BY MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM
I agree with those who say that it is unfair to jump to conclusions about the appointment of Madinah Mohamad as the new auditor-general because of her husband’s political links.
She should be given the chance to prove her integrity as a person who the public can trust to carry out this heavy responsibility of auditing the management of public funds by government ministries and agencies and reporting to parliament faithfully and professionally, without fear or favour, as her predecessor Ambrin Buang had done in the auditor-general’s annual reports.
His exposure of the weaknesses in financial management and the abuse of power at the administrative and political levels have made him one of the most respected civil servants.
The post of auditor-general is one of those high-level appointments in the government service which is critical in maintaining the country’s reputation for a clean and trustworthy public administration. The others are the chief secretary to the government, the secretary-general of the Ministry of Finance, the attorney-general and the director-general of the Public Services Department. All these appointments are important as they are headed by the most senior civil servants in the country.
One suggestion is to have confirmation hearings before a panel under the Public Services Commission that will sit to hear testimonies from interested parties about the suitability of the candidate for the job. The candidate will be asked questions to determine that he or she is fit and proper and can be trusted to hold such an important post. If there are doubts about the person’s credentials and integrity, it’s better to drop him or her at the early stage, rather than appoint the wrong person and expose the government to embarrassing gossips and speculations about the appointment.
The underlying principle in selecting candidates to fill the top positions in the civil service should be meritocracy. To facilitate choosing the best candidate, opportunity should be given to anyone from any of the branches of the civil service – the PTD (administrative and diplomatic service), professional and technical services or from outside the public sector – to compete for the top management posts if there are applicants who feel they have the competence in knowledge and leadership qualities to become secretaries-general and directors-general of ministries and departments.
The applicants should then be assessed and short listed to select the best candidate. He should then be required to appear before an independent high-level panel, as suggested above, to defend his credentials and reply to testimonies from interested individuals and groups, including relevant agencies such as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and Inland Revenue Board to confirm that there are no issues about credibility and integrity in his past service or in his personal life that are serious enough to disqualify him for the appointment.
Times have changed and the entire public service should change too in the way it promotes and rewards its officers so that they can stand tall and say they have reached the top on merit. This will go a long way to make our public service among the most respected in the world.
Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim is the former Secretary-General of the Treasury, Ministry of Finance, and a member of the civil society group G25. This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of FMT or HAKAM.