Too many cooks spoil the broth

Recently, Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo commented that many local councils in Selangor had performed below the expectation of ratepayers. He also proposed that a state executive council member would be appointed to "oversee the operations" of each council.

Not forgetting that in each local council the government has already appointed many councillors to "oversee the operation". Are they there just to enjoy their positions at the ratepayers' expense and go on study tours of toilets in far-away countries like South Africa?

It is clear that Malaysia's political malaise starts from the very top in its federal administration with an oversized cabinet and down the line to the local councils with too many redundant councillors.

Malaysia is, by design or otherwise, entrenched in the realm of Parkinson's Law: that work expands to fill the time available, and the number of subordinates in an organization will increase linearly regardless of the amount of work to be done. This Parkinson' Law was propounded by the twentieth-century British scholar C. Northcote Parkinson.

We need go no further than a comparison of the size of our Cabinet with those of some countries, both developed and developing, to see how we are into Parkinson's Law with a vengeance:

Country Size of cabinet Population (million)
Malaysia 33 25
Great Britain 20 55
Japan 18 127
Indonesia 34 Over 200

With such a big Cabinet it is a mammoth task to hold an orderly meeting. With 33 members, discussions will drag on for hours before a decision is reached and little is achieved.

The result? More and more Cabinet Committees. The latest in the long series is the Cabinet Committee set up to address the pollution of river caused by landfills and other riverine developments.

With an oversized cabinet, a cabinet committee is superfluous akin to a bunch of the unwilling, appointed by the unknowing, to do the unnecessary. As such do not expect much from such a committee. A good example is the Cabinet Committee set up to investigate the AP issue, which has remained deafening silent after six months of deliberation.

The ineffectiveness of the Malaysian cabinet is to be expected for, as the saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth.

1. An edited version of the above was published in The Star on 14/03/06 under the title "Too many redundancies around us"
2. Another version of the above was published in Malaysiakini on 17/03/06. 2008