KUALA LUMPUR: Seven months after Pakatan Harapan (PH) took over administration of the nation, there is still a deep trust deficit between the politicians calling the shots and the civil service.
Senior civil servants told FMT the administration of Dr Mahathir Mohamad did not trust them, and that many of them did not trust their political masters, either.
It also appears that while some of the ministers don’t understand the way the civil service works, some civil servants are unused to the fast pace at which the new ministers are pushing for workable ideas and results.
The director of a department in Putrajaya admitted that the civil servants, who had been working under Barisan Nasional for decades, were unsettled by PH’s victory in the May 9 general election.
“We were not sure what to expect from the newly appointed ministers whom we have known as the opposition. Many of us did not even think they could run a government.”
She said many civil servants also feared losing their jobs because PH, when in the opposition, had constantly stated that the civil service was bloated.
She added that some of the ministers still thought “like the opposition” when holding meetings.
“We are trying to work with the new administration, but our hearts are not there because we are not sure of our future. They don’t trust us, neither do we have faith in them. Trust is, after all, the basis of a working relationship.
“Also, they have no experience. It is a headache explaining the processes in the civil service to them,” said the director.
A senior officer, who gave his name as Ismail, agreed, saying until the ministers and deputy ministers became familiar with the procedures and processes involved, it would be difficult for both sides to work effectively.
Ismail said the new ministers had no clue how the civil service had been operating and that their new methods were a little jarring.
“For years, we took orders. We were not asked for our opinions. Now, they want us to make decisions. During meetings, the minister will say we are going to implement this or change that, and we are supposed to come up with our own plans.
“Previously, the thinking was done by the directors, sometimes consultants. The culture then was to follow orders, but now they want us to put forward our plans and ideas. They want us to speak up.
“When they started working, they wanted all the files. We provided them the information and all the files they wanted. Sometimes they would ask for information immediately. We would run to get whatever they wanted as soon as possible. The problem is, they want instant action or changes.”
Ismail added that the civil servants did not always understand what the ministers want, questioning whether the ministers themselves knew either.
“They have to understand that there are processes involved to get approvals and papers to submit. They are not used to our ways and vice versa. Change will take time.”
Ismail also felt that some ministers and deputy ministers had a negative perception of the civil service.
“They think we are lazy, but the truth is we follow orders and of course we go for our breaks.”
A director-general meanwhile dismissed the claim that civil servants were sabotaging the government.
“Basically there is no trust on either side,” he said. “Some of the trusted officers of ministers and deputy ministers are still spying on us, thinking we will inform the previous regime about what is happening. Why?
“If they run the administration well, what is there for us to tell anyone?”
He added that the ministers should be clear in their instructions and plans so that everyone would understand.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently said the culture of sabotaging the implementation of government policies still existed among civil servants, although the number of those involved had decreased.
He also reiterated that the process of “cleaning up” government departments and agencies could not be completed in a short time.
Mahathir said he had often raised the issue of sabotage to serve as a reminder to government servants to carry out their responsibilities with trust and not do the wrong things.
The prime minister said civil servants should also be patient with political appointees who were not as well informed in administrative matters, and to avoid any disputes.