Recently, the PM proposed to open the civil service to the private sector. When he was the Deputy Prime Minister, this idea was brought up by himself in the Cabinet for general discussion. He even suggested that leading corporate figures and retired government civil servants should also be co-opted into the academic world. Students in the tertiary education then stands to benefit from the rich experience from the captain of the industries and top civil servants. This is rightly practiced in many countries. In America, the retired Secretary of State always ends up in important academic position. Tapping the private sector makes sense since they know not only the theory, but also the practical aspect of implementation and problem in dealing with government agencies.
Mixing the private sector with the civil service hopefully will give rise to a better cross-fertilization of ideas and practices, which are sadly lacking in the government service. It will also give the private sector an insight into the constraint of the civil service and the government machineries. The government delivery system is often bogged down with bureaucracy and having to work within the rather rigid general orders of the civil service.
In Malaysia, there is a clear dichotomy of service between the private and public sectors. The moment they leave the civil service to join the private sector, they lose their seniority and hardly ever had a chance to go back to civil service. The Malaysia civil service provides employment from the cradle to the grave. It is difficult to sack a civil servant, unless there are clear violations of the general orders. Hence, we have a lot of dead woods warming the seats. Some become what we call the little Napoleons and Josephines. They do not become facilitators to help the public. They do not serve the Rakyat but Lord over them. They construct all sorts of man-made barriers to make an average man dealing with the government with a bad taste. Bad civil service reflects poorly on the government of the day. Often, it is the politicians who stand for public office that gets the blame.
We have a bloated civil service of nearly 1.15 millions. With a population of 27million people, we have one of the higher ratios of civil servant to population. Despite aggressive privatization in the early 90s, the numbers of civil servant keep on increasing slowly but surely. The rising maintenance cost of the civil service is a major problem, about 41 billion a year. The biggest problem is inefficiency in the public delivery system. Since civil service provides lifelong employment, there seems to be ‘tidak apa’ attitude by some civil servants. Over the year, it has becomes the budaya or culture of these small group of civil servants. They obviously serve to damage the image of the public delivery system. To be fair, there are a lot of civil servants who are very good, professional and dedicated. Unfortunately, over the year this is getting smaller. While I was in the government, from the state to the federal level, I met some of these civil servants who will do the country proud, at the same time I also met a lot who don’t deserved a cent worth for their work.
Walk into any government office one is strike by the predominance of one ethnic group.
These ethnic imbalances get more glaring over the years. Today, about 77% of the government servants are Malays, only 15% are non-Malays and the others contribute 8%. To ratify this imbalance would take decades. Of course when this is raised, some will point out that the private sector is also dominated by one particular race. When the private sector places emphasis of the command of Mandarin, this is construed as discriminatory.
Remuneration cannot be a reason for the lack of interest for the civil service by the non-Malays. In fact, in some of the government services, the total package remuneration is not too bad when compared to the private sector. In order to attract the brightest and the committed, promotion should be based on performance and qualification, and not by who you know within the service. Right now, the general perception is that the government service is only for the Malays and the non-Malays have no chance in career advancement within the civil service. Until we show more transparency and professionalism in recruitment and promotion of civil servant, it is unlikely that we will attract the brightest. The non-Malays will continue to shun the civil service.