Call to review promotion system for govt officers
Azlan Othman

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam called for a review of the promotion system for government officers in B2 EB2 salary scale and above or its equivalent as they have to pass the General Orders and Financial Regulation examinations to get promoted.

Calling it as a hard task for officers with no administrative or financial background with the rate of failure reaching up to 60 per cent, the ruler suggested that besides using the examination system, a course system should also be in place as it brings many specific benefits especially to officers not related to staffing and financial affairs. "We must not have rules or policies that are deemed inappropriate," said His Majesty.

His Majesty said this in a titah during his working visit to the Public Service Department (JPA) at the Old Airport yesterday, which also brought him to the Public Service Commission (SPA) at the same building.

The monarch said public service plays an important role as the government machinery. It is important in all countries except that there are differences in many matters such as in methods of use and regulations whether they are called conventional or non-conventional. But people are more prone to use those that are easy.

"I have no objection in using something that is new so long as it brings benefits to all parties. It is inappropriate to have a method or regulation whose benefit or relevancy is questionable in which reasoning for questioning and disputing is well-founded," the ruler said.

"I go straight to the matter pertaining to the examinationas for General Orders 1961 and Service Orders and Financial Regulation. In October 2009, a circular was issued informing all public servants under B2 EB3 and above salary scale or its equivalent that they are are required to pass the public service examinations.

"The circular has cancelled out the previous one in 2005. We are all aware that the examinations serve a purpose for the officers to know the regulations better.

"But besides such purpose, have we ever thought of the implication of its appropriateness. I mean, in terms of what is and not appropriate or less appropriate?

"It is crucial to understand this matter. I was made to understand that the Circular 2009 is still on trial. Why? Is it not in the Financial Regulation 1983 in 1 (4) that states that it is the task for all officers to be skilful in the financial regulations and circulars of Treasury as well as orders of certain estimation, which are related to them or the departments?

"Based on the 1983 regulations, there is no mention to pass or have to pass or officers must be skilful especially specific to them or their respective department.

"In other words, it is not for all officers, regardless of their job relations or departments. Now it is imposed on every officer and they are also required to pass. If they did not pass, then they will not get promoted even though an officer is not required to be skilful in financial regulations or in other words, not relating to financial regulations," His Majesty pointed out.

His Majesty said although all officers are required to know General Orders (GO) or Financial Regulations (FR), it should not be a reason to penalise them all and not to promote them just because they did not pass the General Orders or Financial Regulations examinations even though they are lecturers, graduate imams, agricultural and forestry officers and so on.

"Have we forgotten that the requirement for employment (which is currently ongoing) is their academic qualification - be it a diploma, certificate, HND, BA, PhD and so on - and suddenly GO and FR come into the fore as if it waives all with the sole determining factor for promotion for officers without taking into account their qualifications.

"A BA holder could get promoted if he/she passes the examination, while MA or PhD holders don't get promoted until they retire. Where do we stand when others emphasise on academic qualifications? We even hear that professionals are offered to become citizens somewhere else and serve with them. But our policies that require officers to pass GO and FR seem to disregard whether an officer is a professional or otherwise. It is still the same.

"Is this policy correct? If we say it is, would we agree if Bruneians take the attitude of not gaining higher qualification and only find it appropriate to pass with moderate qualification with the determining or crucial factor being passing GO and FR and not gaining higher academic qualification.

"In Circular 13/2009, paragraph 5, it highlights that the exam curriculum is provided by the Public Service Department and the Ministry of Finance and the examination is handled by JPA. It means that JPA and the Ministry of Finance formulate the exam curriculum.

"My question is whether they are capable of doing it. Of course, they can do it. But being capable is inadequate. What is more important is that when we do something, it must be right, appropriate and meet the high expectations. If not, then this is what happens as questions are twisted, are confusing, vague, hard to understand and so on, as the questions are not done professionally.

"For instance, I did not see objective questions as simple except that such questions require long answers. Without doubt, such unprofessional questions could be hard and require better memorisation capability to answer. Those who have more time would be at an added advantage to answer the question.

"GO book has 167 pages while Financial Regulations has almost 100 pages. It is not easy to remember, let alone memorise. It is true that some have passed the examination due to the fact that they are hard working, have plenty of time, have a strong memory or accustomed to memorising.

"Sometimes the rate of failure reaches 50 or even 60 per cent. Those who failed could be officers who have nothing to do with FR in their position to the extent that they are not interested to put an effort. It could also be that a senior person is not in the administrative side of the job but others are like a researcher, teacher, imam, religious officer and so on. Is it not a shock for them that they are put into a difficult situation as they have to revise something that is not within their scope of daily work?

"I have read the questions and answers and found out that the GO and FR questions did not take into account the category of an officer who is not from the administrative side. In other words, the questions are only appropriate to an administrative officer who handles staff and financial affairs. For officers in other categories, it would be hard for them to answer or simply they won't be able to answer in a better way.

"If this is true, it is not surprising that it leads to failures. It is strange if the rate of failure exceeds 50 or 60 per cent in a class examination in a school or in a university. It is indeed strange or it never happens as the failure rate would only be 10-20 per cent. But in GO and FR, it exceeds 50 or 60 per cent meaning that something is not right.

"Hence, it is appropriate to review the system," His Majesty said.

"Besides examination system, would it be a must to have course system. If the course system is not effective, try to find a formula to correct it. Or if we still want the examination method, it should be for those like administrative officers or those related to financial regulations while others must follow a course.

"The course system is more appropriate if it is handled efficiently. Through course, one would not only gain knowledge but also become an expert. Take for instance a graduate imam or an agricultural officer, if they are given a course in their respective field they would certainly gain more than if they sit for a test or examination.

"Course is not limited to matters pertaining to the course content but covers guidelines they need follow and carry out. Besides, acquiring the theory aspect, an officer who attends a course would also gain the practical experience.

"As for the examination, a person could forget once it is over, as he/she is not exposed to practical exercise and job guidelines. It only focuses on memorisation and when the exam is over, the memorisation would disappear in the blink of an eye.

"In my opinion, we must have GO and FR books and they should not be left out. GO and FR books would be adequate to facilitate our work and for officers to refer just like books on law where we can refer without having to memorise it. Let us think about this," His Majesty said. - Borneo Bulletin (26 April 2012)