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Centre for Global Affairs Malaysia (Icon) president Abdul Razak Baginda recently 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 size and its dominance by Malays. Razak’s rebuttal offers no good justifications 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.

Malaysia’s bureaucracy is one of the biggest in the world, with 1.3 million civil servants from a population of 30 million, or 4.5 percent, compared with Singapore’s civil service (1.5 percent), or those of Hong Kong and Taiwan (2.3 percent).

We are spending more than RM41 billion a year for upkeep of the civil service. Now you could protest that Singapore and Hong Kong are small city states, but what about a larger country like Taiwan?

While it is the growing trend of many countries to reduce the size of their civil service, Malaysia’s Prime Minister’s Department in particular has done the opposite. It has more than doubled the 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 10 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, Department of Islamic Development, Public Service Department, Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, 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 consulting firm 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, then Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) president Omar Osman revealed that a total of 418,200 or 41 percent 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 the civil service to be the most corrupt groups, and the government’s anti-corruption drive to be ineffective.

The offer of Prasarana chair for the previous inspector-general of police so soon after his retirement shows the revolving door culture 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 awarding of contracts.

There are examples aplenty, especially in the energy and defence ministries, as listed 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 defence minister to be given contracts from the ministry for servicing the (more than RM7 billion) Scorpene submarines contract, to the benefit of 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 was revealed in a parliamentary reply back in 2011. The second largest ethnic group in the country, the Chinese, made up less than two percent of Malaysian government service employees. There is a gross underrepresentation of non-Malay communities and East Malaysian indigenous communities in the civil service at all levels.

The large Malay representation in a bloated administration serves the populist objective of the Umno ruling class, since it creates race-based benefits to be given out to Malays through benefits and welfare, as well as economic programmes of the government.

These include government medical and health facilities for government servants,  favourable treatment including scholarships, admissions to higher educational programmes, 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.

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