When I’m 64?
by Zaharom Nain. Posted on October 9, 2011, Sunday
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four.
— Lennon and McCartney, ‘When I’m 64’
It’s all become rather predictable, of course. Whenever decision time draws near for the government of the day, like an impending general election or even a state or by-election, goodies are invariably given out.
Promises are made, sometimes later broken.
The hope is that the majority will not put two and two together and realise that all the promised handouts, all the development funds, actually come from the taxes paid by the rakyat in many forms.
And it’s been no different this time around, of course. For many weeks, indeed months, now, the talk around the country has been that the 13th Malaysian General Election will be announced sooner rather than later.
Early 2012, many say, depending on how badly the world economic crisis has hit us by then. And the 2012 Budget, announced on Friday, certainly pointed to an impending election. Goodies were dished out, primarily to the BN’s vote bank – the rural folks, the urban poor and, of course, the bloated civil service.
Just before this, the news was that the BN government was mulling over the idea of increasing the retirement age of workers in the private sector to 60, with an option to remain employed up until the age of 64.
But before doing so, of course, the public sector, the government/civil servants, had to be dangled the carrot first.
Hence, in Friday’s 2012 Budget speech, the PM declared that the age of retirement for Malaysia ’s civil servants, now numbering a whopping 1.2 million, will be increased to 60.
All this sounds fine, of course, given that many Malaysians are still able to continue working way past the current retirement age of 58 (for civil servants).
Indeed, I remember when the retirement age was extended to 58 not that many years ago, many civil servants were quite overjoyed including, of course, those who hardly did any work and got away with it.
For them, it was another three years at least of shaking their legs, doing nothing, and getting paid not only a salary but a non-taxable civil service allowance as well.
Indeed, as someone senior in my former workplace once told me, ‘In the government/civil service, it’s easy to hire but almost impossible to fire.’
This was in the late 1980s, and he was then lamenting the fact that our institution was desperately trying to get rid of a colleague – who did minimal work, was running a private tuition centre, and was sexually harassing a number of students – yet could not do so without concrete, air tight evidence.
While they did finally did get rid of him, there have been increasing numbers of deadweights, certainly in academia, who continue to get away with it all.
Or, rather, with doing nothing at all.
This despite their universities being declared major intellectual centres with fancy names such as ‘research’ and even ‘apex’ universities.
For many of us, such declarations mean very little any more, especially when these same institutions claiming major, often world class, status, somehow keep failing one litmus test after another in the international rankings.
And, really, it becomes even more pathetic when some of the leaders of these Malaysian institutions who have been playing the international game all along, realising they are being outclassed time and time again, decide to change the rules arbitrarily, instead of addressing the very real problems of unproductive, indeed indolent, staff.
I’m speaking of many local public universities, of course, but the same could be said of the reputation of the whole civil service.
Many suggestions have been put forward, to be sure, like making the service more open and not the province of just particular groups, especially particular ethnic groups.
But, of course, even if the openings were there, when opportunities to advance based on merit are limited, such conditions will not likely entice the good ones from taking the plunge and join the civil service. And those who do, unless they are resilient enough, invariably will leave for a fairer and more challenging private sector.
Indeed, very recently I heard of a very deserving case being rejected a promotion. At the same time, her boss, who had no worthwhile publication to speak of and who had a curriculum vitae which one external examiner laughingly dismissed as akin to a shopping list from Tesco, with every insignificant thing thrown in to pad it up, was promoted to professor.
So, yes, given the sad reputation of our civil service, with the rare exceptions, of course, plus the negative image it often portrays to the public, extending the retirement age should also be met with concrete and unrelenting strategies to genuinely professionalise it. No matter how unpopular the strategies, no matter how difficult they are to implement.
After all, isn’t it this administration that constantly brags about ‘transformation’?