Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Streamlining the Malaysian Civil Service and Bureaucracy

Written by johnleemk on 3:45:58 am Feb 25, 2007.
Categories: ,

One million. That's the number of civil servants we have. One million people living off a government paycheck. (And, if they're lucky, the occasional bribe.)

You tend not to think about government employees most of the time. After all, they're generally invisible, despite the important roles they play. The only time you might pay them any heed is when you get stopped by a policeman looking for some easy money, or when some bloke at the immigration department refuses to renew your passport over some minor paperwork issue.

But, still, one million is a huge number! That's one civil servant for every 25 Malaysians! To put this in perspective, the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh employs about one million public servants. The population of Andhra Pradesh, however, is in the range of 75 million people — and even then, it's considered to have a disproportionately big civil service.

Why are we so awash in civil servants? What's the cause of this oddity? I think a big contributing factor is the government's reluctance to create a class of discontented and unemployed malcontents. Their solution, then, is to employ anyone who is rejected by the private sector.

This in turn is probably the cause of our infamously inefficient civil service. And, if the government's actions are anything to go by, things will be getting worse as we go along.

Last year, in response to the problem of unemployed graduates, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak declared that the civil service would be picking up the slack — an explicit admission that the government employs the worst of our graduates to keep them from turning against the government at the ballot box.

Around the same time, Parliament was informed that 70% of public university graduates are unemployed. Some people, including the now-famous Tony Pua (a probable candidate for a Parliamentary seat on the Democratic Action Party ticket in the next election), expressed incredulity, and suggested the statistics used must be flawed.

Whatever the case may be, the fact is that a lot of the graduates our public universities unleash on the country are not employable. And these unemployable people find employment in the government.

If the government is really serious about expediting efficiency, what it ought to do is begin retrenching these one million civil servants in stages. Offer them a generous pension comparable to their paycheck — the increased efficiency from a streamlined bureaucracy would make it worth our while.

The government could also do as one East European country did recently while downsizing its civil service. That country offered capital to any former civil servant who wished to start a business. Small and medium enterprises are the backbone of many economies, and it makes sense to turn former civil servants into entrepreneurs.

Of course, this would all be reliant on a government with the political will to dismiss inefficient civil servants, and on a government with the spine to enforce loans. From past experience, this is not the kind of the government we have.

So, till the day we change our government, this is what we will be stuck with — a behemoth of a civil service that exists only to provide a wage for the people not worth employing.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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