SOME 72,000 civil servants have opted for early retirement in the past decade, according to figures presented in the Dewan Negara recently.
Pro-rated, this amounts to about 7,000 annually, which is a small drop in the ocean when the total number of civil servants is well in excess of a million, given that there can be vacancies of about 1.4 million; 1.2 million of which are already filled. Naturally, the vacancies caused by early retirement are not disruptive and are easily filled through promotions or appointments.
Furthermore, for a country of only 31 million, the ratio of civil servants to citizens approximating to one in every 25 Malaysians is better than even in the classrooms.
Unfortunately for the Treasury, early retirement means an increase in pension payments outside of the projected sum caused by normal attrition because these are public employees who are eligible for a full pension.
It is no wonder that reasons given include wanting to do voluntary work and spending more time with family.
And when they opt for a foray into the private sector, they benefit from a double income. For those preferring the independence of self-employment, a pension is the perfect fallback plan.
For the government, however, expertise built up over long years of employment within the public sector is lost.
Then there is, too, the time needed to bring the fortunate new occupant of the post up to speed.
Would not the government then be better served if it keeps employees content with a clear career path that could ultimately lead to high office within the country’s administration?
Unfortunately, the way ahead for a careerist in the civil service is time-consuming.
When the government first suggested that the retirement age be increased so that it can keep worthy officers longer, the knee-jerk grouse among some was that promotions would take longer; a fact complicated by uncertainty.
Nevertheless, the comparatively small number opting for early retirement despite an increase in the retirement age from 58 to 60, effective since 2012, suggests that, for the most part, public servants are content to stay to the bitter end, given the greater employment certainty and the comparatively generous perks.
In fact, there has been a suggestion by the Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services that the retirement age be extended further to 62 to ease the pension payment burden on the government.
But would not it be more pertinent to ask whether the public and civil services’ enormous size — 1.6 million, including the security and critical services — is really necessary. Can it not be streamlined for efficiency, or is it already at optimal level? In the United States, for example, the prison system has been farmed out to the private sector, but it has been alleged that the profit motive has somewhat compromised the system.
Meanwhile, to improve efficiency, Malaysia has opted for the key performance indicator.
Has it brought the dividends desired or has there been collateral damage along the way?