Ballet, NFCorp and the civil service — Yow Hong Chieh
APRIL 7 — Puspal’s decision to refuse the Singapore Dance Theatre a performance permit and the alleged abuse of public funds by NFCorp have their roots in the same sticky source — the civil service.
To be frank, I don’t think stopping the ballet troupe from doing a show here was in line with the agency’s general directives.
The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC) said earlier this week that two previous applications for the Singapore dance company had not met with any problems.
This sounds to me more like the work of an overzealous Puspal officer, who felt the show must not go on for reasons best known to him.
Regardless of why, the permit denial appears inconsistent, as charged by MyDance Alliance president Bilqis Hijjas. That is a bigger problem than one aborted show.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s sad KLPAC and Singapore Dance Theatre had to cancel the show due to what was most likely an outlier call by a Puspal officer.
But the main issue here is whether there are enough checks and balances in place to minimise arbitrary decision-making by the vast legion of government staffers who make up the wheels and cogs of the administration.
I’m not saying all civil servants can’t be trusted to stick to standards set by their respective ministries and, more broadly, the prime minister. But oversight is not for the compliant majority, it’s for those errant few who function like a law unto themselves.
Puspal’s alleged verbal notification of the permit refusal shows protocols are either lacking or were simply not adhered to.
Surely an explanation has to be made in writing on why an application was turned down — bureaucrats are not called paper-pushers for nothing.
This brings me to NFCorp and the crimes its chairman allegedly committed.
Every drawdown from the RM250 million government soft loan given to the cattle- rearing company had to be approved by the Finance Ministry, based on technical reports prepared by the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry.
But it seems the ministries disbursed the funds to NFCorp despite the absence of reports stating what the firm intended to do with the dosh. How did this happen, especially since the restrictions were put in place precisely to safeguard millions of taxpayers’ ringgit from being misused?
It appears that the mechanisms we have in place have failed to ensure that civil servants don’t have the opportunity to do as they please, for whatever reason they choose.
Why does this matter? Let’s say for the sake of argument that the prime minister is serious in his reform push. How then is he expected to drive transformation if its realisation comes down to the whims and fancies of each individual officer?
All it takes is one rotten apple to torpedo his efforts, plus any goodwill that might have arisen from it.
If Datuk Seri Najib Razak sincerely wants his measures carried out effectively and uniformly, he needs to make the system more robust to ensure his directives are obeyed by every civil servant all the way down to the office boys at the bottom rung of the wage ladder.
If not, he can forego his dreams of NEM, ETP and 1 Malaysia, and accept that it’s just 1 Najib making hollow promises in his large, empty office in Putrajaya.
* Yow Hong Chieh is a reporter with The Malaysian Insider.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.