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Downsizing the bloated civil service

  • The government should employ state-of-the-art technology to replace some of the manpower not only for better control of government resources but also to enhance public service efficiency. Photo courtesy: Bernama

Sin Chew Daily

Prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government would downsize the 1.7-million civil service force of the country, reiterating that government operating expenditure would make up a sizable portion of the country's fiscal budget if the number of civil servants is not controlled.

Failing to do this will result in slowing economic growth because the government will no longer be able to bear the cost of development projects which will bring positive impact to the country's economic as well as social development.

The prime minister's remark is nothing new, and the problem of a severely bloated civil service has been in existence for quite some time now. It is no secret that the public have grown increasingly frustrated at the poor operational efficiency of our civil servants even though the government has not been seen resolved enough in this matter, especially when it comes under the pressure from Cuepacs.

For so many decades Malaysia's civil servants have been seen as a committed vote bank for the ruling party, and because of that the previous BN administration was taking extremely good care of their well-being.

Each time someone is voicing up on the need of cutting the number of civil servants in order to control government expenditure, the ruling coalition always shows a lack of strong political will to put this into implementation.

Now that Pakatan Harapan has taken over the federal government and Mahathir has admitted repeatedly that there is a need to cut the civil service force, it is hoped that the government will honor its pledge and do something about it.

However, the solution offered by Mahathir, including privatizing some of the government agencies, may not work today although it has proven to be effective in the past. Moreover, this may not be applicable to all government agencies.

During his previous tenure as prime minister, Mahathir introduced the privatization policy in the 1980s, successfully taking some civil servants off government payroll and thus alleviating the government's excessive financial burden.

The thing is, do we still have any government agency that can be privatized today?

Cuepacs has kept pointing out that civil servants such as teachers, armed forces and medical personnel are very important frontline civil servants, and that the country needs the continued services of these people in order to ensure its prosperity.

Citing this reason, Cuepacs maintains that the country's civil service force is by no means bloated.

We cannot overlook the issue that even though some government agencies have been privatized, the government has subsequently set up new agencies with overlapping job duties owing to some untold reasons or political needs, with the hiring of more civil servants. Among them is Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD).

Some of these agencies have been abolished after PH took over the federal government, but people under them have since been absorbed by other agencies, with no change in total number of people on government payroll in the end.

Controlling the number of civil servants has always been a controversial issue. The key is, the public service delivery system should emphasize on specific services and areas.

Undeniably teachers and medical personnel are very important frontline civil servants and their professionalism and well-being must not be overlooked by the government. As a result, an appropriate package solution must be put in place when handling this matter.

As for whether the job nature of other administrative personnel is overlapping or redundant, we must adopt a more stringent and progressive approach to ensure effective distribution of national resources.

In the meantime, the government should consider employing state-of-the-art technology to replace some of the manpower not only for better control of government finances but also to boost public service efficiency.

 

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