Civil servants don’t get it…

The article below has been submitted by Peng Sin How, 42, SME director.


As Singaporeans celebrate the 50th year of our small island’s miraculous progress, I felt it proper to write an observation piece as my contribution to the SG50 celebrations.

Over these last 50 years, we have known of only one Government, that one formed by the PAP. So nowadays, it is not uncommon to lump everything we like or dislike, mostly the latter, with PAP. But in actual fact, should this be the case? In our way of running the country, there is the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature. Each arm is independent of each other and protected so by our constitution.


The Executive is the PM, his Ministers and the Ministries. Many countries call them departments, because they actually are departments of civil servants focusing on different areas to serve the people.

The Judiciary is the group of judges who dispense our laws impartially. They are independently appointed by the state and suffers no fear or influence from either the Executive or the Legislature.

The Legislature is the parliament. This is where the PAP and WP today sit and make laws. In the past, we have had SDP, but today, well, let’s just say they need a Chiam (hokkien for fork) up their.. urm.. spirits?


So what’s my point here? After 50 years of seeing only 1 party rule Singapore, many people think the executive, judiciary and legislature are all PAP. So perhaps one day, if the ruling Government changes, perhaps our understanding may become clearer.

On serving Singaporeans. My personal sense is that after daily attacks on themselves, their families and anything that can be remotely linked to them, the politicians do get it. Not just the MIW, but also the MIB, MIO and just about every shade of the rainbow.

But I think the civil servants don’t as they do not bear the scrutiny of the internet and our ways. And that, IMHO, is the crux of the problem. Policies may have good intentions when passed, but the devil is in the execution. And many times, the devil resides there and makes himself comfortable. And mind you, some of these civil servants draw comparable salaries to our ministers.

I give you 3 examples.

Transportation. Actually, I can think of 2 examples here. The first is the COEs situation. I actually support the scheme and think it is brilliant and a brave decision to implement it back in the 90s. When it first started, the number of COEs per year was dependent on, among other things, how many cars actually were taken off the roads. Then halfway through, some bright spark decided that we should forecast the number of cars that might be taken of the roads instead, for a more responsive projection. But problem was, sometimes, this doesn’t happen, cos Jack loves his Mini of 10 years, or Mary just couldn’t afford at that point, a new car and so extended her COE by another 5 years. Long and short, the system over projected the number of COEs and prices plunged. At one point, there were dealers who bought cars in Singapore and resold them in Malaysia! Never before and unbelievable, but yes, true. When things like that happen, you can be sure someone fell asleep. And I doubt you can pin the blame on the politician for this.

The other example here is the current requirement of power tests before a new car can be sold on the road. Ostensibly to make sure the small car category is reserved for small heartlander type cars like your Toyota Corollas and Hyundais, but its really dumb to assume that all cars below 130bhp are not luxury models. Why not just use OMV which is the direct derivative of the car’s price? No long test periods, damaging of the test cars which are still sold btw, and strange self-beliefs that the new Mercedes is a non-luxury car.


Healthcare. There are actually some very good stuff here and I actually think Khaw Boon Wan knows his work well. And Gan Kim Yong is also the right man in the right place today. But I think there are some things that the administration can do better in. An example: did you know that there are KPIs set for when the patients are to be discharged? I think this is due to the lack of beds, so we can understand. But if the patient is still not well, and the KPI time line is up, then shouldn’t we allow some flexibility? I know of real cases where even though the patient still needs some care, the administrators, through the MSW, doctors and nurses, combine to urge the patient’s family to take the patient home. Regardless. Why? When some of my friends became medical social workers more than 10 years ago, they were the patients’ best friends and represented their interests to the last dot. Today, many MSWs sound like hospital administrators instead. This again I think, has nothing to do with PAP but really the civil service in the health service can do better by showing more heart.


Lastly, foreign talent and immigration. Yang Yin, Anton Casey and Han Hui Hui. Enough said.


At this point of our nation’s development, let us reflect upon what makes our nation great. I think the politicians get it. I think the ministers get it. I hope the civil servants get it.








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