Saturday, May 02, 2009

Civil Service Needs Overhaul, Not New Steering Wheel

While Sdr Lim Kit Siang focused on meritocracy when he ripped into the new Prime Minister's announcement on "multi-level entry system" into the civil service to "attract" private sector talent, I focused pretty much on endemic and entrench structural problems facing the civil sector. It will require a whole lot more than just attracting a handful of "private sector talents" to turn the civil service on its head.

A few days ago, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak proposed structural changes to the Malaysian civil service, which he called “multi-level admission system” where key positions in the government are opened up to talent from the private sector and government-linked companies (GLCs) in an attempt to modernise the civil service.

While we will always welcome top talents joining the civil service and serving the country, the above piecemeal measure will not be anywhere near sufficient to reform the ailing government sector.

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. This represented a 60.2% increase from emolument expenses just 3 years earlier in 2005 which amounted to RM25.6 billion. 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.

The civil service has been expanding rapidly since the 1990s, and the growth accelerated under the current prime minister. In 1990, the Federal Government had 773,997 employees; by the year 2000, there were 894,788 on the payroll, a significant increase of 15.6%. However, since then, the civil service employment has accelerated by more than 210,000 personnel in 2006, marking a 23.5% increase over the 6 years alone.

In fact, studies by Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development have ascertained that we have the highest ratio of civil servants to the population in the Asia-Pacific at 4.68%, while our regional neighbours have less than half our ratio, like Indonesia (1.79%), Philippines (1.81%), Korea (1.85%) and Thailand (2.06%). This clearly indicates the low level of productivity of our civil service.

The bloated civil service problem has been further exacerbated by the Governments policy of making our the service a dumping ground for unemployed graduates over the past few years. For example, in July 2006, as the then Deputy Prime Minister, Najib had instructed the Public Services Department (PSD) to speed up the recruitment of graduates to fill some 30,000 vacancies in the civil service to “overcome the problem of unemployed graduates.”

As part of the above initiative, the Government had actually created 2,000 positions in the Ministry of Domestic & Consumer Affairs in 2007 to employ unemployed graduates as “price monitors” just to “keep watch on the price of goods at 96 locations that included wet markets, supermarkets and grocery stores” with little or no value-added functions.

And even in the latest 2nd 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.”

Hence, while Najib has rightly recognised the problem of needing to “justify” the RM41 billion spent on maintaining the unwieldy civil service, he is now also contributing to the problem by adding massively to the staff force. It has also to 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.

To overhaul the civil service sector, we must first stop treating the sector as an employer of the last resort. By absorbing these graduates who were not able to obtain gainful employment in the private sector, it results not only in a poor quality workforce within the civil service, it also increases the Government's financial obligations. 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 talents into the service.


matt said...

Tony what it really needs is a kick in the backside and while we are on it what has the pr givt done to overcome the problems of this little napoleans in the civil service.My answer to you is ziltch,zero these monkeys are still running the civil service like when bn was running it and don't tell me you don't know who they are.
When 8/3 happened i thought things would change but sadly nothing happened and to make matters worst mpre conditions have been put in place for these guys to cari makan.ALL THE STATISTICS WHO HAVE SHOWN MEANS NOTHING IF YOU DON'T USE THE BIG STICK AND ONLY THAT WILL CURE ALL OUR PROBLEMS.

Anonymous said...

Quick observations...
1990: Federal Government employees 773,997; 2000: 894,788

Ratio of civil servants to population: Malaysia 4.68%; Indonesia 1.79%.

Note that in 1990 Mahathir's privatisation was only beginning to take root. Instead of LOWERING federal job RATE, privatisation increased it. Mahathir, as usual, lied: he was for a bigger government not smaller. Federal has always been an Umno job-creation program - recall what was said the last party general assembly. Assuming Pakatan takes the Federal post-2012/13 you'll have to cut 500,000 jobs minimum, just to bring it down but to the top Asia rate of 2% (see how tough it is to take Federal if 500,000 won't vote for Pakatan?).

Now the problem: DAP/PKR/PAS, all left parties, are for a bigger government not smaller. PKR/PAS, (Umno's mirror parties) most certainly, will want to replace their henchmen where 500,000 lose their jobs. In effect, one kind of cronyism replaces another. How're you going to stop it? DAP must move right of centre because that is its natural self, and the Chinese populace has all through history been wary of government, Malay or Chinese. Also, because it's the decent thing to do. Ever read Ming/Qing history?

Shawn Tan said...

This is like a chicken-egg game right? If we right-size the civil service to about 2%, there needs to be somewhere to send the balance 2%. This means that the government needs to stimulate the industry to create jobs so that these people have somewhere to go to. Also, it means that these people would need to have a valued skill set and that boils down to education instead. Wah, headache man!

Simon H said...

While many develop nations turn to technology and proper processes to help improve the efficiency levels, we turn to numbers. I wonder if they ever thought of whether the large number of civil servants would mean increasing the loads on managing them. The problems are embedded deep within, which stems from decisions made way before today. From the focus on churning out more graduates to controlling unemployment levels, many actions seem to have ignored longer term consequences as a result.
We are now stuck with a heavily bloated civil service sector and yet our PM is calling for more recruiting of talents?
I'd say, consolidate first. Businesses around the world are trimming down, consolidating on resource levels. Why can't our government do the same to reduce the 41b requirement? Its a hard call to make, but I think it would be in the best interest even for individuals within the civil service now. Would they rather be stuck going no where, or getting the bad news now and moving on to secure a better future?
Why would our PM be calling on more talents to join? Is it that talents cant be found from within now? Which brings me to wonder how individuals were recruited in the first place...
I think it would be better if the funds were used to nurture small sustainable businesses for the unemployed rather than moulding them into a "dependent" individual.
But then again, who am I to know how to best run a country :p

Anonymous said...

Put it this way, if our government is to be efficient, it must be run as a business entity. Kick and do not retained the 'dead woods'. Our government esp the universities need to prove that their existence is needed or relevant. I am very confident that even if we sack half the staff across the board the universities will be operational and in fact more efficient. I am quite sure at present our universities are not run like established business models

Anonymous said...

The civil service is not for serving people. It is to generate jobs for graduates who cannot be employed. It is a cover for several decades of mistakes in the education policy.

Anonymous said...

YB, the bloated civil service is planned to reduce unemployment. If not, we will get more Mat Rempit,etc... All the changes announced and to be made are superficial without solving the underlying cause.

The whole problem lies with the education system (producing unemployable citizens) and political will (will UMNO ever allow meritocracy???). M'sia is regressing and most smarter M'sians know what are the problems. Some will just leave the country for good but some will stay and strive to make this country a better place (like you). BUT my hope for a better M'sia is gradually fading as I growing older (wiser?) - with exception of the 308 event.

Anonymous said...

Tell Pm Najib to extend the retiring age to 70, so that we can continue to keep the dead wood at the top of the civil service. Continue increasing their pay despite knowing they are non performer.
Too many dead wood in the civil service and mostly are mediocre rising to the top runk through bodek and politically connected. So those on extension must be told to vacate their seat for the young and haard working to rise up.

Anonymous said...

Lee Kuan Yew pointed out that improving the performance of an organisation/society depend on improving the quality of the average person/member as well as the quality of the elite. The elite can do it alone and the average cannot do much without leadership.

Malaysian govt is the biggest in South East Asia and will have to grow bigger to absorb the thousands of unemployable graduates in the next few years. The growth in numbers just leads to lower quality especially without meritocracy - its just statistics probability.

Najib focusing on the elite is not going to change anything - not without massive investment OR structural change - i.e., meritocracy.

The worst part of it is that he is likely to raise the wages of the elite in order to attrract them. Who wants to go from GLC to govt and take a pay cut? - those who can't cut it in the GLC which adds to dumbing down of the system.

The way forward for performance - shrink the numbers, bring in meritocracy at all levels, raise wages of civil servants. That is the a formula - its THE ONLY FORMULA.

Anonymous said...

As Anonymous has pointed out that the important of meritocracy. Present government may not seeing it. It is whose duty to make it publicly seen? Those elites attach to the ruling party are unaware of it? It is much fantastic to see it keeps absorbing unemployed graduates just to cover up the wrong policy of educational system. But it is a fact can not be denied.
Under the carpet there are a lot of unseens. But it is actually existences there unsettled.
Our PM is smart enough to see it. Only that he couldn't get a formula to resolve it. His need of looking local private sector's talents to work for government is a way to try getting nearer to people in order to uplift his ruling capability as formation that he is actually an able PM of Malaysia.
If PR got the chance to be forming new government, this problem of unproductive education system is the first priority to settle. Or else this cancerous danger can not be fully cured.