Malay-dominated civil service no good to no one - AB Sulaiman
, Feb 4, 10
Shagul Hamid Abdullah, director-general of the National Civics Bureau, wrote a sobering article in the Star (Jan 30) about the Malaysian civil service.
He claimed that in our history non-Malays had shown little interest in working in this sector due to two factors: the relatively low pay, and the perception of them having discriminatory career prospects.
I happen to have some direct and personal experience in government employment being a clerk in the Ministry of Finance in the mid-60s, and some three years later a civil servant in another government ministry. Based on this I feel qualified to dispute his twin contentions.
At the Treasury, I remember that the office staff had a good ethnic mix. Looking back, I'd venture the racial composition to be at about 30 percent Malay, another 30 percent Indian-Malaysian, 30 percent Chinese-Malaysian and the remaining 10 percent of other races.
Yes, '1Malaysia' had been with us before.
Many ethnic Indians were the descendants of the early indentured labourers from the estates. Government employment was their first stepping-stone of escape from the relative poverty of rubber estates.
In the case of the Chinese-Malaysians, they were also the children of struggling tin-mine labourers and yes, estate workers. Their parents or grandparents came into this country with hardly anything at all beyond a bundle of clothing.
The fact of the matter is that before Independence, most if not all of our parents and grandparents - the early Malaysians - were living in relative poverty.
In other words, everybody came from poor families. There was hardly any middle class then. The salary level might not be comparable to the private sector but was 'adequate' and there is the coveted pension at the end of the day.
In any case, beyond the tin mines and estates, the private sector was limited in size and offering limited employment opportunities. Getting a government job was a highly favoured dream for all ethnic segments for it provided stable and secure employment.
The contention that non-Malays shunned government employment is not quite apt. Look at Sabah and Sarawak as the modern day example of this matter: these two states still have a good number of 'non-natives' running the government bureaucracy.
Three years later at the other ministry, I noticed the racial composition was more or less the same, but perhaps with a 40 percent Malay and 30 percent Chinese-Malaysian ratio. There was a dwindling non-Malay employment.
Chinese-Malaysian tenacity, far-sightedness, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit have carried them into the business and professional classes and on to the upper echelons of the economic ladder. Many of them became very successful businessmen and professionals.
The Indian-Malaysian did not fare as well. Perhaps their limited experience being brought up in the estates has given them limited vision and energy. Many faltered.
Again I have no definite figures to support my contention. Enough it is for me to say that while in my own latter career I had on several occasions conducted recruitment exercises.
Each time, my interview committee members and superiors goaded me to select and appoint people of my own type. The reason given was: 'Malays are not yet ready for the highly competitive private sector employment. They won't be able to survive out there'.
In any case, I was indoctrinated with the cliché 'kalau kita tak tolong Melayu, siapa lagi (if we do not help the Malay, who else would)?
Some social commentators went to the extent of stating that the birth of the Hindraf movement was a consequence of this disappearing escape valve.
To surmise, in this case Shagul is right only to the extent that there has been no overt and formal policy for the government to employ only Malays at the expense of the non-Malays. But the covert and informal policies have been there all along.
He then mentioned that there has been equal opportunity for for non-Malays, or to put it the other way around, the non-Malay contention that they were denied equal opportunity for career advancement was incorrect. Again, I look back to my own experience here to refute this contention.
Career advancement blocked
Career advancement has been a problem for the non-Malays since the 70s and early 80s, ie the period of the NEP.
I'd say that this period saw the birth of the 'Malaysation' programme of the political leadership, later known by the label ' .' This era saw the marginalising of non-Malays in government employment.
This self-proclaimed label has turned out to be the premise for the government's lower recruitment of non-Malays to government employment and sidelining those already in its employment.
Consider the following: 100 percent of vice-chancellors of public universities are Malays. 90 percent of University of Technology student enrolment is Malay. 90 percent of nurse and teacher intakes are Malay.
In short virtually all government or government-related bureaucracies and agencies were manned and meant for Malays, for their employment levels are in the higher 90 percent level.
Surely this collective situation is the direct result of the preferential treatment given to Malays in government recruitment. These figures are indicatives, but I believe not too far away from the actual, give or take a few percent.
Worse, I read sometime back that the government has made it a habit of even putting application forms from non-Malays into the dustbin.
As for the case of career discrimination, I take the case of David Chandran (not his real name to protect his privacy) who was my colleague at the Treasury.
He worked himself out of the poverty spiral of rural Penang, a true-born patriot, a loyal Malaysian, a conscientious worker, and obviously loved his job. But when it was time to consider him for promotion to executive office, he was often passed over for his Malay juniors.
Many of my other colleagues suffered similarly from this shattering indignity and in later years many of them landed in Australia and elsewhere. I believe this trend was the norm for other government departments ever since then.
Take other segments in civil service, such as the military. I have plenty of cases illustrating the very real existence of career-busting government informal policies.
Today many of my peers and friends were once upon a time military officers with the ranking of major and above. They were again loyal citizens, loyal to the constitution, the Agong and the country, and very competent.
They knew from the trends they witness around them that they'd never ever reach the ranking of general. And similar to the case of David Chandran they saw many of their juniors some of questionable competency, doing a humiliating leapfrog over them.
They had to retire or resign early from the services that they love when they saw their rather dim career prospects. These are not isolated cases either, they reflect the reality of the situation.
I hope to have made my case. But why am I saying all this? I have many reasons.
First, Shagul's articulations remind me so much of the government tendency to deny the existence of problems when the evidence and reality of the situation clearly indicates otherwise.
Surely this amounts to intellectual dishonesty. Civil servants should be truthful to the people they serve.
Second, sweeping problems under the carpet is not a good way of solving them. It could even make the whole thing worse.
Nobody becomes wiser by sweeping problems under the carpet. The country will not ever mature when advancing to the future with problems littering the path in the long run.
Third, Shagul has rightly pointed out that the civil service ethnic composition is reflective of that prevailing in the country. In the spirit of muhibbah, 1Malaysia and other cheerful slogans, he should have capitalised on this realisation. He should push for the integration of the civil service. His high position would mean his words would carry a lot of clout.
Fourth, the Malay mind has been used to receiving aid and assistance from the government in order for them to become strong and be at par with the non-Malays. But the result so far has not been encouraging.
There are even the unintended consequences of the Malay becoming weaker than before. I do believe the Malay collective entity is getting weaker rather than stronger.
'Solve the Malay problem, and you solve the nation's problem' says the conventional wisdom. So how will the Malay problem be solved when the leadership nurtures them to remain weak and uninitiated?
shared via "Sharifah Khatijah Syed Abdul Rahman Al-Attas"