When the Election Commission chief Tan Sri Abdul Aziz briefed the Returning Officers for the 10th Sarawak State Elections a major point he emphasised was the need to appear neutral when dealing with politicians who are visiting for campaigning purposes. Since the RO are often SAO(Senior Assistant Officer) or DO(District Officer) in the government structure they will have to welcome the VIP who are their superiors. The advice from the EC chief was: just shake hand with the VIP and then leave the rest to your assistant. You should not be seen to be accompanying the politicians when he goes campaigning. Yet this rule is violated almost in all the constituencies in the Sarawak state elections-including even by the Sarawak State Secretary, Morshidi bin Abdul Ghani, who was spotted by the Star paper for accompanying the Chief Minister after the dissolution of the State Assmbly in most of his campaign tours around Sarawak! Teachers are often mobilised by the Minister of Education Muhyiddin Yassin, from the Federal government to attend campaign functions addressed by him.
Actually the problem is quite widespread because the politicians-whether from state or federal government tend to nudge the government departments to lend them all the departments have to help them in campaign-whether in using buildings eg schools for venues, programs-to help rally voters, personnel-to become helper in preparation of functions, vehicles-to go to far away venues, contacts-to access villages, budget-to buy votes through providing meals and handouts, etc etc. It is difficult for the government departments to say `no’ to these politicians who abuse their positions to pressure the civil servants to loan the government resources under their care to the campaigning politicians.
Such violation certainly destroy the neutrality and integrity of the civil service in the election and pit the entire government departments against the challenger. The unfairness from the compromised civil service do influence the election results especially in rural areas where the services by the civil servants do earn them some recognition among the voters. In fact quite a few civil servants are popular enough to enter politics as candidates eg Len Tatif, Director of the Forestry department, `promoted’ as a candidate in the Belawai constituency, and a district office’s engineer Malcolm Mussen Lamoh, was adopted as a BN candidate in the Batang Ai by-election in 2009. In fact it is not unusual that many civil servants especially teachers and head masters are recruited to involve in the local party branches/divisions to tap into their social status in the local society. Quite a few of them do end up as candidates for elections all over Malaysia under various parties.
The abuse of civil servants and government’s resources give tremendous advantages to the ruling parties at by-elections where the ruling parties can abuse the resources from the entire government to campaign for the candidate/s. Where the Opposition party rule in state levels it became a fight of resources between state and federal levels, with the Opposition party pressured to follow the ruling party at federal levels to balance the resource gaps. During general elections the same resources would be more stretched to cover the entire country-thus reducing the advantage that can go to the ruling party at the Federal level.
Theoretically the offending civil servants can be disciplined by their Director in their respective departments. But what if, as usually the case, the civil servants are ordered by the Director himself to do campaigning? The EC seems to be unwillling to do anything other than only occasionally advising the civil servants from involving in the campaigning. However it is unacceptable that the EC do not try to make louder advice against the campaigning civil servants.
The EC does however `clarify’ that Class A civil servants ie the most senior class, are entitled to involve in campaigning by applying to the Chief secretary. It has not been made known if these senior civil servants apply for unpaid leave to get involved in such political work, and if a log is kept by the EC about such civil servants?
2 incidents which provide some hopes to discipline the campaigning civil servants: In Kuala Terengganu by-election the RO who was also the chief of the KT City Council was complained of campaigning to his 500 assembled council staff. To do quick damage control at a few days ahead of the poll the RO was sacked and replaced by his deputy!
Another case involved the Education Director of Johor WHo was complained of campaigning for BN in the Tenang by-election. After a few weeks of sticking to his gun the persistent complaint finally forced him to eat the humble pie to declare openly that civil servants should not involve in campaigning for any candidate!
But the above 2 cases are really exceptions to the rule. In most other cases the civil servants from all departments involve in party campaigning as though it is part of their official duties especially when the whole department or agencies eg KEMAS is involved in campaigning for the candidate of the ruling party.
MEO-Net did forward a letter to formally request a meeting with the Sarawak State Secretary to discuss about the partisan role of sarawak civil servants during the state elections -but we never received any reply.