NST Leader: Royal reprimand

THERE must be something rotten in the civil service in Selangor for it to receive a royal reprimand. Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, who was speaking at the opening of the Second Session of the 15th State Legislative Assembly in Shah Alam, named two traits — laziness and negligence — that are hindering the civil service from serving the public in the state.

The ruler is right. What good is the civil service if it doesn't serve the people? Success will not come to the service if it doesn't deliver what the people need when they need it. Do some in the civil service in the state not see the importance of serving the people? It is called public service for a reason. We do not know the exact size of the civil service in Selangor, but we can say one thing about it.

It is an engine that powers the government of Selangor. The menteri besar and his lawmakers can do all the planning they want, but the plans will not bear fruit if just a few civil servants stand in the way. This is not to say that the Selangor civil service has no able public servants. It mostly does.

To continue the machine metaphor, if just a bolt should be loose, or a nut is in the wrong place, then the power of the Selangor government will be reduced that much. Read "loose bolt" and "wrongly placed nut" as the "lazy" and "negligent" civil servants, the target of the royal reprimand. And the people of Selangor will be that much poorer. 

What is worse, Selangor's loss is Malaysia's loss, too, as the state is the highest contributor to the country's economic development. With the exception of Myanmar, which is mired in military-made misery, our Asean neighbours are racing away to another economic galaxy. Why aren't we part of this universe? To a large extent, this is due to a far more robust civil service in our neighbouring countries.

There, the civil servants help turn development plans of their presidents or prime ministers and their cabinet members into action. Not that they don't have lazy and negligent civil servants. They do. But there, the lazy and negligent can't linger for long.

They get rid of them expeditiously. Our civil service must do the same, but in a just manner. It never hurts to be just. Some may suggest the secret is in the numbers, quoting our neighbours' per capita statistics.

Here is a rhetorical question. If we reduce our civil service by half, to that of Britain's, would Malaysia be as developed as it is? Per capita figures are never the full story. 

But still, some basic questions need to be asked of the Selangor civil service and the national one. Does bureaucracy of the civil service breed negligence and laziness? If being bureaucratic means being stringent, then that must be encouraged. But if bureaucracy means projects must be delayed, then that aspect of the bureaucracy and the bureaucrats must go.

Of late another concern is emerging: unhappy relations between civil servants and their ministers. Both must work to stop this unwelcome erosion.

Candid advice — a necessity for bringing the nation forward — won't be forthcoming if unhappy relations exist between the two.

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