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The Sun, 21 August 2008

The Special Task Force to Facilitate Business (Pemudah) is 19 months old. Its co-chairmen Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan , who is Chief Secretary to the Government, and Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon talk TO R. NADESWARAN and TERENCE FERNANDEZ about the journey SO FAR.

What has the Pemudah Task Force to show for in the 19 months since its inception?

Mohd Sidek: To date we have managed to address about one-third of the concerns brought up by private sector members. A work plan has been drawn up to ensure that other concerns are addressed within the next two years. The Task Force is also focusing on monitoring improvements that have been put in place.

Yong: The Task Force is working on more complex issues which involve assessment and review of policies such as the FIC Guidelines, government procurement and the logistics industry.

Mohd Sidek: This is in line with the mandate from the prime minister to ensure that all regulations are clear and transparent.

Are much of Pemudah’s achievements due to political will of administrators and the politicians?

Special Task Force to Facilitate Business (Pemudah), co-chairmen Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan, who is Chief Secretary to the Government.

Mohd Sidek: The establishment of Pemudah is a reflection of political will at the highest level to improve the public service delivery and enhance competitiveness.

The Task Force could not have achieved this level of success if not for the commitment of the ministries and agencies. I must commend my colleagues from the public sector for accepting the challenges presented to them in the form of constructive criticism and proposals forwarded by Pemudah.

Has this political will been enhanced by the results of the general election?

Mohd Sidek: There has always been political will to improve. Even before the setting up of Pemudah, the civil service was guided by a set of guidelines to improve delivery. But, given the increasing intensity of global competition, there was the realisation that we need to hasten the improvements.Yong: This became more of an imperative, given Malaysia’s global competitiveness rankings.

But has the election results influenced the way civil servants now deal with the public? You cannot deny that the standards of the civil service was why many voters voted the way they did.

Mohd Sidek: We have always been receptive to public grouses and suggestions. The difference now is that we are more open in our engagement with the private sector and the public. Of course, as chief secretary, I made it my mission to ensure that the civil service listens to its public. I articulated loudly: “Be more people-centric and no wrong door policy.”

But you can’t deny that there are areas where you have fallen short such as local councils.

Mohd Sidek: Pemudah has been in existence for only 19 months. I am pleased with what we have achieved so far.

Departments are unilaterally reviewing processes and procedures as a matter of course. But yes, there’s still a lot to be done and we will ensure that this drive for improvements becomes systematic.

Not too long ago, the Prime Minister launched warkahuntukpm.com.my to encourage the rakyat to give feedback on improving the civil service. What is the progress?

Mohd Sidek : As the name implies, warkahuntukpm is a letter for the prime minister and he answers the mails he receives as best he can.

Does he read all the e-mails?

Mohd Sidek: Do you expect the chief secretary to read ALL his e-mails?

No, due to the nature of the e-mails which are complaints and feedback. It would be downright impossible to expect you to look through every single correspondence.

Mohd Sidek: So if that’s the case, you can’t expect the PM to be reading all e-mails. It is impossible. He is bombarded by hundreds, perhaps thousands of mails. But everything regarding policy he answers! But those which can be easily answered by others, such as myself, he delegates. Last week, PM asked me, “KSN, warkahuntukpm is being handled, right? And I said: “Yes, Dr Chua (Hong Teck), director-general of the Public Complaints Bureau (PCB) is handling it.

But you do read all your e-mails.

Mohd Sidek: Ah… I am exceptional you know! But in my case, it is very specific but you must remember the PM is head of Umno, the head of the coalition, the head of the Finance Ministry and the country! I tell you that man works too hard! He is 68 years old and that man does not seem to sleep and he is very obliging! You must be fair to the man.

Yong: Yes, everything is chop-chop-chop! One meeting after another!

Mohd Sidek: If it were up to me, I’d prefer the PM to sleep in and rest, come to work at 10am, but no, he is up and about at the crack of dawn! He tells me there’s just so much to do!

Why do you need so many levels of engaging public feedback, what with the PCB, Pemudah and warkahuntukpm?

Mohd Sidek: It is the same thing. But the PM wants to personalise the complaints structure, to show the public that he takes a personal interest in their problems and he does!

One cannot fault the PM or you for delegating duties but you must ensure that the people going through these e-mails will inform and brief you on matters of great concern; also is there a lack of talented generals whom the PM can delegate duties to?

Yong: The DPM is good. The people he is surrounded with are very good! Take Tan Sri Sidek for instance. He takes on a lot of these responsibilities.

So, who checks on the PCB? A complaint goes there and doesn’t move for two weeks! This is a real experience of ours concerning a complaint regarding Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL).

Mohd Sidek: If you don’t get payment for a government contract, who do you go to? The Treasury not PCB. You take the easy way out by going to PCB! What on earth do you expect Dr Chua to do? If City Hall cannot control its own contractors, what do you want PCB to do?

Then why have PCB in the first place? Bungkus the department-lah!

Mohd Sidek: Because it is like a one-stop centre (for complaints). But sometimes this one-stop centre doesn’t work, it stops! So this is what I as co-chairman of Pemudah am trying to address. It’s all about integrity. If every department does its job, PCB included, you will have fewer issues. How many times have I mentioned this in Pemudah! (Kuala Lumpur Mayor) Datuk Hakim Borhan cannot have 20,000 people attending to all construction sites.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers President Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon

Yong: The PCB has a close working relationship with Pemudah so that there is no duplication of work. The Pemudah secretariat deals with business-related issues, while PCB deals with non-business complaints.

A short-cut to getting results is that you catch one person and “hang” him. Make him an example and others will toe the line. The trouble is no one wants to make an example of anyone.

Mohd Sidek: Therefore, what the PM wants to do is enforce! Integrity: enforce! Sometimes it is difficult as those people are our friends but what to do? (Referring to the recent charges of corruption on Tourism Malaysia director-general Datuk Mirza Mohammad Taiyab and Immigration director-general Datuk Wahid Md Don).

Recently one department lost a laptop valued at RM4,500. I received an e-mail suggesting we hold an inquiry to ascertain the loss of the laptop when it was already established that the laptop was lost while in the custody of the company that sold it to us. I then received a request to write off the loss. I said, “why write-off? You must get the company to compensate”.

Recently one department lost a laptop valued at RM4,500. I received an e-mail suggesting we hold an inquiry to ascertain the loss of the laptop when it was already established that the

laptop was lost while in the custody of the company that sold it to us. I then received a request to write off the loss. I said, “why write-off? You must get the company to compensate”.

And we did and the company has replaced the computer.

So, I told these secretaries-general and deputy secretaries-general: “You must enforce the government’s right!”

Not many of us want to do this. That’s why you see bangunan tak siap, you still pay! Bangunan lousy, you still pay! What is this nonsense? So it’s enforcement, enforcement, enforcement!

This is the malaise in the system. You get the computer in April, you only find out it needs repairs in August!

Mohd Sidek: I am pushing the government hard, but I am also pushing the private sector hard! My TV was not working and I was told that it would take four weeks. I said unacceptable! It should be done in one week!

Yong: Tan Sri Sidek is chairing a few meetings on government procurement. The PM had asked him to look into this. Like how in the private sector, you have procurement departments whose only job is to procure. So we are looking into establishing some specialisation in government procurement in the public sector, because if done properly, it is big savings to the government.

As far as the complaints are concerned, there are various avenues. Tan Sri Sidek is saying it is far better to go to the source of the problem as they have the capability to respond and enforce. Each individual department must be geared up to respond and make the changes.

Generally, the private sector, we think, is happy with the changes, but we expect the same level and speed of change in other areas too.

Yong: It is best to harvest the low lying fruits as opposed to the bigger ones. In the beginning, there was a lot of scepticism. Even the private sector members of Pemudah were unsure. But as the months went on, the top civil servants felt empowered to propose many changes. A lot of changes you see is not private sector-initiated but were the brainchild of the public sector. This is the progress! Our signals will be the annual World Competitiveness Report and the World Bank Doing Business Report – which we have improved by five steps. So this is how … we benchmark against the best countries.

Among the criticisms against Pemudah is that it is too business-centric. What does world competitiveness mean to the man in the street?

Yong: We have found this to be the case that initially, a lot of business-centric issues were raised, but as you would notice, many of these issues flow down into the public sector as well. When we talk about work permits, passport renewals, if we make it easy for expatriates, we must make it easy for the locals too. One indicator for the World Bank is registering property – it applies to ordinary people who are registering their property, not just businesses or factories or foreign investors. It used to take 180 days, now after a brainstorming between the directors and offices of land and mines departments and the National Productivity Board … they analysed every procedure and chopped the bottleneck to condense it to 41 days.

Mohd Sidek: While the initiatives undertaken by Pemudah are aimed at facilitating business, they also benefit the man in the street such as tax refunds in a month; low risk business operators can start their business immediately upon application and receiving the go-ahead from the local council.

Yong: Another significant improvement that has far-reaching effects is facilitating the interface between the ordinary citizen and government – the e-payment system.

Mohd Sidek: The infrastructure to enable e-payment is in place so you can pay via credit or debit card, internet banking, etc. You can renew your drivers licence, road tax and even settle summonses on-line. You can also settle your assessment on-line at most local councils.

In October, Pos Malaysia will be the one-stop agency for government’s revenue collection. We call it Pospantas. But counter services will still be made available to those who prefer to make payments the conventional way. It must be pointed out that an efficient business environment will have the impact of lowering the cost of doing business. This will see benefits flowing to the citizens.

That’s very good but land office and local councils are still in need of change. Mohd Sidek: Forget that you think immigration has done well. They have, but there are those who are still holding on to the old mentality. Likewise, the opposite is true for land offices.

I was appointed Pemudah co-chairman on Sept 3, 2006. I was called up by the PM the following day and he said: “land and local councils”. Because that is where the rubber meets the road!

You adopted MPAJ (Ampang Jaya Municipal Council). You took a bet with us that things will be better but the situation is just as bad. You owe us a makan!

Mohd Sidek (laughs): That one, it is state authority. I cannot go in there. The last time, the state and federal governments were the same. But I can confidently say that we receive fewer complaints on MPAJ than before our intervention.

The governments can change, but you are still the KSN!

Mohd Sidek: No it is different now as they may be under a different directive. It is difficult to intervene in a situation like that.

If that’s the case, what about DBKL? It is still under federal administration. People are unhappy with it. The results of the general election reflect this, where 11 of the 12 seats went to the Opposition!

Mohd Sidek: Suffice to say, I am monitoring these departments and they have no excuse not to improve! At our last meeting on July 31, we decided to adopt DBKL.

Yong: The issue of City Hall has come up repeatedly in our meetings and the election result was an indication of the people’s feelings towards how DBKL is run. And we are putting a lot of emphasis on City Hall to improve it.

They don’t allow us to attend residents meetings; they don’t consult the people and just push things through! Objection period is so short. This is what makes people angry. If they don’t buck up, they will lose the 12th seat!

Yong: We have brought this up and the message has trickled down. Trust me, there are many who want to initiate change from within the respective departments. The civil service is the civil service! Politics should not come into the equation.

Yong: I think this is a transition period. It will take some time. Whatever the government of the day is the government of the day but the civil service is civil service and must perform according to expectations.

Or are you adopting the attitude that since the new PR governments would want to prove themselves, you leave the running of the civil service in the state departments to them?

Mohd Sidek: We have to follow the constitution. Some are in the state list, some are in the federal list. Local authorities are in the state list and state governments must be given all the powers to do what they are supposed to do. Those in MPAJ are the employers of the Selangor government. The ones in Ampang Jaya cannot be transferred to Subang Jaya! But council presidents, I have jurisdiction.

But yet they don’t care so much for the federal bosses. It is still the mentri besar who calls the shots.

Mohd Sidek: The federal authorities’ jurisdiction is only supervisory but the chief secretary may transfer state officials who are on the federal payroll. Even if the OSC (One Stop Centres) refuse to do it, we can’t do anything. Except if the Special Committee on Local Governments headed by the deputy prime minister instructs it, they must follow.

So the Achilles Heel of the government administration is the local council?

Mohd Sidek: This is an area we can definitely improve. This is what I have been pushing for really hard. A lot of focus is on local authorities. I visited all local authorities in the country and told them: “as far as the rakyat is concerned, the government is you!”

“Forget about elections, how you perform is the reflection of the government of the day.”

This is something that I am very passionate about, we are serious about this and action is being taken to help deter people from engaging in abuse of power or graft or inaction.

Some of them are not taking money not because ACA is there, but because they themselves believe it is wrong!

You must name and shame them!

Mohd Sidek: When Wahid Don and Mirza were charged, is that not naming and shaming? If I have to choose between an officer who is very efficient but lacks a little bit of integrity and an officer who is a bit slow, not very efficient but whose integrity is intact, I will go for the latter. But if a person has integrity, that usually means he is also very efficient.

But you cannot just hang people. If he ends up innocent, then how? I know-lah you people want blood, but if we find out that fellow is innocent, we would have spilt innocent blood.

(But) the big stick is being wielded and I think I am getting more secretaries-general behaving like me, it is rubbing off!

Yes, we have heard of senior people being demoted by you.

Mohd Sidek: Yes. It is happening. One person was demoted recently for going against our policy on direct negotiations. So I am acting.

And what of those who are proven innocent? Will there be a place for them once the courts release them?

Mohd Sidek: No. They have no place in the civil service. Although they may escape the courts, the civil service has simpler standards. They have no place. Sadly, you cannot compromise on these things. Once we start compromising on these things, we are finished!

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