AMERICAN philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, “It is not enough to be busy. The question is: what are we busy about?”
That certainly is worth pondering over as I am also reminded of that famous Penang Malay aphorism of “pi mai, pi mai, dok tang tu jugak”, which is somewhat similar to a situation of much ado about nothing when things don’t get moving despite a lot of hot air. Like some wisecracks may say, “busy doing nothing”.
A lot of these uncalled for remarks are often misdirected at the country’s 1.6 million-strong civil service. There might be some truth about ineptness and lack of enterprise among a few (or those who are too enterprising when they call the shots at administrative or regulatory “roadblocks”) but the vast majority are really a disciplined and hardworking lot.
Some time in February in the midst of the Lunar New Year festivities, a small but heartwarming news item caught my eye: the Klang Municipal Council (MPK) saved RM1.6 million last year in terms of operational and maintenance costs by just implementing a radical idea. It was certainly something worth shouting about as it was about mindset change and raising productivity at the workplace.
Through a programme known as Smart Employ Decision (SED), MPK decided that its 26 multipurpose halls only needed one person to run instead of four previously! Either that was thinking outside the box for productivity or sheer exploitation, it depends on how one sees it.
MPK’s handyman was deployed to handle multiple tasks on a timetable that starts from 8am to 8pm, with breaks in between, on each working day. He has to undertake tasks ranging from landscaping and cleaning to overseeing the security of the halls. MPK president Datuk Mohamad Yasid Bidin was reported to have said that the SED initiative meant that the cost to operate one hall has been slashed to RM3,880 a month as opposed to RM9,110 previously, without employing extra staff. That meant MPK would save RM62,760 a year from the operational costs of one hall, and RM1,631,760 for all 26 halls!
The numbers were impressive. If all local councils in the country were to adopt what MPK had done, there will be enough money to expend for development and benefit ratepayers in each local council’s jurisdiction. Like repairing public playgrounds or sprucing up public parks that seemed to have been given lesser priority these days under the guise of a shortage in government funds.
As one of MPK’s key initiatives to reduce costs, raise revenue and encouraging manpower effectiveness, SED trained its handyman to manage the halls single-handedly. After six months, MPK’s handyman was promoted and given the title of multipurpose hall manager. Whether he was entitled to a portion of the costs saved, it wasn’t divulged.
MPK’s initiative to instil greater sense of ownership, confidence and trustworthiness in its manpower planning ought to be lauded. Its revolutionary approach has shaken the myth that government entities do not take an entrepreneurial approach in their responsibilities. The above example has shown that leadership is about encouraging people and stimulating them. It is about enabling them to achieve what they can achieve and with purpose. Sometimes an enabling environment helps. Take for example the pledge by Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari that Selangor state civil servants would be given more than two months’ bonus if they met their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) this year. They would be evaluated by their departmental and individual KPIs. But he cautioned that some may even get a bonus of only a quarter or half a month’s salary. Last year, every Selangor state government employee, irrespective of performance, received a blanket sum of two months’ bonus. But it is going to be a whole new ball game this year.
That new reward paradigm needs to be expanded elsewhere to shake up the entire civil service. Datuk Seri Ismail Bakar, the Chief Secretary to the Government, said late last year that good leaders within government agencies and ministries were needed to lead and motivate government servants and remind them of their loyalty to the public.
What was even more telling was when he said that government servants should stay neutral and be loyal to the government of the day and, more importantly, the people. Ismail knows that it is going to take some time to change mindsets but it has to start somewhere.
The efficiency of the public sector as a facilitator when dealing with national development cannot be overlooked. Government employees, be they in uniform or otherwise, must take cognisance that they are part of a system that serves as an important catalyst in pushing Malaysia’s aspirations to be a more developed country by facilitating efficient and effective implementation of government policies. Incidentally Malaysia was ranked 23rd out of 137 countries under the World Economic Forum’s 2017/2018 Global Competitiveness Index. A commendable achievement indeed, but certainly Malaysia can punch above its weight if new paradigms on work culture and productivity can take root like those at MPK. That has to start now.
The writer is a former chief executive officer and editor-in-chief of Bernama