Chief Sec is cracking more than the whip-The Star

Friday January 18, 2008

Chief Sec is cracking more than the whip-The Star

As the Chief Secretary to the Government, Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan is bent on bringing back the glory to the civil service, and though he has achieved much, it remains an uphill battle.

WHY NOT?
BY WONG SAI WAN

SOME time last year, two senior civil servants went to a district office in Selangor. One of them wanted to pay his quit rent, but because it was lunchtime, they were turned away and told to return after 2pm.

When they returned later, the two were again made to wait. Fed up, they asked to see the district officer who, unfortunately for him, was not in his office.

The two senior officials were Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan and Public Services director-general Tan Sri Ismail Adam. They are civil servants number one and number two.

Needless to say, that district office has been restructured, and the Selangor State Secretariat also got an earful from Sidek and Ismail.

It is a wonder how that clerk did not recognise Sidek and Ismail, but the saving grace for the rest of us is that these two have felt for themselves what most of us go through whenever we deal with a government agency.

For Sidek, making people wait, and asking them to come back is a “very sensitive issue”.

“I come from a very small kampung called Cherok Paloh in Pekan, Pahang, where most of the folks are rubber tappers,” said Sidek.

“In those days, for them to deal with a government department meant having to go to town; and the journey took almost half a day. And to go to town to settle such matters my fellow villagers had to miss tapping rubber for the day.

“More often than not when they got there, the department clerks and officers would turn them away because it was either too late or they were too busy. This meant the villager either had to spend a night at a surau or try coming back again the next day.”

For the Chief Secretary, or the KSN (Ketua Setiausaha Negara) as he is respectfully referred to by all civil servants, what happened in that district office in Selangor reminded him of the woes of his fellow villagers.

“It was Cherok Paloh all over again for me, and I was determined to change all that. The people are our clients and should not be treated like that. We in the civil service must be efficient and provide quick service,” said the KSN.

I have had many opportunities in the past year to exchange views with Sidek on the civil service and have been surprised many times by his comments on his 1.2 million colleagues.

Sidek set out to change things, and one of the first he looked into was the issuing of passports and ICs.

When the anti-red tape committee, called the Special Task Force to Facilitate Business (Pemudah), was set up by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi a year ago, Sidek was appointed to co-chair the committee with businessman Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon.

Pemudah is a joint initiative by the Government and private sector to improve the delivery system and simplify business operations.

At the first meeting, Yong and his group of businessmen impressed upon Sidek the need to improve on the delivery system, and pointed to the issuance of passports and ICs as two examples of things that needed urgent fixing.

Sidek responded straightaway. According to those present at the meeting, he immediately turned to the officers in charge of Immigration and ICs and asked why it took weeks and months to get a passport or IC renewed.

Many of the private sector members of Pemudah admitted they were sceptical when the officers promised to speed up the process.

A few months later, the officers reported back that renewal would be almost instantaneous.

Today, it takes a few hours, and at most a day, to renew one’s passport or IC. I renewed my passport within a day while a colleague managed to get his MyKad done within an hour.

Tan Sri G. Gnanalingam, a member of Pemudah, likes to tell anyone who would listen how much Sidek and his civil service team have greatly improved the service delivery.

“From the Inland Revenue Board to visas for expatriate workers and the registration of companies, service levels have improved by leaps and bounds,” he said.

“Which other country in the world can boast of passports being issued within a day or a company registered within an hour?”

Tan Sri G, as he is fondly known, is the West0port chairman and had privately told several senior newsmen when Pemudah was first established that he expected to quit within six months, and held little hope of the delivery service being improved.

Today, he is possibly the biggest supporter of the civil service and goes all over the world to tell of the great strides made. He is also very insistent that the credit belongs to Sidek. (Go to http://www.pemudah.gov.my to see the whole list of improvements made)

So why then are the people still complaining about the Government?

According to the KSN, when people complain about the Government, more often than not they are complaining about local governments – the city councils and other local authorities.

Last year, Sidek, Ismail and several other senior officials “visited” Selangor and had a “long” talk (read: tongue-lashing) with the state’s civil servants, especially those from the councils.

One particular council in Selangor has his personal attention – the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ). According to his aides, of all the councils in the country, Sidek received the most complaints against the MPAJ.

“I have adopted the MPAJ so that it gets my personal attention,” was the polite response Sidek gave when asked about his frequent visits to the council.

The truth is, not only did he personally change the work processes at the MPAJ, but many personnel had also been changed, transferred or demoted.

Sidek has dedicated this year to bringing change to all local governments.

Many of us are excited with his declaration, but unfortunately our enthusiasm is not shared by those who face his wrath. It is quite sad to hear the comments made by certain lower rung civil servants against Sidek and his team.

I am afraid that some of these Little Napoleons will not only be satisfied with bad-mouthing Sidek and the changes he wants to bring about, but may go out of their way to sabotage the progress made.

At the same time, I am sure most of the 1.2 million civil servants are honest people who want to do their best to provide excellent service to the people. I just hope that they will not be influenced by the ill-intended minority.

To these Little Napoleons, I would like to acquaint them with the meeting Sidek has on every first Tuesday of the month, where promotions and demotions are decided.

“It is held in the Cabinet room, and many civil servants dread the decisions made in that place,” said an aide to Sidek.

Since he took office on Sept 3, 2005, Sidek has been judicious in making such decisions. Several directors-general have found themselves left in the pool as punishment for their inefficiencies and inapt performances, while some junior but capable ones are promoted quickly.

Many are uneasy with the speed these decisions are made but me, I say: why not?

A suggestion I would like to make is that the names of those who had been punished and those promoted deservingly be made public so that the people know that Sidek is more than just cracking the whip.

The people want to know what action has been taken, and if made known, will definitely result in reduced complaints.

Improving the public service delivery is not only about changing processes, but also the mindset of the civil service and the people. Dealing with the Government should be as painless as possible for both sides.

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