It is an accepted fact that the civil service is a pillar of a country’s administration. Without a stable, effective and efficiently-run civil service managed with proper governance and integrity, any country will crumble and possibly descend into chaos. We have seen that reality when the COVID-19 pandemic hit globally. We have seen that those countries who managed the crisis well for its citizens were run by leaders who truly care for their citizens. And these countries’ civil service are staffed by committed and competent people willing to carry out their duties even beyond the call of duty.
The citizens of Sarawak are fortunate in that we have both. Our Premier, YAB Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri (Dr) Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari bin Tun Datuk Abang Haji Openg had the firm resolve to put Sarawakians’ welfare first and foremost from the moment we knew of the pandemic. His resolute decision to make use of the resources at our disposal to help the people during this crisis was resolute. With his clear marching orders, we mobilised the Sarawak Civil Service (SCS) to be at the forefront of all efforts expended to manage the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermaths.
When almost all sectors of the economy were paralyzed at the height of the pandemic, it fell on the shoulders of the public sector to hold the reins and provide the essential services that the people needed. We, the Sarawak Civil Service (SCS), rose up to the challenge of managing the pandemic’s aftermaths as best as possible, following the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO). We were out there, both the frontline and backline workers, working at optimum capacity to ensure that the country is not paralyzed.
Back then, there was little we knew of the COVID-19 virus and there was yet no cure. The reality of how fast it was spreading and causing congestions in hospitals and quarantine centres and especially the numbers of deaths happening was deeply upsetting. It was fairly easy for anyone to feel overwhelmed and be paralysed by a sense of fear. But we didn’t cave in and give in to our fears and worries. Instead, we went out there facing the risks, fulfilling our call to service.
The most crucial task we had to do was to keep the peoples’ trust in the government. Without this trust, the situation could have gotten even much worse because the people would not cooperate with the authorities in enforcing the MCOs and SOPs.
Sarawak is one of the nations which was able to manage the pandemic well. And it is because we in the SCS were able to adapt fast enough and change our usual norms of conducting our day-to-day business without compromising good governance.
We were able to dispense with unnecessary procedures in our efforts to deliver the necessary services and assistance to the people during this crisis. We were able
to mobilise staff wherever they are most needed. Designations nor specific locations of their assignments or appointments as civil servants didn’t matter. What mattered most during those times was where they are needed and what skills and abilities they can contribute.
For example, there are those among us, who went out of their way to buy food and drinks for the frontliners in the hospitals, quarantine centres and out there in all the checkpoints. These, and many more acts of goodness, were heartening to see. And I must say, I feel particularly proud when I hear of, and personally know or see people in our civil service ranks, being the frontrunners in spreading goodwill and goodness and thus, keeping the peoples’ trust in our administration during those difficult times.
Now, as we are starting the process of rebuilding and restoration, I would like to see us, the SCS, to continue to be the frontrunners in strengthening that which we have seen to be the good in our society.
For that, we will need to review existing policies, rules and procedures. The results of the review will reveal to us whether the policies, rules and procedures are still appropriate and effective with the current needs. We can use the findings either to update some policies, rules and procedures or formulate new ones, or amend or directly abolish those that no longer serve the peoples’ best interests.
From the experiences we went through during the pandemic, the main question we need to ask is “does this policy, rule or procedure make the people trust us and believe that it is for their best interests?” By answering this question, I believe we can easily shed layers of our rules and policies that do not make our peoples’ lives easier and do not earn us points for trustworthiness.
Will the COVID-19 pandemic be the last of the global crisis that we will face in our era? We sure hope so. But we will never know. That’s why the capacity of public services to be more resilient to face global megatrends linked to the future and the next set of crises that may come rely on the design of our post-pandemic policies.
Sarawak under the leadership of our YAB Premier Sarawak has launched the Post COVID-19 Development Strategy (PCDS) 2030 which clearly provides the best path for Sarawak to develop, expand and maintain sustainable economic growth for the wellbeing of all of us. In this strategic plan, the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) thrusts of our government is clearly laid out. We have laid some foundations through the years to ensure that we fulfil our ESG goals. Now, we are further strengthening those foundations, and making our ESG thrusts not just a public sector undertaking but a whole-of society approach.
We need to bring everyone in our society on board the journey of building Sarawak as a nation effective in its ESG implementation. And yes, we can aim to make Sarawak a model for ESG implementation. There’s no reason why we cannot do that. But in order to do that, we, the SCS staff, need to be the frontrunners in these efforts.
As we implement recovery plans impacting most sectors of our economy, there is an important opportunity to reflect on the civil service workforce that is needed to deliver these ESG goals, as contained in the PCDS 2030, effectively today and into the future.
Civil service efficiency is not just about delivering services, but it is also an important yardstick in the effectiveness of a country’s management. In this regard, by making comparisons with developed and high-income countries, we must accept that there is a need for us to update our knowledge and, upgrade our competencies. Sarawak needs a talented civil servant, comparable to developed countries in order to implement the PCDS 2030 and provide the best public service delivery to the people.
The only way that we know if we are managing our country well is when we are confident that the policies, regulations and processes we have crafted are effective in ensuring that we are leaving a much better world to our future generations. That in our thought processes, in the decisions that we make for ourselves and others, and in our attitudes and behaviours, we are offering a model for others to follow.
We must all be followers of that wise adage: “that we do not own this world we live in. We are only stewards of it for the future generations”. And that’s why our main task is to be frontrunners in the good that we can do today for the future!