Address mistakes and avoid culture of finger-pointing
Published on: Sunday, January 29, 2023
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Our perception of “wrongdoing” can be a false interpretation on our part, or sometimes it could be a genuine oversight by the decision makers. Pix by YourTango (For Illustration Purpose Only)
FIRST of all, I must applaud Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for his foresight. His call is indeed consistent with his first monthly address in the new year to staff of the Prime Minister’s Department, during which he instructed them to embrace the desire to bring about change in the government administrative machinery. 

One thing that crosses my mind now is whether all or majority of civil servants will heed his directive. There must be a good reason for our PM to recognise the need to set the directive. 

I suspect that during his review of many files and documents in his early days in office, he must have come across some discrepancies or wrongdoing that could have been rectified if only someone had highlighted them in a timely manner. 

The key question we ought to ask is why did officers not report them in the past? Anwar did say he was aware that officers were reluctant to speak out as they feared being transferred.

I think our PM did what he did to send a message of his no-nonsense leadership style; it may serve as a warning to those who intend to commit wrongdoing in government affairs.

Safeguarding one’s own interest is a natural human instinct. Whether or not a person will speak up when he spots a wrongdoing will likely depend on his/her superior’s past response to “bad news”.

For example, in the corporate world where I worked, we recognised two fundamental principles when pursuing continuous improvement – firstly, that people make mistakes, and secondly, a leader’s response to mistakes directly impacts the culture of learning and accountability.

Most feel vulnerable talking about the mistakes they have made. Therefore, in order to achieve continuous improvement, it is incredibly important for the corporation to have a safe space or conducive environment for people to disclose mistakes voluntarily. 

It is imperative that employees are assured they will not be penalised for reporting mistakes. They also need to know that their peers will support them, and there is no retaliation when they do decide to speak up.

Drawing on the same principles, when one civil servant receives minutes that may deviate from the normal, does his/her existing government agency have the right culture on reporting? Will his superior respond positively?

On the flip side, we must be careful about the intent if we are to avoid a culture of finding fault or “policing”. We need to impress upon our civil servants that the purpose is for early intervention and continuous improvement. 

Also, our perception of “wrongdoing” can be a false interpretation on our part, or sometimes it could be a genuine oversight by the decision makers. It is my hope that all government officers, deputy prime ministers or other ministers who received the directive exercise their wisdom and explain their purpose and intent to their respective staff. 

Supervising officers who receive alerts from staff highlighting any discrepancies or wrongdoing must handle the matter with care. Getting upset or angry will only silence them even when they feel that something is not right.

I believe that a united and progressive government is one that promotes a culture of continuous improvement through learning with transparency, including promoting the culture of speaking up.


- The views expressed here are the views of the writer's and do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Express.

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