Perhaps the sensitivity is because the civil service is mainly Malay, and Malay dependence on the civil service for employment is very high.
Downsizing does not mean mass retrenchment. There are ways of doing it in a humane and caring manner.
First, the Government can start with retraining of redundant employees by giving them free courses on skills development: computer technology, English, basic accounting, corporate law and etc. – all the skills needed to make them employable in the private sector.
I am sure once the employees get these skills, many would like to leave as soon as they reach optional retirement age. The government employees will self-retrench.
It should be noted that there are thousands of civil servants who are husband and wife.
In many cases among the lower level categories, one of them is doing part-time business like selling kain tudung, kueh raya, religious books and etc. to earn more money.
They probably have business ambitions but cannot afford to leave government service because they have no capital. Imagine if one of them gets an offer of a voluntary separation package worth RM25,000 for the 20 years of service.
The chances are one of them will take the package while the other will continue to work in government service until retirement to enjoy the medical benefits for the whole family.
Thus, the Government is helping the Malay wife or husband to become an entrepreneur, and a genuine one because they have a track record.
Retrenchment should be done on a voluntary basis through voluntary separation schemes like in the private sector.
It cannot be forced because it’s illegal to terminate a worker who has not done anything wrong and has been a loyal employee.
The retrenchment should affect those whose functions are no longer needed because automation can replace human labour and because, with technology, there is no more need for sending letters or face-to-face service, i.e. the human intensive work is no longer relevant in 21st century Malaysia.
In the banking sector, there is no need to go to the branch for transactions.
That’s why banks are closing down branches and terminating their employees.
I believe the Government can also look at closing down completely or partially certain offices and branches without affecting the quality of service.
The redundant civil servants should then be deployed to other functions or retrained to prepare them for retrenchment.
While the Government retrenches redundant civil servants, it will have to continue to recruit those who are needed for specialised expertise in the fields of finance, economics, research, medicine, education, science, environment, law and etc.
This should be encouraged as the civil service must continually upgrade the quality of staff.
The Government should be focusing more on quality rather than quantity because this is the way to increase productivity and efficiency in the civil service.
We should have a much smaller administrative service to support the functioning of ministries and departments. This can be achieved by decentralising and empowering of authority to reduce the multi layer approval process.
A lot of progress has been made in recent years to improve the counter delivery services in several departments with the use of technology and the simplification of procedures.
Logically, there should be less need for manpower and the redundant staff can be offered voluntary retirement with an attractive compensation package.
If it takes some years for the Government to recover the heavy expenditure of retrenchment then it’s worth it.
We can hope that with a smaller civil service, the economy as a whole will become more efficient and with dynamism and growth in private sector activities, the Government will collect more taxes to recover the cost of retrenchment.
With less spending on wages and pensions as a proportion of the budget, there will be more room in the operating expenditure to spend on upgrading the facilities in schools, universities, hospitals, and research departments which today do not get enough budgetary allocations to keep them in proper working condition.
I believe the Government should start planning a downsizing programme of the civil service now so that it can be done in a proper manner rather than wait until there is a financial crisis, at which time government employees will be retrenched without justice for all their years of loyal service.
This has happened in Greece, as I mentioned before.
Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim