Whenever something or people change positions or places, there are always hope,expectation,relief, fear, anxiety et cetera as the usual responses which usually accompany alterations in status quo. That is why many of us don’t like or sometimes irrationally avoid change to the point of pure resentment. And so it is almost a practice for big or small organisations to need leaders who can manage change in their environment. But we all grudgingly appreciate that change is the only constant in life.
Starting his work at the new position today is Ali Hamsa who is replacing Sidek Hasan as the new Chief Secretary to the Government of Malaysia. This post is better known as KSN , in Malay (BM), Ketua Setiausaha Negara, the head of the Malaysian civil service. Sidek Hasan, appointed as KSN in 2006 and later extended on a contract basis, is now rewarded with the post of the chairman of Petronas, the national petroleum company. A plump job for someone who knows how to play roles. Role playing is critical for anyone who wants to pursue his preoccupation and yet remain relevant and appearing great to those who matter. The new KSN may want to follow this pattern and end up with a cushy job post-retirement as well.
There are things about the immediate ex-KSN that are floating around and dwelling on them is rather boring. I have come across Sidek Hasan and I found him rather condescending. He loved to talk about his “four flat” and his early work experience at MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) with uncategorical pride. In fact he hardly worked anywhere else in the service except at MITI. Words had it that the fiery Rafidah Aziz, the long serving Minister of international trade had refused to release Sidek to other Ministries. Such was her happiness and trust with his work. So he must have been good there otherwise he would not have lasted under the fiery “fiend”. In fact Sidek was recommended to the ex Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi by Rafidah to the post of the KSN upon the retirement of Shamsuddin Osman, the then KSN.
After the visionary Ahmad Sarji, the KSN before Shamsuddin Osman, I must say the successive KSNs had not shined. Till now when I come across Ahmad Sarji ( now Chairman of PNB (Permodalan nasional Berhad), I showed my respect by nodding and smiling, letting him know that I knew who he was. The same cannot be said about Shamsuddin Osman and Sidek Hasan. When I spot them from afar, I unconsciously changed my direction, totally avoiding them.
Some people know how to talk and make great statements but they hardly follow them up and ensure that an impact has taken place on their watch. These people can fool some people some time but not all of the people all the time. And should the people they fool are the people that matter, then they are safe to continue with the mirage they create.
I hope and truly hope Ali Hamsa will not be in the category of ex-KSNs who people will avoid when they meet them outside of their seat of power. I hope he will really look at the problems of mediocrity that is facing the Malaysian civil service and make efforts to rectify or reduce them. He must be open and yet firm in making decisions to strengthen the delivery system. He must get feedbacks from the heads and the civil service grassroots to come to fair conclusions and formulate remedial measures.
There is now a resentment in the civil service on the promotion to the top of departmental posts. Except for the post of KSN where political consideration does play a part (like that in England), the heads of other departments must be chosen carefully to get the best person for the job. At the moment, whenever a director general retires, he will choose the successor. This is not entirely justifiable as he must have had his favourites who might not be good or suitable for the job, causing so much heartache and anger among the staff. Jumping over others to be appointed in the promotional post is more acceptable if the person is “right” for the job.
What needs to be done is to list out all the eligible senior officers and get them to be interviewed by a panel consisting of ex-civil servants or the KSN himself and select the best worthy of the high post . Only an interview would enable people to analyse the personality of a “wannabe” head of department. The current system is highly flawed and you get director generals who have no business being in the post. The new KSN needs to find out the rogue director-general who is causing so much unhappiness in his department and nicely ask the officer to go on an early retirement. It is easy to discover the culprit. Just find out how many senior officers in that Ministry have opted for an early retirement because they could not stand the leadership style of the director-general. One tip for the new KSN: The concerned ministry is headed by a so-called professional.
With the changing of the guards at the top of the civil service, people are hoping for a more responsive leadership and professional management style. People will look up to you Datuk Seri Ali Hamsa if they perceive you to be sincere in your efforts to enhance the civil service and deal severely with or get “rid” of civil service leaders who degrade rather than upgrade staff self-esteem, (the director general in question calls his senior officers ” stupid” in public!). Though this would be only a minor portion of your massive responsibility, it would serve the civil service well in the long run as staff are an asset to any organisation.
I join all Malaysians in congratulating and wishing Datuk Ali Hamsa well in his new capacity as the chief secretary to the government. By the way, every caring citizen hopes that you would ensure the civil service remain neutral as far as politics are concerned but you are right sir, civil servants must serve the government of the day ( even if they don’t like it).
I hope I will have no negative perceptions on Ali Hamsa once he goes on retirement in a few years’ time . It is always calming to write about positive things rather than those which make your blood virtually boils.