Saturday, May 21, 2011

Of PSD Scholarships, Reality and Little Napoleons

In the past, caveats such as ‘sebarang pertanyaan dan aduan tidak akan dilayan,’ which would, invariably, be part of the ‘syarat-syarat’ or terms and conditions of certain awards were the norm.

What it meant were queries or questions pertaining to unsuccessful applicants would be not be entertained. The terms and conditions would also be capped with ‘decisions made are final.’

Well, these days such clauses may still be used in competitions such as those often organised by product manufacturers as gimmick to market their products. However, despite the inevitable exclusion and liability clauses aimed at reducing or eliminating the potential for direct, consequential, special, incidental and indirect damages should there be a breach of contract, there’s no stopping disgruntled consumer from digging into the reasons for their failure to win or be awarded something.

And so, it was upon this premise that MCA Youth Chief Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong recently questioned why some of the 363 full A+ students who should have received overseas scholarships did not get them while others were given matriculation or diploma scholarships when they ought to be given scholarships for degree courses of their choice.

To this, the Public Service Department (PSD) had quickly come up with the rationale that scholarships are only awarded to Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) high achievers based on the country’s human resources needs.

PSD director-general Datuk Seri Abu Bakar Abdullah called upon students and parents to understand that PSD scholarships were only awarded to those qualified, and those who would later serve the government in the required areas.

Of course, that on the face goes without saying. Clinching a PSD scholarship without merit or fulfilling the criteria is a no-no. But what happens in the hallowed hallways of the department could be something else.

Being fallible humans, the powers that be starting from the selection panel and to the awarding gateway that executes the decisions are something else.

Now, those are just criteria – the conditions for the award. If fallibility here would mean not free of mistakes, that would surely be understandable, but if it touches the dominion of integrity and honesty, that is a different matter. Something that is, indeed, serious.

The problems with the little napoleons cut across the board, whether in the civil service or the private sector. It is more than a question of human fallibility. It is one of trust and conscience.

The decision had been made by the government that all SPM 8A+ students would get PSD scholarships. It was a sweeping statement that verily needed much common sense from the PSD as well as from the students and parents.

Ask ourselves, how many 8A+ students are there each year, and how much can the government afford? On top of that, ‘afford’ from the perspective of the government is all about funding and reaping the rewards at the end of the day when the students graduate in the fields chosen and serve the government.

Fair deal that. However, back to the question of fallibility and integrity. What if the officers in charge of the awards were to deliberately ignore applications and chose those whom they deem as should be awarded the scholarships, such as the children of friends, kinsmen and even politicians?

Difficult it may be to investigate this, but we must for the sake of integrity and to pacify the restless.

The act of doing such things is tantamount to corruption – corruption of the very system that badly needs a high infusion of integrity. And, talking of integrity I will not be surprised to see a framed copy of the departmental charter that would, invariably undertake to provide a fair and professional service to the people.

Ah, this would be nothing more than a piece of paper to show how they have a grasp of what it entails in spirit, but the reality on the ground is another matter.

To many in the civil service or the private sector, corruption only means the taking of money in return for services that would circumvent the procedures. Bribing with money is at the top of the food chain for those who observe such obnoxious practices. They fail to see or realise that corruption is also about turning a blind eye to those we are entrusted to listen or assist. Corruption is also about the omission of a public duty. Corruption is the lackadaisical way in doing what we are entrusted to do as custodians of the public trust. Corruption is about forgetting who we are as civil servants.

And so, despite the explanation given by the PSD director-general about the department’s role in human resource for the country, he nevertheless, still told students who were unhappy with the type of scholarships they received to contact the department – for an explanation. That is clearly not necessary. It only sounds like an opportunity to tell-off those unsatisfied one to one.

Dr Wee said some of the 363 full A+ students who should have received overseas scholarships did not get them, while others were awarded matriculation or diploma scholarships when THEY needed or DESERVED scholarships for degree courses of THEIR choice.

What gives? It surely looks like Dr Wee was only playing to the gallery or adopting a populist stance on this matter.

Perhaps, he is half right in doing so, as much as the PSD director-general who expounded what PSD scholarships were all about.

By not addressing the high possibility of little napoleons bending the rules at its end to the detriment of very qualified students who would have no qualms to be of service to the government and country upon graduation, the good director-general has clearly failed to pacify the situation – as of now.

And as for Dr Wee and MCA Youth, we would implore upon him not to pander to skewed emotions over the matter and quit his populist stance. It is a problem that can be solved eventually by all in the spirit of 1Malaysia.

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