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Educator with a flair for Public Administration
Datu Dr. Haji Yusoff bin Haji Hanifah began his career in the civil service
as an educator teaching in a well known public school in his hometown, Miri.
Several high ranking government officials including Datu Dr.Hatta Solhee were
among his students. Although he had never regarded his teaching vocation as
a civil service position, he was very much conscious of his responsibility to
society and his employer.
|Datu Dr. Yusoff Hanifah was appointed the first Mayor of Kuching City
North (DBKU) on 1st August 1988
His perspective of what makes a civil servant changed when he assumed the role
of a school supervisor.
His new role required him to interact a great deal more than previously. He
spent a lot of time going out to meet the public to explain matters on education
policy. "The public of the post colonial era was more critical of government
policies especially if it involves the improvement of their children's education." he
Datu Dr. Haji Yusoff felt that he had played a positive role in the development
of education in the state. Part of his contributions toward this included organising
numerous dialogues and meet- the- parents sessions in the villages - activities
he considered as very important aspects of administrative work.
Being a leader is never easy. Datu Dr. Haji Yusoff took it upon himself to
make things happen as he saw it to be within the purview of his administrative
professional work to do this. " I quickly realised that my office is less important
to me than the civic centres, school halls or community centres where I hold
meetings with the people in the kampungs", he explained.
For him, these were the places where he learnt a great deal about people, their
issues and their values - important knowledge to help a civil servant be a good
In his illustrious decade old career with the State Civil Service ( he was
appointed as Senior Assistant Director of Education in 1982), Datu Dr Haji
that the various positions he held since then had compelled him to assume leadership
role to cover the relevant aspects of his administrative duties.
He was conscious of the need to be responsive to the needs of the public and
the government. In the course of executing his work, he admitted that he had
made mistakes. "Where I had made mistakes, I was prepared to admit it and acknowledge
it", he added.
Taking care of the image of his department was a crucial
part of his duty. He never took lightly the public relations aspect of his
He came across difficult customers with their unreasonable demands especially
from those "close" to the politicians. "But I was determined to be firm in my
decision. If the answer had to be "No", then that was what I would tell them",
|Datu Dr. Haji Yusoff is married to Datin Zaleha bt. Abdullah
Of course there were complaints from customers but these, he viewed were good
indications of a healthy state of affairs in his department or ministry. Complaints
from customers meant an opportunity to redress any shortcomings and promote
Two way communication
For a department to be effective and efficient, a healthy flow of communication
must be encouraged among department staff and between the department and the
public. He realised that there was a need to address the communication deficiency
in his department. In fact, his determination not to be evasive and defensive
in his dealings but instead to handle them positively especially the queries
and feedback as well as his quick response to public frustrations may well
be his greatest achievement in his career with the Service. He was very serious
in his effort to maintain the good image of his department and took speedy
actions to counter negative public perceptions. " The image of my department
is very important to me", he explained. One of his early strategies towards
this end was to organise public relations workshops and seminars - something
almost unheard of in those days. He wanted to promote better interaction and
enhance the communication skills to improve work performance among his staff.
He realised that it was not easy. After years of doing things in certain ways,
effecting an improvement in the work culture needed a massive attitudinal change.
"I persisted until I achieved a satisfactory result" he added with pride. His
department began to make an earnest commitment to make the Civil Service what
it should be. A Civil Service that was committed to the slogan " Berusaha, Berkhidmat,
Berbakti" or loosely translated to mean : To Endeavor, To Serve , To Contribute.
|"Efficiency is a by-product of innovation and responsiveness" says
Datu Dr. Haji Yusoff Hanifah
From this exercise his department began to visualise mission statement and corporate
charter. Today , almost every departments, ministries, agencies has a mission
statement and a corporate charter to work towards.
Post Colonial Civil Service
|"I was conscious that I needed to be responsive to the needs of the
public and the needs of the Government," explains Datu Dr. Haji Yusoff
(2nd from left)
Datu Dr Haji Yusoff labelled himself as a product of the post colonial civil
service. In his opinion, it is still very much administrative and regulative
in nature. But the era of the Chief Minister's "Politics of Development" has
brought on many changes in the state civil service and it continued to change.
Compared to the present day government, the pre-colonial administrators were
authoritative and the public was expected to comply obediently.
For him, the State Civil Service after independence has many challenges to
face. It was open to many queries and criticism from all sectors - the public,
politicians, business community, the voters etc. All questions must be answered
and all shortcomings be addressed. To survive, he said, a civil servant who
assumed a leadership role must be well versed with what he termed as the "secrets
of politics". One must understand the politics of the day, the mentality of
politicians and the system in the complex organisation that he served, he added.
An ideal civil servant
What makes an ideal civil servant? He must be honourable, incorruptible, innovative
with the guts to take calculated risks.
In the old days, the civil servants were respected, revered and treated almost
like kings. In fact, the resident of a district was seen as the king of his
Although the civil servants are still very much respected, the public perception
of the civil servants has changed much over the last 30 years in Sarawak. They
are expected to show compassion and act like a servant of the public. They
are expected to be humble and must be prepared to admit mistakes and made efforts
to correct them. Although they are not expected to know all the answers, they
must be prepared with the answers to satisfy the needs of the public whom they
Another trait that he deemed as desirable in a member of the state civil service
is the ability and willingness to give credit where and when it is due. For
example, he said, many good ideas and suggestions to improve the quality of
public service came from members of the public. A good civil servant should
recognise these individuals and not assume these ideas as their own for their
own personal fame and glory.
An ideal civil servant must be able to work towards facilitating the private
sector development, not just to regulate it, a move some may see as stifling
the growth of industries towards economic development.
|As Mayor, he introduced the use of credit card at the payment counters
in DBKU ...(also in photo is Tuan Haji Morshidi)
He commended the role played by government agencies such as the Land & Survey
Department in speeding up the process of development for industrial areas in
places like Demak Jaya.
Be it social, political or administrative, a civil servant must excel and to
do this, he/she must be efficient in all aspects of public responsibilities.
He must be efficient in managing tax payers funds, innovative in his approach
towards his work and decisive in experimenting with new ways of doing things.
The million ringgit question that all civil servants should ask was " Are we
doing anything to improve our performance?".
Datu Dr Haji Yusof looked up with admiration and respect for the leadership
skills shown by the present State Secretary, YB Datuk Amar Haji Abdul Aziz
Husain. " Datuk Aziz has many new ideas he is experimenting with - all in the
hope of giving an impetus and a boost to the performance of the civil service.
of IT in the civil service was done towards achieving a paperless civil service,
the use of the internet to search for knowledge was to enhance the performance
of every member of the civil service and many other positive and innovative
approaches for the promotion of an efficient and knowledge driven civil service,
|Reaping the rewards... receiving an award from the Chief Minister
Taking calculated risks
Being a good leader means having the courage to take calculated risks in making
decision affecting their work and their departments. An ideal civil servant
must be confident that nothing will go wrong with his decision. He must learn
to anticipate, welcome and execute changes if they are necessary. Efficiency
is a by-product of innovation and responsiveness. Ministries and departments
must be encouraged to begin their own innovative agendas by implementing measures
that would encourage efficiency. An ideal civil servant is expected to be innovative,
responsive, consultative and be able to respond to the demands of the government
and the public. Executing his role as a public servant for almost two decades
has seen him taking many calculated risks in making decisions. His appointment
as the first mayor of Kuching City North (DBKU) on August 1, 1988 brought his
decision making skills to the fore. To his pride and joy, many of his innovative
and calculated risks had paid off nicely, leaving a great legacy for his successors
Datu Dr Haji Yusoff bin Haji Hanifah has a PhD in Sociology/Education. He currently
serves as a member of the Board of Directors of several local/national corporations.
- Senior Assistant Director of Education 1982 - 1983
- Resident of Sri Aman 1983 - 1984
- Permanent Secretary of 1984 - 1988
- Ministry of Resource Planning
- Mayor of Kuching City North 1988 - 1994