Pemandu cracks whip over civil service

Aidila Razak & S Pathmawathy
Sep 21, 10


EXCLUSIVE Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Idris Jala may not be a politician, having been roped into the cabinet from an illustrious corporate career, but he sure knows how to evade a question.

idris jala interview 4In his role as the ‘salesperson’ and driver of the Prime Minister’s framework of change, the CEO of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) uses charts and analogy to respond to issues.

It may win over some members of the public but, to some extent, this allows him to slip out of giving direct answers.

While at times convincing, his ‘motivational speaker/corporate trainer’ style also feels like a walk in the clouds, Idris is quick to point out that Pemandu’s everyday work is solidly on the ground.

“(For example), a textbook example on crime would say ‘use technology to reduce street crime’ but we don’t say that – we (do it), we put 496 CCTV (closed-circuit televisions) in the 50 locations identified,” he said.

“What we do is very much grounded… another reason to why we are not ‘textbook’ is because the (project) proposals are not written by us.”

idris jala interview 1Pemandu’s mandate – to transform the government and the economy – is no walk in the park by any measure. For Idris, the only way to attack such an enormous project is to do it bit by bit.

The Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), being launched today, opens the way for the country to meet its 6 percent economic growth target and to become a developed high-income nation by 2020.

Pemandu has identified 131 entry point projects (EPP) which will contribute a total of US$138 billion to the gross national income, bringing this to US$523 billion by 2020.

Idris said all the 131 EPPs will be initiated by the private sector and that his department will only “facilitate” communication between private companies and the civil service.

idris jala interview 2“When we put everyone together (we realised that it is the) lack of communication (that has led to slow private investment in Malaysia).

“If you do not have (private stakeholders and civil servants in the same room), you will have the normal situation where the companies have to go from department to department for approval. That could take a long time and it is frustrating.

“The private sector has agreed to invest if those in the government resolve the X, Y and Z part of the project so that they can proceed with their work.”

Contrary to popular view, he claimed that his efforts to shake the civil service into life through the government transformation programme (GTP) has hit “most of the targets” and is more than encouraging.

“What tends to happen is that they have their priority, so your thing is low priority in their list. Rightly or wrongly they say their priority comes first (but) we say, well this is the prime minister’s priority (and things get going),” he said.

‘We’re the catalyst’

It is Pemandu’s role as a troubleshooter – or ‘catalyst’ in Idris’ words – that will eventually transform the way the civil service and private sector do things.

“Every Friday we hold a problem-solving meeting. When someone comes to us with a problem in getting approval from a government department, we will write and ask why was it not approved (and work on those reasons),” he said.

Pemandu will crack the whip for as long as it takes for the transformation to turn to habit. To make sure that they themselves do not become jaded, all Pemandu staff are on a three-year contract.

“In Shell, Malaysia Airlines, everywhere, I find that most human beings are very capable, but lacking in discipline, lazy to do more work,” Idris noted.

If sceptics are unconvinced, he said, all they need to do is visit the ETP public showcase and quiz Pemandu and private sector representatives on the minutia of the 131 EPPS.

“Everyone will criticise, but come and tell us your suggestions and we will listen to them. There are many armchair critics who will not even bother to see what we have manage to do. No matter what their doubts are nothing can be solved unless there is some form of feedback but for some, their solutions are the only solutions.

“Sometimes people don’t like what is good for them so we need to decide for them (but) it’s difficult to know what the silent majority feels.”

Idris,NONE who is often seen as a politically naive, received much bad press after his subsidy reduction public lab presentation, during which he noted that the country will be bankrupt in nine years if subsidies are not cut.

Unfazed, Idris said the subsidy public showcase was an example of how much Pemandu values public feedback.

“Pemandu suggested a 15-sen reduction in subsidy but the people wanted it to be bit by bit, so we listened,” he said.

Sometimes, he said, people do not like what is good for them and it is the government’s duty to push ahead.

This was perhaps the case with nuclear power, listed as a plan for the energy sector in the ETP.
Idris sidestepped the question when asked if this will be taken off the table in view of opposition to the idea.

“That’s hypothetical. Why would you suggest to the people when you go out there, when you don’t intend to make it happen?”

Selective affirmative action

With the ETP and GTP being the “pillars” holding up the 10th Malaysia Plan and 1Malaysia, what does the minister feel about the apparent contradictions between the two in terms of bumiputera affirmative action?

“There is no contradiction (but) I agree with you that we should not give so much to those who don’t need it,” he said, referring to the carving out of business opportunities for bumiputera ventures all the way to mature and public-listed companies.

The governmentdap pc on bumiputera tender 090807 documents is not essentially wrong in its efforts to carving them out because there is “transparency” and people are not misled into competing altogether, he said.

“(Article 153 of the federal constitution)is very specific. That’s good. If you want to carve out, make it transparent. What we don’t want is the whole universe to be included in that,” he said.

But Idris was somewhat reticent in commenting on the issue as he is not involved in framing the economic policies which are under the purview of the National Economic Action Council.

“In the oil and gas industry we used to say that trying to do so many things is like an oil spill… I’m focused on the two pillars which are the GTP and ETP. Don’t worry about scepticism… (we will) work towards blocking out the noise.

“As we implement the projects, we will force (through) the changes that need to take place in bureaucracy.”

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