Catalysing Digital Transformation through Public-Private Partnerships: From a Civil Servant’s Perspective

06/04/2022 09:14 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.
By :
Mohd Haniff Md Salleh

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

This quote best explains how noble the civil service is, to sacrifice our life for the benefit of the people. You can find the essential purpose of human beings - ability, sympathy, empathy, connection and solidarity, by serving your people and your country.

I remember one particular event that ignited my desire to join the civil service. Whilst I was in my second semester of my Master’s degree sometime in 2008, I had a problem with getting my student loan disbursed by Perbadanan Tabung Pendidikan Tinggi Nasional (PTPTN). At that time, I had to deal with a myriad of red tape and bureaucracy which resulted in a great waste of time.

Many of my emails and phone calls went unanswered and problems were left unresolved for months. This led me to email the Chief Secretary to the Government, Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan, on a Saturday morning at 4 am, and he forwarded my email to his Special Officer and PTPTN that very same day at 6 am with the message, “Terlalu berlarutan. Diselesaikan sebelum Selasa jam 10.00 pagi”(Pending too long. Resolve by 10 am, Tuesday).

Since this instruction came from the highest authority in the civil service, all the previous excuses presented to me were no longer valid and my student loan was finally disbursed the following week.

This event taught me that as long as you have passion for your job and a desire to help people, you will try to find solutions whenever problems arise. Without this passion and desire, you will only give excuses, using the justification of procedures and so on.

Working in the civil service for nearly 13 years now has taught me a lot of things. I have been given various tasks during my service including policy and legislation drafting, strategic planning, the drafting of Cabinet Papers and in providing input for Parliament. I also served as the Chief of Staff in the offices of various directors-general including that of the National Security Council (MKN) and as the Senior Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and was also involved in negotiation and diplomacy matters for various ministries.

One of the most memorable events throughout my journey in the civil service was the moment I was handpicked to lead the team in evacuating Malaysian students and workers from Pekan Baru following the haze issue in Indonesia in 2015. At that instant, the air pollution index in the region hovered above 1,000. The Prime Minister had instructed MKN to formulate plans in coordination with the Ministry of Defence and Wisma Putra to evacuate Malaysians from Pekan Baru.

To accomplish this mission, we encountered numerous obstacles and challenges such as acquiring permission for our Air Force aircraft to fly into Indonesian airspace. Requesting permission to fly is a big issue for every sovereign country as each country would need to protect its territory and sovereignty, especially in times of crisis. Without proper communication and negotiation with your counterpart, this becomes quite difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, we managed to negotiate the terms and bring back all our evacuees.

With determination and ambition embedded in myself to transform the government service and improve the public delivery system, this cross-fertilisation programme initiated by the Public Service Department is a medium for me to learn the best practices from the private sector which I can adopt and bring into my work when I return to government service.

Malaysia-Huawei’s fate intertwined

Huawei began establishing itself in Malaysia during a time when Malaysia had just emerged from the Asian Financial Crisis. Prior to the crisis, Malaysia had been dubbed as one of the miracle economies in East Asia owing to its maintenance of high growth rates averaging eight to nine per cent during the period between 1988 and 1996. As a small and young nation state, Malaysia had gone through a lot of challenges to uplift its economy, moving from an agriculture commodities-driven economy to a manufacturing export-oriented economy in order to achieve its goal of becoming a developed nation by 2020. However, the progress we have made over the past half century has slowed down and our economic growth prospects have weakened considerably. We are caught in the middle-income trap where we are no longer one of the top performing global economies.

Foreseeing the potential of digital technology, our leadership has laid out the foundation to transform our economy into a digitally-driven economy through its MyDigital initiatives. The crucial role digital technology plays have been evident, especially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic which has led to tough and difficult challenges in continuing our normal practices. This technology has proven to be a convenient tool for advancement and an essential tool for survival during the most challenging of crises. The ability to seize opportunities emerging from innovative digital technology is an important aspect of driving new engines of the country's economic growth and in overcoming productivity limitations as well as exploring new markets beyond our borders.

As an innovative solutions-based company, Huawei offers various forms of technologies ranging from telecommunication infrastructure to advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IOT), big data analytics, blockchain and digital power to support the country’s digital transformation agenda.

Expanding on this, I have personally seen how Huawei helps local entrepreneurs by providing technologies and services to enhance their productivity at much lower costs and efficiency.

An example of one such success story is that of Tlur, where the luxury staple, caviar, is produced locally. This is the story of a local company, HEXA, which uses Huawei’s technology to ensure the sturgeons are in an atmosphere conducive for their breeding and eggs cultivation. In this scenario, IOT is used to collect data based on the environment setup, connecting all of the sensors with AI across each placing such as the room temperature, UV content, water quality (contamination), oxygen levels for the room and water, air ventilation to control humidity as well as AI to spot plant and organic species for the correction of nutrition imbalances/virus infections for farmers to take corrective action.

Without these digital technologies, it will take years to harvest caviar and it is almost impossible to do so in Malaysia. The caviar industry has huge potential. The global caviar market is projected to surge at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.38 per cent from a market value of US$209.573 million in 2019 to attain a market value of US$303.736 million by the end of 2025. In this regard, the government plays a vital role in designing a masterplan to encourage local entrepreneurs to venture into this field using digital technology so this aquaculture industry can grow and reach its full potential to contribute to our economic growth in the future.

Another success story in transforming from the conservative way of conducting business through the use of digital technology is the HEXA chili sorting machine, where HEXA IoT builds and trains pepper recognition models based on HUAWEI CLOUD ModelArts, greatly shortening training periods, the use of labour and supporting rapid innovation. By unifying quality inspection standards and improving sorting efficiency, HUAWEI CLOUD helps HEXA reduce human errors in material preparation and effectively improves product quality.

Embracing Technology to Accelerate Economic Growth

Moving forward, we have to equip ourselves with knowledge and skills in digital technology as this technology will shape our future way of life. Rapid growth of disruptive business models like Grab and Uber have shown us the necessity of transforming our conservative business models. In failing to do so, we become irrelevant and our functions and roles will be taken over and we will be left behind.

As a pillar of this nation, it is imperative for the government to keep up with global digital transformation. The emergence of new technologies, data analytics and a digital environment changes expectations of the ability of the government to deliver public services. As outlined in the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint, government agencies are required to implement a holistic approach to technology adoption in order to enable the transformation of government operating models.

For example, AI technology can be used to counter cyber-attacks, for border surveillance systems, crime prevention, floods and disaster management systems and for other sectors as well such as education, healthcare, energy, irrigation and sewerage. Big data has enormous potential in managing government daily routine tasks, such as managing social benefits, collecting taxes, monitoring the national health and education systems, recording traffic data and issuing official documents as well as in collecting vast amounts of data each and every day. Information that is readily available in real time enables government agencies and departments to identify areas in need of attention, make more informed decisions more quickly, and implement necessary changes.

Huawei has taught me the importance and benefits of embracing technology. I have also played a role in assisting this globally-renowned company in its government relations by helping with the SOPs related to government agencies, in assisting with introductions to the right people and in protocols for events involving government guests.

This programme has clearly proven to be a win-win one for both the public and private sector and I eagerly await more learning opportunities and to use the knowledge learnt through this cross-fertilisation programme to transform the public service delivery system in the future for the benefit of this country and our people.


Mohd Haniff Md Salleh is Senior Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs. He recently became part of Huawei Malaysia’s team via the Cross Fertilisation Programme, an initiative by the Public Service Department to encourage knowledge sharing between government officials and the private sector.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)