BY JENNIFER GOMEZ
Published: 25 June 2015 8:57 AM
A file photo of the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya. An observer says, while the Prime Minister's Department is bloated with too many staff despite not being a ministry, there are not enough police officers, doctors, nurses and teachers in the civil service. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, June 25, 2015.
There are other ways for Putrajaya to save money and enhance civil service performance without resorting to rationalisation of the government sector as announced under the 11th Malaysia Plan, lawmakers and an analyst said.
For one, the government should look at growing the economy to enable the creation of good jobs with decent pay before it can talk about trimming the civil service workforce.
Drastic cuts to the civil service, they caution, will only send ordinary people to unemployment and in a sluggish economy, this would translate into huge social costs.
As such, they argued Putrajaya should instead focus on cutting down corruption and wastage in the public sector that translate into billions of ringgit in losses every year.
The 11th Malaysia Plan tabled by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak last month is a five-year economic development plan for Malaysia in its final lap to achieving high-income nation status.
It includes the rationalisation of the civil service for greater productivity and performance in line with changes in the structure of the economy and national demographics.
Malaysia has one of the highest civil servants-to-population ratio, with 1.6 million civil servants as at December last year, to a population of about 30 million people.
In early May, the Public Service Department announced a hiring freeze to control the size of the civil service.
Other reforms first
While the government's revenue would be the biggest gainer by trimming the workforce, it was debatable if these gains would be well-spent, said think-tank Institute Rakyat analyst Yin Shao Loong, who sees an added political dimension.
Cutting back employment could impact the "patron-client relationship" between the Umno/Barisan Nasional government and public sector employees, with less votes going to the ruling coalition in the next general election.
Yin said revenue pressures on the government seem to leave it little choice but to trim the civil service, even with the goods and services tax (GST) to help boost government earnings.
"The government either cracks down on corruption and wastage that benefits the elite, or it transfers the burden to someone else, in this case its employees.
"This may be a turning point in the patron-client relationship between Umno-BN and the civil service where, by choosing its short-term comfort, it sacrifices long-term security," Yin said.
PKR's Kelana Jaya MP Wong Chen agreed, saying that the ruling coalition could lose 5% to 10% in votes in the next general election, but qualified that this would be due to a host of factors and not just because a cut to public sector jobs alone.
He listed the GST and economic issues, besides any move to rationalise the civil service, that could translate into loss of votes for the ruling party.
The impact on government employees, however, would be felt in the average household debt, which for civil servants was at 85%, said Wong, who also heads PKR's investment and trade bureau.
Cutting jobs in this sector would mean that many of these households would not be able to service their loans.
DAP's Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong (pic, left) said that many chose to be civil servants because it paid better than the private sector when it came to mid-level jobs, such as teachers.
While civil service does take up a substantial amount of taxpayers' money, he said corruption and wasteful spending should be cut down first.
"Only when the economy is creating far more rewarding private sector jobs, can we talk about massive trimming," Liew, who is the party's political education director, said.
This would mean better policies to move Malaysia away from relying on cheap, unskilled foreign labour to a cycle of higher pay, higher skills and higher productivity, he added.
Not necessarily bloated
Wong also said the common perception that the public sector was bloated was a relative one and depended on which parts of the government machinery were in question.
For instance, while there is a lack of doctors, nurses and teachers, the Prime Minister's Department was definitely bloated, he said.
Before any rationalisation is undertaken, Wong said the civil service union, Congress of Unions of Employees in Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs), had to be consulted and a list of priority sectors identified.
"And first up, the PM's Department needs to be slashed by half given that it does not run any ministry, because we cannot be cutting down on the police force or the educationists.
"And what about the wasteful spending on foreign consultants," Wong added.
Yin agreed that Malaysia's civil service wasn't necessarily bloated, given that it makes up about 10% of the labour force, compared with the average 15% for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
Yin said any plan to slash civil service jobs had to ensure that a fair process and labour rights are respected, noting that Cuepacs had long been denied the right to collective bargaining.
"Government policy has led to Malaysia being categorised as one of the worst places to work in the world, ranked alongside Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia by the International Trades Union Congress in its annual survey of workers' rights.
"We only have to look at how MAS employees are being treated to feel some reasonable concern as to the fairness of any government-directed labour restructuring process," Yin added.
The analyst suggested that before sacking anyone, the current administration should look closely at former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's track record on public sector performance reform.
According to Yin, there were no major sackings during Badawi's time, yet services such as passport processing improved dramatically.
"The answer may lie in better management and human resource allocation rather than placing blame on the workers.
"I would look first at management and human resource allocation improvements before going for dismissal, but unfortunately, for public sector workers, it is management that decides what to focus on," he said.
Wong said this was no the time to cut jobs given that the country was facing a severe lack of investment confidence.
Instead, he said it was high time Putrajaya took concrete steps to cut corruption and hold off mega projects.
"It is incredible they can think about affecting human lives without tackling the fundamental problems of the administration and reigning in wastage," he said. – June 25, 2015.
~ The Malaysian Insider