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LETTER | End useless monthly ministry assemblies

LETTER | Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim should discontinue his predecessors’ practice of having monthly grand staff assemblies.

All ministers are now having these wasteful time-consuming assemblies.

Those gatherings are reminiscent of my school assemblies of yore, except mine were brief, with no wannabe poets as masters of ceremony torturing us with cutesy pantun (rhyme).

Watch the videos of these assemblies online, and the colossal waste of time and loss of productivity from work interruptions would be obvious.

Imagine the many offices and public service counters left understaffed and overwhelmed during those assemblies!

Anwar’s speech on July 2 at the Finance Ministry was illustrative. While he was mercifully brief (about 20 minutes), the long preamble together with the obligatory Quran recitation and pantun reading caused the event to last over an hour.

Add the inevitable social chatter before and after, and the waste of time would be obvious.

The master of ceremony proudly announced over 700 staff members were present. You can bet that they were not lowly paid time-scale kerani (clerks) but lavishly remunerated departmental heads and other “superscale” officers.

Anwar did not reveal anything new in his speech, nothing that he had not uttered umpteen times before and elsewhere. That is, the importance of combating corruption and rationalising subsidies.

Those should not be news to his staff, nor do they need to be inspired. Instead, they should be inspiring the public through their examples. Attending those useless assemblies on government time was far from that.

I am not against pep talks and rah-rah rallies to inspire the troops but not at taxpayers’ expense. If done on company time, make sure it benefits the organisation.

Take Apple’s Steve Jobs showcasing a new product. He used those occasions not only to praise and inspire his employees but also to garner millions worth of publicity and advertising, as well as create buzz among techies.

Anwar is a masterful orator and has an important message to deliver. His target audience however should not be his staff but the public. His staff should support him in that crusade by being exemplary efficient public servants.

This could have been an email

Unlike him, Anwar’s ministers are not so blessed oratory-wise. I watched a recent Education Ministry assembly led by its civil servant head instead of the minister.

He droned on for over an hour discussing mundane issues such as staff evaluations! He could have saved everybody’s time and resources by simply issuing emails or newsletters.

Of even greater significance, he said nothing about the ministry’s latest initiative, announced only a few days earlier, of seeking public input for its forthcoming education policy review.

A month earlier the education minister addressed the staff. While she did not outdo her civil service head in the length of her speech, nonetheless hers was long enough, more than twice that of Anwar.

In her half-English, half-Malay together with a gratuitous sprinkling of Arabic (par for the course for Malays these days), she devoted a significant portion on how much she learned from Stephen Covey’s book on trust.

As for her listeners’ attention, the only applause she received was when she announced salary increases!

Dispense with these wasteful monthly assemblies. Emulate our first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. He used to have a weekly formal press conference following his cabinet meeting where a particular minister, whose issues were the subject of the earlier deliberations, was at his side to elaborate.

Those were also occasions to showcase a minister’s talent and to inform the public of major initiatives.

Last week would have been an opportune time for Anwar to have the education minister at his side to discuss the proposed education review.

Less is more

These regular press conferences would also preempt the frenzy of Anwar’s ministers rushing to the nearest microphones at the slightest provocation to comment on trivial matters when they should be busy quietly working.

Let your results do the talking. Those grand assemblies are nothing more than officially sanctioned excuses for officers not to be at their desks.

Anwar too should avoid frequent public appearances. Focus on a few critical issues. Results and successes would speak volumes and trump eloquent speeches every time.

Ponder the fate of that master orator Sukarno intoxicated with his soaring rhetoric, or the leader Nong in Shannon Ahmad’s short story “Ungkapan” (sloganeering) consumed with his endless political jingles.

More to the point, ministers should be the chief executives of their respective ministries, not their cheerleaders or press release officers.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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