Life at the top in a state government can be lonely. But it gets harder when members of one's political party clamour for posts or contracts.
Selangor MB Abdul Khalid Ibrahim should know - he is up to his neck with demands from PKR which heads the Pakatan Rakyat-governed state.
Looking back on almost three years as head of the state administration, Khalid - never the consummate politician - said the incessant lobbying is a "major irritation".
Interviewed at his office on the top floor of the state secretariat building in Shah Alam, he was forthcoming about the headaches of administering the country's richest state.
As an example, he cited a recent exco discussion on revamping the waste disposal system, which had sent chills down the spine of some members who were anxious about who would be awarded the contract.
"We were evaluating the role of (solid waste disposal company) Alam Flora and the subcontractors. Among the (items of) discussion was about who (would) get the contract. We said, 'You must hit hard on selection, the process must be perfect, transparent, and we must get the right people for the job'," he disclosed.
"And some of our members said, 'Eh if we do that, (we'll come) under pressure by party members (who) don't get contracts'."
Khalid did not state how he resolves such dilemmas, but his aides have since claimed that the MB usually hands over applications to the respective heads of department without expressing special support for these.
However, he sees a solution in Germany and Sweden, where a state-funded foundation makes grants available to lawmakers regardless of their political ideology.
In the case of Germany, a law passed in 1992 enables political parties to receive funding from the state if they win a certain percentage of valid votes in an election. The funds are disbursed annually.
While adopting this remains an incipient idea, Khalid appeared upbeat about what he called "a willingness to change".
"Rather than parties getting commissions from jobs or their own businesses in order to contribute to the (party's coffers), why doesn't the state put up a fund for the parties, and distribute (the money) based on the number of votes?
"People are coming to us complaining about political survival. Why don't we solve it at macro level? It may, in the end, eliminate corruption."
It would also end the practice of political parties having to supplement their income through government contracts, he noted.
Khalid is planning to enlist speakers from Germany and Sweden, as well as Indonesia where the policy is in its fledgling state, to expand on the idea in Selangor.
'BN will get money too'
If his administration approves the proposal, Khalid pledged that it will be implemented impartially - awkward though it may be to make funds available to the 20 BN assemblypersons in the state legislature.
"(If this were to be implemented at federal level), of course BN would get the lion's share. But they cannot (then) be corrupt as well," he said.
Sensing disbelief, the MB responded in almost paternal manner: "It will take a few years before people understand or appreciate what we want to do. Our ultimate goal is to enhance democracy and the way government is managed."
He dismissed the question if this is a Utopian dream: "How (is it that) Germany can have (such a foundation) and not Malaysia? It is not impossible. We just need a core reason first, (and) get it handled well.
"Of course, their politics may be intellectually higher. Germany has an old democracy, (while) the American democracy is 300 years old. The British Parliament has been around for many years (and even has a history of) chopping off heads.
"I'm not saying that evolution is systematic but we should also learn the best from the results. (Look at) Indonesia - 20 years ago, we were laughing at how they handled themselves democratically. And now, they may have (the last laugh) on us."
The crux of implementation will boil down to two things - the level of corruption, and how much an elected representative earns as member of parliament or state assemblyperson.
Khalid is familiar with both positions, as he is simultaneously MP for Bandar Tun Razak and assemblyperson for Ijok.
"The fundamental issue is that the salary is not enough to fund political activities, therefore they (elected representatives) need support from others. But ... when you get support from others, by the laws of nature they would expect something in return.
"Then you'd be (involved) in a conflict of interest. On the one hand, you need to take care of the (people's) interests. On the other, you need some party support for funding.
"So when making decisions, you (would) not (be) free. If funding is no longer an issue, decision making will be concentrated on what is fair and deliverable."
The relationship between state governments and top civil servants in states headed by Pakatan Rakyat over the last three years can be described as 'tolerable' at best.
The dark side of this was seen in Perak, where the state secretary was said to have had a hand in stoking the political crisis created by the departure of three lawmakers from Pakatan Rakyat.
More recently, Selangor saw a drawn-out conflict involving the incoming state secretary Mohammed Khusrin Munawi.
Depending on who you talk to and whatever the position taken, it is clear that Menteri Besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim was not consulted about the appointment two months ago.
"Oh yes, I was very annoyed, but I shouldn't scratch my head in public... this would have been unacceptable in Europe, Australia or the US," he said, comparing intellectual development in these countries to that in Malaysia.
But whether or not Khalid's reaction to the appointment - which the state BN deemed to be treacherous - is justified, the former corporate personality is still bemused by the way the process panned out.
"This is 101 in management. For the Public Service Department not to understand that this is essential and a pre-requisite for a successful management team - and to ignore the leader by selecting people without consultation - this is not appreciating (what) management (involves).
"For example, if a coach of a football team is not part of selecting players, how on earth can the coach make a strong and competitive team? That's basic."
Khalid is more accommodating of Khusrin, saying that the latter has been "putting in effort" after taking his oath of secrecy last month.
"Oh, he is still new. But like all dedicated civil servants, he is making an effort to improve himself and I've stated my piece on how he should conduct himself," said Khalid.
"Oh yes, our relationship is getting better... (for example, in coming up with) our three-year plan, we had a lot of cooperation (from) civil servants. The policy (takes) a bottom-up approach."
Providing a sneak-peek of the plan to be unveiled on March 25 - dubbed the Selangor Citizens' Agenda (Arus) - Khalid said this involves local council elections.
Following in Penang's footsteps, Selangor is forging ahead - without legal approval - in conducting a pilot project for local council elections in Subang Jaya and Petaling Jaya.
"We must accept the fact that local council elections will not be recognised by the Housing and Local Government Ministry and the Election Commission," he said.
"(But) we still have to try. The demand by the public is overwhelming and we have to take it positively."
Ronnie Liu to keep post
Even as Khalid tries to sort out matters concerning local government, the irony is that certain personalities in the Selangor Pakatan fold have been calling for the removal of a key figure in charge of this portfolio in the state exco.
The DAP's Ronnie Liu, who heads the local government research and development portfolio, has been fending off calls for his removal from as early as two years ago.
However, Khalid has been more forgiving. Having given an assurance that there will be no reshuffle in the Selangor exco, he explained that he has learnt to accept personality-based "differences".
"I must accept that there are different styles and each person has different capabilities, but we should harness their strengths and (shore up) their weaknesses," he said.
Using another football analogy (he is full of these) to explain that a reshuffle is not always the best way, he said that he cannot expect a full back to score goals.
"We must always go through an evaluation. Good managers must accept that excellence is a process, not an end.
"In fact, some football players fight among themselves and that's the reality. But the team has a responsibility to win, and winning is all that matters. We have a limit to (substituting) players and we can't just change them like Manchester United or Chelsea."
Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim has come a long way from his first few months as the stuttering and bumbling head of state.
Who could forget his gaffes as a novice politician, where at one point, he had said "Undilah BN" during the campaign for the Ijok by-election in 2007 where he stood as the PKR candidate.
Or his occasional stammer which had very quickly provided ceramah fodder for his political enemies on the local Umno ceramah circuit.
But walking into the sitting room adjacent to his lofty office perched on the 21st floor of the state secretariat building for an exclusive interview with Malaysiakini recently, Khalid was confident, speaking in fluent English for more than an hour.
Life is definitely completely different now for the former corporate giant whose dawn raid at the London Stock Exchange as the then-CEO of the government's investment vehicle Permodalan Nasional Berhad to take over Britain's Guthrie Corporation, has made it into business textbooks as a case study.
Like most ordinary persons Khalid admitted his weaknesses, but with self-assurance said that he takes the criticisms targeted at him with a pinch of salt.
"When it comes to the criticism, some I accept, some I ignore. But I am now less sensitive than during my CEO days, all because I have to adapt fast," he said.
And there were quite a fair bit of salvos launched at him, with many from his own colleagues in PKR saying that he was more of a manager than a politician.
Maybe he is and it may not be such a bad thing, having been one of the top managers in this country for more than 20 years. During the conversation with Malaysiakini, he was liberal with the usage of the term 'a good manager should do this' or 'a good manager would do that'.
'Ijok was a nightmare'
But away from his day-to-day responsibilities of managing Selangor, the country's richest state - and for the longest time, the jewel in BN's crown - Khalid still recounts his 'culture shock' at entering the gritty world of politics during the Ijok by-election in 2007.
"The by-election in Ijok was an eye-opener. It was a nightmare. I just could not imagine politics like that. When I was walking into the nomination centre, we came across this big group of BN supporters.
"There was a big confusion and I had to be smuggled in there through another way," he said with a laugh.
Resting slightly easier now, Khalid can catch his breath before diving back to work, especially with the rumours of snap polls looming just around the corner.
Having been an MB for exactly three years this coming Sunday, he said that it's the small things that makes it all worth it.
"From time to time, perfect strangers will just come up to me and shake hands with me, telling me that I've done a good job," said Khalid, whose free water policy has been a hit with the public (amidst opposition claims that they are just mere populist measures).
Still, it is undeniable that Khalid has been working round-the-clock for the state, with some even complain that he micro-manages.
In fact, his political opponents in the Bandar Tun Razak constituency where he is an MP as well, have claimed that the MB hardly goes back to the area, having too much of other responsibilities in his hands.
Bane of Bandar Tun Razak
"Some say that I work like the (24-hour convenience store chain) 7-Eleven. But if I'm just an ordinary MP or assemblyperson, I will have a hard time getting my constituency to recognise me," he said in jest.
Insisting that he has top-notch team of representatives taking care of the constituency, he defended himself, saying that he does go to Bandar Tun Razak weekly.
"Even the prime minister does not necessarily go back to his constituency in Pekan every weekend," he said.