Power to the civil service

I REFER to the report “Bill on public service to be tabled in March, says PSD D-G” (The Star, Dec 3).

The announcement by director-general of the Public Service Department (PSD) Datuk Seri Borhan Dolah that the proposed Bill would pave the way for the separation of power between the civil service and the political administration is indeed timely. It is in line with the promise of the Pakatan Harapan government to institute institutional reforms to the system of governance in our country.

I think many Malaysians are under no illusion that efforts to introduce these institutional reforms would require time to see the light of day in view of the scale of abuses and excesses wrought upon our system of governance by previous administrations.

It is indeed laudable that the introduction of this Bill has been prioritised and will hopefully be passed by Parliament in 2019. Without doubt, the one important component of the system of administration in our country that needs to be tackled head-on relates to the independence of the civil service. When Malaysia gained independence in 1957, our founding fathers were committed to having a civil service that was independent and led by people with the highest level of integrity.

Senior civil servants then, particularly heads of ministries and departments, were not averse to saying no to their political masters if the latter were to issue instructions that ran counter to regulations and which undermined the independence of the civil service.

Sadly, in subsequent years and particularly under the previous government, the independence of the civil service was seriously undermined to the detriment of the country’s body politic.

As a consequence, many senior civil servants became intimidated by their political masters and, more often than not, compelled their subordinates to partake in actions and activities that were politically partisan and contrary to civil service norms.

To cite a few examples, ministries and departments were instructed to get involved with the activities of the ruling political parties. These included the parties’ annual meetings and general assemblies.

Ministries and departments were instructed to set up and run working secretariats at the venues of these political meetings. They were also instructed to assign officers and other personnel to be on duty.

At the same time, these entities were also instructed to participate in exhibitions held at these venues. Largely, these were meant to boost the image of their respective ministers among the parties’ delegates. These activities became more prevalent when the ministers were vying for higher party posts.

There were also instances when political aides of ministers, including political secretaries, chaired meetings and issued instructions to civil servants.

The recent reminder by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to civil servants that they should not adhere to legally questionable edicts from politicians was indeed a step in the right direction and in line with the present government’s efforts to right the wrongs of the past.

I am sure most Malaysians look forward to the passing of this proposed Bill as it would formalise measures to prevent the previous excesses from happening again as well as to further strengthen the civil service.


Petaling Jaya