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Political will, not rationale needed in civil service reforms

February 17, 2017

Political masters must stop pampering and appeasing those in the civil service but act stronger so they are not held to ransom.



By TK Chua

With all due respect to Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, I do not think the World Bank’s help is needed to rectify problems in Malaysia’s civil service. I am referring to his call for a panel to review civil service efficiency in the country.

I believe there is a sufficient number of existing government servants as well as those who have retired who know the “ins and outs” of the civil service. Asking the World Bank to get involved will only complicate matters.

The problems we face in the civil service today are not due to efficiency or productivity since our civil service evolved and expanded without these two considerations to begin with.

When we created or expanded departments and agencies, the primary reason was “empire building” and political, not so much to provide services or to perform economic functions. When we recruited more people into the civil service, the primary reason was employment creation, not because there were tasks waiting to be performed.

We have MAMPU but just look at the services that were “outsourced” to private sector consultants. We have INTAN, but just how many of the training courses were conducted in-house? I could name so many more.

We set up Pemandu to look at public sector transformation. But what exactly happened? We ended-up establishing more outfits and agencies such as UTCs (Urban Transformation Centres) and RTCs (Rural Transformation Centres) but without restructuring the existing departments providing the same services. Pemandu has taken up lots of resources but can it highlight to us one downsizing or one redeployment it has recommended and implemented in its entire existence?

In fact, public service is not only confined to “traditional” government ministries and departments. Look too at statutory bodies, many of which have never been reviewed since their establishment in the 1970s and 1980s. They receive allocations year in and year out, but are they still relevant? Look too at the increasing number of GLCs (Government Linked Companies). Although off-budget agencies, they will eventually impinge on public sector finance.

How do we study efficiency and recommend productivity improvement when the civil service is structured not with efficiency and productivity explicitly being taken into consideration?

Right sizing the civil service is about “political will”, not rational or knowledge-based decisions. The political masters must see the urgency and the unsustainability of existing civil service trajectories.

Not only political masters must see the need to “right size”, they should in fact stop pampering and appeasing those in the civil service. Political masters must be stronger so those in the civil service will not hold them to ransom.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

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