Just who deserves what?
APRIL 10 — Meritocracy is a crucial element in many key areas of our lives. From university admissions to scholarship allocation to job offers and salary advancement, meritocracy determines many important macro decisions in any country.
Or at least, it should.
But how should meritocracy be judged? That is a tricky question. Some will say through university grades, others will say through the numbers of soft skills mastered by the pool of applicants, and many more will say it should be based on the experiences that they have.
The problem is that all of these are true. Yes, different situations demand a different interpretation of meritocracy. But I would like to focus on salary and entitlement advancement in the public service for this article.
There are two sides of the coin when it comes to this. One is the belief that seniority must be priority in deciding which pool of people deserves to advance through the ranks. The other school of thought is that age should not matter as much as the performance and university grades held by these employees.
During my summer holiday, I got the chance to talk with an uncle of mine. He has been working as a medical specialist in a government hospital for about 30 years. Though he has been offered jobs by many private hospitals, inviting him to join them for a much bigger salary with better perks, he stood by his loyalty to the public service. Yet he was frustrated because he feels like more opportunities (in terms of education opportunities and salary advancement) are being given to the younger civil servants with better paper qualifications.
What frustrates him the most is that these young civil servants are milking all these free opportunities to improve themselves. Then most of them will usually quit and join the private sector, sooner rather than later.
He argued with me that although he and his generation of civil servants might not have the youthful energy or the impressive paper qualifications, they have been there long enough to experience a lot of situations which puts them in a better position to advance and lead the youthful, smart bunch of new doctors. After all, he justified, experience is the better teacher, as most things cannot be taught at school.
On the other side of coin, I also understand the enthusiasm of these young Malaysians. In their early 20s, everyone wants to secure their future, either in the scope of financial stability or job stability. Fresh from university, most of these young people are willing to work as hard as they can to achieve as many things as they can, as soon as they possibly can. And to keep us from advancing just because we are young will not only kill motivation but also will test the already thin loyalty that the young people usually have towards the civil service.
Some people will put this point forward: that every job has different criteria to determine success, therefore it is pointless to determine who is, for lack of a better word, “superior”, based on either their experience or their energy and enthusiasm. Most will say that the most important thing is to keep the balance between these two, and therein exists a fine line from which one has to make judgment calls.
Yes, it becomes challenging when we are faced with specific situations. Say we have the resources to advance the salary of a limited number of people; do you give it to the loyal bunch, or the one with more potential in the long run?
It is definitely a hard question to answer. But if I have to decide, I will say that experience should be given priority.
One, because these are the key people who are the backbone of our public service. Two, it is important to get across the message to the young, including myself, that public service is not the place and will never be the place to swiftly jump up the ladder in order to make money and a name for oneself. Three, as the public sector will never be able to match the private sector in terms of financial benefits and perks, the only thing it can be proud of is the loyalty of its old horses. And as we should strive to trim our public service, we have to make sure that the civil servants, who are left there to hold the fort, are those who are loyal and not easily swayed by money.
This question will become increasingly pertinent in the next few years, as the baby boomers are reaching their peak, and Generation Y is starting to eye more important positions. But I personally find this situation really refreshing.
At least there are some problems in Malaysia which do not directly play around the issue of race and religion.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.