Let’s get behind Pemandu
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 15 ― I would not like to be in Datuk Seri Idris Jala’s shoes. Unpopular with government ministers because he pushes them to do more, yet getting whacked by the very people who should be supporting him ― those of us who are sceptical of government and want to see our government work harder for the rakyat.
And that is a shame because I believe that Jala can achieve so much more if we all got behind him with our support, instead of getting on his and Pemandu’s case all the time.
I have been conducting a little experiment over the past month. Those who have met me for a chat will have walked away with a hard copy of the Executive Summary of the 2011 Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) Annual Report. I have given out close to 20 copies. The report is, of course, produced by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit or Pemandu, which sits in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The conversation always starts along the lines of me saying, “I find this a handy quick reference on how the ETP is going. Since we are all so caught up in our own worlds, I thought you would appreciate a copy.”
And they would go, “Thanks. So, you think they [Pemandu] are doing a good job?”
And I will go, “I think they are but what do you think?” And boy is that the cue to set them off!
I can only think of two people who felt Pemandu is doing a good job. The rest were critical, even senior executives in government-linked companies (GLCs).
But what I notice happening is that we seem to take certain things that we know or think we know and make sweeping assumptions that everything that comes out of the ETP is to be seen through jaundiced lenses and viewed with scepticism and cynicism.
For example one chief information officer (CIO) of a GLC felt Pemandu was not doing a good job based on the fact that the definition that the government uses for broadband is an outdated 256 kilobits per second! This is from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
So, whatever penetration rate Pemandu announces for broadband carries no water with this CIO. He is, therefore, making the assumption that the various other benchmarks used to set the key performance indicators (KPI) that Pemandu announces are likely to be equally flawed.
Incidentally, the household broadband definition target for 2011 was 60 per cent and we apparently have achieved 62.5 per cent.
This ridiculous benchmark for broadband obviously suits the Ministry and minister of Information, Communications and Culture as they meet their KPIs, but it does not do much for those Malaysians accessing the Internet at those low speeds but are defined as broadband users.
But here’s the thing. Pemandu did not set this benchmark for broadband and neither does it nor Jala have the power to go to our ministers and have them revise any other benchmark Pemandu may deem as outdated and not reflective of modern times. They just don’t have that kind of authority.
But if we were constructively critical and while unhappy with whatever it is that rubs us raw about the ETP, we can at least highlight it and mobilise others to support our point – this may give Jala the ammo he needs when he goes one-on-one with our ministers every year when it comes time to assess their KPIs and set new ones.
I can tell you the ministers don’t enjoy this session with Jala as he does not let them off easy when they try to shift their KPIs with him. I was once told that a particular minister was trying to get the weightage of one particular KPI reduced and transferred to another he felt was easier for him to achieve, but Jala put his foot down. The minister was not happy.
Just last week I met a CEO who confirms the above incident as he was present at the meeting. I thought it was great that we have Jala on our side going nose-to-nose with our ministers. And it is not easy, ya.
I once had to ask a minister a tough question and he took me aside to a room. Even though I am a hardy sort, my heart was pounding as I asked him that question which he took surprisingly well.
The most oft-cited criticism of Jala and Pemandu is that because they sit in the PM’s Office, they have to toe the official line and support the government. But I know of a number of government agencies which wished they were sitting under the PM’s Office, too, simply because it gives you the clout to get things done when dealing across agencies and ministries.
And there are a lot of people from the private sector who have joined the government’s transformation push. They just want to get things moving and even if the needle is moved a little, this is better than not getting anything achieved at all.
That’s the practical reason. Sure, the prime minister takes advantage of that to score some points for himself too. But every politician is self-serving. It is just a matter of different degrees. Just look at how the mayor of London is maximising the feel-good effects of the Olympics to make himself look great. And look at how fast the Penang state government fell over itself to give Lee Chong Wei a datukship after the 2008 Olympics. Was that not about scoring points too?
My point is this. I would rather have Jala in my corner, fighting to make this a better government and country. But he can surely fight a better fight if more of us got behind him.
And be critical, by all means. But be constructive and mobilise support for whatever it is about the ETP that rubs you the wrong way. You can make a difference. The people in Pemandu want to make a difference. Let’s help them.
Just as I end this, comes the news that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has called for the Cabinet to discuss the controversial amendment to Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950.
“Whatever we do, we must put people first,” he said on Twitter. And when you believe government is not doing so, do something and make it constructive. We at Digital News Asia did when it came to Section 114A and helped mobilise Malaysians. You can, too.