Creating The Future - Challenges For The Malaysian Civil Service

Address by Dato' (Dr.) Anwar Fazal at the National Seminar on 'Modernising the Public Service' held in conjunction with the 25th Anniversary of MAMPU (Malaysian Administrative and Management Planning Unit), held at Putrajaya, Malaysia on Monday 16th December 2002.

Brothers and sisters, Assalammualaikum, May Peace Be Upon You.

I start with the word 'peace' because more than any other word, it represents the essence of the vision of life - it is the fundamental, the foundation, of human security, of human dignity and of human development.

And peace is not about the absence of war. It is about three dimensions - peace within us, peace with other living things and peace with earth - it is this holistic approach of 'inner peace', of 'social peace' and of 'earth peace' that marks a civil society.

Today, unfortunately we live in a world where this peace is grossly shattered. It is decimated by the evil forces of violence, of waste, and of manipulation.

Today, unfortunately we have a global environment that is under severe, even critical stress. And today we have a global economy that is driven by an ideology of greed, selfishness and speculation.

The father of all failures can be said to be bad governance, bad global governance, bad national governance and bad local governance.

At the global level we have the United Nations which gives humanity a forum for ‘good’. Unfortunately, sound and carefully negotiated global norms can be ignored by the very super powers that are to provide the moral leadership. The response to the International Criminal Court, Kyoto Treaty or even nuclear proliferation by some ‘super powers’ is sadly wanting. When the custodians of the greatest collection of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) speak in holy language about blaming others, people see it as the height of hypocrisy and certainly view it as unconscionable. Unilateralism by the powerful is making a mockery of good global governance. If the biggest countries behave like thugs and bullies, what do you expect from the dispossessed, the marginalised and the victimized? One has to only seek the roots of the Palestinian issue to see how hate and anger, violence breeding violence can engulf generation after generation with violent reaction.

The world is a cruel place. A recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report tells us

  • One person commits suicide every 40 seconds
  • One person is murdered every 100 seconds
  • One person dies in armed conflict every 100 seconds - the bulk of them civilians and 'intra-state' as against 'inter-state' victims.

In such a cruel world, what does Malaysia stand for, and what challenges face you as the principal vanguards of governance in Malaysia?

The first is respect of what I call the five 'natural laws of civilization'

  • Any civilization that does not have peace with the environment has no future.
  • Any civilization that does not ensure equity and social justice will suffer its own cruelty.
  • Any civilization that does not ensure good governance through the full participation of its people will be destroyed by its own brutal dictatorship.
  • Any civilization that does not celebrate its diversity, its cultural and spiritual traditions, will end up with soulless and purposeless sterility.
  • Any civilization that does not nurture the concepts of family and community and respect and support the special roles of women and the needs of the child will be devoured by its own lack of caring and social irresponsibility.

How do we fare as Malaysians, and as Malaysia?
We can hold our heads high and feel good about many things. One of those things good has been our civil service. We also have also great worries and challenges ahead of us and one of these is what is to become of our civil service.

First the good news.

We are viewed in many places as one of the great success stories of 'Unity in Diversity', of 'Growth with Equity' and 'Development with Vision' - the words unity, diversity, growth, equity, development and vision, represent the essence of the successful Malaysia’s story. When the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) wanted a model country to host a meeting on conflict resolution and human development they chose Malaysia. And recently the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced plans to commission a series of popular books on the Malaysian success story to share with other developing countries. The Deputy Prime Minister announced also a Cambridge University study on Malaysia’s success as a ‘multi’ entity. Our multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-resource base has made us into a glowing microcosm of a caring society.

Many global institutions have located here and increasingly doing so –both intergovernmental and global civil society groups like IPPF, Consumers International, Third World Network, World Alliance of Breastfeeding Action and several others. And we have AIBD, APDC (which is being reinvented) and recently The World Fish Centre. And we had the Red Book, Felda and Tabung Haji as global inspirations. And soon we will be hosting both the Non Alligned Movement and the OIC conference. In many ways these events represent an apex of recognition of all that is right about Malaysia. The UN presence in Malaysia for regional activities has also increased manifold - a role of confidence in Malaysia as ahub for the region.

So much about the good. What about the bads, the challenges, the worries? I like to share five of them:

My first worry is that we have always been a 'global player' economically but now that we have become a major global force politically and culturally, a model of multiversity or a caring of 'bolehness', will we have the mass of civil servants who can have the competence, the creativity and the communication skills of being the anchors of facilitation, advocacy and service in the new era? Does our civil service have the multiple skills, cultural diversity, and the creative capacity to be the heart and face of the new global role demanded of us. Privatisation was one path and as we have learnt from MAS, the mass transit system in KL, Perwaja and others, the path is fraught with its own expensive dangers.

The second worry is do we have enough people in the civil service with the courage, caring and a conscience who are prepared to speak out and challenge hypocrisy, lack of integrity and inequity even at risk to themselves - who take accountability, transparency and effectiveness seriously and who have developed IQ, EQ and SQ’s - that is people with the right, intelligence, emotional and spiritual capacity to meet the new challenges.

The third worry is about local governance - Malaysia is getting urbanised at a phenomenally rapid rate - just look at our towns and cities and the crisis of transport, waste, water and destruction of community life. That level of government is the most critical challenge for it links with daily living and ordinary living. Unless we get sustainable transport, community facilities, and waste management and building planning right, we are going to be a stressed and disintegrating society literally (as in the case of Highland Towers) and in many other ways. Local Government has to be taken far more seriously and be more participative. It is going to be a frontier of challenge for the government.

The fourth worry is the recognition of Intellect - of Brain Power. The recent Nobel Prize winners (last week) agreed that one of the greatest challenge is going to be the study of the brain and it is going to require brains to achieve that. We have to become a global centre for intellectual achievement and not only nurture and recognise our best brains, but also draw the best brains from any country here. If you don’t, others will and we can diminish into a centre of mediocrity. We need to be a centre of excellence for both PhDs and GTD’s (Getting Things Done people).

And the fifth worry is about language skills - let us become among a world creative for languages – centre for Bahasa, English, Mandarin, Japanese, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Swahili, just to mention a few. There should be a Dewan Bahasa for the rapid promotion of skills of these languages too. It will help tourism, it will enhance our intellectual standing and it will advance our role as a global player. If we can be good at driving sports cars why not languages? We are in an ideal setting for that.

All the best values that Malaysia stands for are incorporated in our national motto –Unity in Diversity. The Civil Service must be the best role model for a true Malaysia - if you are not, then the heart and soul of Malaysia is not.

Anniversaries like this are not just moments of remembrance and reflection, they should also be an opportunity for generating a new commitment to a better common future. I have 3 specific suggestions for you to consider.

The first is to honour the 'good' that is Malaysia, to make the special contribution of the unparalled global-level contribution of our current Prime Minister and to continue the legacy of the caring society that is Malaysia. Can the civil service give as a gift to the Prime Minister, to Malaysia, to the world a centre to be called 'The 2020 Foundation' - which could be anchored by the outgoing prime minister and act as a catalyst for all the good Malaysia stands for - Unity in Diversity, Growth with Equity and Development with Vision. It should incorporate a Centre for Future Studies, a Centre for Peace Studies and a Centre for Governance Innovations. It could also enable Dr. Mahathir to play the kind of role that the Carter Centre in the US does.

The second opportunity is that of 'Asset Management' - a whole new methodology has recently been developed on thinking systematically about properties. The management of government properties in many places is pathetic. How to systematically create a culture of assessment, and maintenance and good use is urgent. Malaysia can become a global leader in this new frontier on which much work has been done in only a few countries of the world.

The third opportunity I like to suggest is the establishment of a National Good Governance Consultative Council bringing together all the key stakeholders from government, corporations and civil society. This was a major recommendation of the first Malaysia Interfaith Roundtable held in Taiping. It was supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF) and hosted by the Taiping Peace Initiative (TPI) last week. The meeting also established the Malaysian Interfaith Network (MIN) to help foster dialogue between Malaysia’s diverse faiths. This Good Governance Consultative Council could take on from the now moribund 'Malaysia Business Council'.

I leave you with these opportunities and if you wish to take them up, my email is anwar.fazal@undp.org and I will be most happy to hear from you.

Thank you.

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