Sunday, April 26, 2009

Malaysian Civil service needs a shakeup!

My old friend has written a piece on Civil Service. An intresting read.

I refer to the article “At the Mercy of Civil Servants” NST dated 26th April.

Much of what has been said is true. There are countless examples of civil servants ‘misbehaving’. They have become a law unto themselves. Their political masters may state a policy stand in parliament but that counts for naught unless the officer on the other side of the counter carries it out. Ultimately it depends on the directors of ministries or heads of each department because officers down the line cannot act contrary to what has been directed by their bosses. Having said that there are too many cases where low ranking officers have been overbearing, officious and intimidating to the public who they treat as supplicants coming to ask a favour. Civil servants must be reminded that they are ‘public servants’ – they are paid by us and because of us they are in a job.

While I sympathise with politicians who complain that they get the rap whenever civil servants do not do their work; they (the politicians) are largely to blame.
The ruling party has for a long time been courting the civil servants. As they constitute a large voting block politicians have pandered to them, often offering them pay rises and bonuses just before the general elections. I never could understand why government servants should get bonuses. How does one gauge their productivity? And if they do not perform will they be subjected to the same treatment as employees in the private sector – ie face the sack?
Politicians have also been handling them with kid glove. The standing joke in Malaysia is that officers who have messed up are often promoted upwards or sideways.
I remember two Mayors of Ipoh who did not do a good job and in order to take them out of the public glare they were promoted to be the head of a ministry. And lately we have the example of teacher who was at the center of a racial controversy. She was transferred to a better school.

Unless politicians are prepared to take a tough line with civil servants and to stop politicising the service they should not complain.
Kayveas’ suggestion to make politicians heads of departments is at best a hare-brain idea and at worst it is like pouring petrol to douse the fire. These politicians will invariably put a party slant to dealings with the public. Imagine someone coming up to collect their welfare payment and they are reminded that it is the BN government that is giving them the money. Already they are doing that with government projects where the BN logo is displayed. Or projects in BN controlled areas are given priority over Opposition areas.

The only way to deal with the civil service mafia is to put them on term contracts - if not the entire staff then the heads. We can also improve the civil service by ending the near racial monopoly of the service and make promotions based on merit and not race.
In Australia many of the heads of departments are put on term contracts which will be renewed (or not) according to their performance. The days of job for life is no more – not even in Japan.


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