Letters - Don’t just blame bad advisers, sack them

DEPUTY Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi stated in his speech on Monday at a book launch in PWTC that: "The formation of a nation does not only depend on the kings and political leaders, but also by the advisers to the leaders."

He is right to a large extent. But if by "formation of a nation" he means nation building then the leaders are solely responsible for good leadership of a nation or a company or even a family. So please don't blame advisers.

After all, if the advisers give the wrong advice they should be sacked. Bad advisers should not be tolerated and pampered (manja), and retained to undermine leadership and good governance. There is no point therefore in blaming the advisers when they were appointed advisers by the leaders themselves in the first place. Then the leaders are to blame.

If leaders find advisers wanting then they should quickly replace them instead of the leaders creating more Little Napoleons in our public and private management systems.
The DPM also boldly stated that "The downfall of a leader usually is the result of his advisers". Here I would respectfully disagree.

Why should any leader tolerate failed advisers (punah-sihat ) and allow them to thrive? Is it not a bad reflection on the poor quality of the leaders themselves if they accommodate bad advisers – that is their senior officers and staff?

Leaders must lead, not blame

We cannot blame advisers in government and companies for the weaknesses of a government or company or university or for that matter any organisation. Leaders must lead and be seen to lead and also attract the best advisers on the basis of merit and performance. Otherwise do get rid of bad advisers before they do more harm. Or get them to do less important work, but not to act as advisers and mislead many good leaders.

Indeed, many leaders blame the advisers and staff when they should look at themselves, whether they are good leaders themselves.

Very often some political leaders quickly blame their civil servants for their own poor leadership. Top civil servants can give the best professional advice, but their advice can be rejected. But when policies and implementation fail, because the good advice has been rejected for political reasons, the civil servants are easily blamed unfairly, not only by the politicians but by the public too.

Leaders must learn to take full responsibility for wrong decisions and weak implementation by their staff. They must set high standards for their own and their officials' performance, integrity. Political leaders should consult all sections of society and NGOs more to ensure that they develop the proper policies and insist on effective implementation.

DPM's warning

As the DPM rightly says again: "A good adviser must listen to other opinions. If you stick to the old fashioned opinion and just think about your ego, then just wait and see, the nation will fall."

This is the DPM's warning to us all, which should be well taken as constructive and not negative. But do we practise what is preached? Do the leaders and advisers listen enough? How often have we experienced "flip flops" in our decision making and policy formulation and implementation.

In fact, are we not following some old fashioned policies and practices that militate against competition and competence, and meritocracy and good advisers? Do some leaders not reject the good advice of advisers who have long-term professional solutions to our many national problems. Do some leaders instead use their egos, to insist on short-term politically expedient resolutions, at the expense of poor long-term national welfare, progress and national unity?

Similarly the MACC need not blame the enforcement agencies alone. If they are derelict in their duty due to corruption then go all out for the culprits. Mere pledges to fight corruption will not work as our experience has clearly shown.

Our environment is being destroyed by political permissions, permits or a lack of efficient enforcement. Why can't the MACC hit the guilty ones harder, for killing our forests and rivers? Is it because of too much money politics and the inadequate political will, to really control corruption like so many countries have effectively done in Scandinavia and in nearby countries too?

Can advisers advise frankly?

Within government, I believe it is still possible to give sincere and honest advice. But the tradition of insisting on what is right, through more debates and discussions, could be much weaker now. But many officials take the easy way out by keeping quiet or simply agreeing with the boss for convenience. Fewer now disagree openly with their bosses, even on legitimate grounds, as it could be uncomfortable and unrewarding to them.

In the corporate sector where party politics, racial and religious undertones, and concerns are far less, there can be more open arguments over the business issues of the day.

But when it comes to discussions on how to deal with government ministries and departments, and state governments, there is much discomfort and uneasiness. The question often arises, whether government officials will be upset by business initiatives and ideas, to improve and change public policies. Businessmen are often worried about reprisals from some officials. Hence frank advice is often denied to the powers that be, unfortunately.

However, it is in the general public domain, and the mass media, that people feel much more restrained. Sometimes, constructive criticism can be misconstrued as being anti-establishment.

In many cases, honest criticism can be even interpreted as seditious. So a lot depends on who is being critical, how he says it and whether the critic is seen as causing social disruption. The laws of sedition are too general for comfort. So most Malaysians do not want to take the risk, to speak up and speak out – even when their consciences are clear. This is a pity and that is why perhaps so few really speak up publicly.

The DPM's views on advisers is interesting but arguable. His warning that, "the nation will fall if we don't listen to other opinions and stick to the old fashioned opinion'' is valid.

But please don't blame advisers for any leader's poor performance! Leaders must bear full responsibility themselves for their good or bad performance, especially if they are elected to high office by the lowly rakyat.

With the coming elections the rakyat will vote for the political leaders and not the advisers, so they alone have to be accountable to the people. Then they will not be able to blame advisers, as the rakyat will vote for only the political leaders and not advisers. So please don't blame the bad advisers, just sack them for a better Malaysia.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
Asli Centre for Public Policy Studies