Monday 28 May 2018

Discourse on the Integrity of Public Institutions

Within a week I had the opportunity to share my views and thoughts on governance and integrity at 3 different events.

I was invited by the People and Family Development Board (LPPKN) to discuss about governance of public institutions. I shared the elements of corporate governance including board effectiveness, the check and balance mechanisms and effective communication. I related those elements to public sector situations where finance outcomes may not necessarily be the only focus.

On of the key messages for LPPKN's board and management was that none of them are too small or insignificant to contribute towards governance excellence. Each of them have important roles to play to achieve their mission in making Malaysian families to enjoy the growth and prosperity of the nation and uphold values which will make Malaysia a great country.

I was also invited to be a panellist at the first public event between the Menteri Besar of Kedah and the state civil service. During the event, Dato' Seri Mukhriz Mahathir admitted that as the head of government, his accountability is not only to the state by he would also be assessed by Allah during the Day of Judgment. His message was clear, everyone must be honest in discharging their responsibilities to the citizens of Kedah.

After his speech, a discourse on Public Sector Integrity took place. In addition to myself, Tan Sri Ambrin Buang, the former Auditor General and Tan Sri Zabidi, the former Director General of Public Service Department shared their thoughts and experience in how public service could be strengthened and efficiency enhanced. 

Tan Sri Ambrin encouraged the civil servants to continue to explore opportunities for improvements and not to wait for the Auditor General department to point out where their weaknesses are before acting on those weaknesses. Tan Sri Zabidi, on the other hand, reminded civil servants regarding the oath they had made to serve the public without fear and favour. He also encouraged civil servants to be innovative in servicing the rakyat.

The thrust of my discussion was the importance of placing the right persons at boards and senior management of public institutions. They would be setting the tone which would be reflected by the tune of the dance of middle management and the tap of the feet of others on the ground. Effective system of check and balance would be critical in ensuring people's mandate are upheld and civil service remained on track in performing their duties. I also reminded them that governance and integrity is part of the Islamic tradition and demonstrated by Abu Bakr and Omar, the first 2 caliphs after Prophet Muhammad who extended the concepts taught by the Prophet. 

Dato' Seri Mukhriz, his Exco members, senior civil servants and all other participents then took the oath of integrity to reinforce their commitments to serve citizens honestly and with integrity.

The third event of a live interview on Astro Awani on governance and enhancing integrity of the public sector. I was interviewed together with Tian Chua, the Vice-President of People Justice Party (PKR). 

One of the issues that was focused on was on debts, guarantees and obligations of the Federal government. This topic became hot after the new Prime Minister disclosed that the Federal government debts had breached the RM 1 trillion mark. My view was that no one disputed the existence of those liabilities but the debate at the moment is on their classification. The Federal government adopted a modified cash accounting system where assets and liabilities are not brought on balance sheet like the system used in the private sector. Hence, the health of the economy is appraised based on other data and information including the ratio of our debts to the GDP. Some people use international practices in defining the relevant debts while others use the ultimate obligor who will settle those debts and obligations to support their point of views.

I suggested that a portal is set up as a depository of all audited financial statement of public institutions at the federal, state and local government levels. This will allow the public to obtain official information regarding financial performance and positions of those institutions and able to have discourse with better information and understanding. This will also force public institutions to be more responsible for their financial management and ensure financial statements are well kept and prepared on time and are audited promptly as well. This platform is not expensive but the impact could be huge.

Again, a shared about the need to place people with competency and who have conscience at the board and as leaders of public institutions. They must also be committed to do the right thing. Public institutions must also be independent and able to make decisions on their own to ensure the interests of citizens are protected. 

In conclusion, I reminded citizens that their duties towards the country in a democratic system do not end only when the general election is over. They must continue to follow developments in the country and voice their views when necessary. This is a collective responsibility and should be shouldered by everyone. This is the reason by government must be transparent and allow the media to share important information. This could be used by the citizens to discharge their duty, as expected in a democracy.

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