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Election Watch

Scrap the Cabinet committees

Source: Malay Mail
Date: 16 February 2012

System has outlived usefulness, time for more efficient structure, say experts

PETALING JAYA: Have Cabinet Committees become a relic of the past? Should they be scrapped to make way for a more effi cient, effective and swift problem-solving system as suggested by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak during his department’s monthly gathering early this week?

It seems the answer is simply, Yes, take it away. Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) Centre of Public Policy Studies director Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam told The Malay Mail the structure needed to be revamped to make way for a more efficient system.

“As a former civil servant, I think it is right to say that the Cabinet committee system might have outlived its usefulness. This whole Cabinet committee structure has to be revised and made for more problem-solving oriented,” he said.

“Perhaps, as in the old days, the civil servants should form the committees and present the study and recommendation within the specific time-frame to the prime minister or the relevant senior ministers. Or, the whole Cabinet can be consulted on the recommendations.”

Navaratnam said this would free the workload of the ministers to allow them time for more important is-sues and policies. He said the role of the civil service had been downgraded over the years and the concentration of power within the government was now too “top heavy”.

“Decision-making processes have become too top heavy. Civil servants should do all the groundwork rather than the Cabinet. They do the groundwork and the Cabinet agrees. Or Cabinet committees should be minimal,” he said.

“For example, if it’s an environmental issue, the environment minister can make the recommendations to the prime minister. This can help reduce bureaucracy and red tape during decision making process.”

Asked why the civil service had lost its autonomy, Navaratnam said district level politicians wanted to increase their influence.

“Sometimes at the district, state and federal level, especially district level, the politicians want to enhance their rule for various reasons,” he said.

“What was done by the district officer and assistant district officer is now being done by political committees. So there should be more decentralisation and less concentrated position of power.”

He also believed it was time for the Malaysian bureaucracy system to be studied to enhance its efficiency.

“There has not been a comprehensive study of the whole civil service and its decision-making process for many years. In the private sector, large corporate entities and MNCs have their structures constantly revised and refined,” he said.

Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong said Malaysia had “too many Cabinet committees in the fi rst place”.

“First of all, we have too many Cabinet committees, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. There are so many I cannot count,” he said.

“You have social, sports, foreign labour and you have this human capital. And maybe these (committees) are similar in nature but it will do good to combine its focus for a solution.

“In the past, Cabinet committees had meetings separately. And there were fewer Cabinet committees in the past because they combined those similar or interrelated in nature allowing you to save time and making it more cost-effective,” he said.

Wee said the biggest problems challenging the Cabinet committee system was the availability of the chairman that was normally the prime minister or his deputy.

“They have other, more urgent duties to perform as well,” he said. However, former Public Service Department director-general Tan Sri Ismail Adam said the “crucial factor” was not the system or structure but the individuals involved.

“The important thing is for the person working with the government to have a sense of urgency, the speed of execution and the speed of implementation. That’s the most critical, not the structure,” he said.

“Even if you have a special committee that can decide immediately but you have a laggard who sits on his file for days, it will be pointless. I am also a fi rm believer in the carrot-and-stick approach... reward those who excel and reprimand those who make mistakes.”

He said that sometimes there was no need to call all the various departments, ministries and agencies to resolve a small issue.

“Too many chefs can spoil the broth. Whenever there is a problem, there’s no need to call everyone. Just get the relevant departments and agencies and get on with it. If you want to get everyone’s consensus on an issue, it will never end. You can’t have a perfect solution for everything,” said Ismail.

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