Home TA Online Should retired top civil servants be barred from joining corporate boards?

Should retired top civil servants be barred from joining corporate boards?

Graphic: csj-ng.org

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They must declare they will have no dealings with the previous government departments they worked for or any other government agency, says Benedict Lopez.

A friend of mine sent me a text from a reader of an online publication who felt that top civil servants should be barred from being board members of a company for at least 10 years from the time they retire from government service.

According to the reader, many top civil servants allegedly collude with private firms when they are about to retire on the premise that they will be appointed as directors or chairpersons of the board of the firms concerned upon retirement.

The reader added, “Either they start dishing out contracts, permits to these companies or on retirement walk into government departments to get contracts and favours for these companies. It’s shameful.”

The reader is entitled to his or her opinions. While I cannot completely disagree with the reader’s views, I believe it merits a certain degree of consideration for this issue to be addressed by the government.

Generally, there is a notion that many ex-top civil servants are appointed to the boards of companies allegedly as a reward for past favours done.

That said, I also know many ex-top civil servants and former executives from the private sector whose talents and expertise are not tapped, simply because they either don’t have the connections or have not been apple polishers.

Such practices are disheartening to note for many good and talented Malaysians. The result: they leave the country and often are eventually recognised by the foreign country they work for.

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Sadly, this contributes to the brain drain from Malaysia – and it has a multiplier effect. It inevitably impedes on the economic and social development of the nation. It happens mainly because we don’t subscribe to a system based on meritocracy.

I believe that if top civil servants are about to be appointed as company chairpersons or directors after retirement, they should inform their respective previous government departments and the Post Services Department (Pensions Division).

Prior to their appointment, an approval letter must be obtained from the their previous department or agency stating explicitly that top civil servant in question had no official dealings whatsoever with the company at which they are about to be appointed.

The proviso for the approval should also include a statutory declaration from the retired civil servant stating that the new corporate position would not involve any official dealings with his or her former government department or even other government departments. Nor would he or she solicit favours from friends in these departments.

In this manner, integrity, transparency, good corporate governance and accountability would be adhered to.

But it will not be fair to have a blanket ban on top or even ordinary civil servants’ post-retirement directorships or other positions in private companies.

Many retired civil servants still have a wealth of experience and being appointed as company directors can at times directly and or indirectly benefit the company and the nation.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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