Malaysian CEOs want civil service trimmed, survey reveals

Soldiers march during National Day celebrations marking the 56th anniversary of the country’s independence in Kuala Lumpur today. Malaysia is the country with the highest number of civil servants in the Asia-Pacific. — Reuters pic
Soldiers march during National Day celebrations marking the 56th anniversary of the country’s independence in Kuala Lumpur today. Malaysia is the country with the highest number of civil servants in the Asia-Pacific. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 31 — Over 92 per cent of Malaysian CEOs have agreed that Putrajaya needs to trim the fat in its bloated civil service, a survey on local business leaders here has found.

The Vistage-MIER CEO Confidence Index revealed that 304 of the 332 chief executive officers polled felt that the country’s civil servants to citizens ratio is “too high”, while the remaining 28 said it was “acceptable”.

Citing the survey, The Edge business weekly noted that with a 1.2 million-strong civil service and a populace of just over 28 million, Malaysia is the country with the highest number of civil servants in the Asia-Pacific.

The survey noted that this was previously pointed out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The Malaysian ratio currently stands at 4.68 per cent — above its regional neighbours like Indonesia (1.79 per cent), Philippines (1.8 per cent) and Thailand (2.06 per cent).

Vistage Malaysia, the local chapter of an international network of CEOs and business owners, currently has more than 410 members in over 65 different businesses nationwide.

The business network paired with the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) in the fourth quarter of 2005 to co-brand the confidence index in a joint effort now known as the Vistage-MIER CEO Confidence Index.

Federal lawmakers from the opposition have long railed against Putrajaya’s hefty administrative bill, which it blames on wastages and the government’s massive team of civil servants.

According to a 2011 United Nations survey, employees in the Prime Minister’s Department nearly doubled under the Najib administration from 25,332 during the Abdullah years to 43,544 as at the time of the survey.

The marked increase is believed to be taking some toll on Malaysia’s financials, which was recently downgraded by Fitch Ratings.

But Malaysian leaders have since appeared unfazed by the negative outlook. Just two days ago, the Malaysian Treasury said young analysts from Fitch Ratings had slashed the country’s credit ratings despite Putrajaya’s plans for reforms.

Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah said that the young analysts from Fitch had ignored the government’s brief on proposals, saying that those from Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s were more understanding of the challenges faced by the government.

In the Vistage-MIER index, CEO confident levels on the Malaysian economy experienced a slight drop to 100.9 points in the latest third quarter survey, down 3.5 points from the second quarter results.

But The Edge said that the CEOs remained optimistic, pointing out that the index was still above the 100-point mark.

The CEOs were also asked to comment on the current crime spate and urged for suggestions on how to combat crime.

In their responses, some CEOs appeared to suggest that keeping the economy robust is the key to keeping the streets safe.

“Instead of increasing the police force, a better economy and providing job security in Malaysia will automatically reduce the crime rate,” said one of the proposals listed in the results carried in a table together with The Edge’s report.

Other suggestions include the return of the abolished Emergency Ordinance (EO) laws, which allows the preventive detention of suspected criminals, to curb crime.

The CEOs also proposed increased surveillance and incentives such as tax rebates by Putrajaya for property owners and business owners to improve the security of their own neighbourhood.

The Edge also reported that some of the more popular measures include stricter law enforcement, increased police patrols, heavier punishments for crime, cutting down corruption as well as tighter policies on foreign workers.

But the survey, which involved around 340 of Vistage’s 400 members, did not state the number of CEOs throwing their support behind each suggestion.

When asked about the level of racial polarisation in Malaysia, more than half of the 334 respondents put in it the high region, with 131 and 75 of them respectively saying that it was “high” and “very high”.

A sizeable number, 104, said the polarisation of the different ethnic groups was “medium”, while 20 said it was very “low”.

Following divisive national polls in May, the idea of reintroducing English-medium schools as was done in the country’s colonial days was floated as a means to unite the people.

Malaysia currently has national schools which employ the country’s official language Bahasa Malaysia and vernacular schools which use Tamil and Mandarin, with the latter singled out by detractors as allegedly hindering national integration.

The bulk of the 334 respondents or 278 CEOs said English-medium schools should be set up immediately, while 42 objected to the proposal and 14 said it should be carried out later.

The survey also noted criticisms that the Dewan Negara, the Upper House of the federal law-making body, was now merely a “toothless rubber stamp” of proposed laws passed in the Dewan Rakyat, the Lower House of Parliament.

The 342 respondents to this question were also equally divided on the Dewan Negara’s utility, with 58 saying it was no longer necessary and useful, while 42 supported its continued existence.

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