Skip to content

Malaysia 101: 1Malaysia & Balanced Civil Servant Composition

malaysian civil service

(Malaysia has one bloated civil service in the world against the overall population – is there any way to improve the delivery process? Image source:

As was posted in Malaysia Today couple of days ago:-

By Dr Lim Teck Ghee & Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam

This was written as a commentary in response to an article by Datuk Shagul Hamid Abdullah, Director-General of Biro Tatanegara that recently appeared in a national daily.


Since the paper has declined to publish it, we are making the commentary available to other media outlets in the hope that it will be widely read and the subject of the racial composition of the Malaysian civil service is given the serious analysis and policy attention that it deserves. We consider this issue of paramount importance to our future as a united country.

The article ‘Emphasis on raising standards’ by Shagul in The Star (Jan 30, 2010) seems to be aimed at ensuring that the situation of Malay dominance in the civil service should remain unchanged and unchallenged.

The Director-General’s analysis fails to point out some very important reasons why a representative and multi-racial civil service should remain a key national priority, especially in the context of building 1Malaysia.

One crucial reason is that the second prong of the New Economic Policy (from 1970) – the reduction in the identification of economic function with ethnicity – was intended to apply to both the private and public sectors.

This second prong has been deemed to be so vital to the cause of national unity that the restructuring of the private sector continues until today (nearly 20 years after the NEP was supposed to have ended in 1990).

What has happened to the restructuring of the civil service that was part of the original NEP?

Although great strides have taken place towards a more multiracial private sector, the reverse has happened in the civil service.

According to available statistics for the year 2005, the proportion of Malays in the civil service had grown from 60% to 77% from 1970 to 2005 whilst the Perkhidmatan Tadbir dan Diplomatik (PTD) had 85% Malays in its staffing, or six Malays for one every non-Malay.

The situation of Malay dominance of the civil service, especially for the higher level service groups, is likely to have been enhanced since.

It is not simply the issue of Chinese under-representation mentioned by the DG that is of concern. Representation of other communities and the East Malaysia native communities in the civil service at all levels is of as much concern.

Data absent

Official statistics such as racial and regional breakdown of civil service staffing by ministries, agencies and departments and categorized according to top management group, management and professional group and support group and other key variables can provide us a better understanding of the representational issue. From it we can draw related racial, regional and other ramifications and implications.

Though easy to collate, analyze and make publicly available, these data are conspicuously unavailable.

Many government leaders have acknowledged that we need more transparency in government to raise public confidence. Should these data and the relevant analysis be made publicly available, we are confident that they will agree with the concerns of many Malaysians that current Malay over-dominance of the civil service is unhealthy and undesirable and that it adversely affects national unity, social cohesion and economic competitiveness.

Another important reason why the civil service in Malaysia needs to be made fully representative of the country’s racial make-up is that in all modern governments, civil servants are fully engaged in formulating and implementing public policies on behalf of, and in the interests of, all the communities.

Democratic norms call for a representative, impartial and neutral bureaucracy, not only to ensure that public policies are responsive to the legitimate needs of all citizens in a fair and equitable fashion but also to ensure that there is an absence of racial bias in the individual or collective manner that the civil servants formulate policies and conduct their work.

In February 2006, a study titled “Towards a representative and world class civil service” was presented to the Government as part of the Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) proposals for the Ninth Malaysia Plan.
The study contained a full set of arguments as to why the civil service needs to pursue an appropriate and racially diverse representation policy in its staffing.

It also provided practical suggestions on how this policy could be implemented in the form of a quota system in recruitment and career advancement. The quota system would be similar to the quota systems long used by the government in sectors such as education and commerce to bring about Malay advancement.

The civil service quota system – in this case specifically used as a temporary affirmative action tool to increase non-Malay numbers and reduce marginalization – could be formulated in such a way as to meet with the constitutional provisions providing for the special position of the Malays and bumiputera groups of Sabah and Sarawak.

This 60-40 recruitment system would be relatively easy and painless to implement. It would ensure Malay dominance but not over-dominance by helping bring a gradual increase in the number and proportion of non-Malay civil servants in the country.

Since that CPPS study aforementioned, the growing number of racial profiling allegations aimed at the police and various other ministries and agencies is a clear danger sign that changes in recruitment of new staffing and racial composition at the higher levels are urgently needed if these allegations are not to spiral out of control.

Sidelining non-Malays

The Director-General has emphasized that “there has never been any deliberate and conscious effort to discourage the non-Malays from entering and staying in public service”.
The veracity of this statement can be questioned.

If a full and open inquiry is held on the issue of whether or not bias exists in terms of recruitment and promotion in the civil service (and this includes staffing in the public universities and many strategic ministries and agencies), we are sure that many conflicting views – including those based on personal experience – are likely to dominate the proceedings.

Even if we accept as largely true the statement that there are no “deliberate and conscious” attempts to discourage non-Malay participation in the civil service, it does not absolve the government from its responsibility of ensuring a fully representative civil service – a national objective which it has long pledged to pursue but has cynically ignored instead.

In fact, if only a miniscule fraction of the public resources that has gone into the restructuring of the private sector had been allocated towards the restructuring of the civil service, we would have long ago achieved that goal and arrived at a higher stage of national unity, resilience and competitiveness.

Instead what we have had is a lot of rhetoric, foot dragging, attempts to ‘blame the other side’, and now another garbled attempt at explaining why the status quo in terms of the civil service composition has to remain the same.

That is why the contrasting statement by the Second Minister of Finance, Ahmad Husni Mohd Hanadzlah, that the civil service should be more multiracial is most welcome.

In order to fulfill this noble aspiration, we hope that Husni and his colleagues in the Barisan Nasional will support the introduction of a quota system reflective of the country’s racial composition and for the system to be introduced as soon as possible for all civil service recruitment and promotion.

It is important for the Government to change its mindset on the issue and not to view the issue of a representative civil service in zero-sum game terms. It is not simply the interests of the non-Malay communities presently under-represented that would be enhanced with more equitable representation. Malay interests would also benefit in many ways.

Implementation of reforms providing for the recruitment and career advancement of non-Malays in the civil service will help ensure that national unity and the goal of 1Malaysia will be more quickly realized.

Dr Lim Teck Ghee is Director, Center for Policy Initiatives and Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam is former President, Transparency International Malaysia.

13 thoughts on “Malaysia 101: 1Malaysia & Balanced Civil Servant Composition”

  1. Dear BJ,

    I think, the statistics used to support the report has conveniently excluded Singapore and China so the report by Dr Lim Teck Ghee, Director, Center for Policy Initiatives and Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, former President, Transparency International Malaysia, is not comprehensive, impartial and complete.

    Whilst I do not know the former, I do know the latter, a former Secretary General at the Finance Ministry, whom I consider a friend, but he himself does not show that he is ‘equitable’ in his conduct. My office was on the same floor as his and I could observe him daily very well so my comment here is not without any basis.

    There are many interesting points raised in the report that need to be argued as I can see that many are hypothetical and at best only assumptions and one cannot just take them as acceptable until and unless what they say in their report is proven.

    Best regards.

    Hussaini Abdul Karim

    However, I am not saying that I do not agree with the report.

    1. The statistics at the top came from another report of another time – it is not in support of the reply by Dr Lim Teck Ghee & Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam but I inserted the statistics to show the number of civil servants in Malaysia in comparison with some other countries

      Whilst not all the points raised in the reply may be valid to be used but the Government should look into how civil service can be improved with greater participation from all Malaysians

    1. Agree that there is a serious lack of interest from non-Malays themselves (I recall once MCA went on a road show to get more Chinese to join in the police force and came rather empty handed) and the government is somewhat at lost on how to beef up on this issue.

      There are 2 main deterrents when it comes to getting non-Malays to join the civil service:-

      1. Range of income (obviously we cannot expect the Government to pay civil servants very high salary – it is better for the Government to spend more on development than on “operating cost”. But given the level of salary and benefits provided in the private sector, it will very difficult for anyone to ignore the call and join the civil service for much lower salary & benefits) and;

      2. Prospect of long term career (the question that is often asked – just how far a well experienced, skilled non Malay civil servant can go in the hierarchy of their respective departments – head of unit, head of department, ministry secretary general, etc)

      Range of income and prospect of long term career is not a new issue – the same dilemma is faced in the private sector. For example when the banking industry was made to re consolidate by means of mergers – there were people working in the banking industry resigned – not because the salary was low but the prospect of future advancement of career almost diminished. It is the same case in other industries.

      If the Government cannot attract, not only the non Malays but any Malaysians to join civil service with better pay (perhaps with less corruption at the top and stop unnecessary spendings we have enough to pay more but then again, that is fairy tale talk), then at least they should provide other means of attraction to the brightest skilled Malaysians to join – perhaps with excellent career path and scholarship to higher studies (as how the US military does it –

      Certainly they can always find the means to the end – it is just a matter of planning and execution. Most of the time, it is a matter of exercising political will power to get things done.

  2. the malays are nice people but some that is those aligned with the UMNO cheating not only non malays but also the malays and the original putras the innocent aslis

  3. My post here is just a generalisation of the various types of people in Malaysia and is meant not to offend anyone, nor it is malicious.

    What do you think?

    I attended a ‘MUHIBBAH’ seminar with the main aim to encourage better ‘PERPADUAN’ between people of the various races in this country organised by a very large Malaysian government agency and they gave us a puzzle to solve.

    I like to share it with you all.

    Here’s the puzzle (with the answers as well):


    1. What does an orang Melayu do when he is alone?

    2. What does an orang Cina do when he is alone?

    3. What does an orang India do when he is alone?


    4. What about when an orang Melayu and his friend do when the two of them are together?

    5. What about when an orang Cina and his friend do when the two of them are together?

    6. What about when an orang India and his friend do when the two of them are together?


    7. What does an orang Melayu do when he is with two or more of his friends, that means there are at least three of them?

    8. What does an orang Cina do when he is with two or more of his friends, that means there are at least three of them?

    9. What does an orang India do when he is with two or more of his friends, that means there are at least three of them?


    1. HE SLEEPS.

    So, what happens next?

    The Malays will then work as security guards for the Chinese who are now Towkays and the Indians will work as labourers or drivers for the Towkays.

    Best regards.

    1. Hak55 – ha ha – the same generalisation still exists till this day, unfortunately…we really need to change the mindset from negative stereotyping such as above to positive stereotyping.

  4. Dear BJ,

    It’s good that you find it funny but many don’t and find it insulting and I am sorry for them.

    Fortunately many have realise it and have made and are still making efforts to change this stereotyping image and many have now succeed. Many more will in future, definitely. This is a very healthy change.

    Now, we can already see more sharing of wealth and power in this country.

    Best regards.

  5. Dear BJ,

    Sorry, I sent it three times because I didn’t see my comments published when going through your blog.

    If you do wish to publish it, please take the last one.

    Thank you and best regards.

    Hussaini Abdul Karim

    1. Sorry Hak55 – the comments comes under moderation and I have been travelling (having no access to internet) hence the late moderated comments approval. Sorry again

  6. Well, if you had watched the Canadian stand-up comedian, Russell Peters (you can watch it over Youtube), you will realise that people all over the world will have some kind of negative stereotyping attached to them.

    Russell Peters often highlight this on his show. So, don’t worry – I did not find it insulting. In reality, things are much different from what is portrayed in the “muhibbah” seminar that you mentioned, so things are not so bad.

Please Leave Your Thoughts on the Post