After writing about the need for separation between the state and federal civil services for The Malaysian Insider during the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis, I learned that the relationship of the services depend on whether the state was part of the Federated Malay States. The FMS were the first states — from the north to the south, Perak, Pahang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan — to have federated in the modern history of what is now called Malaysia. While the civil service in other states are independent from the federal service, the services belonging to the former FMS is linked to its federal counterpart. Tricia Yeoh has written on the matter with greater insight.[1]

And so, when the controversy of the appointment of the State Secretary in Selangor erupted, I understood why the state government was more than apprehensive. What I understood less was the arguments pro-Pakatan Rakyat individuals and groups threw: how it was unconstitutional and how the state not should but have a say.

I am not an expert on the state constitution but as a layperson, the convention is clear and it is being followed, however abhorrent it is to the spirit of federalism. It is ultimately within the power of the federal civil service. Nevertheless, the federal service could at least solicit opinion from the state out of courtesy, which the state insisted did not happen. The way the federal service shocked the state government is not ideal to say the least.

I fully understand that convention does not always coincide with constitutionality, but in this case, chances are it does. The convention provides the context and the background of the issue. Many who believe that controversy is a violation of the state constitution seem to ignore history, hence context. The history of the former FMS matters. The fact that the Selangor state government has proposed to amend the state constitution to address the issue reveals how untenable the argument about unconstitutionality is.[2]

So, I am skeptical of the arguments about unconstitutionality forwarded by pro-Pakatan Rakyat individuals and groups (some have turned into conspiracy theories which I through and through reject; observed the argument related to Anwar Ibrahim and Wikileaks), although I definitely can sympathize with the fear of the possible toppling of the current Selangor government in the same style as Perak. But I am thinking that if that does happened, Barisan Nasional will be guaranteed to not to win Selangor in the next general election, whenever that will be.

In the end, regardless of my criticism of Pakatan Rakyat, I am on their side on this matter simply because I am a federalist by virtue of my distrust of an overly strong government, at the federal level or otherwise. Besides, legal or not, it is outrageous to have someone who is distrusted by the state government to work as the state’s top civil servant. When the law does that, then something is wrong with it. It needs to be changed.

I am all for greater division between the state and the federal governments. Therefore, I support the proposal by Selangor to increase the independence of its civil service. I am less enthusiastic about improving the power of the sultan though.[3] Remember, I am a republican. A dormant republican but a republican nonetheless.

But as a friend wrote to a bunch of people connected to the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, there are other concerns with regards to greater division. One involves the issue of prestige. For states other than the former FMS, the civil servants have nowhere to go. Imagine the civil service of Perlis. It is the smallest state in Malaysia and it is not too rich. It is a dead end, career-wise for state civil servants. For the service in the FMS, one can do very, very well.

Prestige is euphemism for higher compensation and perks, if you are wondering.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — Since taking over several state governments, one of the areas the Pakatan Rakyat has had to contend most with is the civil service. A majority of the bureaucrats working within the state governments are federally appointed, especially higher-ranked officials from the prestigious Administrative and Diplomatic Service (Pegawai Tadbir dan Diplomatik). [Civil servants at an impasse. Tricia Yeoh. Penang Economic Monthly via The Malaysian Insider. September 4 2010]

[2] — SHAH ALAM, Jan 4 — Selangor is considering amending the state constitution with retrospective effect to break the impasse over the appointment of Datuk Mohd Khusrin Munawi as the state secretary. [Selangor mulls retrospective amendments over Khusrin row. Boo Su-Lyn. The Malaysian Insider. January 4 2010]

[3] — SHAH ALAM: The Selangor state government wants the state constitution amended to return the power of appointing the state secretary to the Sultan and the Mentri Besar. [S’gor MB wants state constitution amended. Wani Muthiah. A. Ruban. The Star. January 3 2010]

One Response to “[2297] Of comment on the Selangor state secretary controversy”

  1. on 07 Jan 2011 at 14:24 Bobby

    Well argued, but nothing changes

    http://bkho.blogspot.com/2011/01/open-letter-to-all-malaysians-enough- of.html

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