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Trimming civil service a tall order

  • Trimming civil service will help boost efficiency and relieve the government's excessive financial burden, but in political reality, doing this is no better than jumping off the cliff.

Sin Chew Daily

On the issue of bloated civil service in this country, two things are very clear. Firstly, the enormous civil service will take a heavy toll on the country's finances, and secondly, everyone is well aware of the problem, including our government.

Weirdly, we still allow this anomaly to go on and get worse, although the problem is no stranger to all of us.

Finance minister II Johari Abdul Ghani recently mentioned that we had the highest ratio of civil servants anywhere in the world, but he also stressed that the government had no intention of trimming redundant public workforce.

DPM Ahmad Zahid said the idea of trimming the civil service was good, but it wouldn't be easy to execute it.

To cut back excess workforce is way more difficult than getting a 200lb man to slim down to half the size because it entails a highly intricate issue involving many different aspects and interests, and is not something that can be overcome with an individual's willpower alone.

It is not the first time the government has come under criticism for lacking the political will to streamline the country's public service sector. Looking at the issue within the framework of Malaysia's political reality, we should be able to see that this whole thing has got very little to do with political will, but rather political interests.

The strength of the country's civil service army is in excess of 1.6 million. Add the family members eligible to vote and those who are now on pension to that number, we will have a voting community too large for the ruling coalition to risk offending.

Ruling parties are not the only ones shying away from decisive actions, even the opposition would gracefully keep mum over it.

Simply put, trimming the bloated civil service does not seem to go well with the interests of any political party. From the economic and management points of view, indeed this will help boost efficiency and relieve the government's smothering financial burden, but in political reality doing this is no better than jumping off the cliff.

In one-party politics, as the administration is not coming under any severe threat anytime soon, it is still possible for the government to trim the civil service for the sake of the country's long-term development. But with crisis and dangers now lurking all around, especially in view of the fact that the opposition's popular votes surpassed those of the ruling coalition for the first time in the last GE, the warning bell has been sounded, and BN will resort to any tactic conceivable to keep itself in power. Among the initiatives steered towards this end is an unprecedented friendly gesture extended to PAS. Trimming the civil service? Not a chance!

BN is well aware of the fact that failure to remove this chronic problem will herald a bigger disaster, but again this is something in the future, and what needs to be done right now is to secure its grip to power for as long as possible. As for the yet-to-materialize disaster, we'll talk about that later!

There are limitations and blind spots to where our rational thinking could reach. While we know very well that something is not right, for the sake of near-term gains we will still let the mistake carry on, allowing the hyperinflated balloon to get bigger and bigger and hopefully it will not burst before our eyes!


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