Should Pemandu scale down and close shop; is it duplicating civil service role?

Masjid Jamek stands proudly at the confluence of Sungai Klang and Sungai Gombak. Its surrounding boasting heritage significance will be turned into heritage trails as part of the River of Life project, which involves 42 different agencies across a gamut of activities. Pemandu works with all of them to coordinate and provide support so targets are met.

EVERY once in a while, voices emerge out of the woodwork to raise scepticism on Pemandu’s role and relevance. The last few weeks were no different. I would group the grumblings into these buckets:

  • What is Pemandu actually tasked to do?
  • Is Pemandu duplicating the role of civil service?
  • As projects are up and running, shouldn’t Pemandu scale down and close shop?

When the Prime Minister stepped into office in 2009, his rallying call was to establish clear accountability and for the Government to deliver.

As his brainchild, he was very specific with what he wanted from the National Transformation Programmes (NTP):

1. Transform Malaysia to a high income economy in an inclusive and sustainable manner

2. Address socio-economic concerns causing hardship to the rakyat

3. Create a conducive business environment so private sector can compete.

Setting up Pemandu was no stroll in the park. It took five Cabinet workshops for Ministers to agree on the direction on the NTP. Then came the fun part – translating the vision of the New Economic Model into three-feet plans where Ministers will lead in its implementation.

Clearly, the vision and blueprint cannot end up merely as a document of pretty pictures.

When an organisation undergoes big and fast changes, methodology is key. I developed the “8-Step Transformation” at the start of the journey so we do not miss a step in getting to our 2020 goals. We use this methodology to orchestrate the development and implementation of the GTP (Government Transformation Programme) and ETP (Economic Transformation Programme) – a unique approach that Pemandu has brought to the transformation table.

For the purpose of this article, I will not dwell on all eight steps but will highlight a few areas to demonstrate why our transformation journey bears results:

  • Labs. The consultative lab process facilitates ideation and cooperation between Government and private sector. Through structured and facilitated sessions, the teams must produce a detailed plan for implementation set against stringent deadlines.
  • KPIs and Targets. Implementation is with the Ministry. Each key reporting and economic area, including policy initiative has a lead Minister and lead Secretary-General who champions the activities and targets. KPIs (key performance indicators) are stretched but highly implementable. Pemandu works with the Ministries through their Delivery Management Office to track projects weekly and resolve obstacles.
  • External Validation. So we don’t become myopic, we invite outside-in perspectives to continually challenge the work we do. These independent individuals representing some of the world’s most respected public and private institutions, are given free rein to assess our results. We also appoint an external auditor to validate our quantitative numbers and to hold our results to the highest level of scrutiny.
  • Annual Report. I call this the “naked” document. The Annual Report updates progress, with full disclosures on results and shortfalls. There is nowhere to hide. Everyone has access to view it for themselves, and inspect how each Ministry fared in their delivery.

A stickler for KPIs, we institutionalise bi-annual Ministerial reviews with the Prime Minister, lead Minister and myself. We sit together, just the three of us with no civil servant in sight. The Minister will have to answer his boss on progress and obstacles. A report is then issued to the Minister outlining what went well and what needs to improve within a stipulated timeline.

We also troubleshoot. Where a problem cannot be solved at the Ministry-level, a decision is sought from the Prime Minister – in what I call the “Putrajaya Inquisition” – held every six months.

To further clear the air – contrary to what our critics claim – let me identify a few things Pemandu is not meant to do:

1. We do not hold the budget for the Ministries.

All operating expenditure are managed by the Ministry of Finance, whereas development expenditure is managed by the Economic Planning Unit.

2. We do not duplicate the role of any government agency.

No one in the Government has ever complained to me about duplication. The Prime Minister chairs Pemandu’s Board of Trustees whose members also include the Chief Secretary and Secretary-General of Treasury. The Deputy Prime Minister chairs Delivery Task Force meetings on the GTP, attended by Ministers.

All NKEA (National Key Economic Areas) meetings are chaired by their lead Ministers, with their Secretary-Generals leading the charge, and Pemandu playing a supporting role. There are no duplications.

To further illustrate how Pemandu works with Government, under the River of Life project, there are 42 different agencies involved across a gamut of activities. Pemandu works with all of them to coordinate and provide support so targets are met.

3. We do not generate numbers for the country.

Bank Negara and the Statistics Department are owners of sectorial and national economic data. We access these numbers just like any other organisation. These agencies produce economic data in line with internationally accredited standards.

Pemandu is a small team of less than 100 executives administrating the transformation agenda across 12 sectors, seven reporting areas and six policy initiatives. We work alongside 23 Ministries, and 169 companies at the very least.

I keep our internal resource low to maintain a flat, flexible and nimble organisation. Individuals double-even triple-hat to deliver stretched targets.

I push my people and the attrition rate is high. Some leave because the workload is an overload, others because they get poached by organisations looking for high-performers.

Pemandu is far from perfect but we have to start somewhere. Even as we fix our gaps, we do it on the run. We do not have the luxury of time to pause midstream to cross all the t’s and dot the i’s.

With only six years ahead, we can only sprint forward.

Datuk Seri Idris Jala is CEO of Pemandu, the Performance Management and Delivery Unit, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. Fair and reasonable comments are most welcome at

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Business , pemandu , idris jala , ETP


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