SEVERAL ministers have reportedly voiced their objection to terms in the upcoming Public Service Act, which, among others, aims to institute separation of powers between civil servants and the political administration.
A discussion on the new act last week by the Special Cabinet Committee on Anti-Corruption (JKKMAR) allegedly turned heated when a number of ministers locked horns over what should or shouldn’t be included in the legislation.
Sources told the New Sunday Times that the meeting on March 19 saw top administrative officials, including the chief secretary to the government and the Public Service Department director-general, presenting a draft of the act to the cabinet.
Sources claimed that despite initially moving well, the discussion took a sharp turn when the issue of separation of powers came up.
Public Service Department director-general Datuk Borhan Dolah confirmed that JKKMAR has agreed to postpone the tabling of the Public Service Bill to Parliament as there were still areas that need to be “redefined and harmonised”.
He said after the committee’s meeting on March 19, the government agreed to postpone the Bill’s tabling as there were still some “grey areas” governing the relationship between civil servants and the political administration.
Borhan noted that the issue of separation of powers was among the key points of discussion.
He said there were various schools of thought when it came to separation of powers — those who believe there shouldn’t be any intervention at all from the political administration; those who believe there should be; and those who believe there should be but depending on the issues and only to a certain extent.
Several ministers, claimed sources, had voiced their disagreement over this specific point. It was proposed that under the new act, those found guilty of breaking the law could be fined RM2,000 or face jail term.
The sources claimed a handful of ministers had sternly rejected the clause.
“At the moment, there is no law which bars ministers and deputy ministers from asserting their power and influence over government officers,” said a source.
“A minister can simply write a minute or instruct civil servants to do something and he or she is bound to follow through, regardless of it’s right, wrong or even against the law.
“If they do not do it, they would likely be punished for it.
“Out of fear, most of them will do it. Those who do not go through with instructions have previously been sent to ‘cold storage’, shifted to a different department and have promotional opportunities affected,” claimed one source.
The source, however, noted that efforts by the current government to address the issue marked a major progress.
In September last year, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government planned to draw up the Public Service Act, to make the promotion process of senior civil servants more transparent and preserve integrity, as well as to stop the practice of appointing politicians as ambassadors or high commissioners.
Borhan had in December stated that the bill would also pave the way for separation of powers between civil servants and the political administration.
Meanwhile, another source told the NSU that Dr Mahathir was receptive and open to the proposal, and that he had no reservations over the move to implement the punishment.
“He was receptive to the RM2,000 fine or jail term for ministers and deputy ministers involved.
“However, some ministers were not happy.
“One minister questioned how would they get things done and work on major reforms in the ministry if they were not allowed to issue instructions.
“The minister claimed that if a minister or deputy minister’s position is at risk, they wouldn't bother doing much work because they might not even be able to contest the next general election,” claimed the source, referring to the punishment.
Under the law, any person fined RM2,000 and above by a court will be disqualified from contesting elections.
“They questioned the motive behind placing such a clause and asked it to be removed. A number of ministers sternly rejected the act,” said the source.
The source said many civil servants privy to this discussion were surprised by the ministers’ reaction.
A source involved in drafting the bill told the NSU that they had acted in accordance with what was told to them by the Special Cabinet Committee, and aligned it with the Pakatan Harapan manifesto.
The manifesto, the source noted, had highlighted the importance of separation of powers and eliminating political intervention.
“We were caught off guard when they rejected this,” said the source.
Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu confirmed that he attended the meeting on March 19.
He said it was a “progressive and good” discussion but noted that there were areas that needed to be clarified.
He said given that the government had many agendas on its plate, discussions on the bill would continue soon.
However, Mohamad declined to comment when asked on the other ministers’ response to the provisions in the bill.