WHEN we read reports about reshuffles in the top echelon of the civil service, we can see that many of those given high positions actually are on the verge of retirement.
These may be well-deserved promotions, but their short stints will never allow them to make an impact.
Which is why we should take note of the Prime Minister’s advice to the Administrative and Diplomatic Service (PTD) last Wednesday that mid-level officers must be groomed to take on senior positions for longer periods.
Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the current trend where senior positions such as the post of secretary-general were held by those who were about to retire was not healthy.
He was addressing the Administrative and Diplomatic Service (PTD) which is responsible for sending top civil servants to such apex positions.
He reminded the PTD that if there was a vacancy for the post of chief secretary to the government, there must be at least 12 qualified candidates ready to take over the job.
“We should not wait until there is an opening for a job before we start looking for someone to take over,” he said.
Training those at the mid-level is vital so that real talents can rise to the top faster. Otherwise, such apex positions will only be given to officers based on hierarchy and seniority.
There was a time when top positions, including that of the Inspector-General of Police and the Lord President (now Chief Justice), were held by younger people whose longer tenure ensured that they left a strong legacy behind.
There were also many high-ranking officials who would stay longer than the ministers they serve, but now the situation is such that the minister actually stays longer than them.
As Sir Humphrey Appleby, the fictional Chief Secretary in the comedy series Yes Minister would say when reminding his civil servants on how to control their political masters: “Ministers come and go, but we stay on forever.”
But the more important reason why top officials must be given longer periods to serve is to allow them time to understand their job, plan for the future, and be around long enough to make sure that things really work.
It has been said often enough that most of our government policies are good, but the implementation is always a problem.
And this is where the civil service is supposed to play its role. Clear directions from the top official in any ministry will make sure that every civil servant from top to bottom will do their job properly.
This official must also have a good relationship with the minister so that the intent of any policy is properly transmitted down to the ground.
The problem with having short-stint top officials is that even if they come in strong and want to put the house in order, the people below will just wait for their enthusiasm to blow over, and give them a nice farewell party.The Star Says Sunday December 21, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM