World Bank: Malaysia’s civil service efficiency stagnating

KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 — The public sector’s performance has declined since 2014, according to the World Bank that expressed concern over the sustainability of Malaysia’s huge civil service wage bill in its latest economic monitor report due out today.

The World Bank also ranked Malaysia lowly for accountability, impartiality, and transparency and openness of its public service, according to The Star newspaper.

World Bank Lead Public Sector Specialist Rajni Bajpai
World Bank lead public sector specialist Rajni Bajpai

World Bank lead public sector specialist Rajni Bajpai said there was a “big gap” between the performance of the country’s civil servants and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, although Malaysia was doing better than its regional peers.

“When you compare Malaysia with others in the region, Malaysia has been doing pretty well but we see that the performance has stagnated,” Rajni was quoted as saying.

“If you look at the indicator for government effectiveness, Malaysia is still above in the region but in 2018, the performance is below that of between 1991 and 2014. If you take the average of that period between 1991 and 2014, it was higher than that in 2018, which means the performance is declining.”

The report — which is included in the Bank’s six-monthly economic monitor on Malaysia — will be released later today.

The World Bank economic monitor report compared Malaysia with OECD countries to gauge its readiness to move from a middle-income status country to a high-income nation.

Malaysia had hoped to achieve “developed” status by 2020 but last year Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad conceded that the country is unlikely to meet the target. He said the new administration will need at least 10 more years before Malaysia could become a rich economy.

Malaysia also ranked below its regional peers in accountability, impartiality and the openness of its public sector, according to the World Bank report.

It highlighted claims of employment bias in the civil service, noting the strong public perception about the sector’s lack of neutrality. Malaysia scored very poorly on the indicators for impartiality in the government, The Star reported.

“There is a strong perception … that recruitment of the civil service is not fair and neutral (with) Malaysia scoring very poorly on the indicators for impartiality in the government,” Rajni was quoted as saying.

“It’s the lowest ranked, even below the region and way below the OECD.”

Pakatan Harapan in its election manifesto had suggested the need for an Equal Opportunities Commis­sion meant to tackle discriminatory practices in both the public and private sector. Its status remains unclear.

The World Bank report said Malaysia has one of the most “over-centralised” recruitment structures in the world. This function had been devolved to other departments and even state governments in other countries, Rajni said.

Public sector hiring in Malaysia is carried out by the Public Services Department.

On other indicators, Malaysia scored very poorly for openness. The World Bank said Malaysia is not a “very” open economy particularly in data sharing.

“The government does not share of a lot of data, even within its own departments or with the citizens,” Rajni was quoted as saying.

“And citizens’ feedback and voices are not factored by the government into the design of programmes,” she said, adding that the report would suggest the setting up of an institutional and legal framework for open data sharing.”

Malaysia also fared poorly in digitisation and technological advances, which the government had not been able to integrate into its system to provide services, the bank said.

The South-east Asian third biggest economy, however, was found to have performed very well in the ease of doing business category — for which Malaysia is ranked 15th — and the inclusion of women in its civil service.

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