Centre for Global Affairs Malaysia (Icon) president Abdul Razak Baginda has reproached journalist John Pennington for an article that places Malaysia’s civil service in an unfavourable light in comparison with its Singapore counterpart. Among the reasons for the Malaysian civil service’s lower proficiency, Pennington claimed, were its hugeness and its dominance by Malays. Razak does not offer any good justification for the bloated civil service in Malaysia except to say it has to do with the need for ‘affirmative action’. Methinks Razak Baginda doth protest too much…

Bloated civil service
Malaysia’s bureaucracy is one of the biggest in the world, with 1.3 million civil servants to a population of 30 million, a ratio of 4.5% compared with Singapore’s ratio of 1.5% civil servants to total population; Hong Kong’s 2.3% and Taiwan’s ratio of 2.3%. We are spending more than RM41 billion a year to upkeep our civil servants. Now you could protest that Singapore and Hong Kong are small city states but what about Taiwan and the United States?

While it is the growing trend of many countries to reduce their civil service, Malaysia’s Prime Minister’s Department in particular, has done the opposite. It has more than doubled its number of civil servants from 21,000 to 43,554. In stark contrast, the White House employs only 1,888 staff! To date, there are ten “Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department” alone, on top of other important agencies or governmental bodies that fall within the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department. These include, among others, the Attorney General’s Chambers, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Election Commission of Malaysia, Department of Islamic Development, Public Service Department, Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, the Judicial Appointments Commission, Economic Planning Unit and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

Consider this: Despite the bloated civil service and having sent hundreds of government scholars to the best universities in the West all these years, we still had to spend thousands contracting McKinsey to write our Education Blueprint! Were there no Malaysians capable of writing our own Education Blueprint?

The oversized bureaucracy has, in turn, created massive leakages in the economy. In 2010, Cuepacs President Omar Osman revealed that a total of 418,200 or 41% of the 1.2 million civil servants in the country were suspected to be involved in corruption. The 2009 Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) report revealed that Malaysians generally consider political parties and civil service to be the most corrupt groups, and the government’s anti-corruption drive to be ineffective.

Naked civil servants
The offer of Chair of Prasarana for the previous IGP so soon after he retired is a culture of ‘revolving doors’ between the civil and armed services and the corporate world. This practice is inimical to good governance and breeds corruption and non-accountability because of kickbacks and favours rendered by civil and armed service personnel in the awards contracts. There are examples aplenty especially in the energy and defence ministries in my two books, ‘Questioning Arms Spending in Malaysia’ and ‘Damned Dams and Noxious Nukes’.

Is it not dubious, to cite just one example, for aides to the Minister of Defence to be given contracts from the defence Ministry for “servicing the (more than RM7 billion) Scorpene submarines contract” that benefit their own companies as well as those of their family members?

Is more than 95% Malay dominance of the civil service not sufficient ‘affirmative action’?
The gross disparity in the ethnic make-up of the civil service up to 31 March 2011 was revealed in a reply to a parliamentary question in August 2011. The second largest ethnic group in the country, namely, the Chinese community made up less than two percent of the Malaysian government service employees. There is a gross under-representation of the non-Malay communities and the East Malaysian indigenous communities in the civil service at all levels.

The large Malay representation of a bloated administration serves the populist objective of the UMNO ruling class since it creates race based benefits to be given out to the Malays through the generous benefit and welfare and economic programs of the Government. These include government medical and health facilities for government servants; favored treatment including scholarships, admissions into higher educational programs; pension schemes, discounted travel fares for retired administration employees; discounted hotel charges in government run hotels and so on.

Thus, if our country is to progress into not only a high-income economy but also “a nation at peace with itself”, we need to solve our bloated and racially warped civil service and dress up our naked civil servants…