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.