Dr M: Pak Lah and Najib Left Us a Bloated Civil Service

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Civil service had not become more efficient despite its size ballooning by 60%.

  • Workers increased from 1 million when Mahathir stepped down to 1.6 million
  • Salaries from RM22 billion to RM74 billion
  • Pensions from RM5.9 billion to RM19 billion
  • Pay increase sometimes by 25% to buy loyalty of civil servants

Dr Mahathir Mohamad is largely credited for building Putrajaya, a sprawling city carved out of a sleepy town to house spacious government offices which moved out of their cramped buildings in Kuala Lumpur.

But the prime minister was never a fan of a larger civil service and is a strong believer in not raising salaries frequently.

In an exclusive interview with FMT at his office in Putrajaya, Mahathir many times argued against an increase in salary, saying it is a factor in rising living costs.

“You increase salaries, (the) private sector also will follow you. And the cost of everything will go up. So that is not the way to run any organisation,” he said.

Mahathir, who resigned in 2003 after 22 years in power, is not happy that his philosophy was not followed by his successors during his 15-year absence from the government.

“What they did was, they increased the number of workers, from one million at the time when I stepped down, to 1.6 million,” he said.

Malaysia’s huge civil service has been a long-standing concern.

He added that the burden was now passed to the Pakatan Harapan government.

“600,000 extra salaries to pay, and they increase salaries sometimes twice a year. 10% and then 10% again.”

Malaysia’s “bloated” civil service has been a long-standing concern, with operational expenditure forming the bulk of the national budget every year.

In 2003, the year Mahathir ended his long stint as the fourth prime minister government spent RM22 billion on salaries for civil servants.

In 2016, this figure had more than doubled to RM74 billion.

Similarly, civil servant pensions cost the government RM19 billion in 2016, from just RM5.9 billion in 2003.

Mahathir said Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who took over from him in 2003, and Najib Razak who became prime minister in 2009, had only aggravated the burden by increasing the salaries of civil servants.

“What they did was to buy the loyalty of the civil servants by increasing their pay, sometimes by 25%.

“Where do you get the money? You get the money by cutting down on development.”

He added that the civil service had not become more efficient despite its size ballooning by 60%.

“The productivity is the same, it’s not any better.”

Days before the May 9 general election, Barisan Nasional promised civil servants a pay hike in July that would have cost the government about RM1.46 billion.

This, of course, was not implemented following the coalition’s defeat.

“We cannot because we don’t have the money,” said Mahathir. – FMT