KUALA LUMPUR – Pakatan Harapan (PH) has assured civil servants that it does not propose to reduce their number, after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak reminded the group of the Opposition’s frequent criticism of their size.

Several leaders told Malay Mail Online that the coalition planned instead to restore the civil service to its “former glory”, and the solution went beyond addressing the size of the public sector.

“We are preparing our manifesto. I can say that downsizing is not in our draft and will not be in the final version,” PH secretariat chief Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah told Malay Mail Online recently.

In his annual address to civil servants on Tuesday, Najib had listed the Opposition pact’s past criticisms of the size of the civil service in Malaysia while also listing his administration’s initiatives for the civil servants.

Downplaying Najib’s warning, Saifuddin said a PH government would adopt a participatory approach by encouraging civil servants to drive transformations within their sector, in addition to motivating them to be experts in their fields, rather than generalists currently.

“Our policy will facilitate them so that they are empowered to give their best and regain their past glories ― our civil service used to be one of the best in the region ― and do even better,” the PKR leader said.

Similarly, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s strategic director Rais Hussin said the pact recognised that civil servants’ well-being was critical to the smooth functioning of the government and the delivery of public services.

Rais pledged that the pact would take care of each and every civil servant, through constructive engagements to continuously learn how to improve the service delivery.

“We will return the glory and respect to the civil servants through specific reforms that will strengthen the civil servants. For far too long the civil servants have been suffering in silence,” said Rais.

While DAP leaders have previously championed making the civil service more efficient, the party’s national political education director Liew Chin Tong suggested more resources can be saved by curbing leakages and wastages rather than downsizing.

“It is not about cutting civil servant jobs. It is about ensuring that the Malaysian economy works for everyone,” the Kluang MP told Malay Mail Online.

Liew said the Opposition would consider trimming the extravagance of the executive branch, the outsourced contracts to hire foreign workers, and those that waste out of price procurement.

Both Saifuddin and Rais also mentioned that PH would stop the practice of using costly external consultants, especially foreign ones, on an ad hoc basis.

In 2013, the defunct Pakatan Rakyat had in its “Buku Jingga” manifesto similarly pledged to “restore the prestige and honour of the civil service”, and to “free civil servants from political interference”.

The coalition also proposed a new remuneration system that takes into account work performance, length of service, and leadership qualities.

In February, Second Finance Minister Datuk Johari Abdul Ghani said there are around 1.6 million civil servants, but the Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) later insisted the number was actually closer to 500,000.

Deutsche Bank economist Diana Rose del Rosario reportedly said last year that the civil servants-to-citizen ratio for Malaysia was arguably the highest in the region at 5:100, compared to Singapore at 2.6:100, Thailand (2.4), Philippines (2.1), and Indonesia (1.7).

The public service has been called “bloated” due to its absolute size, but the government has argued that this was because the group also encompassed security personnel that are not commonly counted as part of the sector.

Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa previously said he has directed the Public Service Department to quantify the public sector without including the military and police, to allow more accurate comparisons with other nations.

Johari also revealed in news reports last year that Putrajaya spent RM74 billion on civil servants’ wages and RM19 billion on pensions, compared to RM22 billion and RM6 billion respectively in 2003.

– Malay mail