Tackle promptly the decline in productivity

I REFER to Azman Ujang's assessment in Our productivity takes a beating (Off the Cuff, June 24). I wish to commend Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed and Azman for exposing our weaknesses. This is welcome in contrast to only highlighting our strengths.

The article in theSun has to be emulated by the press generally, as we now suffer from the denial syndrome, whereby there is a self-imposed censorship of many weaknesses, that we hope will be resolved in time. But in the real world, weaknesses, like poor productivity, will not just go away. Weaknesses have a habit of getting worse if we do not accept them and address them.

Most thinking Malaysians are deeply concerned with the decline in productivity that Mustapa and Azman have addressed.

This discussion on falling productivity must continue. I hope the government will encourage this discussion and not castigate honest constructive critics, who do so painfully, in the interests of the public and the government.

Let's review some important issues:

» Sleeping on the job – Is it happening in government departments too?

What the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) CEO, Christoph Mueller, said about having to slash 6,000 jobs, since the workers were practically "doing nothing" but sleeping on the jobs, is very serious. Surely it's not our culture? However we must admit that there is a growing culture of: "Work less and ask for more pay". Somehow, many believe that the world owes them a living.
Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan has also criticised this "sleeping syndrome". He asked why and how management of MAS was either not aware or worse still, how come it condoned sleeping on the job. Now people are asking whether this is happening in some federal ministries, departments and agencies.

» MAS suffered from overpriced supply chain and overstaffing. What about government?

Let's examine the criticism that MAS paid higher prices for its goods and services by 20-25% above the market price. MAS has been given government bailouts amounting to RM17.4 billion since 2001.
How can we afford this wastage and how can we expect to push for higher productivity, if this kind of inefficiencies are occurring and are carrying on, without much real change in policies? Are we serious about raising productivity?

If these weaknesses are in MAS, are the same problems plaguing productivity in government?

Is there also overstaffing in the 1.6 million-strong civil service? Are there preferential and protective practices that are causing cost overruns.
Are we paying more than the market price for goods and services that are procured by ministries, departments and agencies? The people want to know because it is their tax money.
They also want more transparency and press scrutiny to be sure that wastage is minimised. This is necessary to know, for us to be satisfied that more funds will be allocated for the poor and low-income groups, who are suffering from the adverse effects of inflation and corruption.

» Unemployed graduates with poor English. That is why the former vice-chancellor of University of Malaya, Tan Sri Prof Gauth Jasmon, has warned that there could be about 400,000 unemployed graduates. In a few years this worrisome figure could grow to half a million unemployed graduates, who unfortunately are neither trained nor equipped to be self-employed. So what will be their plight? Will they not get restless and provide the dangerous wherewithall for undesirable activities and social unrest?

If indeed the majority of unemployed graduates are bumiputra because of a lack of knowledge in English, will that become a sore and infectious problem. Will it not undermine productivity and our prospects to compete effectively in the world of globalisation?

The rakyat want better income growth, a better quality of life, more efficient public and private products and services and a higher level of public safety and security.

However, our economy can slow down, and our services can deteriorate further and the welfare of the rakyat can decline, if productivity does not rise and grow fast enough.

Thus the government has to move away from politicking over racial and religious issues and unproductive preoccupations, and concentrate more on raising productivity.

The prime minister, the Cabinet and the government at all levels have to be fully involved, for Malaysia to increase its productivity for greater progress.

Thus the press also must be allowed to lead in more debate and discussion on public issues, in a more open and free environment to highlight weaknesses to help overcome them.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
Chairman
Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies