Though the term ‘governance’ has gained currency fairly recently, attempts at improving governance are by no means new. As the public bureaucracy has generally attracted increasing criticisms for poor performance and failure on its part to meet the rising expectations of the citizenry, government leaders have always sought to address such situations by devising and introducing innovative policy measures. In this respect, they have also shown growing interests in learning from other contexts and in imitating policy models that have apparently produced better results. Thus administrative innovations and policy learning and/or transfers have been a key feature of drives for upgrading the quality of governance in both developed and developing countries. In recent years, such drives seem to have received fresh impetus especially since the advent of the NPM as a model of public sector governance.
The NPM refers to a range of reforms in the public sector aimed at making it more efficient, economic and effective. At the heart of these reforms is the shift from government by control to government by contract, which typically involves the introduction of market logic in the government, changes in organisational structures and redefinition of the government’s roles and functions in the society. Since the NPM has offered better solutions to many of the perennial problems of the public sector, the new model has soon become widely popular. By early 1990s it has assumed a global character and ignited the process of radical transformation of the public service around the world. The countries in the Asia Pacific region are no exceptions to this world-wide trend. During the past decades, political and administrative leaders of this region have demonstrated growing interests in the idea of governance innovation and introduced major reforms in an attempt to streamline the management of the public sector.
Broadly aimed at improving governance, these reforms are largely consistent with those introduced elsewhere, although there are significant variations between individual countries in terms of the levels of implementation and the strategies involved. Consequently, the countries have recorded varied experiences with reforms initiated and results achieved. In Malaysia, the government has introduced a wide range of reforms especially since the 1980s in order to upgrade governance and the quality of services provided to its citizens. The recent reforms represent a major departure in that they are far more significant and comprehensive in both depth and coverage than those introduced in the past. Taken together, they have brought about profound changes in the public service and the way it operates in providing goods and services to the people. The present paper provides an overview of public service reform in Malaysia focussing on aspects of innovation and policy transfer. It begins with the identification of some key factors that have provided the impetus for reforms and innovations. Then it outlines some of the contemporary reform initiatives and assesses their impacts on public governance in general.