A brief history

THE CIVIL SERVICE IN MALAYSIA through the passage of time.


The history of the nation’s civil service may be traced to the period of the Malacca Sultanate. There was an orderly and efficient system of civil administration which was centered on the role of the Sultan (as Head of State), and various officers such as Bendahara, Laksamana, Temenggong and Shahbandar. The administration was based on the Malacca Code and Maritime Laws.

There were fundamental changes to the civil administration, occasioned by the Portuguese advent of 1511. The colonizers transformed the prevailing system of administration to match their own distinctive character of administration and the interest they had in this region. The Governor was the administrative head, directly nominated by the Emperor of Portugal, assisted by two advisory councils that were formed to look into both public affairs and defence. New posts such as Chief Justice, Customs Officer and Mayor were created in order to facilitate the civil administration. However, three administrative posts, i.e. Temenggong, Bendahara and Shahbandar were maintained and filled by the Portuguese themselves.

Under Dutch rule which began in 1641, the administrative of Malacca underwent yet another change. The posts of Governor and of administrators whose duties affected commercial interests were preserved. Those posts that had no significant bearing on commercial interests were abolished.

In 1826, a sound foundation was raised for British rule in Malaya when states of Penang, Malacca and Singapore were brought together within a single administrative entity known as the Straits Settlements, with Singapore as its administrative headquarters. The British came to Malaya for purely economic reasons, and their subsequent intervention in the Malay States was due to the perceived threat to their commercial interest from disturbances arising from both the Chinese secret societies as well as the Malay Chiefs who were locked in the struggle for power.

The Pangkor Treaty of 1874 strengthened British position in the Malay States by paving the way for the exercise of power through the British Residents. The administrative arrangements were based on commercial interests. When the Federated Malay states was formed in 1896, the states of Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang were brought together under the administrative posts were created at the Federal level. There was not much opportunity for the indigenous people to participate in the administration of the country. At the second Durbar of 1903, Sultan Idris expressed the view that the Malays should be involved in the administration of their own country. He proposed that a suitable place be found to train Malays in the various branches of the civil service. As a result of this suggestion, the Malay College of Kuala Kangsar was established on 2 January 1905, setting the pace for the emergence of a new class of Malay administrators, who were later absorbed into a new scheme which was introduced in 1910, i.e. Scheme for the Employment of Malays. The scheme was later replaced by the Malay Probationer Scheme, aimed at recruiting graduates of the College as civil servants. After completing 3 years of studies at the College, they would be absorbed into the Malay Administrative Service (MAS) as Malay Assistants, class 3. The MAS was a new branch of the Malayan Civil Service (MCS).

As the country developed, there was a felt need for an institution that would be responsible for the administration of personnel, especially for the various states of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore and Brunei. With due consent from the rulers, an Agreement for the Constitution of a Malayan Establishment was signed in 1934 between the governments of the Straits Settlements, the Federated Malay States, the Unfederated Malay States and Brunei. The Agreement signed by the Chief Secretary to the Government of the Federated Malay States on 22 August 1934, led to the formation of the Malayan Establishment Office (MEO), whose original headquarters in Singapore was shifted in 1946 to Kuala Lumpur. It was responsible for the administration of all affairs of services and functions of the MEO, the Service Branch of the Chief Secretary’s Office, and the Establishment Division of the Federal Treasury. In view of the formation of Malaysia, the name was further changed to Establishment Office of Malaysia in 1967.

The process of Malaysianisation, a term for the ultimate take-over of administrative control by the Malayans started in the early years of Independence. The 1970s witnessed the consolidation of the civil service, with a view to hastening the pace of the nation’s desired path towards economic development.

In the course of the 1980s, a number of changes were brought, changes that were dynamic and evident. This is after YAB Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed took over as the Prime Minister of Malaysia. He introduced various new government policies such as Look East Policy and Malaysia Inc., assimilation of Islamic Values in administration, Population Policy, Quality Enhancement, and Higher Productivity in the civil service; and campaigned for a clean, efficient and trustworthy government, as well as Leadership by Example.

Adapted from THE CIVIL SERVICE IN MALAYSIA through the passage of time, pages 9-10 by Arkib Negara Malaysia 1995. ISBN 967-912-048-1

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One Response to “A brief history”

  1. […] ‘Law of Attractions’, like attracts like! Based on the short article, we should give the full complement to the late YM Sultan Idris for his foresights to initiate and […]

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