Implementing Affirmative Action In Public Services: Comparative Administrative Practice

IV.B.Enforcement of Affirmative Action and its Effect

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IV.B.Enforcement of Affirmative Action and its Effect

Institutional Responsibility for Policy Formulation and Implementation

At first, the Board of National Unity coordinated the overall policy for affirmative action for Malays, but this function has now been taken over by the Ministry of National Unity and Social Action. The responsibility of public service and affirmative action in it are shared between the federal Public Service Department (PSD) and the federal Public Service Commission (PSC), subject to overall supervision by the Prime Minister’s Office. The PSD is responsible for scheme and conditions of service, salary scales, negotiating with staff unions, controlling the pension system, and other duties. PSC is concerned with appointment and promotion, certification for pension, and disciplinary matters for the entire civil service. Commissions for education, police, legal and judiciary, and railways exercise powers with respect to specified services. The Ministry of Women and Family Development safeguards the interests of women in consultation with national nongovernmental organizations such as the National Council of Women’s Organizations.

Information about changes in the ethnic composition of the public service has to be compiled from research agencies, staff lists published by government, and Parliamentary proceedings. Data analysis is challenged by the 1992 change in classification of civil servants, and the distribution of employees across divisions before and after 1992. Information released by the government is too aggregated to permit in-depth analysis such as the grouping of doctors and teachers in management and professional groups to demonstrate a higher share for the non-Malays. Furthermore, most researchers tend to use the data for the Malay peninsula alone to calculate the extent of Malay representation. Using the Malay proportion of the entire population (including North Borneo) would raise the estimate of Malay under-representation.
The employees are entitled to represent to the higher authorities and to the PSC against injustice under the affirmative action policies and ineffective implementation of circulars. The Public Complaints Bureau also investigates complaints, but details are not available.

Information on court judgments relating to affirmative action is not available. However, courts appear to have generally supported executive action in enforcing affirmative action in public service. Some non-Malay officials reported discrimination in promotion could have been held as violating Article 136 of the Constitution, but that aggrieved persons could not find judicial redress.

It is only in the Parliament that the declining representation of non-Malays in civil service can be criticized. Although Parliament is overwhelmingly controlled by the Barisan Nasional coalition, in recent years, the criticism has resulted in some liberalization policies for admissions to universities and public service. Press reports are conditioned by apprehensions over the sedition law.

Effect of Affirmative Action on Public Service Composition

By 1970 the British officers in MCS were totally replaced by Malay officers. The quota of 80 % for Malays was enforced even in PTD, the successor to MCS. Malays always exceeded the 4:1 ratio in MCS and the elite PTD, because the calculation of the Malay quota excluded those Malays who entered MCS from the MAS and state services. In 1970, 87% of PTD’s 696 members were Malay (Puthucheary). The PTD itself expanded rapidly due to demands of implementing NEP. It comprised 1568 officers in 1975, 2500 in 1984, 3700 in 2002, with a continuous Malay proportion of over 85 %. In the early 1980s, PTD hired 200 to 250 recruits per year, all of them Malays.
At Independence, there appeared to be ethnic separation according to function in the higher service. While the administrative and semiprofessional posts could be filled by Malays from the PTD or state services, the Chinese and Indians had to be recruited to fill the shortfall of qualified Malays for posts in professional and technical services. In 1970 Malays held only 39% % of the 4744 posts in these services compared to the Chinese and Indian groups The Chinese occupied 64% % of posts in Public Works, 41% % in Medical, and 40% % in Education (Puthucheary 1978). The Malay share of division I personnel increased steadily from 14.1 % in 1957 to 37.4 % in 1968 and 49 % in 1978.
To offset the shortage of qualified Malays in professional and technical services, more Malays were recruited under the quota system in middle and lower echelons of executive, technical, and clerical cadres, when sufficient candidates were available. During 1969–72, 80% of recruitment in public service were Malays, but 58% of recruits in professional and technical services were non- Malays. Between 1969 and 1973, 98% of new government employees were Malays. The clerical and technical cadres were largely occupied by Malays.
Bumiputra proportion in public service has consistently been higher in civil service than in the population. In 1972, they constituted 53% of the population but 57% of the public service. The trend continued and in 2000, they comprised 80% of public service (excluding police) while comprising 65% of the population. In state services, the Malay proportion was 79% (Lim Hong Hai 2002). A survey by the Kuala Lumpur Institute of Applied Policy (INSAP) showed the participation of non-Malays to be approximately 13 % in executive positions in 23 federal ministries and departments (Wong 2002). Almost one-third federal ministries did not have non-Malays in executive positions, while three-quarters had fewer than three non-Malays in such positions.
Table IV.8. Malaysia: Ethnic Composition of Public Service





Ethnic group

% of public service

















Source: Malaysian Parliament Proceedings 2003.
According to Parliamentary proceedings, the Members of Parliament from Chinese and Indian sections reacted angrily to the actual figures of non-Malay representation in civil service (Table 2.3), in contrast to the projections in the Third Outline Perspective Plan 2001–2010.8 The Perspective Plan 1990–2000 estimated that the composition of Bumiputras would go down in 2000 from 65.9 % to 64.4 % while the proportion of Chinese and Indian ethnic groups would increase by 1 % to 26.3 % and 9 %, respectively. However, the actual figures for 2003 were vastly different with striking declines in the proportion of Chinese and Indian groups. They demanded that the government spell out the strategy of the Mid-Term Review of the Eighth Malaysia Plan to reverse the plunge of the non-Malay ratio in the civil service and ensure that civil service employment reflect the ethnic composition of the population by the year 2005. Furthermore, they demanded that the government give a specific report on the targets for the ethnic ratios of the civil service employment and how the shortfalls arising from the plunge of the non-Malay ratios in the civil service could be rectified in the Mid-Term Review of the Eighth Malaysia Plan by 2005.
Because Malays comprise the majority of PTD is dominated by Malays, they hold most top positions including the position of chief secretary, and departmental secretaries. In 1989, of the 22 department secretaries, 19 were Malay and over 80 % of Secretaries-General were Malay. In 1980 Malays held 58% of all posts that range from grades A to F, while they accounted for 78 % of the posts in the 3 highest super-scale grades (table 2.4). Malay proportin is highest in key ministries such as the Prime Minister’s Department, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Education, Defense, Trade and Industry, and Home, with Malays holding 81.2 % of all super-scale posts in these ministries. In universities, in addition to top administrative officers, the deans of all schools are invariably Malay (Navaratnam 1997, Lim Hong Hai 2002).

Table IV.9. Malaysia: Ethnic representation in top positions in federal ministries, 2000






Secretary General





Deputy Secretary General





Division Directors





Source: Wong 2001.
Within the Bumiputras, Malays outnumber the other indigenous groups by almost five to one, and in public service, by much more. As the Bumiputras in Sabah and Sarawak are drawn largely from the state civil service of these states, Malays comprise close to all the Bumiputra civil servants at the federal level and virtually all civil servants in the states of the peninsula.
Women initially occupied positions of teachers and nurses in government. Large-scale recruitment of women in clerical, professional, and supervisory positions started in the 1970s. Recent policy guidelines permit the hiring of women as part-time workers in public service. In cases in which the wife and husband belong to public service, government ensures posting in the same location.

In the absence of adequate efforts to publicize job opportunities and increase education levels of women, there are not enough women at decision-making levels, as seen from a recent statement by the Minister for Women and Family Development (New Straits Times, May 2003. Women councilors comprise 10 % of the total number of councilors in local government. There are no programs designed solely to train women to hold posts in civil service.

In civil service, women occupy a high proportion of jobs in support groups and the professional and management categories, such as engineers, architects, and town planners. However, the gap widens as women move into higher grades. The degree of representation is much less at state and local levels (table 2.5).
Table IV.10. Malaysia: Women in public service, 1999

Title of post (top four levels)

% of women appointed to decision-making levels of public service

Federal Government

State Governments

Local Governments

Chief Secretary to Government




Staff Posts (1 to 3 levels)




Super-scale levels (A,B and C)




Professional and management




Source: Information Technology Unit, Public Service Department.
There is no official information on the impact of quotas for disabled persons and the number of posts actually filled in different grades by these persons.

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