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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Public Works Drama

By Terence Fernandez, The Sun

THEY say two heads are better than one; but ask the staff of the Public Works Department (PWD) and they will beg to differ. Through no fault of theirs, an administrative bungle has created a scenario where they end up reporting to two bosses.

It all started on May 1 when PWD director-general Datuk Seri Judin Abdul Karim was appointed chief executive officer of the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB). The Public Services Department (PSD) and the Public Service Commission (PSC) then went on to announce deputy director-general Datuk Mohd Noor Yaacob as Judin’s successor.

Perhaps because they were too used to government officers jumping at their behest, both the PSD and PSC did not wait for Judin to accept his new appointment – which is within the latter’s rights – before appointing Mohd Noor.

Judin who has been director-general since 2007 claimed that the appointment was a demotion – compounded by the fact that there was no disciplinary action, the appointment was in breach of the Public Officers (Conduct and Discipline) Regulation 1993.

Now that Judin has declined the offer, the PWD has the ignominy of having two directors-general.

Both Mohd Noor and his former (or is it current?) boss Judin have put on a brave and civil front, doing their own thing while the PSD sorts out the mess. Judin has stayed put in his office on the fifth floor while Mohd Noor waits in his current office across him to occupy the seat of the director-general.

In the midst of this, Datuk Mohamad Husin who has been promoted to deputy director-general is also in limbo as he cannot perform his new role.

Although the PWD website lists Mohd Noor as the new chief, and a circular has been issued on the new appointment, staff are still in sixes and sevens over who they should report to.

This particularly affects those who have to liaise with the top officials of the department. Their work is also disrupted as they are shuttled between the offices of Junid and Mohd Noor – perhaps feeling that they need to pick a side.

That all public work contracts, tenders and job orders must come from the director-general makes it even more crucial that the problem is fixed on the spot.

A cry for help was heard last week from the joint workers committee of the PWD which has forwarded its case to the prime minister. That it has taken two months for the matter to fester does not bode well for the PSD, and the intervention of the chief secretary to the government is seen to be the only way to end the impasse.

One can sympathise with the government servants and understand their plight – while they easily become the whipping boys for the slow delivery system and inefficiencies – one forgets that sometimes delays and non-delivery stem from higher quarters.

In Judin’s case, there are now allegations that he has become a victim of the well-connected. It has been claimed that his refusal to approve several high-cost and high-profile projects had led to his removal. That Judin has the guts to defy his own bosses, including the PSD, lends credence to the tale.

Yes, it is a matter of speculation, but generally, a “touch me if you can” attitude from someone with nothing to lose usually means that he has a strong case. And the fact that the powers-that-be are taking their time to resolve the matter gives more credence to allegations that he has been a victim for doing his job.

The chief secretary to the government has been accused before of not acting fast enough to quell administrative problems under his watch. The Selangor state secretary saga and the Penang state development officer issue are just two episodes.

The slow pace in handling this matter, one hopes, is just a matter of the PSD and chief secretary being calculative over the risks involved. But the longer they wait, the more damage is done, as perception is building up over the impasse.

More importantly, is the people’s interest being addressed adequately now that there is this administrative crisis in a department that is not only crucial but also central to the country’s infrastructural development?

And lest we forget, the CIDB is now also left without a CEO. Can someone please clean up this mess?

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