Get rid of deadwood in civil service now

For many years, Malaysia’s 1.6 million civil servants have been a big burden on the country’s coffers.

It has been reported that Malaysia has the highest number of civil servants in the world compared with the total population.

As a result, civil servants themselves cannot enjoy a significant leap in their salaries due to the sheer number of people in the civil service. Just a 1% increment can mean an increase of several millions of ringgit per annum to the government.

Unless these civil servants are productive and able to help expand the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), they are causing the country’s public funds to bleed.

Every year, some RM74 billion is paid out as salaries for the civil servants, with another RM19 billion spent on just the pensions. With such a bloated civil service, the amount to be paid out as pensions will surely increase in years to come.

Since their salaries are paid by taxpayers’ hard-earned money, I urge the government to cut down the number of civil servants by at least 10% every two years until it has reached a comfortable point.

With over RM1 trillion in debts, the government has no choice but to implement some drastic measures to revive an ailing government machinery, plagued by non-performers and corruptible government officers.

“Hire and fire” is now inevitable in the Malaysian civil service. We will never see proper reforms until the deadwood are removed from the government machinery.

During Barisan Nasional’s rule, there were reports of high wastage in government agencies, highlighted by the auditor-general’s office. Despite public funds being plundered year after year, there was hardly any fear of being punished. The thievery continues, and these errant public servants escape punishment.

I have observed the way local council staff have carried out their work for the past 30 years since I started getting on the backs of the Kuala Lumpur City Hall, the then Petaling Jaya Municipal Council and Selayang Municipal Council.

Since the unexpected results of the May 9 general election, we know that civil servants are sabotaging the government of the day.

Therefore, unless they are prepared to change, there is no reason to keep them in the civil service.

Gone are the days when every civil servant can enjoy their most cherished perk — extraordinary job security!

My bet is that, if they had been employed by the private sector, they would have lost their jobs by now.

These civil servants cannot be easily terminated once they are employed by the Public Service Department.

All that can happen is that they are transferred to another department or placed in cold storage. Very seldom are they demoted or even sacked.

But times have changed. Civil servants who are unproductive and a bane to the civil service will have to be axed if they fail to deliver on their Key Performance Indicators (KPI).

According to the Institute for Public Policy Research’s (IPPR) report, senior civil servants in Britain will now be held accountable to the ministers and to Parliament.

The IPPR’s findings, which are backed by the Labour chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge, have become part of the nation’s efforts to reform its civil service. This will be the biggest shake-up of Britain’s government machinery.

In Australia, the Public Sector Management Act 1994 states that government department heads have the power to select, remunerate, redeploy or terminate the employment of an individual employee.

The Australian Education Act 2013, also allows the director-general of education to fire anyone in the teaching profession under certain circumstances.

It is time now to make it easier to fire civil servants who are working against the political will of the government of the day.

For sure, Barisan Nasional opposition members will exploit the issue. However, until we adopt the right not only to hire but to fire errant employees, we will never see proper reforms in the way the country is run.

It is also important to hire the right people for the right job.

Stephen Ng is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.