On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Efficiency must improve with perks

But more importantly, the decision should be regarded by
civil servants as another step taken by the Government to improve the working
conditions of the service.

Steps should be taken regularly to make the service more attractive. For
example, teachers, nurses, doctors, policemen and soldiers deserve additional
allowances.

In the case of the police and army, a hazard allowance could be extended to
them.

Although it would mean an additional financial burden to the Government, it
would go a long way in relieving the burden of people who dedicate their lives
to safeguarding the country's security. But more than that, better benefits
would attract better qualified Malaysians to join the civil service.

We cannot deny the civil service has an image problem. In the eyes of those in
the private sector, the civil service lacks dynamism, productivity and
dedication.

Some Malaysians will even argue that civil servants do not deserve the extra
Saturday off, pointing out the malaise affecting the public service.

Government servants, they said, did not have to worry about losing their jobs,
even if they slack in their duties. During a recession, job security
remains.

While workers in the private sector were affected by the high interest rate
imposed on their loans, government servants still enjoyed low-interest rate
loans from the Government.

As a result of such security, many Malaysians said government servants did not
appreciate the Government's ability to turn the economy around.

Such generalisation may be unfair to the majority of the civil servants who are
dedicated, but how the civil service is perceived is important.

Reforms are certainly needed in the service. Improved working conditions must
mean improved work performances. The public demands that as tax payers.

Civil servants must serve the people and must not behave as superiors to them.
Members of the public, who have to deal with civil servants, particularly those
at the counters, often do not have much to praise.

To get good civil servants, reforms are required in the wage structure. That
means better mobility and promotional opportunities. The rank and file,
particularly the non-graduates, should also be given the opportunity to rise up
the ranks.

It cannot be denied there is a great deal of frustration among those in the
middle and lower ranks because they see the zero career prospects in their
jobs.

One area which needs a review must be the New Remuneration Scheme, under which
many have complained about unfair assessment by their superiors.

If there is dissatisfaction over the scheme, then it must be abolished or its
weaknesses rectified.

The scheme, despite its good aims, may have resulted in the opposite and caused
low morale among staff, particularly if these assessments are tied to salary
increments.

There should be greater recognition for hard work, talent and diligence. There
are many civil servants who may not be at the officer level but who have much
to contribute.

Like the private sector, less emphasis on qualifications and more on work
performance could reduce the disparity and gap between non-degree holders and
officers.

There is certainly a need to democratise decision making to encourage greater
participation for quality work.

There is also a need to emphasise creativity as some civil servants see their
jobs as monotonous, resulting in poor performances.

Additional benefits for the civil servants should also come with a serious
commitment to make them feel they have a role and purpose.

A better salary structure would also go a long way in helping to fight corruption.

But, like everything else, our civil servants must understand there is no such
thing as an iron rice bowl.

In Hong Kong, which has one of the best civil service, the staff has been
warned that they would be axed if they perform badly.

The civil service needs to be more sensitive towards public complaints, for a
start.

Recent developments have revealed instances of civil servants getting too
involved in politics, for example. Some were even charged with taking part in
demonstrations.

Some university lecturers were more interested in delivering anti-government
speeches in classrooms than in their lectures. They assumed everyone shared
their political inclinations.

Tax payers are prepared to support rewards for civil servants as they
understand the need for a professional and enthusiastic force.

What tax payers cannot accept is mediocrity.