SCHOLAR-BUREAUCRATS: Often working behind the scenes, they are the ones who bridge the worlds of rulers and the ruled
FROM around 141 BC during the Han Dynasty, to about 1905 during the Qing Dynasty people were selected to serve the Chinese civil service system based on the Imperial Examinations of Chinese Confucian classics and calligraphy.
The scholar-officials, scholar-bureaucrats or scholar-gentry were erudite scholars who represented morality and virtue and contributed in governance throughout the land. The system was admired and emulated by many European nations, including Britain, which had its own examinations for the Indian civil service introduced in India in 1829 by the East Asia Company.
Britain once had the greatest civil service in the world for it had to manage the British Empire. Like the Roman Empire and other earlier empires, their achievements and mistakes in history made of them great administrators.
British civil servants in Malaya were keen thinkers, scholars and social scientists. People like R. O. Windstedt, R. J. Wilkinson, O.T. Dussek, Reginald Hugh Hickling and others, provided us with an understanding of the British mind, or at least, the British Residents' minds during their times.
As scholar-bureaucrats, their annual reports, works, letters and diaries chronicled the eras. Lessons from British Empire rule and World War 2 from such lonely, proud, reflective, turbulent times and experiences, led Winston Churchill, to declare in America: "The empires of the future are empires of the mind."
Malaysian civil service inheritance from the British was not just about British Empire history, but were the general orders and the financial general orders. The Malaysian civil service improved on these documents with professional and administrative circulars and Malaysia Development plans.
Top Malaysian civil servants were educated abroad and at home to the highest levels in all disciplines of development.
They were as academic and scholarly as any academician in universities. However, most of their knowledge contributions do not bear their names but carry the mark of their ministries and departments.
The best of civil servants were scholar-civil servants, with a sense of history, mission and imagination to shape the future, competence in legal literacies, a sense of urgency and understanding of the need to seize the moment for strategic transformation in initiation of change.
As lovers of great books, management books as well as seminal works in all disciplines, the best of them had the habit of reading, thinking and reflecting on matters of development, service, leadership integrity and challenges.
One of their reading passions was learning lessons from biographies of chief secretaries of government, and colleagues such as Tun Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid, Tan Sri Radin Soenarno, Tan Sri Ani Arope, and Syed Jaafar Syed Aznan Jamalullial, as well as great leaders in history from all cultures.
In their social interactions, they enhanced the social and relationship capital of bonding, linking with the people and bridging the worlds of rulers and the ruled. They make empathic listeners, gathering information on the problems and needs of the people, and the times, generating appropriate policies and implementation guidelines, allocating adequate resources to bring about change.
They wrote proposals and positions papers, speeches and minutes accurately with care and substance, mindfully caring for every word, comma and whatever else, that would make for a positive difference to society.
Their papers were themselves academic and documents of art of changemasters, which would be significant documents of reference of principles, thought processes, first instance values and ideas for future leaders and scholars.
The federal civil service has its 12 pillars of values as follows: the value of time; the success of perseverance; the pleasure of working; the dignity of simplicity; the worth of character; the power of kindness; the influence of example; the obligation of duty; the wisdom of economy; the virtue of patience; the improvement of talent; and, the joy of originating.
However the values are worded, the upholding of such values shape the construction of thoughts and conscience of the scholar-civil servant, who will make sense of the missionary intention and action of service.
In these confusing times, with political protagonists of all persuasions and schemes, the civil service and its institutions provide continuity and coherence of policies and cultures of excellence ensuring stability.
In an era of the democratisation of higher education, the exponential growth of information, and community-driven knowledge generation, scholar-civil servants, who are willing and lifelong learners, are the ones who can lead and be relevant for the knowledge society.
From the serious scholar-civil servants will emerge some of the international civil servants who will do Malaysia proud by their service to mankind.
Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid | firstname.lastname@example.org is a deputy vice-chancellor, INTI Laureate International University NST Home News Opinion Columnist 28/02/2014