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Our seriously bloated civil service

  • With the economy now heading south, squeezing the government's tax revenue, keeping the enormous public service in existence has become a real headache.

Sin Chew Daily

Malaysia's public service sector has been in a serious want of slimming for quite some time. Despite all the criticisms, the government does not seem to have the slightest intention of cutting back on the strength of our civil service.

Allowing the problem to drag on will not do anyone any good, as it will only weigh down on the national treasury further.

Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, former president of the Malaysian Economic Association, has said the government must reduce the number of civil servants while it can still afford to pay retrenchment benefits to laid off workers in a bid to shrink the budgetary deficit.

Formerly the finance ministry secretary-general, Sheriff is well familiar with the country's economy as well as the government's fiscal conditions. His views on the country's excessively bloated public service warrant some serious attention from the government.

There are currently 1.6 million civil servants in this country, one out of every 19.37 Malaysians. The ratio is among the highest in the world. By comparison, Singapore's public servant ratio is 1:71.4, China 1:108.3, Indonesia 1:110 and UK 1:118.

The bloated civil service has put a lot of burden on the country's finances. The government is expected to come up with RM76 billion for their salaries and allowances, not to mention additional RM21.6 billion for pensions of retired civil servants.

Remunerations for civil servants make up 29.7% of all government expenditures in the 2017 Budget, posing risks to the government's financial health.

When the economy was good, the government would not have much problem shouldering such a burden, but with the national economy now heading south, squeezing the government's tax revenue, keeping the enormous public service in existence has become a real headache.

Moreover, the heavy financial burden will make it difficult for the government to set aside resources to spearhead the country's economic development. If the government is not serious about tackling the issue, taking appropriate steps to rationalize the public sector, this burden will get bigger and become a stubborn obstacle that blocks our way towards eventual financial health.

The massive public sector will not only exert a great deal of pressure on the treasury but will also bog down public service efficiency. Recent revelation of medical housemen absent from workplace for up to 400 days is one such instance of gross mismanagement on the part of our public institutions. The PSD can never be excused for failing to identify and address the problem instantly.

Even as the problem of an unusually bloated public service has long been evident, the government seems to have little incentive to address this problem. Inaction will not mitigate the issue. The government must make the painful move to trim the public service while it still can, before it snowballs into something too large for us to cope.

 

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