Mind your words, please!


The colour orange: Oren refers to the orange colour of the T-shirts that those arrested by the MACC have to wear when they are brought to court.

 

THE Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has been in the news almost daily with its arrests of politicians and businessmen, many carrying the Tan Sri and Datuk Seri titles.

This has become the subject of conversation among Malaysians.

To help foreigners, especially those doing business here in Malaysia, below is a compilation of terms that are often used to denote corrupt practices. To the clueless, these words could easily be misunderstood.

Worse, it could land unsuspecting expatriates in serious trouble with the law, especially with the MACC, if they use these seemingly innocent terms without realising their implications.

Here’s a list of everyday words and how they are used.

Jalan – this is a Bahasa Malaysia word for “road”. On the surface, it sounds simple and straightforward. Every road sign begins, mostly, with this word to denote, well, road. If only it was that simple. In reality, it could be the beginning of a corrupt offer.

If someone asks you: “You got jalan ah?” It doesn’t mean seeking assistance for a road direction. In the Malaysian context, it probably means “is there a way to resolve a complicated situation?” Some may argue the word need not necessarily be “illegal” as it could also mean finding a clever way out of a problem.

Kabel – the Malay word for “cable”. Cables are strong, thick wires, which are usually twisted or braided together. Well, in Malaysia, it also means someone in position – a very powerful person, often a politician in high office, or a senior government officer, who is able to help secure a big contract or deal. So, if someone asks whether “you have kabel?” you shouldn’t look puzzled or confused.

It simply means you need to have the support of an influential figure who is as strong as a cable. It’s no longer good enough to “pull strings” but you must be able to “pull cable” for your plans to get off.

Lubang – it literally means a hole. Most Malaysians grumble about lubang or the numerous pot holes along our badly maintained roads. The vulgar ones uses this word with a sexual connotation.

But in the more sleazy world of bribery, lubang means an opportunity, usually an illegal way, to make money. It has nothing to do with holes, as the word suggests.

Kau tim – this is a Cantonese word, which has actually become a Malaysian word, used by all races. It means finished, done or resolved. As simple as that.

But it is also a way of expressing agreement, or to settle a problem with bribery. For example, if you are stopped by a traffic cop for a traffic offence, you may say “boleh kau tim ah?” or the policeman may suggest “macam mana mau selesai, mau kau tim kah?

Lu tak mau kau tim, mesti susah punya. Nanti kena pi balai, pi court.” (If you do not wish to settle, it can be difficult. You may have to go to the police station or even the court.)

Ta pau – I always thought that this Chinese word means to pack food or a take-away, but it has come to mean a greedy corrupt person who wants to take away the entire loot all for himself without sharing with anyone, as in “he wants to ta pau everything, how can? So greedy one.”

So, no expatriate who has just arrived in town should go around telling everyone that he wants to “ta pau” everything he can lay his hands on. He can be sure of getting strange, hostile stares.

Selesai – it means to end or the end. It could be the end of a movie, the end of a meal or the end of a relationship. It’s a really simple word but in the Malaysian context of corruption, it means “how to resolve this?” or “it has been settled.”

Usually, the act of corruption will begin with a simple question – “So, macam mana mau selesai?” or “how do we settle this?”. For sure, it won’t be a challenge to a fight or a gentlemanly end to a problem with a handshake. Don’t be stupid. It’s an invitation to begin negotiation for, errr, a bribe.

The English version is also often used, as in “can settle ah?”

Lesen kopi – This has to be the Corruption 101 lesson for our young drivers. It is the first step into the world of corruption in Malaysia. Nobody wants to admit it but going by hearsay and unsubstantiated remarks, many Malaysians taking their driving test believe that they need to bribe the examiner in order to pass the very first time. Lesen kopi means bribing to get a driving licence.

So, they earn what is known as “lesen kopi” or licences obtained via corrupt ways, or duit kopi. Small gratification for “coffee” for the testers. Coffee, not tea. Strangely, there is no such term despite our fondness for teh tarik.

It may sound terribly confusing to tea drinking foreigners but please don’t think that this is the reason why so many Malaysians kill themselves or each other on our roads.

Ikan bilis – it refers to anchovies, those tiny fish, usually fried, found in our national food, the nasi lemak. But it also means small fry. So when low-ranking government officers are arrested for corruption, the MACC is often criticised for just going after the ikan bilis and not the bigwigs, known as sharks in the Malaysian context.

Makan duitMakan essentially means to eat. There’s no way, literally, that a person can eat a ringgit note. But it is synonymous with taking a bribe. It may be confusing to a foreigner as it may seem impossible to eat stacks of ringgit notes but this is Malaysia. We are versatile as well as adaptive. Many people will tell foreigners that they are able to, well, makan duit. Can one, who say cannot?

Oren – It’s not orange juice. It refers to the colour of the round-collared T-shirts that those arrested by the MACC have to wear.

This is the dreaded colour for all suspects, in handcuffs, being led to court in full view of the press.

You can be in red or yellow but orange is a no-no. The new term now is “jangan oren” or “don’t be in orange.”

On The Beat by Wong Chun Wai, The Star

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) needs strong finishing


Biggest seizure: A case that caught the attention of the nation was the seizure of cash, jewellery and other expensive items from the homes of two former top Sabah Water Department officials in October last year.

ONE need not go far to see how effective the Government can be when dealing with highly problematic issues involving people who blatantly do not comply with the rules.

After the National Higher Education Fund Corp (PTPTN) issued a warning to loan defaulters that they would be blacklisted and may not be able to travel abroad, the repayment of their loans increased. There is almost a 300% jump in withdrawals from the Employees Provident Fund’s (EPF) account for education purposes – rising from RM578mil in 2015 to RM1.48bil last year.

According to officials from the EPF, the bulk of the money withdrawn has been channelled toward the repayment of loans owed to PTPTN.

Clearly, the prospects of being blacklisted – a record that will remain forever – and the possibility of being stopped at the airport before leaving overseas for a holiday are reasons enough for them to repay their loans.

The lackadaisical attitude of those who have taken student loans is just another sign of apathy. The former students who are now young working adults know very well that they have an obligation to repay the loans.

However, they do not bother to do so until measures are put in place to hit them hard where it matters.

On a larger scale, corruption is a big problem in Malaysia. It is a major problem that has reached a state where most companies set aside a certain amount to “grease” key people to get jobs.

Everybody knows the danger of getting caught but the practice continues. Towards this end, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has, in recent months, been on overdrive to nab those suspected of corrupt activities.

But has the message that the MACC means business been drilled down?

In South Korea, former president Park Geun-hye was detained on April 1 ahead of her trial. Prosecutors said the allegations against her were grave and the other suspects in the case, including her confidante Choi Soon-sil and Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong, have already been arrested.

In that country, it’s clear that corruption will not be tolerated. Those being investigated will be put behind bars even before the trial starts.

In the last few months, a regular feature in newspapers is the string of high-profile personalities who have been arrested for allegations involving bribery or money laundering.

They include politicians, civil servants, heads of government-linked funds and businessmen. Those who solicit bribes and the parties that give the money or even facilitate bribery have been arrested and remanded.

Some of them have been charged before being let off on bail.

Pictures of the persons involved are all over the newspapers and social media. In some cases, names are mentioned.

The “shaming and naming” of the people hauled up and being investigated is damaging. It is the talk of the town – especially among the private-sector businessmen.

However, there are some reservations on whether the efforts by the MACC would pay off.

At the end of the day, what would matter is seeing how many get prosecuted successfully; how many are handed down custodial sentences.

And most importantly, the speed in which these cases are disposed of by the courts.

For now, most of these MACC cases are already being filed in court and some have been charged. But the trial proper is a process that is likely to take a long time.

And the danger is the momentum will slow down when there is no speedy end to the cases.

There is also the issue of managing perception when there are delays in the outcome.

For instance, two senior officials of the Federal Land development Authority (Felda) were charged with criminal breach of trust involving RM47.6mil for a sturgeon-breeding project in March this year. The offences were allegedly committed between January and July 2014. The hearing will probably start in a few months.

In the meantime, Felda continues to fight the battle to improve its perception on improving governance and returns on its investments.

The share price of Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd is a far cry from the valuations it fetched during its listing in 2012. The returns from the RM2bil that Felda has invested in Felda Investment Corp is nothing much to shout about.

One case that has caught the attention of the nation was the seizure of cash, jewellery and other expensive items from the homes of two former top Sabah Water Department officials in October last year.

According to reports, it took 30 MACC officers and 15 hours to count the cash of more than RM53mil that was seized.

The display of the stacks of bank notes seized from the homes is still an image that is popular on social media. The case, touted as the nation’s biggest corruption case involving RM61.4mil in cash and other assets, has been fixed for hearing in July and August this year. According to reports, some 200 witnesses will be called for the case.

When the case will be concluded is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, it leaves many wondering if the MACC would be successful in its efforts.

Corruption affects the country as a whole. It is estimated that there is a leakage of about 20% of the annual spending for projects and procurement. For instance, the Federal Government development expenditure for 2016 was about RM50bil and 20% is easily RM10bil.

Larger sums are budgeted for government agencies that are not part of the Federal Government balance sheet. This includes the likes of Mass Rapid Transit Corp Sdn Bhd that handles the rail infrastructure projects running into 10s of billions of ringgit. The government-linked companies are another set of entities with big budgets.

What the MACC needs now is a speedy end to such high-profile cases.

Whether the prosecution is successful or otherwise, a quick closure to such cases will help MACC instil public confidence in it. A strong finish to the investigations is much needed.

By M.Shanmugam The Star

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Time to take fight against graft to the top, say group


Political parties should disclose all of their financing and expenditure, says Transparency International Malaysia.

“Political funding must be stated in the parties’ bank accounts and a properly audited account financial report must be published annually,” said its president Datuk Akhbar Satar.

“All ministers and top Govern­ment servants should also declare their assets to the Malay­sian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), and the chief commissioner should declare these to the Parliament,” he said.

Akhbar was commenting on the call by MACC for the Government to declare corruption and abuse of power as the country’s No. 1 enemy.

He said these declarations would be in line with the belief that “transparency and accountability begin at the top”.

“The public must also help MACC by reporting corrupt practices and cooperating in court,” he added.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar also supported MACC’s move.

“Such an honourable effort must be supported thoroughly,” he said. “The police always prioritise integrity and the war on corruption must be fought at all fronts.”

Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said reforms in corruption laws were needed to ensure that MACC could “act without fear or favour”

“Our laws on corruption should be reviewed, revised and made up to date,” he said. “And follow best practices such as in countries like Denmark, Hong Kong and Singapore.”

The Government could set an example by making sure there was a cap on money politics, he added.

Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation senior vice-chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said it was vital for the public to be proactive in helping MACC.

“MACC needs a free hand to take action in fighting corruption,” he said.

G25 member Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim said the best way to start would be to require all election candidates in the 14th general election to sign a pledge against corruption during the campaign.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low said the Government’s commitment to fight corruption was already there “but the journey to deal with the problem takes time”.

Source: Star/ANN By Razak Ahmad, Fatimah Zainal, Andmelanie Abrahamby

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Retrenchments ahead, says Malaysian Employers Federation


The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) believes that more people will get the axe this year due to the current economic challenges.

Apart from the weak economy, contributing factors include the introduction of “disruptive technology” in some industries, it said.

According to its executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan (pic), economic challenges would see bosses reviewing their workers’ requirements.

“I think slightly more workers will be retrenched this year,” he told a press conference after the Taxation and Employer seminar jointly hosted by the Inland Revenue Board and MEF yesterday.

Shamsuddin said in 2015, about 44,000 workers lost their jobs while up to September last year, about 40,000 workers were retrenched.

He said the complete data for 2016 has not been released by authorities yet, but the numbers could be higher than the previous year.

In 2015, said Shamsuddin, about 18,000 of those who lost their jobs were from the banking sector due to the introduction of what he termed as “disruptive technology”, where banks were increasingly adopting online transactions, for example.

Other industries that could be affected, said Shamsuddin, include insurance, manufacturing and construction.

He said for the insurance industry, many prefer dealing with the companies directly for their services, which makes the job of middlemen or agents, redundant.

“However, these agents are not really part of the retrenchment rate because they are considered to be self-employed,” he said.

Asked to comment on the E-kad (enforcement card) programme by the Immigration Department, Shamsuddin said the Government should consider widening the criteria.

He said the programme should be open to illegal workers who do not have permanent employers.

Currently, only illegal foreign workers with valid employers can register and legalise their work under the E-kad programme.

Shamsuddin said by including illegal foreign workers without employers, the source pool for workers can be widened.

By Hemananthani Vivanandam The Star/ANN

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Call on the Government to downsize the country’s bloated civil service


Sheriff: ‘Government bureaucracy has grown so big that it’s not only taking up too much resources but creating many failures in our finance economy

KUALA LUMPUR: One of Malaysia’s former top civil servants has called on the Government to consider downsizing the country’s bloated civil service, while it still can.

Malaysia has the highest civil servants to population ratio in the Asia-Pacific, employing 1.6 million people or 11% of the country’s labour force.

And that could be a problem Malaysia may not be able to sustain if it runs into a financial crisis, said Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, the former Finance Ministry secretary-general and Economic Planning Unit director-general.

He said if the Government was really set on keeping the national deficit at 3%, it needed to look at retrenching employees, particularly in the lower levels of the civil service, to cut spending.

“Government bureaucracy has grown so big that it’s not only taking up too much resources but creating many failures in our finance economy. There are just too many rules and regulations that the public and private sector have to live with,” he told a delegation of economists, politicians and government officials at the Malaysian Economic Association’s forum on public sector governance.

He advised Malaysia to begin downsizing the civil service, “better sooner than later” if it wanted to avoid running the risk of falling into a Greece-like crisis, where the European country had to cut salaries and was unable to pay pensions for its civil service.

Drawing examples from the recent Malaysia Airlines restructuring, where 6,000 people were retrenched, Mohd Sheriff said it was better to let staff go now and compensate them with retrenchment packages while the Government can still afford it.

“It may cost the Government a heavy expenditure now but it is worthwhile to do it now while we can still afford it and not until we are forced into a financial crisis like Greece.

“We don’t want to be in that situation. I think we should do it gradually. It is kinder to do it now with incentives than to suddenly cut their salaries and pensions at a time when they can least afford it,” he said.

Malaysia is expected to spend RM76bil in salaries and allowances for the civil service this year, on top of another RM21bil for pensions. Efficiency and corruption dominated talks on the civil service at the forum, held at Bank Negara’s Sasana Kijang.

Mohd Sheriff, who is also former president of the Malaysian Economic Association, said these issues have been around since his time in the civil service decades ago though not much has changed due to a lack of political will.

In jest, he suggested Malaysia emulate United States President Donald Trump’s idea on downsizing the US civil service by closing down two departments of the Government if it wanted to open another one.

He also suggested that Parliament create a committee to monitor the performance of top civil servants and give them the ability to retrench these officers if they fail to meet their marks.

“In many countries, even Indonesia, they have committees to hold Government leaders to any shortcomings on policy implementations and projects.

“These are the kinds of checks and balance we need to make our civil servants aware that they are being monitored for their work and they can be pulled out at any time,” he said.

Finance Minister II Datuk Johari Abdul Ghani had said Malaysia’s ratio of civil servants is one to 19.37 civilians and that the high number of Government staff had caused expenditures to balloon yearly.

As a comparison, the ratio in Indonesia is 1:110, in China it is 1:108, in Singapore it’s 1:71.4 and in South Korea the ratio is 1:50.

Despite this, Johari said there were no plans to reduce the number of civil servants.

By Nicholas Ccheng The Star

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For the love of Datuk titles


Zunar’s cartoon reflects the glut of titles in society. Image from Aliran Monthly.

 

IF there’s one Malaysian practice that needs reviewing, it has to be this – the long salutations, thanks to the titles of prominent individuals, at the start of speeches during functions.

I can never understand why addressing the audience as “distinguished guests” isn’t good enough. Surely, the audience would be happy to be called distinguished. Or maybe even just “Ladies and Gentlemen”.

Malaysians, however, have to cringe and listen to speakers formally addressing each and every titled person at functions.

We begin with “Tan Sri Tan Sri, Puan Sri Puan Sri, Datuk Seri Datuk Seri, Datin Seri Datin Seri, Datuk Datuk, Datin Datin and distinguished guests”.

And this before the speaker even begins honouring the more important guests by actually naming them one by one, along with their long titles, honorifics and designations.

All these can take up to 10 minutes before the person finally gets to the actual speech.

Welcome to Malaysia. This is another practice which reflects our obsession with formality and titles. It may sound medieval and strange to visitors to Malaysia but this is the done thing here, presumably because some ego-inflated titled individual got offended when his title was not mentioned in a speech.

But alas, the whole thing has become a mockery of sorts. The intention, good as it may be, is actually offensive to the other equally important guests, those with no titles.

They have ended up at the bottom of the pack, in the category of “tuan tuan dan puan puan” or “ladies and gentlemen.” To put it in perspective, without us realising, this is like the category of “dan lain-lain” or “others” which many Malaysians have stood up against.

One would understand it if such a practice is carried out in a palace where protocols are strictly adhered to but surely, not in ordinary functions?

For one, it takes up precious time when most of us just want to get on with the business of the day or in many instances, get on with the dinner. Please, at 8.30pm, most of us are hungry already.

Many times, guests are made to wait, especially when the guest of honour arrives late. By the time the VIP gets there, and thanks to the long and winding speeches, dinner is finally served – at 9.30pm or 10pm.

One wonders why the VIP has to be ushered into a holding room – another peculiar Malaysian practice – before he makes his grand entrance into the ballroom.

I have attended enough events in Britain and the United States, where VIPs would just walk straight into the function hall without any fanfare.

In London, then mayor Boris Johnson cycled to the opening of a property development site and in Sydney, the mayor parked his car a short distance away and walked to the venue!

He introduced himself to his (very) surprised Malaysian audience – and of course, there was no entourage fussing around him to make him look important, another one of our local standard operating procedure.

To be fair, not all of our VIPs are spoilt silly. Sometimes, it is their officers who make a fuss over these formal arrangements to the event’s host.

Those in the royal circles, who have a career in protocol, push even harder – even when the heads of states themselves do not demand it.

His Highness Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor does not even allow waiters to get the napkins ready for him before his meals, insisting on doing it himself.

The Ruler drives his own car often to functions and tells his police motorcade not to put the sirens on because to him, there was no need to put on such a display of importance.

The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, sportingly poses for selfies with his subjects often, sending his security and protocol officers into a frenzy many times.

And most of the time, he drives his car himself. Often, he makes a stop and have a meal at roadside shops, without prior notice. For breakfast, he goes to a mamak restaurant for roti canai quite regularly, again without fuss or advance notice.

At the Cabinet level, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, the Minister of International Trade and Industry, is certainly the most down-to-earth minister from Umno.

Travellers taking the ERL from KL Sentral to KLIA often see Mustapa travelling alone or taking a flight on Economy Class home to Kelantan. He does not see the need to shout about it or have his officers post a picture on Instagram to get publicity.

Permodalan Nasional Bhd chairman Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar insisted on moving around on his own, without the need for bodyguards, when he was in charge of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU). The same can be said of Datuk Seri Idris Jala, who is now chief executive officer of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu).

Perhaps their non-political background helps but having said that, there are corporate figures who are even more status-conscious than politicians.

And seriously, what do Malaysian VIPs do with gifts or “token of appreciation” items presented to them at the end of every function? Yep, they are probably gathering dust in some room filled to the brim with other such items in Putrajaya.

At one time, there was a proposal that only a basket of fruits be given as it was more practical but it never got off the ground.

Likewise, this article will have no impact on the issue.

I wish to thank the “Tun Tun, Toh Puan Toh Puan, Tan Sri Tan Sri, Puan Sri Puan Sri, Datuk Seri Datuk Seri, Datin Seri Datin Seri, Datuk Datuk, Datin Datin, tuan tuan dan puan puan yang dihormati sekalian” for reading this.

On The Beat By Wong Chun Wai  
 
Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist
in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various
capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief
executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.On The
Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column
weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the
paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected
articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in
conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current
issues in The Star.

Related posts:

Corruptions, Conflict of interests, politicians and Malaysian bloated civil service


 

Ministers may face conflict of interest, says Tunku Abdul Aziz: 

 

“If you have no power, you cannot abuse it. Civil servants have a lot more power than their political masters and ministers”

 

‘With a population of 31 million, Malaysia has a ratio of one civil servant to almost 20 people.

‘To compare, the news report cited corresponding figures for several other countries: Singapore (1 to 71 people), Indonesia (1:110), South Korea (1:50), China (1:108), Japan (1:28), Russia (1:84) and
Britain (1:118).’

To keep graft in check, politicians should not be appointed to run government-linked companies, said Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission advisory board chairman Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim (pic).

He said politicians holding GLC positions may face conflict of interest leading to abuse of power and responsibility.

In an interview with Bernama, he said: “Many appointments are made for political reasons. If you are appointed to a position with unanimous power, there are decisions you have to make on a daily basis, weekly, monthly and whatever.

“And in making these decisions, there will be some demands made on you because of your connections, your relatives, your friends and also your cronies.”

Tunku Abdul Aziz said this trend of abusing power because of conflict of interest has been happening since long ago, and may be stopped if the appointment for a top post in a GLC was conducted with “proper selection and screening”.

Tunku Abdul Aziz said the selection process must include going through the candidate’s background and track record.

He said there were always people out there who wanted special treatment, to have the advantage over their competitors.

“They don’t care how it is done (as long as they get the job)… This is where corruption starts.”

Tunku Abdul Aziz said that proper recruitment procedures and techniques could help achieve transparency and accountability, which are essential for top management.

“We can make corruption unprofitable business by making it more difficult to put your hand in the till.”

He believes that corruption is now taking place at the operating level.

“Ministers cannot sign or award contracts. But directors in some departments can do it. This is where abuse of power takes place,” he said.

“If you have no power, you cannot abuse it. Civil servants have a lot more power than their political masters and ministers (in awarding contracts),” he said.

He noted that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission was now catching a lot more “big fish” than before the appointment of Datuk Dzulkifli Ahmad as the new head in July last year.

Tunku Abdul Aziz said MACC was a dedicated highly professional team focusing on the root causes of corruption while catching the crooks.

— BERNAMA

 

Time to trim the civil service

FINALLY, the Government has itself described the civil service as bloated.

To his credit, Second Finance Minister Datuk Johari Abdul Ghani openly and honestly stated that the civil service, although bloated, will not be reduced but will instead be made to multi-task to improve productivity. This statement is serious but also worrisome.

We now have one civil servant serving 19.37 people. The ratio is 1:110 for Indonesia, 1:108 for China, and 1:50 for South Korea. We won’t compare ourselves to the low ratio of 1:71.4 in Singapore because it’s a small island with hardly any rural population.

But why is our civil service so bloated? Firstly, we recruited rapidly to give jobs to the boys when the output from the education system expanded. We even had an “Isi Penuh” programme at one time. That is we rushed to create jobs and filled them fast!

Secondly, unlike the private sector, we rarely retrench staff even in bad times. We hardly sack anyone for inefficiency and even wastage of public funds.

Thirdly, the civil service has become a sacred cow that has to be handled gingerly for fear of reaction against the federal and state governments at the ballot box!

Life is relatively comfortable especially at the lower levels of the civil service. Salaries are better than before, pensions are secure, health provisions are generous, and the drive to be more productive is soft. In fact, there is now a strong manja-manja attitude towards civil servants.

The demand to join the civil service is high but the supply of jobs is slowing down considerably.

The Government should decide to reduce the size of the civil service to prevent the strain on the budget deficits, especially in the future.

Salary and pension bills are going up whereas productivity is not publicly perceived to be improving. Those who deal with civil servants often tell us more about the undue delays, corruption and “tidak apa” or lackadaisical attitude shown on the ground towards the public.

The Government should appoint a high-level task force, if not a royal commission, to examine ways and means of trimming the civil service to an efficient and reasonable size.

To start with, the Government should revise its stand on not reducing “the 1.6 million strong bloated civil service.” If it finds it difficult to reduce the civil service, then please freeze recruitment or make it more sparing and definitely more selective. Please go for more quality rather than quantity!

The civil service is huge because the public sector has been designed to be inordinately large. This has evolved because the private sector has been denied and deprived of greater opportunities to serve the public.

There are many government services, facilities and works and supplies that can be provided more efficiently by the business sector. In fact, this could be the way forward for more bumiputra contractors and other races to participate more actively and competitively to serve our society better.

The cost of maintaining the civil service, at RM74bil in 2016 for salaries and allowances, is not sustainable.

The pension bill of RM19bil per annum, without any contribution to the GDP by retirees, is also unbearable in the longer term. At the same time, according to Johari, revenue from palm oil and other commodities have been falling drastically. So where do we go from here?

It is basic economic and financial logic that we cannot afford to cope with rising salary expenditure and lower revenue. It is much more difficult to raise revenue than to cut expenditure.

The Government has said that our fundamentals are strong. Indeed, they are reasonably healthy at this time. But at this rate of a growing civil service that is now acknowledged as bloated, we cannot afford to assume that the economic and financial fundamentals can continue to be strong for much longer.

My appeal then is for Government to more actively seek to reduce the size of the civil service and to act without undue delay. Our good economic fundamentals are being seriously threatened and we must preserve and protect them from further risks.

TAN SRI RAMON NAVARATNAM , Chairman Asli Center of Public Policy Studies

An effective civil service does not burden Govt

Civil Servants

IN a recent interview with a vernacular newspaper, Second Finance Minister Datuk Johari Abdul Ghani brought up a matter that is seldom highlighted publicly – the size of the Malaysian public sector.

He said the country’s 1.6 million government employees formed “the world’s largest proportion of civil service”.

With a population of 31 million, Malaysia has a ratio of one civil servant to almost 20 people.

To compare, the news report cited corresponding figures for several other countries: Singapore (1 to 71 people), Indonesia (1:110), South Korea (1:50), China (1:108), Japan (1:28), Russia (1:84) and Britain (1:118).

Johari was making the point that a major challenge for the Government was the rising costs of running the public service system.

This is particularly tough when there is a decline in the taxes and other receipts collected from the oil and gas and palm oil industries.

However, he added that there were no plans to reduce the civil service head count.

The minister has won praise for bringing attention to an issue that many have long felt deserves public awareness and discussion.

Emoluments are by far the biggest component of the Government’s operating expenditure, and that cost has kept expanding.

Back in 2006, emoluments totalling RM28.5bil made up 26.5% of the operating expenditure. A decade later, the percentage is estimated to be 35.7%. To pay its employees this year, the Government has allocated RM77.4bil, which is 36% of the budgeted operating expenditure.

And let us not forget the retired civil servants. According to the Public Services Department, there were 739,000 public service pensioners in 2015, and every year, 23,000 people join this group.

In 2010, the Government spent RM11.5bil on pensions and gratuities, accounting for 7.6% of the operating expenditure. In the Budget 2017, retirement charges will come to RM21.8bil, about 10% of operating expenditure.

Although Johari did not appear to use the phrase in the interview, others were quick to talk about the “bloated civil service”.

It should be pointed out that measuring and comparing the sizes of the public sector can be tricky and misleading. There are different ways of defining a civil servant. And the width and depth of a public service system is very much determined by the country’s prosperity and policies.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development looks at public sector employment as a percentage of total employment. In 2013, the average among its members was slightly above 19%.

In Malaysia, civil servants represent 10.8% of our labour force. Perhaps, the public sector is not bloated after all.

On the other hand, we must bear in mind that the number of government employees is growing faster than the country’s labour force.

But we cannot discuss quantity and ignore quality. The issue here is not about how large our public service system is; it is whether the system is larger than necessary.

No matter how big, the numbers make sense if they yield excellent results and lead to robust revenue growth.

At a time when the Government is pushing hard in areas such as innovation, productivity and good governance, the civil service ought to lead by example.

There are already ongoing efforts to transform public service in Malaysia and surely the hope is that these initiatives will result in greater transparency and accountability, enhanced competitiveness, and a high-performance culture,

What is also absolutely clear to us is that the Government’s financial obligations are increasingly heavy, and much of this has to do with the emoluments and pensions it pays.

It is realistic to expect the Government to be more prudent in its hiring of new employees. It cannot afford to be the country’s default employer and young people are wrong to blame the Government if there are no civil service vacancies for them to fill.

The public sector’s primary role is to serve the country’s needs effectively and efficiently. It cannot do that if it is a burden to the Government and ultimately the people. -The Star Says

Related:

Man charged with taking RM80k bribe – Nation | The Star Online

 

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