Corrupt, lazy, complacent and inefficient.
Those words are often used to describe civil servants in Malaysia.
While there have been times where the civil service has disappointed, there have been many other occasions where government officers have aced in their work – but their stories often remain untold.
One man who is eager to change the perception is Datuk Seri Ismail Bakar.
The Chief Secretary of the Government either rides horses or takes his scrambler out on muddy trails to unwind – evident of his unorthodox ways compared to his predecessors.
However, Ismail knows changing the way people look at the civil service is not easy. Also, educating those within the service to constantly raise the bar is another Herculean task.
“The first impression (by the public) is that the service lacks integrity and civil servants are heavily involved in political activities,” he said.
“We must be honest and look at those comments. We can’t just hide and pretend everything is fine.”
“I’ve said this before; we need to rebuild the civil service. We must focus on integrity and good governance.”
He reminded his 1.6 million-strong workforce, comprising uniformed and non-uniformed personnel, that they should be loyal to the government of the day and more importantly, the people.
“We should not be loyal to political parties. That is not our job. The civil service must always be neutral.”
Ismail said some government officers were defensive and complacent but admitted it was not easy to get rid of deadwood within the system.
“To change (mindsets) … it’s not going to happen overnight. But we need to start from somewhere and we need to be passionate about what we do.
“In the future we will look at our internal processes to see how the civil service can increase productivity.
“If you don’t want to be terminated, then work harder.”
While acknowledging the shortcomings, Ismail insisted the civil service is generally “good”.
“But we need good leaders (within government agencies and ministries) … those who are able to lead and motivate the civil servants and remind them of their loyalty to the public.”