UNITY IN DIVERSITY1:
CONCLUDING ON A UNITED MALAYSIA WITH DIVERSIFIED REFORM RESULTS
The reforms that the Malaysian civil service has undergone as part of the country’s national transformation are significant. Unlike the evolution of public administration in Western nations in line with their own societal conditions, the formations of administrative systems in Southeast Asia have often been based on the imitation of Western models. In the Malaysian case, the hierarchical bureaucratic model left by the British colonialists had to be carefully adjusted with local contexts and nation-building ambitions2. Thailand – although it did not experience direct colonial rule - evolved in a similar fashion with the British system, but due to different socio- political contexts and local vested interests no grand generalizations can be drawn. With cross- sectorial and comprehensive blueprints, Malaysia started ambitious plans to transform its civil service from being a caste apart from the public into an organization serving and meeting the needs of the public3.
In an overall result, Malaysia, together with Singapore, which was a part of Malaysia before its separation in 1965, illuminates the fact that a well-planned civil service reformation in Southeast Asia can culminate in greater national and economic growth to the benefit of its citizens. Although there are other variables that determine the relative success of administrative reform, political stability is one key variable that ensured progress and achievement in civil service transformation4. In the case of Thailand, 55 different governments have been in power since its independence, with the military stepping in on a regular basis. In contrast, Malaysia and Singapore are the two Southeast Asian cases that did not experience any military rule and in both cases the civil service became the centre-piece in nation-building, growth and development activities5 by creating various government agencies, planning institutions and state enterprises. In Thailand, more intense political co-optation of top civil servants, competition among bureaucratic cliques and politicization of civil service hindered such civil service momentums6. These development-oriented public agencies were crucial to achieve economic growth, poverty eradication, an income generation and nation-building ambitions. Malaysia might qualify as one of the most successful developing country cases in enhancing socio-economic progress due to its moderate avenue for community-level participation and furthermore its reasonably competent administrative system7. In the style of Singapore, a new breed of top public servants gradually began to form partnership with local and foreign investors and serve on the managing boards of various government-linked companies. In terms of educating its personnel on basic legal-rational principles of bureaucracy, Malaysia – although far off from sufficient levels - could be considered the closest to achieving, while cases like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos remained fostering a clerical class thoughtlessly enforcing higher commands. Meanwhile, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines may fall in between these two poles8. However Malaysia shared similar problems with neighbouring Thailand as its national development plans often served the agenda of foreign aid agencies9 and needlessly reinforced the power of the political and administrative elites.
1 Unity in diversity has been chosen as Malaysia’s national motto. It seeks to incorporate Malaysia’s values in the 21st century, stating that “the Civil Service must be the best role model for a true Malaysia - if it is not, then the heart and soul of Malaysia is not.”
2 Tilman, R.O. (1964): Bureaucratic Transition in Malaya. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, pp. 12-17.
3 Ahmad, A. (2005): Public Administration in Malaysia: A Developing Country Perspective, pp. 59-69.
4 Ahmad, A. (2005): Public Administration in Malaysia: A Developing Country Perspective, p. 77.
5 Case, C. (1993): Malaysia in 1992: sharp politics, fast growth, and a new regional role, In: ASEAN Survey, No. 2 02/1993, p. 36.
6 Painter, M. (2005); Administrative Reform and Tidal Waves from Regime Shifts: Reverse Effects of Thaksin’s Tsunami on Autonomization, Stanford: University Press.
7 Compare: Haque, S. (2007): Theory and Practice of Public Administration in Southeast Asia: Traditions, Directions, and Impact, In: International Journal of Public Administration, 30, pp. 1297–1326.
8 Haque, S. (2007): Theory and Practice of Public Administration in Southeast Asia: Traditions, Directions, and Impact, In: International Journal of Public Administration, 30, p. 3106.
9 Rondinelli, D. A. (1987): Development Administration and U.S. Foreign Aid Policy. Lynne Rienner: Boulder.