Dr Lim Teck Ghee
Can the government promise that all young Malaysians will be
given fair treatment, and racial or regional discrimination will not be
tolerated in order to encourage non-Malay recruitment into the civil
Once more the government appears to be clueless and befuddled as to
why the non-Malay young do not want to take up civil service jobs. Once
more, there will be a taskforce and a high-level committee at work to
produce yet another report on how to attract non-Malays to join the
Once more the almost obligatory letters are appearing in the
mainstream papers applauding the government (in this case) the Public
Service Commission new chairman for his bold initiative in proposing a
study “to nail down…the reasons for the poor number of applications from
non-Bumiputeras for public and civil service jobs”.
Do we need more studies?
Come on, we already have a plethora of research and studies on the
subject. We have more than enough figures and data showing that the
severely racially imbalanced civil service is not a recent problem but
one going back more than 30 years. Do we need some more studies?
Everyone – well – just about, everyone knows the reason why
non-Malays are avoiding joining what one of the top Barisan Nasional
leaders has described as the best civil service in the world. As one
cynic in the blog world recently remarked,
“Even the … office boys in those departments can see the unfairness
[in promotions], and we have top civil servants wondering why. Please,
just practice fairness and they (non-Malays) will come.”
Rampant racial discrimination
The most important reason why disparity in civil service
participation amongst the races exists is the discrimination against
non-Malays in recruitment and promotion exercises. This explains why the
numbers applying have dropped dramatically. If there is going to be an
uneven playing field and if others less qualified or less capable than
you are promoted ahead of you – and this is perceived to be a standard
practice – why stay in the job, even if it may be a well paying or
Factors of pride, dignity and self-respect also come into play which
explains why non-Malays refuse to remain in the service even when they
have a good position. After a few years of frustration and alienation
with racially structured obstacles when they apply for promotion or
other career opportunities, many see the writing on the wall and opt to
strike out for the private sector or self employment even though they
may have to make sacrifices.
This game of pretending not to know why non-Malay recruitment and
enrolment is so low in the civil service has been going on for so long
that many of its practitioners appear to believe their own fairy tales
and prejudices about non-Malays being less patriotic (explaining their
low enrolment in the military and police); or more grasping and
calculating (hence, less attracted to teaching or other service
Let’s do away with the pretense and acting dumb on this long-standing
blot in our societal make up. The steps to ensure higher non-Malay (and
East Malaysian bumiputera) participation in the civil service are
1. Firstly, there must be a solemn declaration and promise by the
prime minister and government that racial intake as well as all
treatment after recruitment in the civil service will be fair and
transparent and that racial or regional discrimination will not be
2. Secondly, the Public Services Commission and Public Services
Department must be a party to this declaration and should mainstream
this declaration into all service manuals and directives. It is a fact
that some of the major obstacles to making the civil service more
racially representative comes from within the civil service itself.
3. Thirdly, all recruitment, appointment, promotion and other service
related committees and boards should have full multi-racial
representation. Inclusion of token non-Malays as we have seen in the
past does not work.
4. Fourthly, a new civil service quota system – in this case
specifically used as a temporary affirmative action tool to increase
non-Malay numbers and reduce marginalization – should be formulated.
This can be done in a way as to meet with the constitutional provisions
providing for the special position of the Malays and bumiputera groups
of Sabah and Sarawak. A 60-40 recruitment system would be relatively
easy and painless to implement. It would guarantee Malay dominance but
not over-dominance and help to bring about a gradual increase in the
number and proportion of non-Malay civil servants in the country.
5. Finally, we need a civil service ombudsman to act on cases of
racial discrimination within the service as well as to respond to
allegations of racially biased policies and programmes.
Make or break the nation
It is a truism that the civil service can make or break a nation,
more especially in the case of multiracial societies such as ours where
neutral stake players are necessary to play a critical role in balancing
complex and contentious racial demands.
Democratic norms call for a representative, impartial and neutral
bureaucracy to ensure that public policies are responsive to the needs
of all citizens in a fair and equitable fashion. A genuinely
multi-racial civil service is also necessary to ensure that there is an
absence of racial bias in the individual or collective manner in which
civil servants formulate policies and conduct their work.
Unfortunately, we have moved away from these democratic norms for so
long that nothing but a radical change in the mindsets and actions of
our politicians and civil service elites can stop the rot. A mono-ethnic
civil service – which is what we are fast moving towards – is the
single biggest obstacle to the goal of 1Malaysia.