Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Role Of The Civil Service

The role of the Civil Service is to serve the civil society so that ordinary men and women can enjoy the benefits of living in an organised environment.

The services provided by the Civil Service are largely public goods - defence and security, law and order, education, healthcare, physical infrastructure, transport, telecommunications, etc.

Some of these services may be privatised.

The Civil Service will reduce in size and concentrate on their "core" business: defence and security, law and order, basic physical infrastructure, public transport, public education, public healthcare.

With privatisation, the role of the Civil Service will shift from the provision of public services to the regulation of the private sector for the provision of public services.

The shift to regulation will lift the requirements for expertise in the country - the private sector will compete using specialists and the Civil Service will regulate using specialists.

If the Civil Service fails to catch up with the use of specialists, it will find that most of the privatisation contracts will be lopsided in favour of the private sector - and the public in general will lose out as they will have to guarantee the commercial success of basic services on a long-term basis.

The failure of the Civil Service to recruit and retain experts is due to several factors:

(1) The Civil Service is structured based on the number of pre-designated posts by which the future of all civil servants are defined. There are only so many posts for a certain position which defines the salary.

There is therefore intense competition for the limited positions.

The positions may be filled in not by people with the necessary skills; they are likely to be filled by people with the necessary office political skills to survive in a closed environment.

The need for those office political skills means that a civil servant will abandon all else in order to serve and impress the immediate supervisor (who is usually affectionately called "boss.")

As a corollary, the organisation structure will also be inward-looking to the internal politics rather than be outward-looking and be concerned with the plight of the general public that the Civil Service is supposed to serve.

This is why I am very much in favour of improving the operating system of the Civil Service so that the performance of the system can be measured - rather than the system being too dependent on the whim and fancy as well as the capacity of the individual civil servants.

(2) Multi-Varied Issues. To be fair, the job of the civil servant is not an easy one.

Apart from the basis counter service, the issues that the civil servant have to deal with are multi-varied and can arise from all angles.

The uninitiated civil servant may be overwhelmed by the tasks, and therefore tend to sweep them under the carpet.

The experienced civil servant may have learned the ways of deflecting the issues so that no action is required to be taken.

The only way such a system is going to adjust is when the people get absolutely fed-up and boot out the government - but the civil servants will continue to stay.

(3) Special Projects. At the top level, each of the issues to be dealt with is a special project which requires critical thinking and quick insights to resolve nicely.

If not, half-baked ideas and policies will be supplemented by more half-baked ideas and policies.

In the end, the nation will end up with a patch-work of half-baked ideas and policies that inhibits the progress of the nation.

At this level, the Civil Service really needs far-sighted and wise people to define and frame policies.

Unfortunately, the politically-savvy civil servants will make sure that the far-sighted and wise civil servants will work to define and frame policies - but the former will take credit for the work and climb up.

(4) The Incompetence Keeping Out the Competence. If an Incompetent is in charge, it is unlikely that the Incompetent will hire a Competent to compete with him, unless he can somehow control the Competent.

Often, a person is competent because he is broad-minded and has the ability to understand and absorb new ideas regardless of whether he agrees with the ideas or not. The Competent is likely to be technically skilled and logical, and hopefully objective.

A person is incompetent by virtue of his mindset which is closed to all new ideas and has a strong bias against seemingly alien concepts, so that decisions are made based on personal opinions.

One can almost be certain that once the system has been infiltrated by the Incompetent, there is no way that Competent has a chance to enter it without being severely oppressed - which no Competent will entertain.


The Civil Service has to deal with with many different kinds of issues everyday.

The Civil Service therefore cannot be structured rigidly without the risk of some of the issues that need to be dealt with falling outside the structure.

The role of the Civil Service has progressed to regulation and re-regulation as the economy changes. The way the Civil Service is structured should also be changed - to deal with the changing environment outside the closet so that its evolving regulatory framework will keep the economy enthusiastic and vibrant all the times.

Without this external focus, the Civil Service would be doing a disservice to civil society.


walla said...


etheorist said...


As always, very useful further readings.


walla said...

you're welcome, etheorist.

Your last set of posts are sublimely important. Very well-written. Deep thinking. To the point and essence where it matters.

Hats off, folks.

walla said...

what's your email?


zakia66 said...


Alexandra Ariana said...

Have a nice day. Thanks for your awesome blog post. I am appreciate to read your blog.Attention please-Making sure that even the poor can access justice In many civilized countries there is a certain form of civil legal aid that is supposed to ensure that people are not excluded from the judiciary process simply because they happen not to have a lot of money.Look about: civil Legal Service

Alexandra Ariana

asif akramy said...

well said, but it needs more details to be added. those are as follow:
Giving more importance in terms of human rights to the human beings. And the same like that we have other services to add.

etheorist said...

Hi everyone,

I am glad that this set of posts is still popular.