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“Inject” integrity and ethics into national leadership, academic tells new PM

Publish date: Sun, 22 Aug 2021, 07:24 PM

WITH Malaysia now having a new prime minister in Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, an academic urged the former to embark on a series of reforms to bring the country forward.

“For starters, Ismail Sabri should enact a code of conduct for the Cabinet team, like the UK Ministerial Code, to serve as a guideline to inspire our ministers to always act in the best interest of the people,” HELP University Faculty of Business, Economics and Accounting and Institute Crime and Criminology senior lecturer R Paneir Selvam told FocusM, in an interview.

Based on details provided by the Institute for Government, a UK-based think tank, the Ministerial Code is a set of rules and principles which outline the standards of conduct for Government ministers.

The codes include the “overarching duty” of ministers to comply with law and abide by the Seven Principles of Public Life, which is a set of ethical standards applicable to all holders of public office.

R Paneir Selvam

Elaborating, Paneir Selvam said that the UK set the code to reclaim the confidence of the British electorate by stressing the need for public office bearers to adhere to the highest ethical standards.

“Among the set guidelines under the code include total ban on bullying or harassment of any kind. It also has strict policies against leakages and misappropriation of public funds.

“On top of adhering strictly to group duty, it also bars any form of conflict of interest when carrying out their responsibilities,” he added.

Citing an example, Damien Green was forced to resign from his Cabinet post in Dec 2017 for breaching the UK Ministerial Code.

Green was sent for inquiry by the prime minister and the investigation found that he had twice broken the Seven Principles of Public Life specified in the code.

“Integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency and honesty and leadership are the principles embodied in this code and it must be upheld at all times. At the same time, it also emphasises the need for civil service’s political neutrality.

“Unfortunately, that is not the case in Malaysia. Here, Cabinet members’ ‘mistakes’ are constantly overlooked. In some cases, they are even rewarded!

“Ministers must accept responsibility for their actions, as well as their subordinates’ wrongdoing. Now is the right moment for our newly minted prime minister to adopt a code of conduct to govern and regulate the acts of his ministers,” Paneir Selvam stressed.

Photo credit: Shafwan Zaidon


Keep Cabinet team small yet effective

On that note, the academic also urged Ismail Sabri took trim the size of the new Cabinet and special envoys, while scaling back on some of the remunerations enjoyed by the office bearers.

He added that it was a waste of precious taxpayers’ funds to have high numbers of ministers and special envoys where in most cases, their jurisdictions overlap with one another.

“Indonesia, which has a population of almost 270 million people, only has 55 Cabinet members which includes the president and his deputy,” Panier Selvam noted.

On their earnings, he mentioned that MPs perks are based on the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Act 1980.

“But when they are appointed ministers or deputy ministers, they get paid in multiples based on the legislation.

“In this dreadful circumstance, where unemployment rate is rising and people are struggling to feed their families, it is only just that our wakil rakyat give up a portion of their wage for the benefit of struggling taxpayers.

“This can be done with our leaders establishing a fund, where our ministers and the prime minister himself donating a portion of their wages to be channelled to the needy,” Paneir Selvam opined.

Last but not the least, Paneir Selvam urged the new administration to focus its energy on containing COVID-19 and rejuvenating the slugging economy, by devising effective policies for the country.

Foe example, he said that the Government should consider transforming underutilised Government premises to become makeshift hospitals to admit COVID-19 patients.

“And please improve the remuneration scheme for healthcare workers who are playing a critical role in containing the pandemic. For starters, look into the pleas of contract medical officers (MO) and efforts must be taken to absorb them into permanent service.

“The Government should also work with the banks to find additional ways to ease borrowers’ burden. They must set priorities that will benefit the people and the country as a whole,” Paneir Selvam remarked. – Aug 22, 2021.

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