When people do not understand rules, they blame the rules makers

Datuk Andrew Sheng, a prominent business man who sits in the national economic advisory council has a regular column in Business Section of The Saturday STAR, he tries to write complex economic stories in plain English, even though it can be quite daunting when he explains the economic crisis that brought the Greek economy to her knees. Despite the complexities of the economic terms and jargons, I can conclude the point he was trying to make is that regulations should be principled – based rather than rules – based. The regulators normally would love to implement principled-based regulations, but the business captains preferred otherwise. The trouble with rule-based regulations, they get abused very easily due to its unending complexities. People tend to bend around them or find loopholes to flout them. Of course he was citing the Basel II regulations put forth in the aftermath of the 1997-98 global ecomic crises. People were asking him, how come despite the various regulations put forward to regulate the financial world, the Greek tragedy still occurs? Simple, some parts of Europe have not implement The Basel II Guidelines and some parts found ways and means going round the rules.
Examining the situation for the civil servants, lets take the rule of working hours. Normally civil servants have to work for at least eight hours a day. By principle, as a government worker you are entrusted with the responsibility of putting up at least eight hours of working time. That is the amount of time that you would be renumerated by the Government using the people’s money, including yours and mine too. Using the principled-based regulations, as long as you put in eight hours worth of work, you have fulfilled the requirement. But under the rule-based regulations you must clock in at 8.00am and clock out 5.00pm. People bend this rule creatively by going AWOL after clocking in, or asking their colleague to clock in or using a program to automatically clock in even though the person is not around. You see, if you live by the principle that you must provide eight hours of honours work every day, you would do it without even having to clock in. There should be enough princple driven self regulation to ensure a proper amount of work is put in. In Islam we called this Amanah. Or some people want to call it integrity. In other words integrity is not something to be governed by ruled- based regulations but by principled-based regulations. Worse still, when people do not understand the ruled-based regulations, which tend to be very details and complex due to the effort to to mitigate people abusing them, and they break the rule either on purpose or by ignorance, they blame the rule maker instead of the rule breaker. Why make the rule so complex? And we found the rule maker on the defensive instead of the rule breaker who should be penalised. A typical example would the regulations pertaining to security. Sometimes we see the IGP had to defend his charges in implementing certain rules, instead of the public blaming the criminals for breaking the law. Or the police blaming us for not putting up extra locks and keys on our vehicle when it got stolen, where as the robbers got away scot free. We live in a strange world indeed!

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