Minister rebukes perm sec for ‘lacking sensitivity’

One of the performance measures of all Division One civil servants is ‘political sensitivity’ — the ability to read the political climate and formulate policy recommendations accordingly. Unfortunately for one permanent secretary — the administrative head of a Ministry — his lack of political awareness came to bite him from behind. It has even earned him a rare public rebuke from the Minister in charge of the Civil Service, Teo Chee Hean. The Minister also said he demonstrated ‘poor judgment’.

The Perm Sec not only went on a five-week, $46,000 vacation, but he took the effort to pen a whole journal about his wonderful experience for the Straits Times Life section.

Most memorably, he advised the newspaper’s readers:

Taking five weeks’ leave from work is not as difficult as one thinks. Most times, when you are at the top, you think you are indispensable. But if you are a good leader who has built up a good team, it is possible to go away for five weeks or even longer.

Perhaps that is why the Government decided to reject AIMS’ recommendation to allow civil servants to blog about government policies. If even a perm sec can’t be trusted to think before he writes, how can the low level officer be even trusted with an Internet connection?

Cynicism aside, I think this once again shows how the Internet has managed to force the Goverment’s hand. None of this outcry would have surfaced if not for bloggers carping about it on the Net (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). This is despite the government-owned Channel NewsAsia deleting its discussion thread (and this one too) on this topic from their online forums page. But no worries, readers can still Google’s cached version (and this other one) while it lasts. Perhaps bloggers can’t take all the credit, since Reuters (and its Singaporean reporter) also thought it newsworthy to publish an article about it for the world to read.

Whichever the channel, with no public outcry, the Minister would not have seen the need to publicly chide one of his perm secs just to sooth the anger on the ground.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

15 thoughts on “Minister rebukes perm sec for ‘lacking sensitivity’”

  1. Pingback: » What Victory?
  2. Good to hear comments like this to close the issue, move on, so to speak. I am more worried abt these public adminstrators who can only administer n not much else. No political acumen, no instinct, no feel, puppet.

  3. Looks like they don’t deserve their high pay either.

    I mean, I won’t even employ him to serve my ‘heartlander’ customers.

    I think he should look for a job in a swanky French restaurant.

  4. It looks like we need to seriously examine the assumptions that high salaries lead to low corruption.

    We also need to examine whether there is any academic basis to justify a pragmatic relationship between corruption levels in Singapore & Government salaries and whether or not there is a significant change before and after the salary hikes.

    Besides salaries, risk of capture and stiff penalties are also firm checks on corruption that have worked for over 40 years in Singapore.

    MPs and citizens must seriously consider how bureaucratic extravagances affect them in future.

  5. Maybe it made lesser mortals envious and they thought maybe he was a little bit boastful. Would people have taken offence if his wife (a senior investment counselor at a bank) had paid for everything? MP Charles Chong (Today)

    So in the wake of a top civil servant’s $45,000 splurge on cooking lessons in France, we get another insensitive remark by a PAP MP. We, the average Singaporeans, are now referred to as ‘lesser mortals’. Is this how government MPs view us from their elite positions? Lesser mortals who are less worthy and perhaps even less than human in their eyes. It might explain why they are so unsympathetic towards the poor and less fortunate. Because are undeserving of their attention.

    You what I think? Clear evidence that civil servants are overpriced and overpaid. Poor PM! Thanks to MPs like Charles Chong he may have to ‘buy votes’. I can’t wait for the elections.

  6. Since he is such a good leader, he should have taken 5 years leave. I am sure the Ministry will hum along without him for 5 years. Or, maybe the Ministry may even perform better without him.

  7. Dan, comment #2,

    About them not having PR or sensitivities..

    i have a theory. many of those folks in senior public service dont really want to be there.

    these are folks who were nurtured from secondary school, sent to the best schools and universities and military careers, to be groomed as technocrats and administrators.

    But they dont want to be in public service. they dont like to be questioned.

    which, to me, explains their high pay. given a choice, they’d rather be in private sector. But if you’re invited to that tea party at the Istana, do you think you’re in a position to turn an offer down? Remember Don Corleone when he makes an offer you cannot refuse….?

    i think the best MPs and civil servants are those who really want to serve the public.

  8. I’ll tell you 1 of the best i’ve seen =)

    Dr Amy Khor =)

    For this matter i hope more young people from the realm of “lesser mortals” will rise up to set things right in future =)

    Obama said we can do it
    I believe so too ^^

  9. Really? Dr Khor have been heard saying to a WP supporter who chaperoned his grandmother (Khor’s constituent) to her MPS, he was unconsciously wearing the blue WP wristband, to get the WP/LTK for help instead.

  10. We’re making ourselves look stupid.

    For instance. U.S. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel publicly reprimands the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her thoughts on U.S. foreign policy. Both are Democrats. And the Republicans are going to think that there is no party unity in the Democratic Party.

    Same here.

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