The authority and the people

“AUTHORITY” does not necessarily mean that they care for you or they are well informed on the subject. It does not even necessarily mean that they know what they are supposed to do or that they will do it efficiently. It simply means that they are in authority.

They are supposed to know what to do. They are supposed to serve the people through the various legal mechanisms, procedures and vast discretions given to them.

They have been trusted with tremendous power and control over you. If you are “merely” an ordinary citizen, you are certainly at the mercy of the corrupt, indolent or reckless ones among them.

Things are not necessarily that bad or even alarming at all. However, to alert the citizens in a democracy, I have to paint a cautionary picture as such.

Firstly, what or who is “the authority”? A good place to start is Part X of our Federal Constitution titled “public services”. Article 132 (1) sets out the public services as:

(a)the armed forces;

(b) the judicial and legal service;

(c) the general public service of the Federation;

(d) the police force;

(e) the joint public services common to both the Federation and the States and

(f) the public service of each State; and

(g) the education service.

Looking at the list, especially the “general public service of the federation”, you can see how impactful the civil service will be on the lives of the people.

They are responsible for providing everything that you need to exist in a modern nation state - from identification, immigration, education, giving various permissions (licenses) to earn a living and so on.

The police force, the attorney general’s chambers, and the various other enforcement agencies are responsible for maintenance of law and order. They also form part of the justice system that we need in our society.

The civil servants are therefore very important people in our lives and for that reason, we allow them to enjoy various life benefits that those who do not work with the government sector do not enjoy.

These government servants are paid by the people through the taxes from their hard-earned income. They also enjoy tenure of employment, pensions and various other financial benefits such as low interest housing loans and so on. Without doubt they are costly to be maintained but we recognise that they are very necessary in society.

Since they wield the necessary decision making and discretionary power in their hands, they need to shielded from human temptations and weakness.

While having many positive traits, human also have many self-defeating weaknesses such as greed, ego, unbridled emotions, prejudice and even indolence. The people need to encourage the civil servants to get in touch with their better selves. Our democratic system allows us to put into place mechanisms and laws to bring out the best in our valuable civil service.

However, the people themselves must be willing to use the democratic system to make the civil service efficient and compassionate. It is pointless to just complaint and expect the weeds to turn into roses.

Firstly, we must ensure that the best of citizens is employed into key positions in the civil service. Our education sector, medical, enforcement agencies, delivery sectors and so on require people of integrity, commitment, some degree of intelligence and compassion. It is a huge mistake to employ based merely on the criteria of ethnicity or religion, especially religion unless he is being employed in the religious section of the civil service, for example a religious department of some sort.

Secondly, the potential candidate should know that he is entering national service. He should be made aware that he now has been given the trust to make people’s lives better.

He should not make it worse by being lazy, or corrupt. The efficient and committed ones ought to be rewarded while the delinquent ones adequality punished. In this regard, a proactive citizenry who monitors the civil service will be helpful.

There are also various legal avenues including judicial reviews to check and balance the civil service.

Thirdly, where ever possible, systems should be developed to eliminate discretion if it is beneficial to the welfare of the people. Identify automated online applications to meet set criteria.

For example, I would suggest applications for certain kind of licenses to do certain kind of businesses be made into standard procedures to remove the possibility of corruption or burden to the people, especially the small businesses.

I find it cruel if any civil servant takes a percentage of the proceeds from small businesses as “commission” for approving licenses. Such persons feeding their family with corrupt money baffles the mind.

Fourthly, we need compassionate, courageous and visionary leaders who understand human nature and life.

We have to throw out the leaders that want to ensure that our lives are miserable by abusing religion and ethnic differences to divide us. Such leaders will only disabuse the civil service to enrich themselves and their cronies, in the process corrupting the civil servants.

Can you imagine the sorry and frightening state of the nation if most sectors of our public services are largely corrupt?

Fifthly, our own national culture. This to me is the most important. We need to develop a culture that respects honesty, diligence, fairness, integrity, compassion and intelligence.

We need more serious narratives and discussions on such values than overdose of mere superficial sermons on religion.

There is a sickness in our society that many of us do not wish to discuss in the mainstream – our encouragement of hypocrisy even when it works against us individually and collectively as a society in the long run.

We have to learn to address our nature as human beings vis a vis thinking and compassionate citizens of Malaysia.

We have to nurture those universal values that could bind us together.

Let us focus on issues that could collectively improve our lives by nurturing an efficient and compassionate public service.

Senior lawyer Datuk Seri Dr Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos is the founder and chairman of Yayasan Rapera, an NGO that promotes community-based learning activities and compassionate thinking among Malaysians. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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