Unity gov’t must recalibrate racial diversity in Malaysia’s civil service

THE Malaysian civil service is not only bloated in terms of the number of employed but consists of one ethnic group, predominantly the Malays.

This is the reason why the Sarawak Premier Tan Sri Abang Johari Openg asked the civil service to be opened up for the non-Bumiputera in Sabah and Sarawak, especially the Chinese.

Spokesperson of the G25 group, Datuk Noor Faridah Mohd Ariffin, has made a similar call asking the civil service to be opened up for the non-Bumiputera, particularly the non-Malays in the country.

She lamented that not only is the promotional prospect for the non-Malays is dim, but the presence of racial discrimination also prevents them from joining the civil service.

After more than 60 years of independence, the country’s civil service is predominantly composed of the Malay Bumiputera from the peninsula with minuscule participation of non-Malay Bumiputera and non-Malays, the Chinese and the Indians.

Faridah added that if there is an absence of level playing field, it will be difficult to expect the non-Malays to make a significant contribution to the administration of the country.

The old argument in favour of Malay domination of the civil service to counter-balance the Chinese domination of the economy is no longer valid.

Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy

This was among the arguments used by the former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to institutionalise Malay hegemony in the public sector, particularly the civil service.

Whether the political and economic circumstances now are those of the 1960s, 1970s, 1990s and 2000s is a moot point.

The Chinese might have a visible presence in the private sector but whether they control the economy is something that needs to be addressed.

Let diversity thrive

The presence of state/federal government-linked companies (GLCs) in the economy particularly in the traditional sectors of agriculture, mining and others weakens the argument that says the Chinese control the economy.

Years of counter-balancing the Chinese dominance by the attracting foreign direct investments (FDIs) have diluted the Chinese presence in the economy.

Given the diversification of the economy as to the ownership and control, it doesn’t make sense to ensure the civil service remains completely in the hands of the Malays.

Such a racial policy cannot be defended anymore, not when the unity government is in power. If at all there was such justification in the past, it doesn’t exist anymore given the diversification of the economy.

Thus, the domination of the civil service by one ethnic community needs to be addressed by the new unity government of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

It is not that Anwar is not aware but under what political circumstances that he can slowly ensure that the civil service is reflective of the ethnic composition of the country.

The often-repeated apologetic reasoning that non-Malays shy away from the civil service because of the lack of promotional prospect cannot be sustained in view of the overt and covert forms of racial discrimination.

The new leadership that seems to thrive under the concept of Masyarakat Madani (civil society) cannot merely provide a lip service to the one-sided nature of the civil service.

Ideologically, there is no love lost between Anwar and Dr Mahathir but surely Anwar should not forget that undermining the viciousness of Mahathirism begins by reforming the civil service, among others.

The reformist agenda under the unity government might be submerged but with Pakatan Harapan (PH) as the anchor, there is no running away from what was promised to the rakyat.

I am sure the rakyat will remind the present government of its promises of good governance. – Feb 10, 2023


Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is the state assemblyperson for Perai. He is also Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang.

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

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