THE CIVIL SERVICE – a Malaysian perspective.

By Hussein Hamid

The Civil Service assist the business of Government with the ruling party of the day. The Civil Service has in the past recruited its employees based on the principle of selection on merit and on the basis of fair and open competition. With the British the key element of the Civil Service is its political impartiality. The Civil Service administrative impartiality in Malaysia has been brought into question by UMNO’s distinctive approach to Public Administration. We need to examine what is the nature and impact of political involvement by the political elites on the Civil Service of our country.

When we first got our independence the Politician makes the policy and the Civil Servant execute it. There was no corruption and everything was accountable and transparent. To buy a small item one must have a quotation. The more expensive item has to be tendered out and the development project was carried out by the JKR.

But things slowly began to change, as UMNO wanted politically a committed Civil Service because they perceived that Party allegiance is important to those who were going to implement their policies. UMNO embarked on a strategy to enhance their control over the Civil Servants to ensure bureaucratic compliance with their way of doing things e.g. the award of tenders to preferred contractors and cronies, divide and rule of the people based on race, selective prosecution of the opposition, a Police Force that will do their biddings etc etc.

The appointment of political appointees to “advise and to oversee’ the Civil Service and the appointments of preferred top civil servants by the politicians was done on the mistaken premise that this would energize a normally neutral Civil Service into a “Committed Bureaucracy!” Political influence over appointments in Public office – especially at senior levels – became more pronounced. This in turn resulted in the pervasiveness of patronage by these Civil Servants to the Politicians.

We should give thought to not only how these Senior Civil Servants were appointed but also in the manner of their leaving. Some are transferred laterally, some are put in cold storage and some will have their retirement postponed and their tenure extended on a contract basis at the pleasure of the Barisan Politicians/Ministers. All this is indicative of the politicization of the Civil Servants.

So what now defines the career of a civil servant – merit or political patronage? And what is the impact of these changes?

As Barisan Nasional tighten its control over Government and the Civil Service, did it actually make any difference to the implementation of Government Policies or was it done more for the maintenance of the Political elites and the elites within the Civil Service?

Let us look at the coming of Daim. When Daim became the Finance Minister, with a view of political expediency, the whole system was changed. The Ministry of Finance took over the tender part from the JKR on major projects. In some projects there was not even a tender process – direct negotiation with the contractor or the supplier was conducted. The line continued to blur and accountability and transparency was not heard of anymore. The Government officer followed the orders of his Ministers and other political appointees. And since there was no change of political party for the last fifty years this became the accepted norm throughout the Civil Service. The KSU and his Department became an extension of his Minister’s ‘team’. The Civil servants continued to become the yes man to the politician whether they like it or not. The Barisan Nasional politician was all-powerful that they could make the job as a government officer miserable if you did not do their biddings.

Remember all government money is given to the Head of Department via an Allocation Warrant and politician cannot spend the money without the approval of the Head of Department. So to play safe Government officer just play along with the politician and execute what the politicians decided. Thus the Malaysian Civil Service became a mirror of what was happening within UMNO – or to be more brutal, more often then not colluded with the politicians and too often became willing participants of the politics of patronage. A number of KSU were beneficiaries of political patronage and retired wealthy beyond their means! Some even joined business that they had ‘assisted’ during their KSU’s tenure – compromising not only their personal integrity but also that of the Civil Service.

The March 8th 2008 election changed the status quo of a number of states. The difference is that in some states like Selangor, Penang, Kedah the Barisan Nasional was no longer the Policy maker. The Pakatan Rakyat party replaced them. It looks like the Government officer are learning and adjusting to the situation well. Of course there are government officers who are loyal to the BN and that is where the problem start but I think eventually the government officer would all wake up from the BN spell and be a truly executive power. It is only natural that the ruling party would want officers who are loyal to them. But I think the Government officer are learning fast and would be loyal to whatever government is in power be it BN or PR.

It must be noted that the extension of the service of senior civil servants beyond the mandatory age of retirement is detrimental to the morale of those in the lower echelons and should be discontinued. Nobody is indispensable. However the retirement age of 56 yrs and is too young for the present generation whose life expectancy is 72. The British did the pension law during a different era. Now folks are healthier and will live up to 70. Singapore has increase the retirement age to 60 years. There are good officers that should be retained – especially the professional one – but the law has to be changed and the retirement age be raised as in the advanced countries. Possibly 56 is too young to retire.

We are a changing society and the government officer as well the politician is learning as well. But this is a capitalist Democracy and the party in power surely want to exploit the monetary benefit of being in power. That is the reality and we all have to live with it. But what the rakyat want now is simple. Accountability and transparency.

The lack of succession planning in the civil service has reached serious proportions. If the Malayanisation policy has worked before where our officers were groomed to take over the reins from the expatriates, I do not see why we could not emulate this now. All I can say is that it works to the advantage of politicians rather than the civil service, whereby the “Contractors” are beholden to them by virtue of such extensions and completely owe their loyalty to the Members of the Administration instead of to the King and Country.

In conclusion it must be said that the Civil Service is a loyal servant of the Government of the day. Our problem is that when a Government takes it upon itself to compromise the Civil Service for its own end, not for the Rakyat, then a conflict of interest will arise. The Rakyat now knows more about the success and failures of Government initiatives. Ultimately Government and the Civil Service accountability is to the Public – the Public will want to know what are the benefits they derived from these public expenditures. Are their needs being resolved or are the Civil Service becoming increasingly distanced from the voting public? Are the demands of the Political elites being met at the expense of the Rakyat?

We have seen what happened in Selangor with the SELCAT inquiries. The Politican leaves but the civil servant remains. All KSU and PTD are loyal to the government in power. Actually the relationship of Government officer and Politician is a Love and Hate relationship. In creating project most of the input are from government officer. Only the big project come from their political masters but the working paper are still done by the government officer. Actually the country could run without the political leadership. Our administration that we inherit from the British is good and we could do better with educated KSU and Heads of Department. This is happening now. Soon we would be like Japan where the change in leadership does not make much difference. For now the Civil Service serves two masters. The Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. It will evolve to meet the expectations and aspirations of their Political Masters. We wait to see which Master will put the aspirations and expectations of the people ahead of the interests of their Political parties.

  1. #1 by jbozz on Friday, 23 October 2009 - 10:42 am

    It happen in Germany 73 years ago, it is an era of moderate dictatorship. That is the reason the wise almarhum TAR sack Tun Dr M from party but unfortunately he is very smart and even wrote a book the Malay dilemma something like Mein Kempf (My struggle) by Adolf Hitler. It was then Malaysia is transformed from a land of opportunity to a dark age where businesses are bonded to offer contract to cronies. Many big multi national companies pull out or cut down its investment here due to cost competition vs Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, and China.

    The paradigm shift is tremendous, what is the meaning we have all the white elephant projects with no sustainable activities to upkeep them.

    Will UMNO end up like Nazi, this is still beyond any imagination, therefore moderate corruptions are tolerable. Malaysia politic is a shame e.g. the recent spate between Ong and Chua, remember what the front page star wrote 3 days before the EGM, Ong clearly indicate all must go to respect democracy but now after the EGM result, he is staying. Bottomline, his main motive is to remove Chua from deputy seat. It causes a stir within MCA but what is the big deal? there is not code of ethic here, what he said now can be twist and turn the next day. Are we losing principle & trustworthy in today leader?

  2. #2 by k1980 on Friday, 23 October 2009 - 12:05 pm

  3. #3 by Loh on Friday, 23 October 2009 - 12:37 pm

    Sorry, off topic

    By Dr. Mahathir Mohamad on October 23, 2009 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)

    ///1. The NST reported that the Lingam case is closed. He will not be persecuted (or prosecuted).

    2. He must be feeling very relieved. But what about the Commission’s report on his influence over me in the selection of judges?

    3. I was waiting for my day in court so I can defend myself. I have a lot of things to say about attempts to influence me on the appointments of judges.///– TDM

    The answers given by TDM at the RCI were filled with many “I can’t remember”. It is good that TDM now has regained his memory, and he has a lot to say about the matter in connection with the appointment of judges. AAB did not follow through the recommendation of the RCI. Najib’s administration considers it better equipped than the RCI to go against its recommendations.

    ///4. Now that Lingam has no case to answer, how does it affect my being accused of being influenced by him, remembering that the tape was about his alleged phone conversation with other individuals. Did he say that I asked him to speak to those people? Was my name involved in his phone call? ///– TDM

    Why TDM did not ask for clarification at the RCI or provide answers to questions asked? Oh, yah he suffered from selected memory lapses then.

    ///5. These questions will remain in the minds of the people who read the conclusion of the Commission. So what now? ///– TDM

    Najib should answer that question.

    ///6. For some time during the past regime I was told that a thorough search was made to find instances where I abused power or accepted illegal gratification while in office. Apparently nothing was found.///– TDM

    Corruption in the country has long been legalised. It would be quite difficult to try doing something, corruption wise, illegally.

    ///7. Could it be that one way of getting at me was to accuse me of being influenced by Lingam in my choice of judges?///– TDM

    That was only one aspect of how TDM destroyed the Judiciary. There should have been another RCI to look into how TDM destroyed the Judiciary starting from how Lord President Saleh Abas was sacked in 1988.

  4. #4 by taiking on Friday, 23 October 2009 - 1:27 pm

    So mahathir intends to say a lot huh? So it looks like the cat is out of the bag. Now we know why no action was taken against lingam.

  5. #5 by jbozz on Friday, 23 October 2009 - 3:32 pm

    Mahathir have few more years to enjoy before moving into soil. Maybe that is his last request.

    But some bloody said, “nobody is above the law” “ya ka?” When they use the law against political opposition like Tian Chua, they will said “nobody is above the law not even MP” but in Lingam case, what is so special about Lingam to close case?

  6. #6 by monsterball on Friday, 23 October 2009 - 5:35 pm

    Forget public civil service.
    Forget fairplay and democracy.
    It is UMNO’s rule of men…as they interpret and that’s final.
    Take it or leave it.
    Money power is all mighty.
    But Malaysians say….People’s Power will be final.
    Riding on a slim win in 12th GE…UMNO will continue encouraging corruptions and money power…to buy votes and people.
    The are confident….Malaysians will submit to sell their souls to UMNO for coming ..13th GE.

  7. #7 by taiking on Friday, 23 October 2009 - 5:38 pm

    That is why I said sometime ago that umno breeds cancer cells. And it is also obvious that umno lets them loose.

    BTW, where is orangrojak? He seems to have gone quiet for a while. He is not under umno protection, is he?

  8. #8 by limkamput on Friday, 23 October 2009 - 10:02 pm

    Malaysian civil servants now retire at 58, not 56 as stated. It shows you are not current on issues relating to Malaysian civil service.

    What does loyalty to government of the day mean? You have not defined it.

    Loyalty to government means loyalty to the policies and programmes of the ruling government. For example, if the government wants a bridge built in Penang, it is mandatory on the part of the civil service to carry it out. However, loyalty does not include collusion, does not include abandonment of established procedures and regulations. For this, the civil service must stay loyal to the procedures and procedures already established. Loyalty of civil service is not blind loyalty. We must establish a culture from now that when there is a change in government, not only politicians but civil servants involved in collusion or in violating procedures and regulations must also be called to account. This is one way to ensure their continued loyalty to what is right.

  9. #9 by limkamput on Friday, 23 October 2009 - 10:06 pm

    Someone just can’t stop thinking he is “smart” for being able to comment on Mamathir moronic statements.

  10. #10 by OrangRojak on Friday, 23 October 2009 - 10:21 pm

    where is orangrojak
    Sulking. I’ll get over it eventually.
    Thanks for the health check.

  11. #11 by GilaPolitic on Saturday, 24 October 2009 - 2:30 am

    Hello..all bloggers are talking abt oldman Dr M is out of the topic here.

    The writer commented indirectly about the civil servants become “slaves” of their Master Politicians for past 50 years after the British empire was chased out of Malaya. Now the Rakyat suffer from corrupted leadership by example and created many lazy and corrupted civil servants in Malaysia.


  12. #12 by Hugos on Saturday, 24 October 2009 - 4:38 am

    What is this limkamput talking about??

    During his days as a government servant until he was asked to leave a few years ago at the ripe old age of 58, for taking rolls of toilet paper home without his boss knowing it, he was the opposite of what he wants us to believe today.

    He was taught loyalty early on in his career in the civil service. But he never could understand. To him loyalty is carrying his boss’s bag, opening doors, taking tea and driving his wife to the wet market on Tuesdays, using office car to ferry his boss’s children to after school activities.

    He is now saying if he were still in government service, when Pakatan takes over he should be sacked for doing his job. Can you believe this guy??

  13. #13 by Hugos on Saturday, 24 October 2009 - 4:51 am

    ” …. the civil service must stay loyal to the procedures and procedures already established” >>>limkamput

    You mean the civil servant must stay loyal. Civil service is not a person.

    Loyal to procedures?? One is loyal to one’s employer because he signs your paycheck every month. If you’re talking about General Orders, the word is compliance and not loyalty. Sheeeesh …. !

  14. #14 by limkamput on Saturday, 24 October 2009 - 6:22 am

    //For this, the civil service must stay loyal to the procedures and procedures already established.//

    It should be “For this, the civil service must stay loyal to the procedures and regulations already established.”

  15. #15 by boh-liao on Saturday, 24 October 2009 - 8:47 am

    Civil servants or government servants?
    In France, man in iron mask
    In M’sia, men n women with iron bowls

  16. #16 by limkamput on Saturday, 24 October 2009 - 10:39 am

    The term “Government servant” is a misnomer. It should be “public servant” or “civil servant”, because we are supposedly having a civilian government, not a police state or a military government. It is civilian public sector employees working for government departments or agencies and they exclude the armed services although the Defence Ministry usually also has civilian staff working there.

  17. #17 by boh-liao on Saturday, 24 October 2009 - 11:34 am

    Do civil servants in M’sia view themselves as goverment servants, ie, serfs of de BN gomen
    And must vote 4 BN to preserve their iron bowls
    If so, BN must maintain de large army of gomen serfs
    See, Putrajaya is BN’s Fort Knox, impenetrable, front or back

  18. #18 by veddy.lum74 on Saturday, 24 October 2009 - 2:42 pm

    not only phuklah told us lie,now najis too!

    he also says we got 1.2 million public servants!

    what the held is he talking?

    we actually have 2.5 millon public servants whom normally acted like ‘little napoleon’ and most of the time,inefficient but corrupt to the core!

    just do a easy calculation,

    liow told us his min. got 350,000 servants

    muhiadyn told us ” ” ” 380,000 ”

    pdrm got 200,000 ”

    ATM got 200,000 ”

    merely these 4 departments have alredy exceedng 1.13 million,so adding the rest of the ministries,how many public servants do you think we have???

  19. #19 by taiking on Saturday, 24 October 2009 - 6:19 pm

    oi veddy.lum dont be too clever. Remember umno is god and as god umno is smarter then you. If your maths is right then the civil servants in all the other ministries is made up of the difference between 1.2m and 1.13m. And just in case you are wondering, that also means the rest of the ministries are damn hardworking and are super-efficient. How is that possible? Remember umno is god and god knows! OK?

  20. #20 by Ramesh Laxman on Saturday, 24 October 2009 - 8:37 pm

    WE should study the fall of the USSR and other Eastern European countries. The point that struck me the most was this web of companies set up retired public servsnts in those countries. These companies then got into deals with the inside of government departments and then brought their respective steel stools and placed it inside the departments so that they could sit down firmly and then start the process of milking the government departments through the over pricing of contracts and under supply of orders.The department heads were convinced by these companies that it was cheaper to order supplies for the year. Hence as soon as the annual allocations were made the departments went on an orgy of spending. But the fall was not sudden. Like all action in government the full impact of this close relations between the public and private sector only came to the surface ten years down the road. By that time the west was alrady on the back of these communist states and the final disintegration of the communist bloc was inevitable.

    If we are to avoid the same outcome we have to re-visit out Malaysia Incorporate policy and make the changes before it is too late. During the days of the East India Company my father’s generation was brought up with the mind set that even if you looking after chicken make sure that the chuicken belong to the Copmpany ie East India Company. We have now come one full circle. If you want do any business make sure that it is with the government.

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