IT was a good Wednesday for civil servants yesterday. The government amply rewarded (RM1.46 billion for annual increment and other goodies) the 1.6 million-strong public service for helping it to realise its vision of turning Malaysia into a high-income, developed nation. With their help, we are now on the cusp of being a member of the exclusive club of nations.
The world has changed considerably in the last decade or so. The 21st century is not only a world of the Internet, but it is also a world of instant almost anything. The only instant thing our fathers had were, possibly, instant noodles. Everything else took time, including public service delivery. They lived in, and developed a tolerance for, steamboats and snail mails. Things took time to arrive and to be delivered. That may be all right for the baby boomers, but not so for the millennials who inhabit the world of Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram. They demand similar speed from our public service. Excellent service at the tap of the keyboard, if you will. Understandably, they do not want to queue indefinitely and only to be told to come back the following week, or even a month later, when they reach the counter. Our parents’ generation was used to a public service that only delivered what it wanted to deliver. And when it wanted to deliver. Well, thankfully, that unresponsive civil service has been replaced by a more agile and responsive workforce. All due to the Government Transformation Programme. One practical result is that now we can get our passports renewed within the hour. And for the tech savvy, one can use the intelligent machines at the Immigration Department’s offices to get the renewal done instantly.
Yet, some have been unkind to the civil service. They paint the entire service with a single negative brush. This is wrong and unjust. Such generalisation is not true for the civil service as it is not true for anything else. We acknowledge that there are a few bad apples. Such bad hats exist in other worlds too. Malaysia’s 1.6 million-strong civil service may appear “bloated”, as one criticism has it. Malaysia’s ratio of one civil servant to 20 people, they argue, is not a good practice proportion. It must be pointed out that any number looked at in isolation will perforce appear distorted. Consider the United Kingdom’s ratio of one civil servant to 110 people as a case in point. This is not reflective of the true number of its civil service as the UK excludes people serving in the health and education services. As they say in analogical parlance, one cannot compare apples to oranges.
It is important to recognise that change is not an easy thing to accept for anyone. Let alone the civil service. It takes time to instill change because it involves a shift in attitude. People will only be able to change their attitude if they are made ready and willing to accept change. Imagine getting 1.6 million people ready, willing and able to change. The civil service truly deserves to be applauded for making this colossal shift.