Don’t politicise civil service, parties told

Malaysia has 1.63 million civil servants, a ratio of 1 to 19.37.

PETALING JAYA: A former senior civil servant has urged all political parties to avoid politicising the country’s civil service, which has often been criticised for its size.

In the wake of PKR’s William Leong refuting accusations that the public sector was bloated, Ramon Navaratnam said the current public sector structure needs to be constantly reviewed and revised.

“When it comes to the civil service, all parties and governments, both state and federal, must insist on efficiency, transparency, competition and meritocracy.”

Speaking to FMT, Navaratnam, who is Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute director, called for independent studies by bodies like the World Bank to determine whether Malaysia’s civil service was indeed oversized.

“When we talk about improving the civil service, there are norms which can be adopted. This is a matter for professionals to advise on, not politicians.

“Like any organisation, the public service must be sustainable and, if need be, restructured to keep up with the times.”

Yesterday, Leong said Pakatan Harapan (PH) had pledged not to reduce the 1.63 million-strong civil service despite it being ranked as among the largest in the world when compared to the population.

Malaysia’s public servant ratio is 1 to 19.37, compared with that of Singapore (1 to 71.4), China (1 to 108.3), Indonesia (1 to 110) and the UK (1 to 118).

Universiti Tun Abdul Razak economist Barjoyai Bardai said it was undeniable that the civil service was bloated, relative to the size of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

“If we can double our GDP, then the cost of civil service salaries is okay. Right now, the salaries are too much compared to our GDP.”

The government has allocated RM78 billion for civil servants’ remuneration this year, up from RM42 billion in 2010.

Barjoyai said this was not a new phenomenon, and that even during Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration, there had been too many civil servants in relation to GDP.

“What Mahathir did was privatise some government services, especially those that could generate income, like Tenaga Nasional Berhad, Telekom and Pos Malaysia. This helped reduce the size of the civil service.”

He added that perhaps Putrajaya could consider another round of privatisation.

“But the real problem with the civil service is productivity. We’re stuck with the number of civil servants because if we were to lay off people, we’d have other problems like unemployment.”

So, he said, it was important to make the civil service more productive. One way to do this was to encourage the development of services and products together with the private sector to provide more opportunities for profit, and greater incentives to be productive.

He also gave the example of Langkawi, where the public and private sector had worked to develop together.

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