Dealing with a civil service that had lost its professionalism was among the biggest challenges Dr Mahathir Mohamad faced after becoming prime minister a second time, according to his latest book.
He wrote that one of the immediate obstacles was to find ways of dealing with the large number of senior civil servants who had actively favoured Barisan Nasional (BN) in the 14th general election.
“The entire government machinery had been subverted. Some senior officers had been caught on video wearing Barisan Nasional T-shirts at political rallies.
“Would these people now be willing to serve the country as professional and non-partisan administrators? We didn’t know,” he said in his latest book, according to a report in Malay Mail.
The book, Capturing Hope: The Struggle Continues for a New Malaysia, was officially launched yesterday.
Mahathir said that while he had many things to attend to after being appointed prime minister, undoing the rot in certain parts of the civil service had been the priority, adding that former prime minister Najib Razak had appointed himself as finance minister and that the ministry was left in a very bad shape.
“There simply was no money. Najib borrowed huge sums and committed the government to supporting loans raised by 1MDB. Altogether, the government owed more than RM1 trillion, which is a number that has 12 zeros. If you can fathom it, that is more zeros than what my calculator has.
“The chief secretary to the government, who was the head of the civil service, was aware of this but did not raise any objection,” he wrote.
The chief secretary then was Ali Hamsa, who was appointed in 2012 and continued to serve some three months after the fall of BN and Najib in 2018.
Mahathir said former treasury secretary-general Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah appointed himself as chairman of many government companies, with each paying him a very substantial amount.
“In total, he was being paid as much as RM200,000 a month. That’s RM2.4 million a year and was far above normal government pay.
“All these people needed to be shunted out, but then who would replace them?
“I needed people who were honest, and I had to find proof that they were honest and that they had the needed ability,” he said.
Mahathir said he also had to focus on reorganising the civil service in general, adding that he had been hearing complaints about the civil service that it had lost its professionalism and that it behaved more like a branch of Umno.
“Critics pointed out that it had become a ‘job bank’ for unemployed Malay youths and Malay graduates (who graduated) in courses with low employment prospects such as Islamic Studies.
“These young people had little chance of finding work in the private sector. For political reasons, they were absorbed into the civil service,” he wrote.
The report said Mahathir’s book will contain his version of the events that led to the abrupt shake-up and collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government he led in the aftermath of GE14. – FMT