The Royal Civil Service Commission’s inability to stick to its mantra – small, compact and efficient is not a surprise. It might have been the objective, but it has not worked. Contrary to what it aspired for, the size of the civil service has been growing over the years.

It is today still the biggest employer. There are 31,278 civil servants, about 4.05 percent of the total population. In a country where everybody aspires or is convinced that a government job is the most secure and the sure way to success, it has always been difficult to keep the civil service small.

Not many can look beyond a government job. That is the truth. A government job is so attractive that those working in the private sector are seen as second-class employees or unsuccessful graduates if one has not got through the civil service entry examinations. The corporate sector is growing and in some cases, more attractive than a government job, but it is always the second preference.

If we have not been able to keep the civil service small or compact, forget efficiency. Like the commission revealed, the strength of the civil service will depend on government policies. Every change in a policy would mean re-staffing or even creating new agencies. We have seen this in the last Plan. The growth in the education ministry alone was about 2,667 new recruits.

The Royal Civil Service Commission is a constitutional  and an independent body, but when it comes to managing human resources, especially recruitment, it is dependent on the policies made by elected governments. The strength is directly proportional to what an elected government decides. A new agency an elected government finds important would mean a dozen more recruits.

The civil service or policymakers need not worry about the increasing number or not being able to keep it small or compact. 

What they should be concerned about is efficiency. 

The RCSC strives for “Excellence in service.” This is what the people need. They are concerned about efficiency in service delivery, not about the strength. If there are more people, it should translate into efficient service delivery. Is it the case? This should be the new concern.

For every 23 people, including expatriate workers, we have a civil servant. This is a manageable situation and should result in efficient service delivery. It is not. Even with focus on technology, e-governance, initiatives like government to citizens, the kind of service ministries, departments or agencies deliver is still being questioned.

The number has increased. Public service delivery, it seems has not. There are hard working civil servants and there are those who just get by without doing much. The image, however, is the latter.

There is not much the RCSC could do to restrict the number. However, it could stick to its slogan of “Excellence in Service”. This could lead to development in other sectors. It could be the answer to divert jobseekers from the government to the private.

If we could reduce the web of bureaucracy, the red tape or the lethargy developed by the job security, the study tours and the TA/DA misconstrued as source of income, it would be an automatic process where we will envy those in the private sector. The only concern for many civil servants during the pandemic is the lost opportunity of earning through TA/DA. Some even use that to bargain for a discount on school fees.

In many countries, it is quite the opposite. Many look forward to a corporate job or opportunities in the private sector if not starting their own and become employers. A government job is for the lazy and seen as the last resort. How do we change this mentality is a bigger concern than worrying about the size of civil servants.