Its in­ter-agency col­lab­o­ra­tion to re­solve is­sues broke si­los in the pub­lic ser­vice

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer is Head of the Strate­gic Cen­tre for Pub­lic Pol­icy at the Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness, Univer­siti Ke­bangsaan Malaysia

THE tele­o­log­i­cal ap­proach in phi­los­o­phy ar­gues that ev­ery crea­ture has a pur­pose in life. So, we can sur­mise that the pur­pose of the birds and bees is to help pol­li­nate flow­ers and plants to keep the earth ver­dant. Stephen Grel­let, a 19th cen­tury Quaker mis­sion­ary, wrote a poem that per­haps sums up part of man’s pur­pose: will be soon dis­banded. Pe­mandu was never in­tended to be per­ma­nent. It was to trans­fer its role to the main-stream pub­lic ser­vice once it had put in place the na­tional trans­for­ma­tion process.

The pub­lic and the pub­lic ser­vice have come to ac­cept Pe­mandu as the en­gine of the Na­tional Trans­for­ma­tion Pro­gramme or NTP. Even though its job will be con­tin­ued by an equally ca­pa­ble pub­lic ser­vice, that has cham­pi­oned one re­form af­ter an­other over the past 50 years, it is rather nos­tal­gic to see Pe­mandu go.

Pe­mandu has dili­gently de­liv­ered out­comes in ar­eas of con­cern to the pub­lic. Since its in­cep­tion in 2009, Pe­mandu has en­gen­dered pub­lic trust in gov­ern­ment. Its modus of in­ter­a­gency col­lab­o­ra­tion to re­solve cross-cut­ting is­sues broke si­los in the pub­lic ser­vice. And, through its chal­leng­ing per­for­mance tar­gets, min­is­ters and sec­re­taries-gen­eral have come to ap­pre­ci­ate that ac­count­abil­ity for the de­liv­ery of pub­lic ser­vices and na­tional goals is as ma­jor a job as pol­i­cy­mak­ing and leg­is­lat­ing.

Ernest Hem­ming­way, an Amer­i­can writer, once said:

WED­NES­DAY, MARCH 22, 2017 re­mu­ner­a­tion and with read­ier ac­cess to funds and political lead­er­ship — may no longer be avail­able. But, the pub­lic ser­vice has a long tra­di­tion of ser­vice de­liv­ery and re­form to fall back on to per­form in the same way Pe­mandu has done. Added to this is the in­sti­tu­tional heft that the Eco­nomic Plan­ning Unit (EPU) will bring to the work of co­or­di­nat­ing the NTP across the pub­lic ser­vice. Nev­er­the­less, we of­fer five point­ers to ease the tran­si­tion.

in its co­or­di­nat­ing work, EPU should be ac­corded the same sta­tus and priv­i­lege that Pe­mandu en­joys. Namely, the top political lead­er­ship should con­tinue to shower the same level of care and in­volve­ment in re­solv­ing key pub­lic anx­i­eties. Also, the EPU should be given the dis­cre­tion to choose the tal­ent it wants at its de­liv­ery unit.

the in­valu­able ex­e­cu­tion ma­chin­ery that Pe­mandu has built should be re­tained. This will in­clude the whole-of-gov­ern­ment ap­proach to tack­ling cross­cut­ting is­sues, ci­ti­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion, per­for­mance agree­ments and re­port­ing ar­range­ments for min­is­ters and sec­re­taries-gen­eral, and reg­u­lar prime-min­is­te­rial stock-takes over de­liv­ery.

De­part­ments should not feel less scru­ti­nised or less held to ac­count af­ter the han­dover. The pre­vi­ous sys­tem of hav­ing stretch tar­gets, with ap­pro­pri­ate in­cen­tives for achieve­ment, should be re-in­sti­tuted. And, a more com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach at as­sess­ing out­comes and im­pact that fac­tors in so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­ter­nal­i­ties should be en­gi­neered.

there is close learn­ing that has to en­sue on the work­ings of Pe­mandu. Un­der­study­ing Pe­mandu’s op­er­a­tions through the at­tach­ment of its of­fi­cers there will prove ben­e­fi­cial for the pub­lic ser­vice when the time comes to hit the ground run­ning.

al­though the na­tional key re­sult ar­eas of the Gov­ern­ment Trans­for­ma­tion Pro­gramme and na­tional key eco­nomic ar­eas of the Eco­nomic Trans­for­ma­tion Pro­gramme — that to­gether com­prise NTP — re­main as rel­e­vant as when they were first crafted eight years ago, they may be ripe for re­view. Sus­tain­able lead­er­ship is about tap­ping into so­ci­ety’s chang­ing pref­er­ences and shap­ing pro­grammes to ac­com­mo­date th­ese shifts.

The pub­lic will have to be con­sulted. Dur­ing the heady days of NTP, con­sul­ta­tive lab­o­ra­to­ries, ci­ti­zen sur­veys and open days were among the in­stru­ments to so­licit pub­lic feed­back. Th­ese tools should be added to the pub­lic ser­vice’s ar­se­nal of civil-so­ci­ety en­gage­ment.

the cul­ture of per­for­mance that val­ues out­comes over out­puts should be re­tained. Pe­mandu has cre­ated is­lands of ex­cel­lence in min­istries and de­part­ments that are in­volved in im­ple­ment­ing the key re­sult and eco­nomic ar­eas. Th­ese pock­ets of ex­cel­lence should be en­larged to en­ve­lope the rest of the pub­lic ser­vice. This could be done by bring­ing to bear the same amount of fo­cus on min­istries out­side the am­bit of the na­tional key re­sult and eco­nomic ar­eas as on those within.

The re­ten­tion of Pe­mandu’s elab­o­rate ex­e­cu­tion frame­work, tools, and tal­ent cou­pled with an in­sti­tu­tional cul­ture that al­lows for a whole-of-so­ci­ety ap­proach will en­sure that the pub­lic ser­vice is po­si­tioned to de­liver.

Malaysian youth at the launch of the Na­tional Trans­for­ma­tion 2050 in Kuala Lumpur in Jan­uary.

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