Bloated civil service affecting proficiency, say ex-civil servants

PETALING JAYA: Two former top civil servants agree that one of the biggest issues plaguing Malaysia’s civil service is its bloated size.

We can reduce the size of the civil service, said former transport ministry secretary-general Ramon Navaratnam who is the current director of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute.

It is important to ensure that good performance by civil servants is appropriately rewarded, says Johan.

It is important to ensure that good performance by civil servants is appropriately rewarded, says Johan.

G25 member and former deputy director of Sabah Foundation Johan Ariffin agreed. We need to reduce the numbers and improve their productivity on set goals, he said.

The two were responding to an article by journalist and author John Pennington in the Asean Today portal, who advised Malaysia to learn from Singapore’s proficient civil service.

Pennington highlighted a 2015 World Bank report which ranked Singapore as the world’s best for government effectiveness while Malaysia came in 43rd.

He claimed the vast number of civil servants in Malaysia and the fact that 90% of them comprised one race had contributed to the service’s lower proficiency.

In addition, he said Singapore’s decision to pay its civil servants well, and its willingness to embrace new technology were some of the reasons for its civil service’s proficiency.

He also cited the role of Singapore’s Public Service Division (PSD) which designed programmes for training, expert coaching and deployment opportunities.

Under the PSD programmes, trainees were able to obtain hands-on experience in a variety of roles with different agencies and ministries.

Speaking to FMT, Johan said it was important to ensure that good performance by civil servants was appropriately rewarded.

We need to improve the appraisal system by which performers are rewarded and promoted. This will spur competition, he added.

Navaratnam said another issue that seemed to be affecting the proficiency of the civil service was that civil servants were hired based on race and not merit.

As long as we practise the New Economic Policy’s principles, we will just plod along and never soar.

Meanwhile, in Singapore, if you’ve got merit then they don’t care if you’re red, black or yellow.

Navaratnam said that when he was in the civil service, the ratio was one non-Malay to four Malays. Now, they don’t observe any ratio, he said.

Johan said that although the civil service was bloated and perceived as inefficient in general, there were pockets of world class efficiency, like the Urban Transformation Centres (UTC) where passport renewal could be done in half an hour.

However, renewal of work pass for your maids or foreign workers can be a lot of effort. The process can be very slow even for simple renewals.

At the district level, the inefficiencies are even greater. The approval of licences or development plans can be a painful process and a source of irritations.

In February, media reports said Malaysia had among the most bloated civil services in the world, with Second Finance Minister Johari Abdul Ghani saying there was one civil servant for every 19.37 people in the country.

A Borneo Post report at the time said the proportion of civil servants to the national population in other countries such as Singapore was 1 to 71.4 people; Indonesia 1:110; South Korea 1:50, China 1:108, Japan 1:28, Russia 1:84 and the United Kingdom 1:118.

Johari acknowledged that salary payments would continue to increase in future while the government’s revenues would gradually decline, but he said the number of civil servants would not be reduced.

We will not reduce our civil service. Instead, we should encourage civil servants to undertake more jobs in their respective departments to increase their productivity, Johari was quoted as saying by Oriental Daily.

The South China Morning Post, meanwhile, reported in August that one reason Malaysia was stuck in the middle income trap was the massive size of its civil service.

While such a large service had the effect of buttressing the government and making Malaysia more stable, it also hampered efforts to transform the government, making Malaysia more stagnant, said the report.

It warned that if the civil service was not reduced, it might result in a government financial meltdown.

Source: Malaysian Trades Union Congress