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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Size matters, sometimes

APRIL 8 — malaysianinsider

Don’t get too excited. Political news may rule the day but change has yet to stamp its mark. With the new prime minister, hope is once again resurrected.

But even with promises of change, it may not mean the reform that the majority of Malaysians are hoping for. We’ve all heard it before — new leader, new promises, striving to be one true community, unity and so on.

Fine ideals but many of us have been disappointed before; more than once. I just think that more time is needed for positive changes. We’re still bogged down by the baggage of the past.

On that note, I just want to share something interesting I found in the world of research, particularly a study done by a group of scientists at the Vienna Medical University last year.

Although it’s no surprise to some people, the scientists found out that the fewer the number of members a cabinet has, the more likely it is that the government is going to be efficient.

According to press reports, the Austrian scientists led by Stefan Thurner studied 197 countries — including small European countries such as Monaco and Liechtenstein with only five cabinet members each and countries such as Sri Lanka with 54 members, Congo (40), Pakistan (38) and Myanmar (35) — and found out that those “with more than 20 ministers tend to be less efficient than others with fewer”.

The study was based on the work of the late English historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson, who studied the British navy and noted that “committees with more than 20 members were less competent than smaller ones.”

Thurner added that: “Common sense would suggest that smaller cabinets would find it easier to reach a consensus. But to get the rest of the country behind a decision, cabinets also have to be large enough to represent of a wide range of constituencies. Behind every minister there is a set of lobbyists, interest groups and a large bureaucracy.”

According to sciencenews.org, Thurner’s team found that on average, a country’s development was tied to the size of its executive cabinet.

“For example, Iceland, which the United Nations ranks as the world’s most developed country, has a cabinet of just 12 members; the United States, which ranks 12th, has 17 cabinet members; Myanmar and the Ivory Coast, with 35-strong cabinets, rank 132nd and 166th,” says the report.

Malaysia has 32 ministers including the prime minister and his deputy. If we include their deputies, it’s a total of 67 frontbenchers to govern the country.

This is actually an improvement from the previous term when there were 93 frontbenchers including parliamentary secretaries and almost 40 ministers. Yet many people rejected Barisan Nasional during the 2008 general election.

Over the past 12 months, voters continued to reject BN in a number of by-elections.

With failure to capture the Bukit Gantang parliamentary seat and Bukit Selambau state seat (although retaining Batang Ai state seat in Sarawak), the new Umno and BN leadership has to think hard on ways to appease the people — this should include the size of the cabinet to ensure efficiency.

The Austrian study concluded that the ideal number for a cabinet is between 17 and 20.

Short of a dictatorship, I think size matters and small is beautiful.

I just wonder whether efficiency will be sacrificed in the name of political compromise.

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