The size, performance and delivery system of the Malaysian public service is one of the hot topics frequently raised by the general public at various platforms and in the media. The great expectation of many is to see and experience a reformed civil service in many ways.
They want the entire public sector to be reformed and moving ahead in parallel with the changing times in order to elevate the status of the country as a developed nation, in tandem with the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030.
On this score, many prominent gurus in the leadership and management fraternity, such as John Maxwell, Jim Collins and Stephen Covey, have espoused that if the “business as usual” type of management style persists for a long period of time, it will not bring any promising results or place us on the top echelon and enable us to shine as compared with others. Such a mentality will not make us any different than our competitors.
In fact, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whenever he meets civil servants in any forum, relentlessly reminds them to enhance the level of service delivery and to reflect a good image of the public sector.
As the nation strives to transit from the middle income to a high-income stratum, the civil service has to grow in tandem with that progress.
For this to happen, the shackles that block its progress has to be broken by embracing the element of corruption eradication, overcoming judicial constraints on the executive, providing a better censorship mechanism on the media as well as adopting transparency and greater control in civil service entry and exit.
Looking at the broader context however, Malaysia is on track in several governance measures in strengthening the public sector with various measures undertaken by the new government.
Nevertheless, further improvements are still needed in parts where civil servants directly deal with the public at front line and also in sections where procurements and projects involve a huge amount of money.
The change of time dictates that the civil service is at a crossroads that needs a paradigm shift for it to climb even higher.
While its transformation process is ongoing, its remedy should be encompassed in many areas for it to be on a par with other developed countries.
We are gradually improving in certain sectors, especially in graft-busting efforts where we have achieved one notch higher to 61 from 62 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in 2018, as compared with 2017.
This was the plausible testimony as a result of robust measures and serious attention given by the current government.
The establishment of the National Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption (GIACC) is one good example that will focus in all anti-corruption policy matters while the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) conducts enforcement to eradicate corruption.
Further, in an effort to embrace the changes and reforms of the public sector, the government also initiated the National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACP) as the main pillar to weed out corruption in government contracts and procurements, hence bolstering elements of good governance and integrity.
The whole idea is to instil good conduct and do business in the right way.
In addition, reducing the bloated number of civil servants is another central issue that the government is giving considerable attention to under its rationalisation effort.
The future scenario dictates that civil servants should no longer rest on their laurels but rather embrace the technological knowledge and skills rapidly taking place globally.
This so-called “digital transformation”, “Industrial Revolution 4.0” and “disruptive technology” are the current buzz words and demands its application not only in the industrial sector but also in the public sector where the expectation of most transactions is to be paperless, speedier, efficient, timely and error free.
As such, our civil service has to take into account of the future trends and equip themselves with adequate knowledge, skills and talent in this area.
This paradigm shift is highly needed for the continuous survival of the Malaysian civil servants in the next millennium.
As the prime minister expressed his thoughts earlier that there could be a tendency of certain government agencies being privatised in order to enhance its efficiencies, increase productivity and reduce the financial burden of the government; this would be one of the efforts that consequently reduces the number of civil servants over time.
Therefore, the whole of the public sector is in need of institutional reform and a paradigm shift not only in service delivery but also in work culture and noble values to meet the future challenges, increase productivity as well as fulfilling the demand and expectations of the rakyat in order to achieve the national agenda of Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, an improved road map of Vision 2020.
This transformation may lead us to a greater heights and success.
The writer is a senior research fellow at the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan).