HRDF moves past scandals to focus on original role

Its CEO says the board has approved an anti-bribery, corruption, fraud and money laundering policy for all staff

by LYDIA NATHAN / pic by TMR FILE

THE Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) is working to exorcise its dark past, restore the institution’s credibility and return to its original aim to train and enhance the country’s workforce.

The agency had been rocked by allegations of misappropriation of RM300 million and mismanagement of training programmes. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission is investigating these allegations.

Human Resource Minister M Kulasegaran (picture) said the fund was operated like a private company by some of its top personnel.

A five-member independent Government Oversight Committee (GOC) was established to review and probe the wrongdoings at HRDF. It was revealed that some employees were given huge bonuses and increments before the last general election last year.

But changes are already happening at HRDF, its CEO Elanjelian Venugopal told The Malaysian Reserve.

He said HRDF is now focused as the custodian of the fund since his appointment in July last year.

“Six out of the eight recommendations by the GOC has been completed so far. The GOC has made recommendations on the clauses which need amending. Most of these clauses have been changed, while the others have been deliberated and submitted to the Human Resources Ministry,” he said in a recent interview.

HRDF collects a 1% levy from employers’ monthly payroll. The collected fund is then used for training purposes for workers.

Elanjelian said the fund’s board had also approved an anti-bribery, corruption, fraud and money laundering policy for all staff irrespective of positions.

“Having a policy is one thing, but making sure it translates into action is another. The policy now clearly states the restrictions,” he said.

The earlier policy, he added, had gaps which needed to be addressed.

“There must be clear guidelines always. We are the custodians of a fund. So, lines cannot and simply must not be crossed. We’ve also made a no-gift policy applicable for all staff,” he said.

In addition, Datuk Noor Farida Mohd Ariffin was appointed as HRDF chair in January this year.

HRDF has also introduced a system whereby applicants would not know who would be in charge of claim applications.

“We created something akin to a black box for claim applications. Previously, the applications were received and approved by the same person. Now, it has moved into different departments where the applicant does not know who is approving it,” he said.

To further enhance transparency, the fund had halted the process of grant applications at its branches.

“Before this, a person could walk into any branch and ask for an application to be processed, but we have stopped that. Now, all applications must go through the main branch here in Kuala Lumpur and we do not deal with outsiders.

“We look at the applications based on merit. We actually find it a more efficient way and require minimal staff (as well),” he said, adding that the fund is making a collective effort to prevent similar events in the future.

Elanjelian said anyone who sits on the board undergoes a stringent background check to ensure the individual does not have any background ties with trainers and training companies.

“We check that the person or family members do not own training institutions. Those who have (links to training companies and trainers) have been asked to leave. We want to make it more employer-driven. So, it minimises the chance of influence.

“While they are our partners and we need them to deliver the courses, the suitability factor must be there and no preferential treatment is to be given,” he added.

Elanjelian said HRDF will continue to upskill the 1.2 million workers this year from its previous record of about 900,000.

“It is quite a challenge because we are looking at about a 30% growth, but we want to aggressively target this. In addition, we are also looking at strategic initiatives for the unemployed youth and low-income groups like the bottom 40%,” he said.

Elanjelian said although the 30% consolidated fund has been discontinued from June 12, 2018, there is still RM200 million which will be used to provide certification programmes.

“We have actually invited association of industries to submit their proposals for the certifications required and this will be uploaded on a website. Training providers can also advertise

their courses with subsidies,” he said, adding that it is critical for Malaysia to not fall behind in terms of talent.

“We need the industries to tell us what courses are needed and we will subsidise up to RM5,000. We don’t want expensive courses, but courses that support a broad-based approach,” he said.

He added that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will enjoy a further subsidy as funds from the levy may not be sufficient.

An SME Graduate scheme was also set up together with local universities to develop management and leadership skills.

Other strategic initiatives include the Graduate Enhancement Programme For Employability and the SLDN-Apprenticeship scheme.

Elanjelian said the fund’s target is to certify up to 50,000 workers across all industries covered by HRDF.

“HRDF covers 63 subsectors under mining and quarrying, manufacturing and services. The next industry we’re going to be looking at is plantation. We’re currently in engagement, so we hope to get it sorted by next year,” he said.