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Public sector must be reduced by half, says ex-Sabah state secretary

 | October 12, 2017

Simon Sipaun, who is now a human rights activist, calls for meritocracy when employing civil servants and for promotions.


KOTA KINABALU: A smaller but competent workforce can provide a more efficient service to the public than a bloated civil service, says a former top government officer.

Former Sabah state secretary Simon Sipaun said a situation should not exist where the government feels it is its responsibility to provide people secure jobs.

He said even when he was still in his post, he had always maintained that the size of the civil service in the country was too big compared with the needs.

“If it was my call, I would cut the number by at least 50%. All those who remain must be performers.

“I cannot speak for the government, why they want to employ so many people.

“But I imagine maybe because they want these civil servants to feel like they owe something to the government.

“A government job means a comfortable life, good pensions, stable salaries and other perks. Who wouldn’t want that?

“So those working in the civil service, some of them would feel grateful to the government for the jobs,” Sipaun told FMT.

The problem with the system, he said was the obvious preference for the Malays when it came to recruitments and also promotions.

More than 90% of civil servants in the country are Malays with the bulk of them serving in the security services or as teachers.

This means, he said, many among the Malays as well as Bumiputeras in Sabah and Sarawak hold on to the belief that the government must give them jobs and provide them with a comfortable living.

“Nevertheless, this kind of mentality is changing now, I think.

“I see lots of good, liberal and professional civil servants nowadays.

“Unfortunately, because of the sheer size of the sector and the inefficiency attached to it, the public generally does not view the public sector favourably.”

Public sector v private sector

Sipaun compared the public sector with the private sector, such as the banking sector, which mostly employs non-Malays.

In this setting, he said, employees are expected to perform day in and day out. If they fail to reach their targets, they can find themselves in hot water.

“The private sector wants performers. Employees have no choice. They have to perform.

“In the public sector, the employees get paid on time. They have no incentive to perform. And there is not much meritocracy either,” he said.

The prominent human rights activist pointed out that the problem with the civil service now is because it places too much importance on race and religion.

He stated that this was the root of Malaysia’s problems and such mentality has even crept into Sabah, which Sipaun blamed on the peninsula.

“When I was in the civil service, by 1975, I was the most senior officer. I passed all the exams necessary to get my promotion, even the exams I didn’t have to pass. Yet, I was still overlooked,” he said.

The experience almost made him quit the service but in 1976, when Parti Bersatu Rakyat Jelata Sabah (Berjaya) won the elections, Sipaun said for the first time in his life, he watched first-hand the beauty of meritocracy.

“Chief Minister Harris Salleh was a man in a hurry. He had a vision and he would monitor all your work.

“I liked his leadership because he was always open to ideas and he took constructive criticism with pleasure.

“He promoted performers and those who did not found themselves in deep trouble.

“I can say with absolute conviction that Sabah had its golden years during the Berjaya rule and it is all because of meritocracy.

“I believe Malaysia would also experience this golden period if the government opts for a similar system, especially in its public sector,” he concluded.

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Meritocracy, not qualifications more important in civil service


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