Monday, July 7, 2014

Is Pemandu good at innovating or obfuscating?



Last updated on 07/07/2014 - 08:12
07/07/2014 - 13:00    

Hazlan Zakaria

COMMENT: In my heart of hearts, I so do want to be proud of Malaysia and any accolades it has gotten but after being jaded year after year of observing our country and its leaders as a journalist, it makes me wonder if those are all just window-dressing painted before the realities on the ground.
Like opaque designs on stained glass windows, beautiful to watch but they show not the true picture of what lies beyond. They obfuscate by putting a pretty picture in front and hide what is behind.
Similarly, when our very own Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) of the Prime Minister's Department was honoured in a prestigious international report in June this year, I was torn between two minds.
On one hand, I felt a twinge of nationalistic pride, but on the other indignation of the faux-achievements that we continue to delude ourselves and the world with. This public relations game that was started by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's Apco Worldwide advisors and is now continued by Datuk Seri Idris Jala's perception management specialists and highly paid delivery consultants in Pemandu.
Like Renaissance artists whose intricate designs on stained glass windows of the palatial homes of the rich and famous obfuscate the views of the beggars and peasants outside, Pemandu, I and many observers believe, is painting a rosy picture of Malaysia on the outside, hiding the crucial issues within.
Instead of performance, Pemandu is more managing perception and instead of innovation it is more delivering public relations solutions to divert attention from issues at hand.
Last month, Pemandu received international acclaim after being recognised as one of the premier units that are delivering and empowering change in governments around the world.
The global i-Teams report released by UK innovation foundation Nesta named Pemandu and its team of 135 people which cost taxpayers 7.3 million British pounds or just under RM40 million in 2011 as one of 20 such organisations leading the charge to promote innovation in how governments do things.
It listed as accolades, Pemandu's successes in helping to reduce crime by 35 per cent in just one year, increasing people's perception of the effectiveness of law enforcement from 28 per cent in 2009 to 48 per cent in 2010 as measured in the Transparency International's (TI) Global Corruption Barometer annual survey and success in bringing drinking water, electricity, roads and restoring the homes of two million Malaysians in rural areas.
What is missing though are the feelings of people on the ground who were not part of the TI surveys, many feel unsafe still. And of course, the houses of ministers and their family who were broken into at a time when Pemandu said crime is down.
Missing too are the miles and miles of unpaved roads in Sabah and Sarawak, and the lack of clean water and electricity despite the many dams in the area.
What is missing are the other negative mentions of Malaysia in other surveys which measure how safe people feel living or travelling in the country. Conveniently as always, the government would question the accuracy of the surveys and cite problematic methodologies.
Indeed, anyone who had attended a Pemandu briefing on its Entry Point Projects would also wonder where the innovation is in Pemandu when all the projects were submitted by the private sector on what they already planned to do. Pemandu simply picks and chooses the ones that fit its profile and advertise it as its EPP. How innovative indeed!
But more importantly, what left a sour taste in many newsmen's mouths is the retraction of one paragraph from Idris' statement to celebrate Pemandu's inclusion in Nesta's report.
Sour because it reminds us all what Pemandu has always been good at, innovative even, in ways to semantically present statistics and numbers to support its NKRA KPI claims.
In a message sent just after the original statement was distributed to the media it asked that the paragraph below be omitted:
"The 1AZAM Programme under the GTP has lifted more than 135,000 families out of poverty through job opportunities (Azam Kerja), agricultural activities (Azam Tani), small businesses (Azam Niaga), and service-related activities (Azam Khidmat)"
And replaced with:
"The 1AZAM Programme under the GTP has given more than 135,000 families opportunities to move out of poverty through job opportunities (Azam Kerja), agricultural activities (Azam Tani), small businesses (Azam Niaga), and service-related activities (Azam Khidmat)."
It seemed innocent enough but that change from "lifted more than 135,000 families out of poverty" to "has given more than135,000 families opportunities to move out of poverty" shows the class act that Pemandu is at obfuscating statistics.
By its very description in the Nesta report, it was supposed to measure KPIs by the number of outcomes or people actually helped, not by the number of people given opportunities.
But the change in the statement belies this very factor that is supposedly one of its core principles of being outcome based.
If you are outcome based, you don't measure results by the number of cases attempted, but by the number of successful outcome.
This very act calls to attention Pemandu's other statistics submitted and its conveniently compartmentalised alphabet soups that created narrow fields for performance to be noticed without the exterior context. Are they all "opportunities given" or actual outcome? I suspect the former.
Some have always questioned the way Pemandu phrased and structured the crime index in which it said Malaysia saw a 35 per cent reduction in crime. Many have questioned the crime statistics it used and why the police, which usually release crime statistics to the media and NGOs, now keep them close to their chest and only release Pemandu-processed statistics instead of the raw numbers.
Thus, despite international accolades of its outcome-based heroics, I wonder if Pemandu really is delivering innovation and managing performance or perhaps is indeed managing perceptions and delivering obfuscation to keep a certain shiny-lipped PM's "shoes" spit polish shiny.
Of course, I say this with no disrespect to Idris who is indeed the consummate salesman, for as some who move in the corporate circles have said, he is not really the turnaround king but a skilled salesman that knows how to sell his turnaround ideas to the bosses and the employees under him.
My concern here is that instead of helping multinational energy conglomerate Shell recover lost operations or turning around Malaysia Airlines (MAS) from near bankruptcy to profitability, he is now helping to sell exalted bovine excrement of the powers that be to the masses and to the world, to our detriment.
I believe his real place in Malaysian governance is not in Pemandu to sell high-profile opportunities instead of creating outcomes, but to be in charge of a special enforcement unit under the Auditor-General's office to help the spendthrift Najib administration rein in its bloated expenditures and make us fiscally healthy again. Like how he helped the Shell units and MAS balance their profit and loss statements.
But then again, he would probably be thrown out of office on the first day as he probably would not be allowed to sell unused buildings, luxury paintings and other excess assets like he did to MAS nor would he be allowed to slim down bloated crony-infested government supply chains and stop the holiday trips and high-living of Malaysian officials and their spouses overseas.

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