Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The PTDs and the Political Masters.

" The time when PTDs were seen as exclusive and a cut above the rest in the service is a thing of the past."
" The days when being in the Administrative and Diplomatic Service or the PYD was seen as a premier are long gone, passe."


As an ex- PTD ( Pegawai Tadbir Awam) officer who started service as a Malayan Civil Service Officer (MSC) way back in the early 60s, I can say that the MCS officers were the elite core of the government. This remained so after all the expatriate British officers left the country and the entire civil service was run by local MCS officers. They remained the chief advisors to the political leaders who took over the reins of government after Malaya gained its Independence.

It was the primier service, supervising and coordinating all aspects of administration at the federal and state level. The Chief Secretary to the Government was constantly by the side of the Prime Minister and all Ministers consult the Permanent Secretary of their respective Ministry and/or the Chief Secretary to Government before making any important administrative decision. The head of a Technical or Professional Department was invariably a professional man but remained subject to the supervision and coordination of the MCS/PTD officer(s) at the Ministry who held a lot of authority delegated by the Permanent Secretary, later called Secretary General.

This has changed and as emphasized by the Chief Secretary to Government, the PTD is no longer a primier service nor are the PTD officers a cut above the rest in the service. Why so? Many questions can be raised in this regard:

(1) Can the PTD officers relinquish their lead role when the controlling officer for all expenditures remain with the Ministry - with the Sec. Gen as the final authority with supervisory power even over the technical or professional head of department?

(2) Is the "downgrading' of the PTD due to the upgrading of the other services (Health, Education. Agriculture, Irrigation etc) or the fact that the entire services now come under the direct control of the respective Ministers.

(3) Are the technical and professional officers adequately trained to handle administrative and management matters with a sufficient working knowledge of the legal and procedural requirements involved, when they are chosen to head a Ministry?

(4) Is the taking over of many administrative and managerial functions of the PTD officers by the political bosses leading us to a more effective governance and administration or causing the PTD officers to become mere functionaries without any leadership role?

(5) Are the political bosses who increasingly exercise the powers of the PTDs and even of the technical or professoinal heads of depatment, accountable for their actions and are subject to the General Order, FGO and other administrative circulars which govern the action of the PTDs? and finally

(6) Is the administration of the country with more decisions made by the political masters rather than the administrators much better now than it was when all administrative decisions were made by the administrators mostly PTDs while politicians handle the politics of governance?

What is obvious today is that the political bosses are no longer involved in determining policy matters only but involved in the day-to-day administration of the Ministry and departments. The Sec-Gen and senior PTD officers just take orders like any other lower ranking staff without any possibility of giving the Ministers and political bosses some necessary administrative advice.

There's, therefore, no administrative constraints today on what the Ministers can and cannot do. Any officer who stands in the way of what his/her Minister and political bosses want to do by pointing out certain regulations, can be considered as a bureaucratic hindrance and impediment. The PTDs have become not service oriented but servile, not leaders but voiceless functionaries. to be barked at and rediculed most of the time, without the ability to think one step ahead of their political masters and tell them that if they loose the next election they will become just another man-on-the-street.

But even then the PTDs cannot be too sure. A politician can loose an election but still be appointed as a Minister through the Senate, thus NOT REPRESENTING THE PEOPLE but the boss. The discarded PTD has only one place to go. The POOL or early retirement. The best PTD officer is one who follows every whims and fancy of the political Master, who smiles even when called a fool.He is but a glorified clerk.

The PTDs got to prove themselves otherwise to regain the status of the former MCS officers. The political Masters assume authority saying that they are voicing what the people want. The PTDs can stand up by saying you know what the country needs in terms of effective administration and management. If you don't. then you deserve the position at the nadir of the
service hierarchy.


kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
It is a bit unsettling to read of the on-going spat between a civil servant in Penang and the Chief Minister. This state of affairs was unheard of before, but only glaringly so after the GE12.

Every little administrative altercation is brought out into the open. It is a way of wanting to show to the world how unfair the Centre is in treating the state. In the process a civil servant is bashed by the CM no less on many occasions. A civil servant is insulted, provoked and condemned. When pushed to the wall, he couldn’t take it ( he said ) and defended himself. In so doing it brought the wrath of the father waiting in the wings and yesterday of the C of S. wanting him sacked.

This is what we saw splashed in the papers. We are not privy to what led to it. In fact we shouldn’t know. It should have been best resolved internally and administratively without going public.

Yesterday, the KSN came into the picture and defended his man, rightly so. Today CEUPACS made its concern known.

If this is not resolved amicably, then we anticipate a lot more will prevail. It would then reveal how sick the state of affairs governing the state is at the moment.

Good sense should prevail, bad blood should not be debated in the press . We, as voters and the electorate in general can form our own opinions. We expect planning and development and overall improvements should be expounded and implemented in the state.

We do not expect nor want to see such public outbursts which are reflective of a number of negative traits best not to mention!

norzah said...

Yes, Akhi Kaykuala. the spat between Penang Chief Minister and a civil servant is indeed a very glaring case of a breakdown in mutual respect and undersstanding. It has not happened so far at the federal level but there are many cases of senior civil servants sent to the POOL after being kicked out of the
Minister's office. These cases are not publicized.

The bottom line is that politicians had made the dividing line between politics and adminisitration very vague. They can usurp the administrative power under political exigency but when they make a mess of things the point to a civil servant as the blunderer. On the other hands the senior civil servants of today don't speak up like we did before,
with authority and conviction. Whatever deals are made by the politician, it's the civil servat who signs the bill for payment from the appropriate Vote. In many cases the Minister spent the money in ways different from what it was approved for by Treasury. Who get into the hot soup? The civil servant. I just wished that they would speak up and
make their stand, getting all the support from their colleagues. But the esprit de corp in the civil service is not even half of what it is in the uniformed services. especially the army. Salamu alaikum.

rambomadonna said...

Norzah: Hmmm ... want to comment further but as I am partly involved in the spat between a CM and the civil servant ... all I can say is ... I have to agree that many politicians who became Ministers and start meddling in the administrations, they will create "chaotic" effects that poor civil servants and taxpayers had to pay the price.

norzah said...

Welcome back to the forum, J. So nice to have you back and your comment though brief clinches what I wanted to say in no uncertain terms. Let's just say that the more powerful they are and the more deeply they get themselves into the administrative turf, the more
"chaotic" will be the end result for which the civil servants will get the brickbat and the taxpayers will have to pay the price.
Thank you very much and maybe later you'll want to give further details about the development in the Penang experience.

abdulhalimshah said...

Ya Akhi Norzah,
Perhaps you had a memory lapse that the MCS had started the rot fifty years ago when Tunku Mohamad took an early retirement when Tunku Abdul Rahman was the Prime Minister? Then he was succeeded by Tun Aziz Majid who later became your boss as the PSC Chairman. The fact is the diminishing role of the MCS had been started with the late Tan Sri Kadir Shamsudin who worked under Tun Razak at Mindef and then he was the Principal Establishment Officer ( later redesignated as DG of PSD ) before succeeding Tun Aziz as the Chief Secretary. The dominant and influential role of the MCS as the premier service took its severe pounding under Dr. Mahathir when he bcame Prime Minister and he saw the opportunity to bash the public service when Tan Sri Hashim Aman was the Chief Secretary. At one briefing on the role of PSD given to Mahathir by then KPPA Tan Sri Osman Cassim, it was a pity to see Osman Cassim taking the rap in front of all his offficers, including the junior ones. Ahmad Sarji was then the Timbalan KPPA and he tried his best to save Osman Cassim's grace but it was too late and I knew then that the MCS was being bashed too, albeit as the Premier service.
What and how this came all about? The answer is simple. The Govt. of the day became too entrenched and the PM outlasted any KSN and so did the Ministers. They became arrogant and belittled the so-called Principal Advisers whom they are supposed to consult in running the affairs of their respective Ministries. The MCS ( later became the PTD ) became a mere adjunct to the Political Masters and I am sure you had been in that situation before.
The overconfident and easy-going attitude of some top MCS officers were also to be blamed, whereby the PM made generalised impressions that it represented the whole MCS/PTD. The sad state of affairs was further compounded by some top PTD officers who served with fear hoping for favour vis-a-vis their Political Masters. If only all PTD officers stood by their grounds and acted in concert to reflect their solidarity and the KSN being the Premier numero uno in the PTD courageous enough to defend the correct actions of the PTD, the rot would have been arrested and respect could have been rstored. Alas, the KSN too became mere tool of the Political masters, especially now. I was informed that in one meeting with all KSU's and Heads of Departments, he clearly stated that if a complaint was made by any Politician on their Ministries or Dept., he would take the side of the politicians first. To me, he had totally abdicated his leadership role in defending the public service from being ridiculed and it is unthinkable that he sent a wrong signal to all. Instead of boosting the sagging morale of the PTD and other closed services, he further caused the decline of their role and function. The fish rots from the head, and there are no bad soldiers but bad officers. I think the end of the PTD is there for everyone to see and there is nothing that could be done to stem this catastrophe, which is attributed by the leadership of the PTD themselves.

norzah said...

You have hit home in no uncertain terms all the critical events which led to the downfall of the MCS and then the PTD, ya Akhi Halim. The fish rots from the head for the head is where the brain is supposed to be. But when the frog which leaps into the well from outside, churns up the water in whatever ways he wants and leaps out of the water when there's trouble, gets smarter than the fish, the latter begins to rot in the head. A thousand smaller fishes cannot help the king fish when he himself takes the side of the king frog and
antagonized the little fishes and the fries.
As I see from my pov then, the arguementative and
daring fishes were always kept away from a leadership role. It's a well-known fact that those who seemed or acted smarter than the boss in the civil service will get the wrap and only the yes-sir apple shiners will become the bosses of Ministries and Departments. This made it very easy for the frogs to croak their own melody.
I had a situation where the Chief Fish wouldn't want to talk to me because I could talk direct to the Chief Frog and express my view. I had the Chief Frog's support and when I tried to implement the idea on how to reenergize the PTD, the Chief Fish sent me into the net and finally left the pond in disgrace. No
bad feeling about it but I then refused to do anything more in connection with the PTD. This is the first time I'm broaching the subject again. I still think that the PTD can regain its stature if a wise and worthy fish is placed as head of all the fishes.

abdulhalimshah said...

Akhi Norzah,
Granted that an enlightened and eminent person ( which is a rare commodity amongst the PTD right at this moment) who could be also an outsider as what the PM had insinuated a few times,with the malaise that had taken root at all the top levels of the public service, in particular the PTD, I doubt very much that the Big Fish can clear up the muddy water because the King Frog and the Lesser frogs will not easily take a back seat once they have tasted the gold mine of the big fishes that have been sacrificed. The amount of muck and dirt that have been scattered as a result of the chaos and free for all grabs in cash and kind in their musical chair placements have made them full of greed and avarice.
Short of a mutiny on the bounty, the PTD galleon is going to the bottom in their watery grave and eventually ripe for a complete takeover by the pirates of the Malacca Straits. Woe betide us when this happens, and this is not a mere speculation as some of our fellow Commonwealth countries have shown where the Politicians are the ones heading the Ministries and Depts and the Top Civil Servants are just being treated as glorified Peons.

norzah said...

That's a very unequivocal prediction you've made there, Akhi Halim. Yes, in many countries the politicians have taken over the leadersip roles in the country. The KSN's and KSUs jobs can be easily converted into political posts.
This can surely happen if JPA does not begin to groom real first class PTDs for those jobs in preference for the favorites of the KSN's and KPPA's. That habit has been going on for too long.

Al-Manar said...

Dear Norzah,
Looking way back into the 1960's I recall how 'powerful' MCS ( written MSC in the posting)were seen. That deemed to cause certain amount of dissatisfaction among the professional officers like doctors and engineers. They resented having to be headed by MCS officers who in their mind could not know enough of the technical problems they had to face, and earned higher salaries. These professionals envied such department as the Customs which was headed by one promoted within the department. In those days there was no, if at all very little, political interference. So in general, the professionals in the government services were the ones seemed to feel side-lined then. Not being with the government myself I was just an observer and my views are those of an observer, possibly erroneous.
At some stage the ‘professionals’ were give the recognition as being able to head their own department. I wonder if this and the emerging of ‘political force’ created the backlash that has resulted in where the PTD officers are now. I truly feel sorry how these officers are being treated today, knowing that many of them possess professional qualifications, lawyers, technical people and all.

My friend, you are in a better position to judge how far out is my view of the historical reality.


norzah said...

Your observation of what happened is very accurate, Akhi Pakcik, including the Freudian slip that you saw, MCS being typed as MSC. When you don't like something that's bound to happen. I have served long years in the PTD ( the exMCS) and became what I am through its favours but when something ssmells fishy I wouldn't hesitate to point it out.

Professional and Technical becoming the head of their departments was perfectly alright and necessary as far as I was concerned. I didn't mind the KSU of a Ministry holding a lower grade than a technical head of department. What caused the ot in the PTD was the promoting of 'buddies' to top posts and giving a very bad name to the PTD aside from allowing experienced politicians to bully them.
When KSUs were not critically chosen, the one who rose to become KSN could also a simple chice of the outgoing chief. It is thus that the top post began to become a glorified cynosure with the occupant held on contract and can be chucked out at any time depending on the fancy of the political numero uno. Salamualaikum.

abdulhalimshah said...

Dear Pak Cik and Akhi Norzah,
The story of the MCS versus the Professionals are as old as the mountains, and this feud became very sharp when I was in the Ministry of Education from 1973 to 1982.
The jealousy was attributed to some MCS officers whose attitude were to be the overlords to the Education Service officers. When I became the Head of Service and Establishment Division which was the key instrument in putting up recommendations to the higher positions in the Education Service, I plainly made it clear to them that I was only a facilitator and the decision rests with their Director-General. At one stage there was a group of officers who applied undue pressure to alter the list but I went back to the DG and advised him on the service principle to be adhered to unless he wanted an unhappy group of people who resented the intference. With convincing arguments I managed to resort to the old list for promotion. Now this showed how the integrity of the person is paramount in ensuring justice and fairness. Maybe I was from the Old School who goes by the established norms and standards in order to retain harmony and good spirit within the ranks of the education officers. Now what transpired in the MCS also could have been trampled upon by those whose cables are much stronger and by implication using outside influence to determine the outcome of the promotion. Nowadays I am told there seemed to be a lack of adherence to service principles and the established order have been turned upside dowm, much to the consternation of those who deserved more than the favoured ones. If these continued unabated, the whole Govt service will be a wretched servive and only waiting for it to be destroyed by the people who like to see chaos and anarchy because they can benefit from such a scenario. God Save the People and the Country.

norzah said...

Looks like the future of not only the PTD service but also of the country is very bleak, Akhi Halim. I wouldn't give up hope because change has a way of stabilizing itself. The only regret is that, given an admin system where kowtowing to the boss is more important than actual ability and talent to get to the top,the top echelon of the civil service will be filled by sycophants.

abdulhalimshah said...

Ya Akhi Norzah,
It is already happening and the sychopants are mostly occupying the top PTD posts today. Change could only be brought about by the change in the political landscape which I hope will come at the next GE. You might say that we would be trading the tiger for the crocodile, but let it be so before we get the Saints come marching in. The world is already very old and the end is like between your two fingers.

norzah said...

Very wisely said, ya Akhi Halim. I agree with you in thinking that GE13 might change things: hopefully not from the frying pan into the fire.Yet we can never tell because money can buy anything. including votes and
loyalty, the two critical ingredients of winning an election.