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No place for deadwood or uncooperative civil servants
Published on: Sunday, May 19, 2024
By: Datuk Roger Chin
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Sabah’s aspirations for robust economic growth face a significant internal challenge – a segment of the civil service harbouring outdated mindsets and exhibiting resistance to necessary change. 

This resistance, often rooted in a lack of familiarity with contemporary business and economic realities, coupled with other systemic issues, acts as a significant impediment to progress, stifling innovation and hindering the state’s full potential.

The prevailing perception within Sabah suggests near-impenetrable job security for both state and federal civil servants. 

This perception stems from a system that historically prioritized stability over performance, making the removal of underperforming or obstructive individuals seemingly arduous. 

However, this narrative presents an incomplete and ultimately detrimental picture.

While robust termination procedures exist to protect employees from arbitrary dismissal, the system is not designed to shield individuals who demonstrably hinder progress.

Provisions exist for lawful termination based on valid and justifiable reasons, such as consistent underperformance, documented misconduct, a clear lack of adaptability to changing circumstances, or even instances of corruption or abuse of power.

Furthermore, even in cases of wrongful termination, compensation awarded is a finite and predetermined amount. While not ideal, it pales in comparison to the long-term damage inflicted by an individual who actively impedes progress within the system. 

Perpetuating the myth of untouchable civil servants only allows the “cancer” to spread, leading to a stagnant bureaucracy that stifles economic growth, innovation, and discourages potential investors.

Beyond the issue of resistance to change, other systemic issues within the civil service contribute to the impediment of progress. 

Bureaucratic red tape, cumbersome administrative processes, and a lack of transparency can create unnecessary delays and hinder efficiency. 

Additionally, a culture of nepotism and patronage can lead to the appointment of individuals based on connections rather than merit, further undermining the efficiency and effectiveness of the civil service.

Instead of simply “cold storing” problematic individuals, a more effective solution lies in a multi-pronged approach:

Reform the Termination System - Streamlining the process for removing those who demonstrably hinder progress, while ensuring due process and fair compensation in cases of wrongful termination, is crucial. This will send a clear message that non-performance, resistance to change, and unethical behaviour will not be tolerated.

Invest in Training and Development - Equipping civil servants with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the complexities of the modern business world is essential.

Training programs focused on contemporary business practices, economic principles, and technological advancements can significantly enhance their effectiveness and adaptability.

Promote a Performance-Based Culture - Shifting the focus from stability to performance will attract and retain individuals who are genuinely invested in Sabah’s progress. Implementing performance-based evaluations and linking them to career advancement opportunities can incentivize continuous improvement and dedication.

Combat Bureaucracy and Red Tape - Streamlining administrative processes, reducing unnecessary paperwork, and promoting transparency are crucial steps towards improving efficiency and responsiveness within the civil service.

Eliminate Nepotism and Patronage - Meritocratic principles should guide recruitment and promotion within the civil service. 

Implementing transparent hiring practices and focusing on qualifications and competence will ensure that the most capable individuals are placed in positions of responsibility.

While there may be initial resistance or lack of support from certain quarters, a short-sighted perspective fails to recognize the long-term benefits.

A reformed civil service that prioritizes performance, adaptability, and ethical conduct will attract and cultivate a new generation of public servants who are driven by innovation and a shared vision for a thriving Sabah. 

This shift will not only remove the roadblocks to progress but also foster a more efficient and responsive bureaucracy, better equipped to support and drive the state’s economic growth and overall prosperity.

The traditional belief surrounding the difficulty of removing underperforming civil servants may hold some weight but it is not an insurmountable obstacle. 

By addressing the underlying issues of outdated mindsets, systemic inefficiencies, and unethical practices, Sabah can break free from the shackles of stagnation and build a civil service that actively propels the state towards a brighter economic future. 

This transformation will not only unlock Sabah’s full potential but also set a precedent for other regions facing similar challenges.

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

If you have something to share, write to us at: [email protected]



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