Mariappen Mahalingam, commonly called Maha by his close friends and relatives, passed away peacefully at his home place in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, on Sunday 15th April 2017.
Maha, who was a top official of the Planning Division (MANPU) in the Prime Minister’s Office of Malaysia, came to Mauritius as a Management Consultant in March 2001 to provide technical assistance to the Ministry of Civil Service Affairs & Administrative Reforms in the context of administrative reforms in the Civil Service. His services were made available to Mauritius by the Commonwealth Secretariat for an initial period of two years and his assignment was extended by one year. I was serving as Secretary for Public Service Affairs and Supervising Officer of the Ministry at the time.
Maha’s first encounter with Supervising Officers in charge of Ministries and Departments took place at a sensitization session held at Domaine Les Pailles in April of that year. Maha gave a brilliant exposé of the challenges confronting developing countries and he made a strong plea for the urgent review of our administrative processes and procedures. He made a number of valid suggestions for the adoption of modern work methods and techniques with a view to improving service delivery in the public sector . I still recall the reservations expressed by of some of my colleagues who felt that the proposed solutions would not work in view of the fact that previous initiatives in that direction did not yield significant results. However, Maha was not one of those who give in to such criticisms easily.
With a well-knit and dedicated team of officials of the Ministry working under the able guidance of Maha, the Ministry produced its first Strategic Plan 2001-03, entitled Towards the modernization of the Public Service. A multipronged approach was used for driving the administrative reforms process. In that context, six Task Forces were set up with the collaboration and assistance of trade union leaders, officials of the public sector and representatives of the private sector to address issues and constraints for the implementation of the goals and objectives outlined in the Action Plan.
A new impetus was thus given to the reengineering and restructuring of the Civil Service, with the adoption of innovative programmes and projects, such as the introduction of ISO standards and results-based management, the clear definition of the vision, mission statement and the formulation of specific goals and objectives of the different Ministries and Departments. Furthermore, the Personnel Management Manual (now HRM Manual) and Financial Management Manual were reviewed, customer counters, citizen charters, one-stop shops, to name but a few, were put in place to bring services closer to the people. Over the years, we have witnessed significant improvements in the quality of public service delivery and the reduction of red tape, in spite of budgetary and political constraints. However, as can be expected, there is still a general feeling among the population that the pace of modernization and organizational change is too slow.
Maha’s inputs were instrumental in the reform process, the simplification of the tedious administrative procedures and processes, the use of ICT tools and new software applications to speed up public service delivery. En passant, it is noteworthy to bring out the fact that the first draft of the Public Service Bill was produced in 2002. However, we are yet to see the introduction of this long overdue Bill into the National Assembly. Those who had the privilege to take cognizance of the various clauses of the Bill, especially the trade union leaders, will surely agree with me that the passing of the new legislation will pave the way for the strengthening of the four key pillars of good governance, i.e. accountability, transparency, participation and predictability in the public sector.
There are thousands of public officers belonging to different grades in the Civil Service who can bear testimony to Maha’s invaluable contribution to administrative reforms since he was a source of inspiration for the training programmes mounted for different levels of serving officers. My former colleagues, Kris Ponnusamy, Premhans Jhuggroo, Bijaye Appanna, former Director of the Pay Research Bureau, and myself who had worked closely with Maha will no doubt join me in paying a fitting tribute to him, a noble soul born in Malaysia but a Mauritian at heart. Maha has definitely left an indelible mark in the reform and modernization of the Mauritian Civil Service.
Today, we can only pray that Maha’s soul rests in peace as he will be sorely missed by his family and all those who had the privilege to know him personally and to benefit from his sound professional advice and guidance.
Farewell, Maha. You were a sincere friend and someone very special.
May the Almighty watch over you.
Dev Ruhee (OSK)
Former Senior Chief Executive in the Public Service