The civil service barriers to implementing Malaysia Madani

PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Malaysia Madani is espoused as the vision of the unity government. The Madani mission is to install good governance, sustainable development and racial harmony in Malaysia.

The Malaysia Madani objectives are to incorporate sustainability, prosperity, innovation, respect, trust and compassion into government. These will be applied to the domains of economy, finance, legislation, institutions, education, community and culture – both in rural and urban Malaysia.

Now with the Madani government, we are seeing that the concept somehow detached from the flow of government policy and action.

The recent budget was not much different from any previous budget. However, it mentioned the philosophy of Madani from time to time – just like it had been put into the text as an afterthought.

Political appointments are made in the name of Madani. The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) is kept; the police raided and confiscated rainbow-coloured Swatches; the government has not learnt that ‘Allah’ is an international word; and that free sanitary napkins are given out at the Health Ministry’s building.

Murray Hunter

Academics and civil services are studying and attending seminars of Malaysia Madani (a sunrise industry for consultants) in order to impress their superiors.

No synchronisation

However, the greatest barrier to Malaysia Madani is the institutionalised one-dimensional thinking of the civil service which must be the cradle of the philosophy. One dimensional culture is one that is trapped within a single paradigm. This prevents those individuals and groups within it to think within other dimensions.

Thus, this prevents people from considering new ideas, new perspectives and new approaches to issues.

The culture within the civil service supports a massive power distance gap which prevents subordinates speaking out in groups dominated by peers and superiors. Power distance is a construct that refers to how social relationships resemble power relationships.

When power distance is wide, subordinates are unwilling to speak out in front of superiors. This is a powerful suppressant of new ideas and perspectives.

In addition, the prevailing culture within the civil service supports the premise of the ‘Malay agenda’. Some civil servants put the importance of the ‘Malay agenda’ above the intentions and will of their immediate superiors.

If a command or directive comes to a civil servant, and the civil servant believes this directive runs foul of the ‘Malay agenda’, they will have no qualms in ignoring the directive.

Members of the civil service as also casualties of the education system. Where degrees once had a deep intellectual base to the materials studied by students, education today packages up whole subjects in textbooks where students use and hesitate tot go outside the content for further inquiry.

In addition, post graduate study is often undertaken to please their superiors for promotion. You will find a plenitude of doctorates in quality, blue ocean, balanced scorecard, according to what the trend was at the time. Diversity is the casualty.

Enriching consultants?

This is the same in the consulting area. Management, economic and social development consultants are eager to provide their clients with the latest fads. This is because it is safe and economical to provide. Consultants and advisors are not the places to obtain ‘out of the box’ ideas.

Consultants will be more likely to build up material ‘modules’ as the trade calls them and deliver them to groups within the civil service. This will be a lucrative business for the few firms that are engaged to undertake this work. There may also be a Malaysia Madani think tank developed that won’t think but disseminate Madani rhetoric.

If not careful, Malaysia Madani will be destroyed by the system. Malaysia Madani will find its way to the scrap heap and join Vision 2020, Islam Hadhari, 1Malaysia and Keluarga Malaysia and the like.

Senior civil servants have seen the slogans come and go but will be only too pleased to do their official launches in front of their ministers.

Unfortunately, Malaysia Madani has already been tainted, used by the Agriculture Minister to justify political appointments. Nobody in the civil service will take it seriously anymore because they know it is just the same old thing. Malaysia Madani cost millions to create the new illusion and was shot down with one comment.

Malaysia Madani will not become a national icon like Mao Tse-Tung’s Red Book or Muammar Gaddafi’s Green Book. It won’t be read in school. It won’t become a university subject. It won’t be exported around the world.

For Malaysia Madani to mean something, the civil service must be extensively reformed. There needs to be a massive cultural change.

However, with Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim pledging he won’t interfere with the civil service, the chances of Malaysia Madani becoming an accepted ideology in Malaysia is doomed.

One day, the signboards will be scrapped on top of the Keluarga Malaysia banners with the next slogan to be dumped on top of Malaysia Madani. – June 1, 2023


Australia-born Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 40 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic and researcher. He was previously an associate professor at the Universiti Malaya Perlis.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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