14 June 2009

Sidek pledges re-engineering to cut graft, red tape

By Leslie Lau
Consultant Editor

KUALA LUMPUR, June 14 – Chief Secretary Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan says the answer to corruption and inefficiency in the civil service is to cut red tape and re-engineer the way contracts are awarded and payment for work is approved.

He said the government would cut down the steps taken to award contracts or make payment, but the post-audit process would have to be tightened to catch corrupt and lazy officials.

“If you have a roadblock everyone has to slow down but if there are no roadblocks people can drive faster. Of course if I were lazy then I don’t have to work. So you have to catch it at the post-audit stage,” he told The Malaysian Insider in a recent interview at his office in Putrajaya.

Mohd Sidek, who has been chief secretary since 2006, was responding to questions about civil service graft and constant delays in the awarding of contracts and payments.

Such delays have hampered government efforts to attract businesses and investments, as there have been cases where it could take up to a year from the time a letter of intent is signed until a contract is awarded.

Responding to this, Mohd Sidek said the current practice of imposing a series of checks contributes to delays and is based on the notion that government officers cannot be trusted.

“But if you empower one person to check through the documents then it will be much faster.

“And at the post-audit stage, if we find that person has been naughty then we will come down with 30,000 tonnes of bricks,” he said.

The chief secretary pointed out that when he took up his appointment in 2006, he received many complaints that payment for contracts was often not on time, even though the rule then was that contractors were to have been paid within 30 days of an invoice being received.

“So I told my officers to shorten the period even further, to 14 days,” he said, pointing out that he did not increase his staff strength but instead made his officers work extra hours to clear the backlog.

Citing last month’s statistics, Mohd Sidek said that of the RM100 million in contracts handled by the prime minister’s department, 97% were paid out within seven days.

But he acknowledged that it would take time to push through this re-engineering process to all ministries and government departments.

For now, the chief secretary’s office directly monitors the performance of all government departments and ministries.

If any ministry is found to have failed to make the 14-day deadline, a directive is issued for the matter to be resolved within 24 hours.

Mohd Sidek said that a dipstick survey conducted last year showed that the worst performing government departments were the various land offices and local councils.

He also refuted the perception that the civil service, at 1.2 million strong, was bloated and needed to be trimmed.

The chief secretary pointed out that there were nearly 500,000 government school teachers, university lecturers and other staff involved in education. The health services has more than 200,000 civil servants. The police and armed forces also had approximately 100,000 personnel in each service.

“But the public is actually clamouring for smaller classrooms so that means we need to hire more teachers. There is also a shortage of doctors,” he said.

Mohd Sidek said his focus now was not on the size of the civil service but to build a “culture of competence and perfection” among government servants.

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