It does not inspire confidence when the same entity that is driving a program is the one that measures the success of the program as well. There is a conflict of interest there.

Imagine a soccer team up against another team and imagine the referee is a team member of the former team. It is safe to bet that the referee will rule in favor of his or her team. Similarly, if you are running a program to lower crime rate and you are also the one measuring the success of the program, there will be temptation to report your progress in an overly generous way, especially when your progress is not too good. More than temptation, you can actually give undeserved good marks to yourself if the temptation gets the best of you. In order words, you are the prosecutor, the judge and the jury all at the same time.

I see PEMANDU’s National Key Performance Indicators through the same lens. The NKPIs basically measure some areas where PEMANDU or the government wants to see improvement in. While I do appreciate that these tools do increase transparency and makes debates on some matters more objective than it was in the past, the measurements themselves are not entirely trustworthy. PEMANDU has the incentive to look good. What guarantees the indicators reported are not tempered with?

To compound the issue, PEMANDU is not exactly an independent or even an impartial party. It answers to a minister. I suppose it helps that Idris Jala is an unelected minister with probably an entirely professional background. That is an argument of him being isolated for the myopic politics. But then again, myopia is not a trait exclusive to politics. It is well documented in businesses, and everywhere else.

And the fact is that he ultimately answers to the Prime Minister, whose career is entirely dependent on politics. The success of PEMANDU will be one of the key factors in increasing the odds of reelection of  Barisan Nasional. So, it is in the Prime Minister and Barisan Nasional’s best interest to have PEMANDU succeed, or really, appear to be successful. PEMANDU wants to look good. The Prime Minister wants to look good. The government wants to look good. Well, everybody wins by looking good.

We have not even begin to consider the KPIs under the case of various ministries, which are even more suspicious. KPIs, at least the ones I have witnessed elsewhere, are always negotiated. The negotiation ensures that the KPI is not a kind of out of this world so that it is not impossible to achieve but at the same time, not too easy to make it meaningless. Now, consider a bunch of politicians that want to get reelected. It is in their collective interest to set easy KPI that can be achieved even without a mad dog chasing them behind.

So every time when somebody comes up to me and shows me some indicators to prove that PEMANDU has been successful in some area, I quietly note the conflict of interest at the back of my mind.

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