Government should relook at ‘excess fat’ in the civil service

By Ranjit Singh

MALAYSIA’s huge civil service has often made the headlines for its flabbiness. In the past, due to political expediency, the matter was sidestepped by the government of the day.

We now have one civil servant serving 19.37 people. The ratio is 1:110 for Indonesia, 1:108 for China and 1:50 for South Korea. It won’t be a fair comparison to look at Singapore where the ratio stands at 1:71 because of its size and lack of a rural population.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has caused massive retrenchments in the country within the private sector and to completely “absolve” the civil service would not be equitable. The government is running a deficit budget and can ill-afford expenditure which can be done away with.

It has been estimated that the government has to allocate some RM100 bil in funds to sustain civil servants’ wages and allowance annually. Then there is RM19 bil annually to for pensions.

The apparent lack of political will on the part of the government to tackle the issue of a bloated civil service was due to the fear of the backlash, mainly from the Malay vote bank as nearly 90% of the service consists of Malays.

For a long time, many graduates had taken it for granted that a plum civil service job would be waiting for them upon graduation. However, the current economic realities had presented a different picture. The civil service just could not absorb them any longer, hence the massive unemployment among graduates.

Dr Yeah Kim Leng, professor at Sunway University told FocusM, says although the timing is ill-timed, right-sizing of the civil service is something that the government needs to pay heed to urgently.

“While viewed as an employer of last resort and ill-timed during an economic downturn, the right-sizing of the civil service should continue as part of the medium-term plan to boost the efficiency and productivity of the civil service.

“The right-sizing should aim at adopting a whole-of-government approach not only to transform itself into a world-class civil service but also to ensure that the country’s fiscal sustainability is not derailed by an oversized civil service and the accompanying pension and other liabilities,” says Yeah.

The civil service has become a sacred cow that cannot be reproached for fear of political repercussions at the ballot box.

Still, the government should reduce the size of the civil service to curb the strain on the budget deficits, especially in the future.

It should appoint a high-level task force, if not a royal commission, to examine ways and means of trimming the civil service to an efficient one of reasonable size.

There are many government services, facilities, and works and supplies that can be provided more efficiently by the private sector. In fact, this could be the way forward for more bumiputera contractors and other races to participate more actively and competitively to serve society better.

Although it seems inhumane to make a plea to the government to trim the civil service during a severe economic downturn, it has to be done. The government has to be fully aware that it just cannot continue to subsidise a bloated civil service. – April 30, 2020

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