Enticing M’sian Chinese to join civil service: Fix the “flawed product”, not spend more on “marketing”

RECENTLY, the Prime Minister’s political secretary Chan Ming Kai announced that the government would launch a campaign to encourage more Chinese to join the civil service.

The campaign is held due to the low number of Chinese who are interested in working for the government. Roadshows will be held in various parts of the country to encourage more Chinese to sign up.

While the move to have a higher participation of non-Malays in the civil service is commendable, this is not by far the first such campaign. Various variations of such campaigns were held over the years by different administrations, all of which met with limited success.

Chan, the former Alor Setar MP, did not elaborate how the current campaign differs from previous ones. But judging by the campaign’s modus operandi of holding roadshows nationwide (just like how previous variations of the campaign were conducted), it is unlikely that the results this time around will be any better.

It was Albert Einstein who famously said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

As any marketing student can attest to, getting a buy-in is just not about throwing more money for advertising and promotion. What is more important is to fix a flawed product.

In the case of low participation of Chinese in the civil service, until the “flaws” are fixed, no number of roadshows and counselling sessions to prospective government staff can turn the tide.


What are the “flaws” that put off many Chinese from joining the civil service? It is well-documented that many Chinese are reluctant to join the public sector due to the perceived low opportunities for career advancement, supposed racial discrimination and low pay, just to cite a few reasons.

Chan himself admitted that the highest position currently held by a Chinese in the civil service is Chua Choon Hwa, the Deputy Secretary-General (Strategic) at the Women, Family & Community Development Ministry.

Chua Choon Hwa
Datuk Khaw Kok Chin (Image credit: Harian Metro)

Former Penang police chief Datuk Khaw Kok Chin who was just promoted to director of the Bukit Aman Narcotics Crime Investigation Department is another Chinese holding a senior public office.

In July 2022, Seputeh MP Teresa Kok had alleged that the race-based policy in recruitment and promotion had made many non-Malays reluctant to join the civil service.

Back then, former special functions minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad had informed the Dewan Rakyat that about 90% of the 1.2 million civil servants were Bumiputeras. He had said Putrajaya did not impose any quota based on race or ethnicity for the civil service intake.

Of the total number, 987,333 comprised Malays, Chinese (73,190), Sarawak Bumiputera (60,084), Sabah Bumiputera (59,978), Indians (47,751) Orang Asli (2,417) and others (8,698).

Unless all structural problems in the civil service are addressed, the Chinese will continue to stay away from joining the government. Put another way, holding roadshows to encourage the Chinese to join the civil service is only throwing good money after bad ones. Fix the “flawed” product first, not try to market it better.

But if the Madani government is able to effectively remedy the structural concerns of the Chinese on this issue, there is no need to hold roadshows. Then, the community will be drawn to the civil service just like bees are drawn to honey. – March 4, 2024

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