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By Aniza Damis
NST, Sunday interview, 26/04/2009

KEY performance indicators – does the civil service use them and have they helped? More importantly, will they ensure that we get a good and civil service? ANIZA DAMIS speaks to the civil service’s top man, Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Sidek Hassan.

Q: Is the civil service cooperative of the leadership’s directives?

A: Yes. How else do you think we are where we are? How did we manage to develop in terms of infrastructure which is “first world” and in terms of where we are now as a nation? Look at our neighbours: How do we fare, in relation to some of them? Even with the current economic situation, I think we are faring very well, relative to the world. How did we do it? Because the public service has responded to what the government wants us to do. We’re not perfect, and we’ll keep on harping on this issue of integrity, efficiency, customer-centric issues. But, I am unequivocal in saying that the civil service has been very responsive to the wishes of the government and the wishes of the people.

Q: So, the outcome of the 2008 general election is not a reflection on the civil service? Is it just a reflection of the government’s political failures?
A: I don’t know whether that was a “failure”, but that’s up to the electorate.

Q: And the decision of the electorate is not based on the performance of the civil service?

A: It is, in some ways. You cannot divorce the civil service from the government, as if we are entirely oblivious to what the government is doing.

Q: So, if the electorate says, “This government is lousy; it doesn’t collect my rubbish”, is that a reflection of the political party or the civil service?

A: That is the problem of each and every one of us. It is a very close symbiotic relationship.  Who collects the rubbish? It’s the local authorities. Who runs the local authorities? Not all of this is the prime minister’s job; some of them will be part of my job.  So, if the prime minister were to ask me to do something and I don’t, would you blame the PM for that?   When I became the KSN (Ketua Setiausaha Negara or Chief Secretary), I tried to address major areas where we could carry out improvements in terms of public service delivery.  It’s okay now, but we can improve further.  The role of the local authorities is quite simple in my mind. It is the SLR (sampah, longkang dan rumput – rubbish, drains and grass).  I’m a rakyat, too. Imagine if they don’t collect my sampah, and they don’t clean my longkang, and they don’t cut my rumput. And then, the lampu (streetlight) near my road is missing, and the jalan (road) is a mess.  But is that the problem of the prime minister or menteri besar? It’s not. If it’s in Kuala Lumpur , that’s the problem of the mayor.  But you cannot expect the mayor to make sure all the SLR is done. He expects his Number Two and Number Three to work.   But, beyond the SLR, there are other things that the local authorities have got to do.   For instance, if I want to build a house, I want to make sure that my plan is approved fast – not like 20 years from now.   Therefore, it’s about addressing the core business.   You blame the prime minister because he’s the leader. But if you start blaming the prime minister, people should also start blaming themselves.   Because, in some ways, you allow that to happen. If, for example, I see my longkang not being cleaned, why didn’t I complain? I have allowed it to continue.

Q: So, people should complain if they are unhappy with the services provided?
A: Yes, of course. But they cannot at the same time always say: “This is the PM’s and minister’s fault.” You can’t.   Secondly, when you have generated rubbish (when in public), do you put it in your pocket until you can throw it away in a proper place? Or do you throw it away carelessly?   I always see people throwing it around.   It’s not about the government; it’s about us.

Q: Does the civil service have KPIs and what are they?
A: It depends on how you define “KPIs”.   In January, every one of us is evaluated on how we performed the previous year, through the LMPT (Laporan Penilaian Prestasi Tahunan – annual performance assessment report). They are evaluated based on their SKT (Sasaran Kerja Tahunan – annual work target).   But if you talk about KPIs in the formal sense, then only the 38 people at the top of the civil service will be involved.   That includes me, all the secretary-generals, the director-general of the Public Service Department, the Attorney-General, the Inspector-General of Police and the chief of the Armed Forces.

Q: Does what is expected of each individual vary between ministries?
A: Of course. It has to be unique to the person because each person’s portfolio and responsibility is different.

Q: How do you assess them? Is it through exams?
A: The assessment for the purpose of evaluation (LMPT) is done at two levels: one is by your immediate supervising officer and his immediate supervising officer.   They will judge whether you have fulfilled what you promised to do in your SKT.   There will also be a judgment on your integrity, how well you relate to others, communication skills, etc.   The other form of evaluation is for the purpose of promotion. Most people would go to Intan (Institut Tadbiran Awam Negara or National Institute of Public Administration), where they are evaluated on the course they took, the papers they wrote and class participation. There is also the facilitator’s assessment and a peer assessment.

Q: How effective or realistic are these assessments?

A: I’ve been trying to convert many people to this “religion” of being objective and honest.   The grading is done in numerics, with “1” being the worst, and “10” the best.   Out of 100 points, if you get 90 and above, that is melintang . If you get 80 to 89.9, that is menegak, and that’s still very good. If you get below 79.9, that’s not very good. Supervisors should be marking their people along those lines. But if you were to grade everyone at 95 per cent throughout, then either he or she is lucky to have so many good officials or there’s something wrong with the marking. Therefore, how realistic it is depends on how these supervisors do it.

Q: Are there any ministries or departments that do this?
A: I think there are some, but more and more now, we are telling them the value of being honest.

Q: How effective is an assessment by your boss? For instance, if you’re someone who always stands your ground for good reason, which may inconvenience your boss, how will that person be assessed?
A: I’d give very good marks. He or she would be promoted. The civil service is all about merit.   In the civil service, that is the “religion” the prime minister is talking about, and it is also the “religion” the former prime minister espoused.

Q: What is the public service’s role in promoting 1Malaysia?
A: Everything. The role of the civil service is about everything that the government wants to do.   It’s very critical for all of us to appreciate the importance, the pivotal role that we, the 1.2 million civil servants, have.   Imagine if the civil service didn’t deliver? The two huge stimulus packages, or the budget, or any programme that the government has come up with would be affected.   Therefore, it’s a question of implementation; of carrying out the policies, projects and programmes of the government.   The prime minister came up with the 1Malaysia concept but do you think the whole thing can move if the civil service doesn’t move? Impossible.

Q: The prime minister has asked the cabinet to come up with KPIs for themselves. What are your KPIs?
A: Very simple: to improve public service delivery.   What do you think of the public delivery service?   Is it that when you complain about your drain, that I look into it? Is it when you complain your light is faulty, I come straight away?   A good public delivery service goes far beyond that – it means that you don’t have to complain.   Why should you complain that your drain has not been cleaned, or your rubbish has not been collected, or your streetlight bulb has not been changed when it is expected that all this is supposed to work properly?   Even so, if, occasionally, you do have reason to complain, then the problem should be rectified immediately.   We want to have such a good public delivery service that people have no reason to complain. And if they do have complaints, then it’s going to be attended to very quickly.   So, I suppose my KPIs are that the public service delivery should be what people want.

Q: And how were your KPI performance for 2008?
A: I didn’t check the number.

Q: You’re not bothered?
A: The KPIs now are a 36

0-degree model.   They are moving around now and asking what my bosses think of me. They are asking my colleagues and secretaries-general what they think of me and how I perform.   I’m not going to ask how I fared, but if you’re talking about integrity, then, deep in my heart, I have been honestly trying to deliver on my promise. And that is the biggest KPIs anyone should have.

Q: You said there’s this group of 38 very senior management people. How are they assessed?
A: The KPIs are assessed by their boss, their peers and by their subordinates – it’s 360 degrees.

Q: Should senior management have external assessors instead?
A: You can. But for the ministers, they also have a lot of external assessors.   Every four or five years, they have the external assessors (meaning the electorate).

Q: Yes, that is the ultimate assessment for politicians. But should the top management in the civil service have external assessment?
A: But what would be the outcome?

Q: Perhaps it would be more neutral?
A: For what?

Q: For instance, if you have to work with a secretary-general, and you have to work together whether you like it or not. So, you’re not going to give a bad assessment of this person, are you? Have you ever given a bad assessment of a brother senior manager?
A: How do you define “bad assessment”?

Q: Let’s say if that person’s not performing…
A: Do you think I’ve given everyone 100 per cent?

Q: What’s the worst?
A: 46 per cent.

Q: What happened to that person?
A: I don’t know where that person is now.   Sometimes, people who are not performing are just taken out of their positions and put in the pool. And they stay there.   What is the reason for having external assessors?

Q: To have a neutral force.
A: Who defines neutrality?   If a secretary-general is being assessed, he is assessed by the director-general of the Public Service Department and I am the counter-signee. Then, there’ll also be assessments by his peers – the other secretaries-general.   Are you questioning the integrity of Sidek Hassan, the Chief Secretary of the Government?   Do you doubt my integrity? You think it’s better to trust someone out there instead?

Q: How much input do subordinates have on their bosses?
A: Now, not so much. Except for the 38 top people.

Q: What is the weightage of the assessment by the managed on the manager?
A: At the moment, not much.

Q: Would you say that that input is important?
A: That’s why we are going for 360 degrees. We have done that for the 38. For the rest, hopefully, it will be applied within this one year or so.   Right now, we are also working on the level below the 38 – the deputy secretary-generals and deputy director-generals.   This is where people have to take very seriously the evaluation. I am truthful to myself and take this very seriously. I’ve always made sure the assessments I made were photocopied.   Then, the person being assessed puts down the marks he feels he deserves.   When he comes to me with it, I look at the original assessment and we negotiate.   But what is actually important is the mentoring.   It’s not about a once-a-year affair. It’s about continuously improving.   Many people think they should wait only once a year. Some use it to take their revenge on a subordinate. But this is not the right attitude. Human resource is the most important thing.   I go to Intan and talk to new recruits, or soon-to-be promoted senior managers, telling them what my expectations are. I also speak to the bosses and tell them what to do – the mentoring part.   People always take the LMPT as the main indicator of improvement. But it shouldn’t be. That is purely after you mentor them the whole year and try to improve them.   Talk about public service delivery. Speak about efficiency, doing it now, so that your customer is happy. If you have done that, the LMPT is only to put the mark. But it should be a continuous process. And all of us must behave like that. It’s very important.

Q: The PM, when he was talking about KPIs for his cabinet, mentioned loyalty. What is your idea of what loyalty is in the civil service?
A: Loyalty means 1Malaysia, “People First, Performance Now”. It’s about being loyal to what I’m supposed to do. Call it loyalty, integrity or whatever.   Loyalty is doing what you’re expected to do.

Q: And what are you expected to do? Service to nation?
A: Yes.

Q: If people are really unhappy with the civil service, they shouldn’t give the prime minister the chop. They should just give civil servants the chop.
A: They should tell the prime minister and the prime minister will give the civil servant the chop.   I would give them the chop.

Q: So, if people do give the prime minister or any minister the chop, it’s actually because of the lack of leadership?
A: Of course. Like the Americans say: “The buck stops here.” So, of course the buck stops there! But you cannot be blaming the president of the United States for everything that goes wrong.

Q: What is the penalty if a civil servant doesn’t perform?
A: Depends on what was agreed upon. We cannot sack a person at the drop of a pin. But there has to be some sort of penalty.

Q: Are civil servants too secure in the idea that they can’t get sacked?
A: Even secretary-generals cannot be so sure.   If everybody takes care of his own area of responsibility, then we’ll live happily ever after. It might be conceptual, but it works.
I believe in punishing people. The punishing part is something that not many of us like to do.   But, if you know that you are responsible for meting out punishment and you have not done it, then action should be taken against you.   And that is something that we are doing. For instance, why is it that sometimes people are “hanged”? And why do they hang them in public or chop off their heads in public?   One reason is to get rid of the offending person. The other is to make sure there are no other intended offenders.   And that, sometimes, is more important than getting rid of the offender.

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