Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Stereotyping the Civil Service is Wrong, But It's Still An Inefficient Bureaucracy

Written by johnleemk on 3:24:48 am Mar 1, 2007.
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I received two interesting comments on my article concerning the Malaysian civil service. "K" wrote:

The statistics that we have the largest bureaucracy in the world are flawed. This is because we also add the army and the teachers (400,000) to the figures. You can only compare like with like. Teachers and soldiers are not civil servants.

I'm interested to know who said we have the largest bureaucracy in the world. I can't recall saying that. Also, for the purposes of the article, teachers and soldiers are civil servants because they serve the public, and because yes, the government is sending unemployable graduates to be teachers. (It was in the news last year.) Furthermore, if the teachers are counted as civil servants, why is there a separate union for teachers? There are one million civil servants in Cuepacs - that's the figure I used. If you include the teachers ( i.e. members of NUTP), the figure of civil servants will increase.

Quoted from: Say Lee
I think the majority of the public forms their opinion about government servants from dirdct contact with the so-called frontliners. You cited two very good examples: police and the immigration officers.

It's a generalization, a sweeping one, to characterize the entire civil service on these two "exemplars" and their wayward ways.

There are also many "silent" workers on government payrolls who work their their butts off for the country: teachers, engineers, and other professionals. I know because I'm a retired civil servant

But as usual, it's the deadwood, the pen-pushers that the stereotyping is based. It's nobody's fault really, I mean the stereotyping.

But it will help if one could be specific as to one's criticisms instead of lumping everyone in the civil service as befitting one's characterization.

It is difficult to not recognise the contributions that people like teachers and other professionals have made to the country while working for the government. However, these people form only a small part of the civil service (and as noted earlier, generally teachers aren't lumped in with the civil servants).

We also have a problem in that the civil service is becoming more and more awash with red tape and poor promotion standards everyday. Seniority and ass-kissing are the usual requirements for promotion, not competence, to the detriment of qualified civil servants and the taxpayers who pay their salaries. This is a problem that also afflicts the "back end" of the civil service, which does not deal directly with the people.

The stereotype of inefficiency obviously cannot apply to all civil servants, but it does apply to many, if not most. This "tidak apa" attitude permeates almost all levels of our civil service, and not many civil servants have escaped its scourge.

It's a sad fact that the pen pushers form a very sizable portion of the civil service. It's a just as sad fact that the civil service is not seen as a way for qualified people to serve their country, but for unqualified and unemployable graduates to "earn" a living. That was the main thrust of my piece, and I think it stands — even if I did rely a little on stereotyping.


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