangsa Putrajaya hari ini. --fotoBERNAMA (2018) HAK CIPTA TERPELIHARA

MALAYSIA made history on May 9. The transition of power happened smoothly, and we must congratulate the police, armed forces and the people of Malaysia in ensuring peace and stability throughout the election process.

Now that Malaysia has ushered in a new age which ended the one party rule, the changing of government after every election could be the new normal in our political landscape. This is positive for Malaysia and something that should be welcomed by all of us.

While the change in government may create some radical changes in policies, our 1.6 million civil servants will continue to be at the core of our policy-making process as well as policy implementation. Political parties will come and go, but civil servants are the ones who remain to ensure continuity.

Despite the accusations hurled at them in recent months, I believe we must be fair to the civil servants. The majority have displayed their professionalism in serving the government of the day, as evidenced by their commitment to accommodate policy changes being introduced by the new government.

A case in point is the replacement of the Goods and Services Tax with the Sales and Services Tax. The professionalism demonstrated by our civil servants in the Finance Ministry and Royal Customs Department who have worked hard for the introduction of both tax initiatives must be commended. I have had the opportunity to serve the government, starting as an administrative and diplomatic officer or commonly referred to “pegawai tadbir diplomatik” (PTD) to serving various ministries with the last one being the International Trade and Industry Ministry.

Throughout my service, I am privileged to have worked closely with a number of highly dedicated and competent civil servants. Of course, there may be some bad apples, but overall, they have done a good job in serving the nation.

As Malaysia strives to transform itself to become a high-income nation, we now need, more than ever, a world-class civil service producing 21st century solutions that make a real difference to the lives of Malaysians. Our former leaders have laid a strong foundation in transforming our civil service. The most recent being the Government Transformation Programme launched in 2010.

Malaysia’s success since independence was made possible because of the dedication and commitment of our civil service. The PTDs have played an important role in the massive socio-economic transformation of Malaysia. However, the landscape has become even more dynamic. Technological advancement, fiscal challenges, changes in public expectations towards the government, and, of course the first ever change in government experienced by our country, are among the major challenges confronting our civil service.

First, our civil service must adapt and move in tandem with rapid changes in technology. They must equip themselves with the necessary skills that will enable them to fully utilise technology and big data to enhance their efficiency and productivity.

Second, there is a need to improve collaboration and coordination. Working in silos will bring no good to anyone. The public should not be burdened by bureaucratic merry-go-round whenever they engage with the civil servants.

Third, there should be zero tolerance on abuses of power and authority. Corruption cases among civil servants have tarnished the image of the civil service. Civil servants must have the courage to say no to their political masters and stand up for what they think is in the best interest of the nation. Honesty and integrity should be the hallmark of the civil service.

No one will disagree with the reminder from the prime minister that civil servants must be loyal to the government of the day, but not to the extent of committing crime.

Fourth, we need to revamp the PTD and make it a truly premier service. We now have about 8,000 PTD officers — many of whom are in Putrajaya. They are considered the pillar and cream of the civil service — involved in all stages of policy formulation and its implementation.

To be a truly premier service, there must be a total review and revamp of the recruitment process. At present, most PTD officers enter the service with limited work experience. From anecdotal evidence, I have observed that some PTD officers are not up to mark.

I suggest the recruitment process be improved. Applicants need to have at least three years of experience in any branch of government — they may be teachers, lecturers, police officers, soldiers, doctors, engineers and administrative officers. Selection should focus on soft skills, fluency in Bahasa Melayu, English and another foreign language. They need to have a global mindset and good negotiation skills, especially as Malaysia is becoming an important global player.

They also need to sit for a competitive examination with an updated and improved curriculum to assess their knowledge, attitude and skills which are required in this modern age. Only the best and brightest should be recruited. After recruitment and a three-year probation period, another round of assessment should be done to determine whether the officer is fit to remain in the service.

Officers who are admitted to the service have to earn the respect of other members in the civil service. This can only come if the officers are outstanding in every sense of the word. Hence, we need to continue benchmarking our civil servants against the best civil service from across the globe.

A world-class civil service is certainly not a distant dream. As we strive for excellence, civil servants need to be either on a par or better than those in the private sector or civil society. The PTD must continue to live up to its reputation as the premier service in the country.

The road ahead will be more challenging for us a nation. Our civil service needs to be changing where they must, adding strength where they are already strong and getting on with the job of making Malaysia a truly great nation.

The writer is member of parliament for Jeli and former international trade and industry minister

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