On March 16, 2023, Prime Minister Datuk Seri  Anwar Ibrahim officially launched the MRT Putrajaya Line. - NSTP/EIZAIRI SHAMSUDIN

GOOD governance demands that governments must not only be representative, but must also be responsive, to the needs of governing.

A strong sense of responsiveness and commitment to serving the governed is required on the part of governments. It emphasises the effective delivery of services to the satisfaction of the people.

On March 16, 2023, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim officially launched the MRT Putrajaya Line. My wife, Wan Noorlina, and I took a return trip on it on Sunday March 19, 2023 and we loved it. Not so much because it was free and that it was free until the end of March but because it was good.

As the first Chairman of MRT Corporation, I am very happy to see the efforts and hard work of so many men and women from various government agencies, be it at federal or state level, Project Delivery Partner (PDP), contractors and many more – from the very first day when the project construction for MRT Line 1 (Sungai Buloh–Kajang) was officially launched on July 8, 2011 and has now become a reality. A reality benefitting the rakyat.

I am going to use the MRT and my experience with it to speak about governance. The MRT demonstrates that a government-led critical and massive project such as this can be executed and delivered on schedule and, more importantly, within budget.

The MRT Line 1 which I was closely associated with cost just over RM21 billion as compared with the planned budget of RM23 billion. A savings of RM2 billion.

In fact the first phase of the project was completed 16 days ahead of its target deadline of Dec 31, 2016. And all these while also attaining 50 per cent of the value of work packages awarded to Bumiputera companies relative to the target of 43 per cent.

One may wonder, how did the government achieve this? What's the secret to deliver a project budgeted at RM23 billion ahead of schedule and at a lower cost?

Using a variation of Bill Clinton's successful campaign slogan against then President George H. W. Bush: "It's the economy, stupid," the secret is: "It's the implementation, stupid!"

Towards this end, we established the MRT exco to continuously track and monitor its progress and to resolve issues that may arise.

Chaired by the Chief Secretary to the Government or KSN (myself), the exco comprised senior representatives of relevant ministries and agencies, including the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning Unit, Ministry of Transport, Selangor state government, KL City Hall, Attorney-General's Chambers, Auditor-General, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Public Works Department, Department of Environment, MRT Corp, Land Public Transport Agency (SPAD), Prasarana and the Project Delivery Partner (PDP).

The involvement of the Selangor government was important because 31 kilometres out of the 51 kilometres MRT 1, are in Selangor which has oversight on land and development approvals.

The AG's Chambers was involved to ensure that all the legal procedures were followed; as were the Auditor- General and MACC. The motivation for involving them was to ensure that people do it right from the beginning. Not to catch the wrongdoings after the event! Of course, some may debate on the issue of "conflict of interest" or "conflicted".

Not all of us at the exco meetings were technical specialists but we listened to the subject matter experts. If the other members or subject matter experts had better ideas, we took that as our best idea.

All information was shared across the board with openness so that it allowed for greater transparency among different stakeholders and government agencies and to come out with the optimal decision. The best for the country. Hierarchy of ideas, not hierarchy of positions.

This enabled us, as a group, to arrive at informed decisions, within the one hour weekly meetings. And, this allowed us to monitor and track the progress of the project closely.

It was unanimously agreed that the MRT should be delivered on time. We agreed that the Sg Buloh–Semantan segment would be completed by Dece 31, 2016 and the whole 51 kilometres to Kajang by July 31, 2017.

I recall that in the initial stages there were requests by some parties in the exco to extend the target completion date by six months; but this was not agreed by the exco. In addition, the cost of the project was capped and locked in.

I have just described how a project as massive as the MRT Line One, could be delivered ahead of time and lower than budget. My challenge to myself all these years, and to all my colleagues who cared to listen was: Can't we replicate the same model for all projects? What is stopping us? Would it not be good service to the rakyat if we monitor the implementation of public-funded projects the way we would monitor projects we pay with our own money?

The MRT is a huge project. Built over six years at a cost of RM21billion. However, it is only less than 10 per cent of Malaysia's budget for just one year. So, if the same level of discipline could be brought to the implementation of procurements, be it projects or supplies, we could tackle the issue of governance.

I believe we have enough rules and regulations empowering the bureaucrats to do so. Such as the Financial Procedure Act and Treasury Instructions. And, the controlling officer for every ministry is still the secretary-general of the ministry! As well, the bureaucracy that implements policy decisions is under his or her purview.

I wish to state that transparency is within our control. We can make it happen. The policies, processes and tools are all available within our grasps. Hence, it is up to each individual, be it in the civil service, in the military, the bidders, the project owners – all must, in the words of the then Chief Justice, Tun Hamid Mohamad: "Buat Kerja!"

This brings me to another point that I would like to highlight. "Buat Kerja" or "Work" is easy. It is us that make it difficult. We write various rules and regulations to address certain issues. A rule may be very relevant when it was first written, but over time it may become irrelevant. Or worse, becomes counterproductive. Sometimes we write rules that from the very outset pose difficulties. Perhaps, we did not think through and we did not consult enough. Or did not consult at all.

Unfortunately, when approvals are difficult to get, and discretion or loopholes are available, economic value would be created by the difficulties. There are people who are willing to pay outside the system to get approval, or to get expedited approval.

Nevertheless, the converse is also true. When the process is transparent, predictable and easy, there is no reason for people to pay beyond the normal prescribed rate to get the service. That is the basis of the work of PEMUDAH which was established by the government.

PEMUDAH was anchored on a facilitative mindset, but without compromising integrity. An example of this is the government commitment of payment within 14 days! When payment is simple, prompt and predictable, there is no reason to not make payment! No reason to make payment to get payment.

I believe we should not have too many rules and regulations. And, for the rules that we think we should have, it should be promulgated with inputs from the widest relevant stakeholders. And those rules once agreed, must be implemented and enforced. And, when they are no longer relevant, they must be abolished, transparently.

However, transparency alone will not be sufficient. The people providing service, be it in the public or corporate sector, must have desirable values. Here the role of institutions, such as universities and other institutions of higher learning, Malaysian Institute of Integrity, which I was privileged to chair when I was the chief secretary to the government, INTAN (National Institute of Public Administration) and National Resilience College are critical in instilling these values.

I would like to refer to them as the 10 Commandments. These are:

i. Customer / rakyat focus
ii. Sense of urgency
iii. Complaint is a gift
iv. No wrong door (collaboration / whole of government) v. seeking knowledge / continuous improvements
vi. Giving honest views (courage to speak)
vii. Engagement
viii. Integrity

Let me expound on some of them. On Customer Focus, or in today's context, Rakyat Focus. This must be the raison d'etre. The reason for the existence of the Public Service. Why else should we be paid from the public fund, if not to serve the public to the best of our ability? I am going to give two examples:

1. The clerk in the Land Office in Pekan in the early 1960's would accept the payment of Quit Rent from the villager from Cherok Paloh, my kampung, even if the villager arrived at the office counter when it was about to close! Bear in mind that in those days, villagers would have to cycle and take the ferry to get to Pekan!

2. The clerk at the Sepang Land Office would collect payment of Quit Rent from Tan Sri Ismail Adam, when he arrived at the office around noon one day in October 2007, instead of asking him to come after lunch hour. Ismail Adam, who was at that time the Director-General of Public Services, described his experience as "Cherok Paloh all over again!!"

So, from time to time when I was the chief secretary to the government, I received complaints from people about the situation of "Cherok Paloh all over again" whenever they were made to run around in trying to get service. From the public service.

I am sure many of us have experienced being told to return either after lunch hour or the next day, or to bring irrelevant documents for a service that could be completed within a few minutes. But, this behaviour, I must add, is not exclusively confined to the public sector. I experienced so many instances of much more tardy service from the private sector.

I am sure all of us have bad experiences with them. Some people may retort that as a customer of the private sector unlike that of the public sector, I have choices. And that I have the freedom to deny the recalcitrant establishment of my patronage. And, for me to vote with my wallet.

Let me then ask: What if that grocery store is the only one in the remote kampung? Or, the ATM is the only bank on Fraser's Hill!

So, my answer to that is, I am their rakyat and my payment for the service or goods that the private sector provides, for example to Astro, is the "tax" that they collect from me and from others. Therefore, they must be responsive to the needs of their "citizens".. No difference from the services expected from any government department!

Second is the desired value of public officials. The courage to speak up and provide honest opinions. Speaking up doesn't mean we have to shout. It just means that we share our honest thoughts and ideas, even though our idea may be different from our higher ranking officers. It is important that we give our views, particularly if we are the expert in the field. In order that we can improve for the common good.

I find the unwillingness to "tell me," baffling. Some have cited "there will be negative repercussions from higher authorities and I could be punished". Others may argue "I can't do much as I do not have the authority nor autonomy to act". Or "I am just a junior officer. Nobody will listen to me".

This is where I believe we must promote a culture of allowing people to speak up, of giving warranted contrarian views. A culture of adopting the best ideas. And, we must encourage and reward officers who traverse beyond just his or her department, division or ministry. One must see beyond one's current remit.

We do not have to wait to have certain job titles before having the courage to speak at that level of authority. We must have a culture of promoting "hierarchy of ideas rather than hierarchy of positions".

I am very conscious that I am speaking to an audience where the command and control structure is so traditional.

At the Ministry of International Trade and Industry where I spent 28 years, and later as chief secretary to the government, I promoted officers who dared to give ideas and a diverse perspective. The kind of officials who could make me look like a fool in private, but because of that enabled me to be smart in public.

At Petronas, we have a set of cultural beliefs that include shared success, nurturing trust and tell me, where it is "safe" to give differing views. In addition, Petronas' Whistleblowing Policy is made available, fully transparent and accessible to the general public.

The policy is designed to allow employees as well as external parties, be it vendors, sub-contractors or any member of the public, to make a complaint. This is important for Petronas as it allows the organisation to address any misconduct by their employees.

Let me now speak about Integrity. To me, integrity is abhorrence of corruption. This is FRONT and CENTRE. But integrity goes beyond it. It is about giving one's best. About discharging one's Amanah. Beyond just the minimum requirements. Beyond what is just good for the current position we are in. To me, integrity is about having the mindset of KSU even as an Assistant Director! About having the mindset of PAT even when you are only commanding a Brigade or a Battalion. Therefore integrity incorporates all the Ten Commandments.

The test of integrity is about always doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. In fact, particularly when nobody is watching! Like a golfer declaring his air shots.

I am confident that a transparent service that is delivered with ethics would definitely promote more efficient and effective use of our resources. That is why going to the ground – turun padang – announced as well as unannounced, is useful. To see what's happening on the ground. And, more importantly to do something about what can be improved on the ground.

However, in this digital age, we can go to the ground without physically going to the ground! There are so many people for example who are willing to tell us at night which street lights are not functioning, or where there are burst pipes.

We only need to appreciate and be responsive to these feedbacks. Change the light bulb and repair the pipes. In a way, to treat the rakyat as "Penjawat Awam". The flip side of "Merakyatkan Perkhidmatan Awam".

And, I believe the rakyat like it. I can say this with certainty. Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon, my PEMUDAH co-chair and nine other corporate bigwigs in PEMUDAH were "pro-bono civil servants" since we started PEMUDAH in 2007. Working on Malaysia's Ease of Doing Business and improving our country's competitiveness.

Actuall,y I got a feeling they didn't mind paying the government to be in PEMUDAH in order to make life easy for their businesses. All in very ethical ways. So, too were the rakyat who sent tweets, emails or communicated, by whatever means, suggesting improvements.

Before I conclude on this subject of governance, let me bring up the issue of the Hippocratic Oath. The famous Hippocratic Oath, which dates back to the iconic Greek times in the 5th century BC, was historically taken by physicians and other healthcare professionals swearing to practice medicine honestly.

Although amended and revised over the years, one poignant commitment in this oath is, "That I will not withdraw from my patients in their time of need". How does this oath fare today where we have ambulance chasers and insurance companies ruling the medical industry?

How does it fare with large pharmaceuticals said to be the main paymasters of political campaigns? And if governments and public service are likened to physicians and healthcare professionals, how can it withdraw service from the B40 in their time of need? Isn't that the oath of government?

The public sector's role cannot be only to nudge, fix or incentivise good behaviour and, penalise and castigate the bad. It cannot be focused on just maximising of GDP and balancing budgets.

It must involve consumer experience and it has to lead in distributing social justice especially in fundamental areas like healthcare, education, housing and social cohesion. And, on providing "safety net" by whatever name!

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