Updated 5.10pm on 29 April 2009
PETALING JAYA, 29 April 2009: The civil service requires a total overhaul instead of just a multi-level entry system to overcome its problem of low productivity, says the DAP.
Pointing to studies by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that reveal that Malaysia has the highest civil servants-to-population ratio in the Asia Pacific, DAP national publicity secretary Tony Pua said Malaysia had a bloated civil service.
Malaysia’s ratio was 4.68%, compared to Indonesia’s 1.79%, Korea’s 1.85% and Thailand’s 2.06% all of which have less than half our ratio.
“The bloated civil service problem has been further exacerbated by the government’s policy of making our civil service a dumping ground for unemployed graduates over the past few years,” Pua said in a press release today.
Pua cited an example in July 2006, when then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak urged the Public Services Department to speed up the recruitment of graduates to fill some 30,000 vacancies in the civil service to “overcome the problem of unemployed graduates”.
Pua noted that as part of that initiative, the government created 2,000 positions in the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry in 2007 to employ unemployed graduates as “price monitors”.
“To overhaul the civil service sector, we must first stop treating the sector as an employer of the last resort,” Pua said.
“Persisting with these policies will only serve to negate any positive impact from the ‘multi-level admission system’ which Najib is trying to implement to attract talent into the service,” Pua added.
Pua was commenting Najib’s proposal yesterday that top posts in the public sector service, apart from the administrative and diplomatic service, be opened to talents from the private sector and government-linked companies.
“Even in the second economic stimulus plan announced by Najib, who is also the Finance Minister, in March this year, Najib said ‘the government would recruit 63,000 staff to fill vacancies, including 13,000 jobs for contract officers’,” Pua said.
Pua said the size of the civil service had increased by 23.5% in the last six years, adding that Najib himself was contributing to the problem by adding to the staff force.
“It must also be noted that while it’s easy to add new staff, shedding them is nearly impossible and it will only lead to deeper structural problems for our beleaguered civil service,” Pua said.
He added that absorbing graduates who could not find employment in the private sector resulted in a poor quality workforce and increased the government’s financial obligations.
“Najib has himself admitted that there was a need for the government to justify the high expenses of RM41 billion to maintain the civil service in 2008,” Pua said. He noted that this figure was a 60.2% rise from salary expenses amounting to RM25.6 billion in 2005.
“What is worse is, the entire government operational and development budget combined in the 1990s never even exceeded RM48 billion, but 10 years on, the amount is barely enough to sustain our bloated civil service,” Pua said.
Centre for Policy Initiatives director Dr Lim Teck Ghee said Najib’s idea was a good one but it was not new.
“This call to recruit the best is something that the government has made many times before. However, there has been no implementation or follow-up,” Lim said in a phone interview.
Lim, who co-ordinated a 2006 Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) report to the government on corporate equity and the civil service, said that it would be vital for Najib to set timelines and benchmarks for the multi-level admission system.
He also stressed the need for Malaysians to be able to track the system’s execution. “He (Najib) can publish how this measure is being implemented on his blog site,” Lim said.
Lim added that there were two important issues that the Barisan Nasional had to address with regards to the civil service: representative balance and political neutrality.
“It needs to be more racially balanced at all levels,” Lim said, adding that this resolution had been part of the New Economic Policy (NEP). Balanced racial representation in the civil service was also a recommendation of the first National Economic Consultative Council (NECC-1) in 1990.
“It is already 20 years since these recommendations were made to the government,” Lim said. However, the 2006 study Towards a more representative and world class Malaysian civil service, part of CPPS’s proposals for the Ninth Malaysia Plan, found that the proportion of Malay Malaysians in the civil service had grown from 60% to 77% since 1970.
Lim stressed that hiring a skilled workforce, regardless of race, was especially important in institutions of higher learning.
“Vice-chancellors of public universities should make public the present racial composition of their academic staff. They should also spell out in detail the steps being taken to recruit the best brains, irrespective of race,” Lim said.
“It is also important to ensure that the civil service remains politically neutral,” Lim added, saying that government servants should not be manipulated by any political party.
Gerakan vice-president and economic bureau chief Datuk Mah Siew Keong said a “colour blind” would instil greater public confidence and enhance productivity.
Recruitment, he added, must be based on meritocracy.