Plumbers for pipes, not ministers

The school in Dengkil has no full fencing for the school, water – since the pipes are aged and decrepit therefore reduce the water pressure – and a computer lab with obsolete computers.

They’ve raised the issue, and pursue the district education office, but to avail.

However their canteen has been overdone – in the tiling, in the roofing, etc which the school has said it never needed. What was a RM7000 job became a RM140,000 exercise.

What a tangled web we weave!

The feudal state failure

In the typical sixth form history classroom we take time to talk about the flawed centralisation system incorporated by the British for the four federated states of Malaya ( Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang).

Of course since the teacher and the STPM paper is more interested in students repeating the model answer for it – so that you can get an A, so that then you can go to university, and so then you can write future history books, without context.

But if they did discuss and risk reducing the number of As in the school they’d probably come up with a better understanding of why things fail in this country – separate to the corruption and nepotism.

The country is overly centralised.

It is down to a combination of those in power fearing the loss of power and an elitist education-social culture which has constructed a structure where only the few get to be involved in power.

When a new special officer for one of the ministers – it’s safe to say he’ll be an Umno vice-president in March – wanted to build a five year blueprint, he invited his friends.

It was nice to be invited by extension, but the real problem with development in this country is that it is all planned by people who are furthest from the problem.

Everything is laid down in an excel sheet or power point sheet of some kid – mind the denigration – in some floor of a building in Putrajaya.

The remote control culture, demanding absolute obedience from those in the delivery chain is bleeding the country.

I’m taking away ill-intent from this equation, we are losing out because the wrong people are making the decisions, and they make all the decisions – therefore a macro view that assumes.

5 kilometres away

This school – this Tamil medium school – is only five kms from the Ministry of Education HQ in Putrajaya. So near, but so far.

Because grouses have to go through the district education office, which is more than 10kms away.

It does not end there. The office does not make policies, it just executes, based on the information HQ in Putrajaya has.

Yes, yes they would claim like in true total quality control standards, information flows back from districts to state offices to Putrajaya central – and it probably happens.

But the information is in the format of forms and reports, and since so much planning is done from HQ, all the subjective information dissipates in the volume of raw data inundating the office.

I am not arguing that there should be no central administration, I am arguing however that central needs to know how to manage general policies, leave space for the states and districts leeway to manage planning.

The country is no more just five million only, with limited number of schools. There is not going to be the Razak war-room of the 70s where the country is run from the inside of a room.

If you have one of the largest bureaucracies in the world, not employing that workforce to think and apply what is best needed locally is just woeful.

If the pipes in the school don’t work, the district should be able to communicate with the headmaster and get a clear idea of the situation. Then the district should confirm the matter with a field visit – and ask for an advisory from the public works department. Not the Works Ministry, just the district office. Between them they can decide the gravity of the case.

Then the district weighs this along with the other present maintenance concerns, and factor in the resource available. This will lead to an execution plan. And follow through processes.

And yes yes, these also likely occur, but in Malaysia its all about Putrajaya. The local offices don’t venture too far of orders, because they risk the wrath of Putrajaya, and any local initiative risk being abandoned because an order from afar will change everything.

Central control

The minister of education is facing a vice-president election in March, and giving infrastructure projects would make many division chiefs happy. It won’t surprise me if there is a surfeit of projects launched this school holiday.

Now many schools do need renewal and refurbishment. But since these things are decided from afar, there is the tendency to force square pegs in round holes – just like the unneeded canteen in Dengkil.

And the pipes are unattended.

It does not matter if there are political motivations, because they exist in every nation. The issue tends to handled better if the district can counter any late changes by ministers and stand its ground. Therefore central parties will learn to negotiate with state and district offices, not launch orders.

The working state is not a state without selfishness. It is a selfish state.

It is in the fact varying parties have the right to pursue their interest without needing to submit to a central figure that enables better decisions to be made.

The district will explain why the pipes are important, and central might prop up the canteen overhaul argument, and since these discussions fall under the examination of other bodies like the ACA and auditor-general’s office – then the likelihood of a completely random decision is greatly reduced.

Decentralisation 1900

Back to the form six classroom you can hear from the devoted teacher – a rare breed that the bureaucrats are trying hard to hunt to extinction – will speak on how the good intentions of centralisation fail. Four states connected with common interests and shape are better served by a central planning point – which is good in theory.

However time showed that all plans need local knowledge and adapted or adjusted application.

Yet a central line is important for areas where coordination is important.

Independence of local decision makers and the benefits of joint planning must stand side by side, not with one dominating the other.

In Malaysia, this point has not been lost, it just not been implemented. Most bureaucrats in this country are just highly paid peons and the power to decide resides in so few. That is not to besmirch the intellect and abilities of those castrated of power – they probably are wholly qualified.

Yet when the capable are made to dance to the tune of one piper only, pipes don’t get fixed. Plus the general helplessness encourages them to abuse the system to siphon off what they can since they are not allowed to decide. More so since they cannot say no to central, they’ll just take their time to say yes, and that drags government.

Time for a rethink, I think.

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