Civil service is the backbone of development in each ASEAN Member State and regional cooperation.  Enhancing regional cooperation for effective, efficient, transparent, accountable civil service systems and good governance is therefore contributing to the achievement of the ASEAN Vision 2025 which is Community that is politically cohesive, economically integrated, socially responsible and truly rules-based, people-oriented and people-centred.

The cooperation on civil service among ASEAN Member States started in 1980 as the ASEAN Conference of Reforms in the Civil Service (ACRCS). The ASEAN Conference on Civil Service Matters (ACCSM) was then established in the following year in 1981 to foster greater level of cooperation among ASEAN civil service. Through time, membership of ACCSM expanded to include all 10 ASEAN Member States in 1999.

Since its establishment, ACCSM has continued to be a platform for exchange of information, innovations and best practices in public service management in ASEAN. The ACCSM also continues to promote effective cooperation and mutual assistance in, among others, capacity building, that supports the narrowing of development gaps among ASEAN Member States.

On 17 November 2015, the ASEAN Heads of Civil Service Retreat was convened in Cyberjaya, Malaysia and agreed, among others, to change the name of ACCSM to ASEAN Cooperation on Civil Service Matters to reflect the continuous cooperation between ASEAN Member States during and between the meetings. The Retreat also adopted the Putrajaya Joint Declaration on ASEAN Post-2015 Priorities towards an ASEAN Citizen-Centric Civil Service which was then signed by the 10 Heads of ASEAN civil service.

As stipulated in the Terms of Reference of ACCSM that was adopted by the Heads of Civil Service Meeting for the 18th ACCSM on 17 November 2016 in Manila, the Philippines, ACCMS has the following missions:

  1. The ACCSM shall contribute to the achievement of the ASEAN Vision 2025 by strengthening civil service cooperation in ASEAN.
  2. The ACCSM will provide ASEAN collaboration in the promotion of effective and efficient civil service, public accountability, and good governance.
  3. The ACCSM seeks to leverage the strengths of ASEAN Member States through:
    • The enhancement of existing mechanisms for networking, mutual learning and sharing of experiences among members;
    • The promotion and facilitation of exchange of best practices and other public management innovations by enhancing the role of ASEAN Resource Centres (ARCs) as providers of expertise in their respective areas of competencies;
    • The establishment of supporting initiatives to help ASEAN Civil Service develop and adopt cutting-edge practices; and
    • The implementation of various programmes on civil service matters with the support and assistance of ASEAN Dialogue Partners and regional/international agendas.

The cooperation of ACCSM in the past was guided by the ACCSM Work Plan including ACCSM Work Plan 2008-2015. The current ACCSM Work Plan 2016-2020 sets out the goal to build and sustain a high performing, dynamic and citizen-centric civil service for the peoples of ASEAN. The objectives of the ACCSM Work Plan 2016-2020 are:

  1. Strengthened capacity and capability of ASEAN civil services to respond to emerging challenges and the needs of the people through innovative approaches and collaboration; and
  2. Enabling environment, strengthened mechanisms and engaged stakeholders for responsive, open and adaptive ASEAN civil services.

The ACCSM Work Plan 2016-2020 focuses on five priority areas: (a) Enhancing workforce competencies and standards in the public sectors; (b) Building institutional capacities; (c) Strengthening leadership; (d) Strengthening ASEAN Resource Centres; and (e) Public sector reform.

One of the milestones of ACCSM is the establishment of ASEAN Resource Centres (ARCs) which was initiated during the 8th ACCSM held in Manila, the Philippines in January 1995. Started from six ARCs in 1995, the ARCs have expanded over the years and by 2011, all ten ASEAN Member States have established the ARC focusing on the theme of their specialization and expert (see the ARC Directory as of 2012). In addition, ASEAN Member States have regularly conducted self-evaluation of their respective ARCs.

As capacity building needs and interests of civil service evolved, ASEAN Member States want to ensure that their respective ARCs remain relevant. This led to the revision of the theme of the majority of ARCs in 2015-2016. As of May 2017, the themes of ARCs are:

  • Managing Civil Service Competency (Brunei Darussalam)
  • Public Service Delivery (Cambodia)
  • ASEAN Pool of Experts on Civil Service (Indonesia)
  • Civil Service Performance Appraisal (Lao PDR)
  • Strategic Collaboration through National Blue Ocean Strategies (Malaysia)
  • Public Service Motivation (Myanmar)
  • Examination and Testing (The Philippines)
  • ASEAN Leaders in Strategic Human Resource Programme – Building a Future-Ready Public Service (Singapore)
  • ASEAN New Wave Leadership Development (Thailand)
  • Supporting Public Service Reform (Viet Nam)

The expansion of ACCSM cooperation to ASEAN Dialogue Partners started in 2008 when the ACCSM welcomed China, Japan and Republic of Korea (known together as the Plus Three Countries) to the open session of its Meeting.  Subsequently, the Inaugural ASEAN Plus Three Conference on Civil Service Matters was convened in October 2009 in Vientiane, Lao PDR and agreed on areas of cooperation on civil service between ASEAN and the Plus Three Countries. Following this, the Luang Prabang Joint Declaration on ASEAN Plus Three Civil Service Cooperation was adopted by the 2nd ASEAN Plus Three Conference on Civil Service Matters in October 2010 in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR.

Since then the cooperation with the Plus Three has been strengthened through the implementation of the ACCSM+3 Work Plan for 2010-2015 and 2016-2020. The ACCSM+3 Work Plan 2016-2020 covers the thematic areas of (i) E-governance; (ii) human resource management and human resource development; (iii) productivity in public sector; (iv) good governance; (v) public sector reform; (vi) local administration capacity building and cooperation; and (vii) research and innovation.

Recognising the pivotal role of civil service in ASEAN Community building efforts, the ASEAN Leaders at the 30th ASEAN Summit in April 2017 signed the ASEAN Declaration on the Role of Civil Service as a Catalyst for Achieving the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. The Declaration expresses the commitment of ASEAN Member States to promoting civil service cooperation in critical areas of concern, raising professional standards and capability of civil servants, ensuring good governance principles and strengthening government institutions, upholding and protecting welfare of civil servants, and strengthening alliance-building, networking and partnership among ASEAN Member States as well as ASEAN Dialogue Partners and other stakeholders.