What is the highlight of your long and varied career serving the public and the country? Karim Saad, Gombak
I thank God that I have been able to serve my country and people for 30 years in government and about 20 years so far in the private sector. When I joined the civil service after graduating with an economics degree from Malaya University in Singapore, the great highlight was “to serve God, king and country”. Our challenge was to take over from the British officers and to prove to our people that we Malayans (and later Malaysians) were as good or better than the colonial officials. I believe we succeeded then.
Right through my career in government, we Malaysian civil servants served with distinction, independence, initiative and integrity. I hope it is the same now.
After retirement, I was the CEO of Bank Buruh for five years. I then joined the Sunway group as corporate advisor and without realising it, have been there for about 15 years now. The challenge for me was to prove that ex-senior government officials were able to perform just as well as their business counterparts. Indeed, most of my retired colleagues who joined the private sector and GLCs (government-linked companies) then, have proven their worth. And I hope I am worthy of my wage even now!
The highlight of my career is to give my best to serve our country and our people.
What are the most important things you have acquired from your years in the civil service? P. Tina, Puchong
Frankly, I have acquired a great deal of satisfaction and fulfilment serving in the civil service, even more than what I have gained in the private sector. It’s because I worked for a greater calling to serve my country and people, rather than working for a bank or a company, however good it may be. You see, in government, you are always conscious that you are not working hard for money or profit, but for a larger call to duty and mission to serve your country. I believe serving in government is a calling.
As a former top official of the Treasury, do you think the financial management of our county’s public sector is efficient? S. Ragunathan, PJ
Having served as an economist in the Malaysian Treasury for 23 years and on the board of directors of the World Bank in Washington for two years, I have to say our financial management has weakened over the years. There is more corruption, less transparency and too much overspending and unnecessary expenditure, because of the closed and negotiated tendering system, which is only now being rectified slowly.
The budget deficits have risen too high and public expenditures are therefore being constrained. But the Government’s greater reliance on the private sector as the engine of growth under the 10th Malaysia Plan may be unrealistic, unless more effective policies are introduced so as to have a more even playing field and to encourage more open competition and meritocracy.
The civil service and our institutions also have declined and need to be strengthened soon, as the quality of the financial management of the country is directly related to the quality of national management as a whole.
You’re a distinguished retired civil servant and public figure. How do you account for the Malay dominance in the public services and administration, and how can we correct this to ensure the fulfilment of the 1Malaysia concept? J.C. Rajarao, KL
Having been a child of Merdeka and sharing the Merdeka spirit and ethos, I am naturally disappointed that the civil service and the public service have become Malay-dominated. Our political leaders should not have allowed this to happen. This trend is detrimental to national unity and erodes the Government’s ideals of 1Malaysia .
People have been losing confidence in the public service and are inclined to criticise, sometimes even unfairly, because they do not identify with its composition nor its apparent ethnic partisanship.
I don’t believe that the non-Malays shy away from joining the public service. After all, it is still prestigious and pays better than before. How do we reconcile graduate unemployment with the oft repeated claim that the non-Malays do not want to join the public service? Something is wrong and the Government can easily conduct a survey to find the truth and act upon it expeditiously.
We can solve the problem of an unbalanced ethnic public service by immediately introducing a quota system for recruitment for all levels. At the recruitment into the initial stages of public service, we can adopt a ratio of three Malays to two non-Malays. When I joined the civil service, it was four Malays to one non-Malay. But now the whole system has got so skewed that we have to take bold measures to rectify the situation as soon as possible before it’s too late. At the higher levels of the public service, highly competent professional and management officials can be appointed on contracts of three to five years.
I am sure there will be an immediate positive impact on the whole public service and national unity, and public confidence in the leadership and management of the country will rise.
You say a lot openly, even to the extent of telling the Government what is what. Aren’t you, as a former senior civil servant, worried that the Government may not like this? Bulbir Singh, Seremban
Even as a civil servant, I said my piece honestly and without fear or favour within the administration because I was truthful and sincere. I had no ulterior motives other than to serve my country’s best interests. So, why should I be worried then and even more so now, considering that I have retired and, thankfully, am no longer governed by the General Orders, which I had to respect as a serving civil servant?
To be fair, I have to say all the prime ministers and ministers whom I had served, had always allowed me to speak my mind. But I have learnt to be civil and polite in giving sometimes contrarian financial, fiscal and economic advice. How could any government worth its salt function effectively if it did not allow its top officials to give the political leaders candid advice? But I am speaking of my experience and I can’t say what has happened after my generation retired in the late 1980s.
You have had and continue to have many roles. How do you decide which ones to take on? Louis Kong, Kuantan
Yes, it’s true that one man plays many parts in his life. I am no exception. Over the years, I have phased out of many roles and have encouraged younger and more talented people to take over. For instance, I did so at Transparency International Malaysia after three years as its president. I also did not want to be in a position of conflict with my new role as chairman of the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) panel on corruption prevention and consultation. Leaders must learn the fundamental lesson of phasing out at the right time and not to overstay or cling onto power, however attractive it may be!
But I have been persuaded to lead the Children’s Wish Society of Malaysia, which tries to meet the last wishes of terminally ill children. I am also, for better or for worse, the president of Habitat for Humanity Malaysia, which seeks to repair and build houses for the absolute poor with the help of public funds. I get a lot of inspiration from this charity work and I hope I’ll get some blessings too. Basically, I take on roles when I am asked and where I believe I can contribute to the welfare of the poor and depressed sections of our society.
How far has Malaysia come in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR)? Bernard KH Lim, Penang
Malaysia has generally responded quite well to this relatively new concept of CSR. However, it’s the big multinationals and Malaysia’s larger corporations that have taken the initiative to do more to fulfil their social responsibility. There is this perception among many smaller companies that it is the Government’s responsibility to do more for the lower-income citizens and that companies that pay tax have actually discharged their social responsibility and need not do more!
You’re purpose-driven and seem to be always busy. Don’t you relax and do something just for yourself? M.H. Ismail, KL
Yes, I think I am “purpose-driven”. I am surprised you found that out! Did you read my autobiography, My Life and Times? I am influenced by the famous book, The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, which has guided me. In a way, work that I enjoy, like writing these answers, relaxes me! But I also enjoy private quality moments with my tolerant wife, Samala, and our children and their families, especially our four grandchildren.
I do some gardening and reading and writing, of course, as I have purposefully written nine books in about 10 years. That’s my relaxation, although I sometimes wonder whether I should have had more exciting forms of relaxation.
What do you think about all the talk about transforming Malaysia into a high-income economy? Mak Lai Fun, Johor Baru
I think it’s a great idea to become a “high-income country”. But we cannot just wish for Malaysia to become a developed economy with high incomes. It needs careful planning and proper implementation of prudential and competitive policies. We will need more political will to be more competent and meritocratic and less protective and ethnocratic. Otherwise, we may be chasing rainbows and a pipe dream! We have to be realistic and pragmatic, and transform the Malaysian mindset and the whole economy – as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is trying to do. However, he needs stronger political and public support more urgently, for us to become a developed high-income country by 2020, which is just 10 years away.
What can you reveal about the private face of Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam? Philip Seet, Seremban
Actually, I am an open book. Please read my transparent autobiography. Short of describing my bedroom, I am very public and have hardly a private face, except that I may have some odd private thoughts sometimes. But that is our special privilege, which nobody can take away.
The STAR Online Home Business News July 31, 2010