Let’s do our part to help build Malaysia

Going Beyond Pretty Pictures

Every once in a while, voices emerge out of the woodwork to raise scepticism on PEMANDU’s role and relevance. The last few weeks were no different. I would group the grumblings into these buckets:

• What is Pemandu actually tasked to do?
• Is Pemandu duplicating the role of civil service?
• As projects are up and running, shouldn’t Pemandu scale down and close shop?

When the Prime Minister stepped into office in 2009, his rallying call was to establish clear accountability and for the government to deliver.
As his brainchild, he was very specific with what he wanted from the National Transformation Programmes:

1. Transform Malaysia to a high income economy in an inclusive and sustainable manner

2. Address socio-economic concerns causing hardship to the rakyat

3. Create a conducive business environment so private sector can compete

Setting up Pemandu was no stroll in the park. It took five Cabinet workshops for Ministers to agree on the direction on the NTP. Then came the fun part – translating the vision of the New Economic Model into three-feet plans where Ministers will lead in its implementation.

Clearly, the vision and blueprint cannot end up merely as a document of pretty pictures.

When an organisation undergoes big and fast changes, methodology is key. I developed the “8-Step Transformation” at the start of the journey so we do not miss a step in getting to our 2020 goals. We use this methodology to orchestrate the development and implementation of the GTP and ETP – a unique approach that Pemandu has brought to the transformation table.

For the purpose of this article, I will not dwell on all eight steps but will highlight a few areas to demonstrate why our transformation journey bears results:

Labs. The consultative lab process facilitates ideation and cooperation between Government and private sector. Through structured and facilitated sessions, the teams must produce a detailed plan for implementation set against stringent deadlines.
KPIs and Targets. Implementation is with the Ministry. Each key reporting and economic area, including policy initiative has a lead Minister and lead Secretary-General who champions the activities and targets. KPIs are stretched but highly implementable. Pemandu works with the Ministries through their Delivery Management Office to track projects weekly and resolve obstacles.
External Validation. So we don’t become myopic, we invite outside-in perspectives to continually challenge the work we do. These independent individuals representing some of the world’s most respected public and private institutions, are given free rein to assess our results. We also appoint an external auditor to validate our quantitative numbers and to hold our results to the highest level of scrutiny.
Annual Report. I call this the ‘naked’ document. The Annual Report updates progress, with full disclosures on results and shortfalls. There is nowhere to hide. Everyone has access to view it for themselves, and inspect how each Ministry fared in their delivery.

A stickler for KPIs, we institutionalise bi-annual Ministerial reviews with the PM, lead Minister and myself. We sit together, just the three of us with no civil servant in sight. The Minister will have to answer his boss on progress and obstacles. A report is then issued to the Minister outlining what went well and what needs to improve within a stipulated timeline.

We also troubleshoot. Where a problem cannot be solved at the Ministry-level, a decision is sought from the PM – in what I call the ‘Putrajaya Inquisition’ – held every six months.

To further clear the air – contrary to what our critics claim – let me identify a few things Pemandu is not meant to do:
1. We do not hold the budget for the Ministries.
All operating expenditure are managed by the Ministry of Finance, whereas development expenditure is managed by the Economic Planning Unit.
2. We do not duplicate the role of any government agency.
No one in Government has ever complained to me about duplication. The PM chairs PEMANDU’s Board of Trustees whose members also include the Chief Secretary and Secretary General of Treasury. The Deputy PM chairs Delivery Task Force meetings on the GTP, attended by Ministers.
All NKEA meetings are chaired by their lead Ministers, with their Secretary-Generals leading the charge, and Pemandu playing a supporting role. There are no duplications.
To further illustrate how PEMANDU works with government, under the River of Life project, there are 42 different agencies involved across a gamut of activities. PEMANDU works with all of them to coordinate and provide support so targets are met.
3. We do not generate numbers for the country.
Bank Negara and the Department of Statistics are owners of sectorial and national economic data. We access these numbers just like any other organisation. These agencies produce economic data in line with internationally accredited standards.

Pemandu is a small team of less than 100 executives administrating the transformation agenda across 12 sectors, seven reporting areas and six policy initiatives. We work alongside 23 Ministries, and 169 companies at the very least.

I keep our internal resource low to maintain a flat, flexible and nimble organisation. Individuals double-even triple-hat to deliver stretched targets.

I push my people and the attrition rate is high. Some leave because the workload is an overload, others because they get poached by organisations looking for high-performers.

Pemandu is far from perfect but we have to start somewhere. Even as we fix our gaps, we do it on the run. We do not have the luxury of time to pause midstream to cross all the t’s and dot the i’s.

With only six years ahead, we can only sprint forward.

Getting Education Up and Roaring

Eucation understandably is a touchy topic for many. We reminisce about better standards of the good old days and compare it with the state of public schools as we see them today.
Getting education up and roaring is challenging but not impossible. Out of 10,000 schools in the country, 128 are labelled high-performing. These are schools with excellent academic achievement, national and international awards, linked with other learning institutions and run by highly capable personalities.
They are not only located in affluent city centres, some are nestled deep in rural communities. So it begs the question: How did these schools make the cut?
To answer that, let me tell you what did not secure the success of all these 128 high-performing schools:
1. It is not about the facilities because these 128 schools have similar facilities as all the other normal schools. As much as computers, digital whiteboards and specialised buildings can make a difference, they are not the reason why the 128 schools produce quality of education compared to the rest. To repeat: All these top schools have similar if not less facilities then regular schools but they are still able to perform exceptionally well
2. It is not about the curriculum. The national curriculum is the piñata everyone wants to hit at. These high-performing schools follow the same curriculum but their students are able to produce stellar results
3. It is not about paying teachers more. Public school teachers are paid the same across the board. Yet teachers from high-performing schools are exemplary in their dedication to do more for the students.
I have been exposed to schools that bucked the trend and soared as champions. I am always eager to hear their story with the hope we can use their methodology as a template for the nation.
I want to train the spotlight on three schools that have inspired this article.
Sri KDU in Damansara is a private school that follows the national curriculum. The principal, Datin Chan is determined to make Sri KDU the country’s best. In the PISA 2012 assessment of schools from 65 countries, Sri KDU scored the highest among the 164 participating schools in Malaysia. Their scores for maths, science and reading were comparable to the national scores of Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea.
What is their secret? I spent half a day with Datin Chan and poured through their teaching manuals and processes. One key initiative stood out. The school is focussed on getting teachers aligned to high demands on quality.
At the end of every school year, all teachers are required to return for 14 days during the holidays to prepare for the new year.
They are expected to religiously follow the curriculum and stick to a proven teaching methodology. Every day they send an email or message to parents outlining lessons and homework. Every day the students must complete their homework.
Another excellent example is Sekolah Rendah Ulu Lubai in the interiors of Sarawak. Infecting parents and teachers with a fervour to transform the school, principal Jaul anak Buyau directed the school out of the doldrums to become one of the top performing primary schools in the country despite odds like barebones infrastructure. Clearly this rural school is not dependent on high-tech facilities to dictate the quality of student outcomes.
Last week I visited SK Taman Megah (SKTM) in Petaling Jaya. Led by the passionate principal, Ms Khoo, I was treated to student performances of choral speaking, Ramayana musical, story-telling and Malay dances.
If I could pin down one differentiating takeaway from SKTM, it is Ms Khoo’s determination to include parents.
For every parent who has a complaint, she listens to find a resolution but in doing so, draws them in to be part of the solution. Whether it is dealing with water shortages or power trips, their complaints were turned into opportunities for collaboration.
Parents also pushed for a structured performing arts programme and volunteer to coach music, dance, poetry and art. When teachers were out to attend training sessions, the mothers and fathers help out in class. The PTA is energised and empowered to make sure no stones are left unturned if it meant the student benefits.
So in a nutshell, these four constellations must come together in alignment to make any school great:
• Principal. Ms Khoo cannot imagine doing anything else than what she is doing right now – serving at the school. It all boils down to the leader’s personal commitment to make changes and take responsibility
• Teachers. There’s no compromise in delivering in the classroom and teachers must be in full compliance in executing the curriculum
• Parents. The development of the child is not solely the responsibility of teachers. When I was a student my father was principal and teacher of our village school. He taught me in class and when I got home, he continued to teach
• Student. Nothing happens if the student does not want to study. It is important that the principal, teachers and parents focus on the child. At the centre of the constellation, the student is the hero in this story
A school’s transformation starts with the principal but doesn’t end with her. Once the principal ignites the momentum and it is then carried through by teachers, parents and students, that school is destined for greatness.
If I had my way, I would like to run a pilot by getting the best principal and subject teachers in the highest performing school and place them in the lowest one for say, a period of six months. I am willing to bet there will be significant increase in student performance.
People’s lives can be transformed and it begins in the school. There are no shortcuts, and everyone has a part to play.


2.These SKTM students have really good performing arts skills and managed to wow the crowd during the visit

These SKTM students have really good performing arts skills and managed to wow the crowd during the visit

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