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CRITICS of Malaysia’s civil service claim it is bloated by using the ratio of public servants to population. This simplistic empirical analysis is manipulative in nature.
Historical expansion of the civil service
A report by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development revealed that between 1970 to 1980 Malaysia’s population grew by 30% but the number of civil servants grew by nearly 400%. The ancestor of Parti Sosialis Malaysia, which is the Socialist Front (SF), was the primary reason for the explosive growth.
In 1960s, Malaysia was a wealthy nation but 99% of the population suffered under inequality, poverty, dirty water, and tropical diseases. This was attributed to Tunku Abdul Rahman continuing the laissez faire imperial capitalism. The imperial capitalists controlled 66% of domestic capital and siphoned societal wealth with the blessing of race-based politicians.
SF was advocating for renationalisation and redistribution of workers’ wealth through public healthcare, public education, and poverty eradication. Fearing loss of political power, Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Umno ordered the detention without trial of many SF leaders and suspended local council elections.
Most of the SF leaders were absent for the 1969 general election due to detention without trial, when the people voted for anti-establishment parties such as PAS, DAP, Gerakan, People’s Progressive Party and the Sarawak United People’s Party. The Umno-MCA-MIC Alliance lost the popular vote but retained a parliamentary majority due to the first-past-the-post system. Subsequently, Umno adopted SF’s policies including public healthcare and public education.
Malaysia saw a dramatic rise in the number of schools, rural clinics, and public hospitals. Public hygiene such as waste management, tap water, sewerage systems, mosquito elimination and building cleanliness was prioritised to reduce the severity of diseases outbreak. Daily schools and boarding schools were also set up to democratise education for the rural communities.
Between 1970 and 1983, these social advancement policies caused public sector employment (non-security personnel) to grow from 139,467 to 521,818. From the late 1970s onwards, the healthy and educated workforce allowed Malaysia to rapidly industrialisation. These social advancements demanded a large civil service but put us on path to modern prosperity for permanently. Malaysia could have industrialised and modernised faster without former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
‘Piratisation’ of the public service
Dr Mahathir’s neo-liberal capitalism had carved out government operations through the privatisation policy. This had created rent-seeking businesses for crony capitalists and political patrons across the board.
Prior to privatisation, critical public sector workers such as cleaners and security guards were government staff. These critical workers had jobs and living wage increments to buy houses and food for their families to escape poverty. Government premises such as schools, hospitals, and offices are given buffer funds to repair any minor damages.