Like Dr M, all in his Cabinet have to keep things lean and clean

AT last week’s Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad gave a lengthy talk to his ministers, most of whom being first timers and had just taken their oaths of office two days earlier.

According to Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, during the four-hour meeting, the Prime Minister urged them to learn fast and adapt themselves to their new responsibilities, adding that they were in the Cabinet because the rakyat put them there.

“He warned his Cabinet members against getting involved in corruption. There is zero compromise on this. He wants members of the administration to have high discipline in carrying out their duties.

“It is also our responsibility to ensure that this translates over to our respective ministries,” he said.

During his recent trip to Jakarta, Dr Mahathir also made similar remarks, saying any government leader found to be corrupt or to have had abused his power would be shown the door.

“At any time, even if today that they are involved, action will be taken,” he added.

Hopefully, the ministers are listening to the Prime Minister’s warning.

But here is the deal. The Prime Minister has appointed 29 ministers and 23 deputy ministers from Pakatan Harapan and Parti Warisan Sabah.

As ministers and deputy ministers, they will need to make their own appointments to run their respective offices.

According to a 2012 Public Service Department circular on posts and service matters relating to the offices of ministers and deputy ministers, a minister is entitled to have an eight-man staff, including a senior special functions officer, a principal private secretary, a press secretary and support staff.

A deputy minister can have a principal private secretary, a private secretary and two support staff. The circular also lists down the job responsibilities of these officers.

The circular states that while these positions can be filled by serving civil servants, the minister can hire his or her own people, although approval must be obtained from the Prime Minister.

There are already rumblings in some ministries over the demands made, not only by the ministers, but also by those supposedly selected by the ministers to join the offices of the ministers.

One minister instructed senior officials of his ministry to create positions to reward political supporters. When the minister was informed that the ministry did not have the budget, he then wanted agencies under the ministry to pay the salaries of the new appointees.

At another ministry, it was a different story – it was not the minister that was making demands.

A government officer complained that a man claiming that he would be joining the minister’s office soon asked if the salaries to be paid by the ministry’s agencies would be higher than what was paid to an administrative and diplomatic officer posted to a minister’s office.

“I am told he is supposed to be hired as a special officer but he is demanding to be the principal private secretary as the salary is higher,” said the government officer.

The Prime Minister’s Office is obviously aware of these cases and it is understood that it has issued a circular to the ministers’ and deputy ministers’ offices to remind them of an existing PSD circular on the number of staff they could hire and the maximum salaries these officers could be paid.

Given that many of these new ministers have zero experience in government, they, perhaps, are seeking comfort in numbers. Hence, they want certain people to join them in their ministries.

Just a few weeks ago, a newly-minted minister had 11 special officers listed in the ministry’s website. It did not go unnoticed and rumblings started in Putrajaya. Now the ministry’s website lists only one special officer.

During Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s administration, sources said there were some 150 people on the government payroll at the Prime Minister’s Office. Another 50 were on the payrolls of GLCs.

During Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s time as prime minister, his office had about 140 staff members.

Dr Mahathir has the smallest staff, with about 120 people in 2003. Looks like he is sticking to that figure, although he has fewer than 100 currently.

Surely, the Pakatan and Warisan ministers, deputy ministers and their political appointees would want to start their new roles on the right note.

It is not just about exposing the wrongdoings of the previous government; they must also be seen as carrying out their jobs for the people and not just to reward the few staunch supporters or friends.

Sometimes, they need not look further. There are brilliant government officers within the system who are ready to serve.

For political appointees who have joined their bosses at the ministries or will do so, a senior government officer offers some advice: “Stay humble and be sincere. You cannot just come in and ask for high-ranking position and big salaries.”

Maybe they should also ask themselves this question: “What have I contributed to the country?”

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