Enter, The Civil Servants

Loke at his ministerial office in Putrajaya.

The minister unceremoniously ended a PEMANDU contract, and brought the sledgehammer down on a culture of outsourcing.

The task, purportedly for a series of columns in the country’s largest circulated newspaper, The Star.

Obviously, ministry was paying an offensive amount to a private company to write op-eds.

It was telling the minister added that he is able to handle the media on his own, and needs no minders.

What can be learnt from this episode?

Great news in terminating the contract.

PEMANDU should be circumspect about how it bills the rakyat. There is no shame in charging the country for services rendered, however the work must match the reward.

More hands on deck

The more pertinent matter is the manner in which the minister intends to work, henceforth.

The minister may have media experience, however the tasks of the opposition MP of Seremban cum Youth Chief of DAP and the day to day of an efficient minister, are galaxies apart.

The demands to be well-informed, substantive and measured are immense.

This is where help is necessary.

The help is not to undermine the minister, or  interfere with his vision for the portfolio, but to get his agenda moving forward.

All the ministers need to be staffed, whether to write columns, face the media or resolve impasses.

They would need many to get the job done.

And when I said many, not as adornments. Not to walk with them in a large mass like the stereotypical rapper’s posse, or clap on demand at events, or have meetings to decide the appropriate souvenir for the said minister at the next meaningless internal event.

There is a lot of serious work to be done.

The minister needs people to vet his speeches. He offers his notes, gets to see the drafts, and obviously may add gloss to the text, but the bulk of the substance is put together by his staff who are aware about his overarching goals and weave the narrative to sustain a consistency of message.

They smooth over his calendar with his input and decision making.

They anticipate how any given event, policy, action or speech may present complications to the present course, and seek to remedy the situation.

They keep him on track.

To do this, he’s need media planners, media writers, digital coordinators, relationship managers, lawyers, accountants and several generalists. In short a team.

And no, not replace PEMANDU with another agency from elsewhere, or from the latest fad inside the prime minister’s department, or overseas consultants.

It’s a job for the civil service. It is better to draw the talent from inside the ministry, and let ability shine.

This is the direction necessary, to power up the brain inside the system.

It is equally insulting for capable civil servants to learn the ministers bypass them and rely on external firms or “consultants”.

For far too long, the civil service has been disallowed to drive the country forward.

So the minister is right in severing the reliance on outsiders, expensive outsiders, but he can win the situation further by leaning on the very people he was assigned to use to get his outcomes, the civil service.

While this goes on, I’m sure the folks inside the “consultant” community are shifting about nervously. Perhaps then, Malaysia won’t be underwriting so many international consultation groups.

Not a great time ahead for Idris Jala and his PEMANDU.

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