HOW important is the civil service to the 1 Malaysia concept? And are Key Performance Indicators the guarantee to a good and civil service?
ANIZA DAMIS speaks to the top man, Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Sidek Hassan, on these issues, Integrity, the New Economic Policy, the racial composition of the civil service, and, letting “the thousand flowers bloom”.
|Tan Sri Sidek Hassan at his office in Putrajaya.|
Q: Is the civil service cooperative of the leadership’s directives?
A: Yes. How else do you think we are where we are? How did we manage to develop in terms of infrastructure, which is first world, and in terms of where we are now as a nation? Look at our neighbours: How do we fare, in relation to some of them? Even under the current economic situation, I think we are faring very well, relative to the world. How did we do it? Because the public service has responded to what the government wants us to do. We’re not perfect, and we’ll keep on harping on this issue of integrity, efficiency, customer-centric issues. But, I am unequivocal in saying that we the civil service have been very responsive to the wishes of the government and the wishes of the people.
Q: So, the fact that the current government as a political coalition is not faring very well is not a reflection on the civil service? It’s just a reflection of their own political failures?
A: I don’t know whether that’s a ‘failure’, but that’s up to the electorate.
Q: And the electorates’ decision is not based on the civil service’s performance?
A: It is, in some ways. You cannot divorce the civil service from the government, as if we are entirely oblivious to what the government is doing.
Q: So, if the electorate says, “This government is lousy; it doesn’t collect my rubbish” – is that a reflection of the political party or the civil service?
A: That is the problem of each and every one of us. It is a very close symbiotic relationship. Who collects the rubbish? It’s the local authorities. Who runs the local authorities? Not all of this is the prime minister’s job; some of them are my job. So, if the prime minister were to ask me to do something and I don’t, would you blame the PM for that? When I became the KSN, I tried to addresss major areas where we can make better improvement in terms of the public service delivery. It’s okay now, but we can do some more. The role of the local authority is quite simple in my mind. It is the SLR (sampah, longkang, rumput – rubbish, drains, grass). I’m a rakyat, too. Imagine if they don’t collect my sampah, and they don’t clean my longkang, and they don’t cut my rumput. And then, the lampu (streetlight) near my road is missing, and the jalan (road) is a mess. But is that the problem of the prime minister or menteri besar? It’s not. If it’s in Kuala Lumpur, that’s the problem of the mayor. But you cannot expect the mayor to make sure all the SLR is done. He expects his Number Two and Number Three to work. And if you are in Putrajaya, where I am, I put that to the Perbadanan Putrajaya. But, beyond the SLR, there are other things that the local authorities have got to do. For instance, if I want to build a house, I want to make sure that my plan is approved fast – not like 20 years from now. Therefore, it’s about addressing the core business. You blame the prime minister because he’s the leader. But if you start blaming the prime minister, people should also start blaming themselves. Because, in some ways, you allow that to happen. If, for example, I see my longkang not being cleaned, why didn’t I complain? I allow it to continue.
Q: So, people should complain if they are unhappy with services?
A: Yes, of course. But they cannot at the same time always say, “This is the PM’s and minister’s fault.” You can’t. Secondly, when you have generated rubbish (when in public), do you put it in your pocket until you can throw it away responsibly? Or do you throw it away carelessly? I always see people throwing it around. It’s not about the government; it’s about us.
Q: Does the civil service have a KPI, and what is it?
A: It depends on how you define “KPI”. In January, every one of us is evaluated on how we performed the previous year, through the LMPT (Laporan Penilaian Prestasi Tahunan – annual performance assessment report). They are evaluated based on their SKT (Sasaran Kerja Tahunan – annual work target). But if you talk about KPIs in the formal sense, then only the 38 people at the top of the civil service have it. I have one, all the secretary-generals have it, the director-general of the Public Service Department, the Attorney-General, the Inspector-General of Police, the Chief of the Armed Forces.
Q: Does what is expected of each individual vary between ministries?
A: Of course. It has to be unique to the person, because each person’s portfolio and responsibility is different.
Q: How do you assess them? Is it through exams?
A: The assessment for the purpose of evaluation (LMPT) is done at two levels: one is by your immediate supervising officer and his immediate supervising officer. They will judge whether you have fulfilled what you promised to do in your SKT. There will also be a judgment on, your integrity, how well you relate to others, communication skills, etc. The other form of evaluation is for the purpose of promotion. Most people would go to INTAN (Institut Tadbir Awam Negara – National Institute of Public Administration), where they are evaluated on the course they took, the papers they wrote, class participation, the facilitator’s assessment and a peer assessment.
Q: How effective or realistic are these assessments?
A: Do you want to know what’s supposed to be, and what actually is? I’ve been trying to convert many people to this ‘religion’; of being objective and being honest. The grading is done in numerics: 1 being the lousiest, and 10 being the best. Out of 100 points, if you get 90 and above, that is melintang. If you get 80-89.9, that is menegak, and that’s still very good. If you get below 79.9, that’s not very good. Supervisors should be marking their people along that line. But if you were to grade everyone at 9.5 and therefore 95 per cent throughout, then, either he or she is lucky to have so many good officials, or there’s something wrong with his or her marking. Therefore, how realistic it is depends on how these supervisors do it.
Q: Are there any ministries or departments that do this?
A: I think they do have some, but more and more now, we are telling them the value of being honest.
Q: How effective is an assessment by your boss? For instance, if you’re someone who always stands your ground for good reasons, which may inconvenience your boss, how is that person going to be assessed?
A: I’d give very good marks. He or she would be promoted. The civil service is all about merit. In the civil service, that is the ‘religion’ the current prime minister is talking about, and it is also the religion the former prime minister espoused.
Q: What is the public service’s role in promoting the 1Malaysia concept?
A: Everything. The role of the civil service is about everything that the government wants to do. It’s very critical for all of us to appreciate the importance, the pivotal role that we, the 1.2 million civil servants, have to do. Imagine if the civil service didn’t deliver? The two huge stimulus packages, or the budget, or any programme that the government has. Therefore, it’s a question of implementation; of carrying forward the policies, projects and programmes of the government. The prime minister initiated the 1Malaysia concept; but do you think the whole thing can move if the civil service doesn’t move? Impossible.
Q: The prime minister’s asked the Cabinet to come up with KPIs for themselves. You said don’t blame it on the prime minister or the minister. So, how should their KPIs look like?
A: (Refused to comment).
Q: What should be the goal of each minister and deputy minister in relation to the civil service?
A: I know the KPI for myself.
Q: What is your KPI?
A: Very simple: to improve the public service delivery. What do you think of the public delivery service? Is it that when you complain about your drain, that I do it? Is it when you complain your light is faulty, I come straight away? A good public delivery service goes far beyond that: It means that you don’t have to complain. Why should you complain that your drain has not been cleaned, or your rubbish has not been collected, or your streetlight bulb has not been changed, when it is expected that all this is supposed to work! Even so, if, occasionally, you do have reason to complain, then, the problem should be immediately rectified. We want to have such a good public delivery service that people have no reason to complain. And if they do have complaints, that it’s going to be attended to very quickly. So, I suppose my KPI is that the public service delivery is what people want; however you might define “public service delivery”. If you talk in terms of headline KPI for me, that is it.
Q: And how was your KPI performance for 2008?
A: I didn’t check the number.
Q: You’re not bothered?
A: The KPI now is a 360-degree one. They are moving around now, and asking what my bosses think of me, asking my colleagues, the secretary-generals, what they think of me and how I perform. I’m not going to ask how I fared, but if you’re talking about integrity, then, deep in my heart, I have been honestly trying to deliver on my promise. And that is the biggest KPI anyone should have.
Q: You said there’s this group of 38 very senior management people. How are they assessed, and who assesses them?
A: The KPI is assessed by their boss, their peers, and by their subordinates – it’s 360 degrees.
Q: Should senior management have external assessors instead?
A: You can. But for the ministers, they also have a lot of external assessors. Every four or five years, they have the external assessors.
Q: Yes, that is the ultimate assessment for politicians. But should the top management in the civil service have external assessment?
A: But what would be the outcome?
Q: Perhaps it would be more neutral?
A: So what. For what?
Q: For instance, if you have to work with a secretary-general, and you have to live with each other, whether you like it or not. So, you’re not going to give a bad assessment of this person, are you? Have you ever given a bad assessment of a brother senior manager?
A: How do you define “bad assessment”?
Q: Let’s say if that person’s not performing…
A: Do you think I’ve given everyone all 100 per cent?
Q: What’s the worst?
A: 46 per cent.
Q: What happened to that person?
A: I don’t know where that person is. Sometimes, people who are not performing are just taken out of their positions and put in the pool. And they stay there. What is the reason of having external assessors?
Q: To have a neutral force.
A: Who defines neutrality? Right now, if a secretary-general is being assessed, he is assessed by the director-general of the public service department and I am the counter-signee. Then, there’ll also be assessments by his peers – the other secretary-generals. Are you questioning the integrity of Sidek Hassan, the Chief Secretary of the Government? Do you doubt my integrity? You think it’s better to trust someone out there instead?
Q: How much input do subordinates have on their bosses?
A: Now, not so much. Except for the 38 top people.
Q: What is the weightage of the assessment by the managed on the manager?
A: At the moment, not much.
Q: Would you say that that input is important?
A: That’s why we are going for 360 degrees. We have done that for the 38. For the rest, hopefully it will be applied within this one year or so. Right now, we are also working on the level below the 38. the deputy secretary-generals, deputy director-generals. This is where people have to take very seriously about evaluation. I am truthful to myself and take this very seriously. I’ve always made sure the assessments I made were photocopied. Then, the person being assessed puts the mark he feels he deserves. When he comes to me with it, and I look at the original assessment, and we negotiate it. But what is actually important is the mentoring. It’s not about a once-a-year affair. It’s about continuously improving. Many people think they should wait only once a year. Some use it to take their revenge on a subordinate. But this is not the right attitude. Human resource is the most important thing. I go to INTAN and talk to new recruits, or soon-to-be promoted senior managers, telling them what my expectations are. But I also speak to the bosses and tell them what to do – the mentoring part. People always take the LMPT as the main indicator of improvement. But it shouldn’t be. That is purely after you mentor them the whole year, and try to improve them. Talk about the public service delivery. Speak about efficiency, doing it now, so that your customer is happy. If you have done that, the LMPT is only to put the mark. But it should be a continuous process. And all of us must behave like that. It’s very important.
Q: The PM, when he was talking about KPIs for his Cabinet, mentioned loyalty. What is your idea of what loyalty is, in the civil service?
A: Loyalty means, 1Malaysia, People First, Performance Now. It’s about being loyal to what I’m supposed to do. Call it loyalty, integrity, or whatever. Loyalty is doing what you’re expected to do.
Q: And what are you expected to do? Service to nation?
Q: If people are really unhappy with the civil service, they shouldn’t give the prime minister the chop? They should just give civil servants the chop?
A: They should tell the prime minister, and the prime minister will give the civil servant the chop. I would give them the chop.
Q: So, if people do give the prime minister or any minister the chop, it’s actually because of the lack of leadership?
A: Of course. Like the Americans say, “The buck stops here.” So, of course the buck stops there! But you cannot be blaming the president of the United States for everything that goes wrong.
Q: What is the penalty if a civil servant doesn’t perform?
A: Depends on what was agreed. We cannot sack a person at the drop of a pin, because eventually, there’ll be no one to sack. But there has to be some sort of penalty.
Q: Are civil servants too secure in the idea that they can’t get sacked?
A: Even secretary-generals cannot be so sure of their security. The secretary-general is responsible for the good behaviour of his direct report. The deputy secretary-general is responsible for his direct report, and so on. If everybody takes care of his own area of responsibility, then, we’ll live happily ever after. It might be conceptual, but it works. I believe in punishing people. The punishing part is something that not many of us like to do. But, if you know that you are responsible for meting out punishment and you have not done it, then action should be taken on the person who is supposed to take action and did not take it. And that is something that we are doing. For instance, why is it that sometimes people ‘hang’ people? And sometimes, they hang in public; they cut these peoples’ heads off in public. Why? One reason is to get rid of the offending person. The other is to make sure there are no other intended offenders. And that, sometimes, is more important than getting rid of the offender.
Q: How would you measure integrity in assessing KPIs, and in doing jobs?
A: People associate integrity most with the issue of corruption; whether one gives or takes bribes, whether one embezzles public or company funds. That’s a very important element of integrity. But, to me and the public service, integrity goes beyond that: For example, if I know that a public official is engaged in activities that degrade integrity, or we get a report from the MACC, then the response is quite immediate and very clear.
Q: In the civil service, does anyone get fired? Or are they just shunted out to the boondocks, or promoted so that they become someone else’s problem?
A: I don’t do that. And if I don’t do that, then the ‘religion’ (honesty and integrity) that I’m talking about is not doing that.
Q: You are only one person, and you are right at the top. What goes on down there with the 1.2 million civil servants is another matter.
A: I have been at the top since 3 Sept 2006. But do you think I have been behaving like this only since 3 Sept 2006? Bear in mind, I was a secretary-general before, and deputy secretary-general, and director and deputy director. Integrity is not about when you become the secretary-general or the chief secretary. Integrity is the person. We have been behaving like this (with integrity), and I am not alone. We are talking about ‘religion’. As a leader, if I have a problem with my subordinate, do I chuck that person out and ask her to work with another leader? That means I’m a failure. Why should I give my problems to someone else?
Q: How much faith do you have that a lot more people subscribe to this ‘religion’?
A: I’m looking you right in the eye, and I’m saying, I have a lot of faith. There’s no way that anyone, however superb you are, in a system of 1.2 million, can do it alone. And I would dare say that the secretary-generals are all like that.
Q: Do you think that the message of this new ‘religion’ has passed down to the smallest person in this system?
A: I would think so. If you have a system where you expect the best in the religion, you go down to your prophet, and that prophet goes down to the minor prophet. But I’m pretty sure, among the 1.2 million of us, it’s not going to be the same level of understanding (of the religion). The intensity may not be the same. It may even be very intense at the bottom, but not so intense at the top. The beauty about religion is that, religion keeps on enriching. Therefore, integrity is not about corruption. Integrity, as a civil servant, is beyond that. Our salvation as a nation depends on our understanding about integrity as something beyond just corruption. Integrity means doing your best. For example, if you are supposed to work from 7.30am-4.30pm, it’s not only about you clocking in and doing nothing. Integrity means you must do your job, and do it properly. Integrity means giving it your best shot, and doing what the country wants. For instance, the prime minister speaks about “1Malaysia. People First, Performance Now.” Integrity means working your heart out, and retaining objectivity. If you promise to deliver certain things, you must do it. If the ministry for which you are responsible has certain KPIs, then you follow them. Those are the more important elements of integrity, as I see it. We are trying to drive that in the civil service.
Q: How would apply 1Malaysia to work?
A: 1Malaysia, I think, among others, is about all Malaysians. Let’s go to the simple one first. Between Sabah, Sarawak and the Peninsular, there should not be a gap. Between the east coast and west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and between the rural and urban, there shouldn’t be a gap.
Q: What do you mean by ‘gap’?
A: I’m sure there are certain gaps.
Q: What kind of gaps?
A: Maybe income disparity. 1Malaysia means also with the poor, you should be colour-blind. It doesn’t matter whether a person is a poor Malay, poor Chinese, poor Bumi, or poor non-Muslim Bumi. 1Malaysia is about this country belonging to us (Malaysians).
Q: Do you believe, then, that the NEP should apply to all?
A: What do you mean by that?
Q: When it was first established, it was meant for all Malaysians. But it has evolved to only apply to Malays, or Muslim Bumiputras.
A: Is that true? The NEP is meant only for Muslim Bumiputras?
Q: That is the general perception.
A: That’s what I’m saying. It is not.
Q: So, to whom should it apply now?
A: It has always been applicable to all Bumiputras.
Q: Should it extend to all Malaysians?
A: It has been. For example, education.
Q: With, or without a quota system?
A: In terms of scholarships, we are working on it. As we move forwards, the scholarship should be based on merit. And, in terms of joining the civil service, it should also be about merit.
ON THE RACIAL COMPOSITION OF THE CIVIL SERVICE:
Q: Does this also include promotions?
A: Yes. Do you doubt that? Haven’t you seen the list of secretary-generals who were promoted recently?
Q: What is the percentage of Bumiputeras in the public service, as compared to non-Bumiputeras?
A: I can’t remember. There are a lot more Bumiputeras than non-Bumiputeras.
Q: Is this proportional to the general population?
A: It is not. But we have been telling the non-Bumis to come and join the public service. I have spoken with so many non-Bumis, and even arranged to see vernacular papers to make this known. I hope the ministers from MCA, MIC, and Sabah and Sarawak (will make this known). But we can’t help it if there are more Malays being recruited, if more Malays apply for the job.
Q: Has the numbers of non-Bumi applicants increased?
A: Yes, it has. But the reality is, there are more Indian applicants than Chinese applicants. This surprised me. Because in terms of percentage of the population, Indians only make up 7-8 per cent. There are over 30 per cent of Chinese. So, how is it that in absolute numbers, there are more Indian applicants than Chinese? Is it the fault of whoever recruits, that there are not many Chinese applicants? Intake is based on merit. If there are 10 jobs available, and there are 20 applicants, and you rank that according to merit, and there are 18 Malay applicants, and 2 non-Malay applicants – one Chinese, one Indian – and the Chinese is ranked Number 14, and the Indian Number 11, and you only have places for 10, and you say that it will be given on merit, who do you think will get the jobs? It may not be so bad, now. But when I entered the public service many years ago, the top brains of the Malays joined the civil service. Those who got General Degree (not Honours) joined the banks or multinationals. And there were many top-brain Malays who joined the civil service. The top brains of the Chinese didn’t join the civil service; they either joined multinational companies or they joined their parents’ company. And so, you have a situation where there are so many top brains of the Malays, not so many Chinese who are not the top brains. Therefore, when it comes to service promotions, who gets promoted? Is that discrimination? No, that isn’t. In fact, what might happen is that there is reverse discrimination: Because you are so wanting to promote a non-Malay, maybe you are not giving the 10 positions to the top-10 applicants. Maybe you are giving Number 11 and Number 12 to be included in that 10. Therefore, your role and my role now is to excite people to join. Because this is a very noble cause; not because of the money, but for the service that you give.
Q: Are the smartest of anyone coming in now? Are we having still the smartest of Malays?
A: I should think there would be more, because there are so many people educated now, and there are so many Malays that are not taken in.
Q: How would you entice and recruit the best brains for this country?
A: The government has asked the Public Service Commission to ensure this – to go to the universities – local and foreign universities. Ask them to come in. The public service commission has been asked to do it – the same way that Petronas has been doing – by taking on scholars. And, scholarships should be based on merit. If we can get more Chinese and Indians on a government scholarship, we kill two birds with one stone: we address the issue of fairness in terms of scholarship, and we get more non-Bumis into the civil service. So, we will get more Malays and Indians and Chinese who deserve it, based on their academic qualifications. And they must join the government service.
Q: Can they buy themselves out?
A: I suppose they could. But if they buy themselves out, then it defeats the purpose. Then you cannot be hounding us and asking, “Why aren’t you recruiting me?” In the past, (former MCA president) Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting joined the government because he was on scholarship. So, when these people get their scholarship, they have to come and work with the government.
ON DIVISION A TEACHERS JOINING POLITICS:
Q: There is a suggestion that Division A teachers should be allowed to be involved in politics. Do you agree or disagree?
A: I think we are talking about an open society, where we allow people to speak up. So, let the thousand flowers bloom. If I were to reply to you, and give you a definitive answer, as head of the civil service, would I be allowing the flowers to bloom?
Q: It depends on whether you like flowers to bloom. What if it interferes with their work?
A: I’m not going to give a definite answer. Let them speak up! The PM wants us to listen. If, even before I listen to everyone I say, “can” or “cannot”, I don’t allow the thousand flowers to bloom. You want me to cut the flowers now? No, you shouldn’t.
Q: So, should you be allowed to be involved in politics?
A: I’m not going to answer that, because you should allow the flowers to bloom. You ask me whether they should be allowed or not. But this government is about listening. You should listen to the people’s view. But I’m not going to tell you what I think, because I’m the head of the civil service. If I say, “can”, then I’m not allowing people to discuss about it. If I say, “cannot”, again I’m not allowing them to discuss it.
Q: Have you gone down to the teachers to ask them what they think?
A: Yes. I met the union.
Q: And what was the union’s response?
A: You have to ask them.
Q: What was the union’s response to you, that you recall?
A: You have to ask them. Let the thousand flowers bloom.