Cut civil service to spare more funds for development

Former second finance minister Johari Abdul Ghani had the guts to point out some sobering facts regarding our burgeoning civil service while he was still serving.

I hope that this acknowledgment will give the present government the political will to do something about reducing the size of the civil service.

It will take a very brave politician to acknowledge the facts, as the civil service and their families represent a large number of votes.

In 2009, Malaysia’s ratio of civil servants-to-population was the highest in the Asia-Pacific region. Malaysia’s ratio was 4.68%, compared with Singapore’s 1.4%, Indonesia’s 1.79%, South Korea’s 1.85% and Thailand’s 2.06%.

We have the largest civil service relative to our population in the world.

We have a total of 1.6 million civil servants – that is one government servant to service 19.37 Malaysians. For comparison, the proportion of civil servants to the population in other countries is 1 to 71.4 people in Singapore, 1:110 in Indonesia, 1:50 in Korea, 1:108 in China, 1:28 in Japan, 1:84 in Russia and 1:118 in Britain.

The bloated civil service has caused government expenditure to increase every year. Already, 80% of the federal government’s annual budget goes towards operating expenditure and a large chunk of this is to pay for salaries and pensions.

As a taxpayer, I feel cheated when I see so much of our tax money going towards salaries for a bloated and consequently low-productivity civil service. This leaves much less for development and investments in education and skills training.

It is unfortunate that the government has no plans to reduce the number of civil servants although their remuneration and pensions continue to soar.

Johari had said previously: “In 2003, the pay of the public servants totalled RM22 billion, but it has increased to RM74 billion by 2016. In 2003, the pension of civil servants was RM5.9 billion and in 2016, this amount had soared to RM19 billion.”

If nothing is done now, the numbers will continue to increase and the government’s nett income will gradually decline. It must be noted that when these civil servants retire, the pension bill will shoot through the roof and this will be a major perennial issue.

Moreover, due to our excellent healthcare system, life expectancy is longer. This will increase the cost of the pension for these civil servants.

A recent survey found Malaysia offers the best healthcare in the world. You can get a heart bypass surgery in a government hospital free of charge.

I have a cousin, a British citizen, who discovered a lump in her breast. Under the British National Health Scheme (NHS), she has to wait one month just to see a cancer specialist.

Another issue is the lopsided ethnic composition of the civil service, with 78.8% Malays, 6.1% Sabah Bumiputras, 4.8% Sarawak Bumiputras, 5.2% Chinese and 4.1% Indians as at December 2014.

I would like to propose the following to handle this situation:

  • Stop the employment of new civil servants and gradually reduce the number as more and more employees retire on pension.
  • The government should seriously look through the list of employees in each department and give notice for retirement to redundant employees.
  • Implement the New Economic Policy as originally proposed, to eradicate poverty on a non-racial basis. It should not be exclusively for Bumiputeras.
  • The government must practise meritocracy in the selection and promotion of employees. This way, the whole civil service will improve and fewer employees will be required.
  • Education is the key for success in every nation and teachers play a very important part. Currently, almost all the teachers are Malays. The government should not employ teachers based only on race but based on merit.

I hope leaders of Pakatan Harapan will implement my proposals for the reduction and improvement of our civil service. Our prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has the power to change the current system.

Koon Yew Yin is a retired chartered civil engineer and one of the founders of IJM Corporation Bhd and Gamuda Bhd.

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