PROFESSIONALISM AND INTEGRITY OF PUBLIC SERVANTS

I am a 3rd generation Singaporean who is gravely concerned. Let’s first look at these recent cases involving Singapore’s public servants:

SCDF Ex-Commissioner Sex for Graft Case

Peter Lim who is the ex-commissioner of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was proven guilty and sentenced to 6 months jail. Many would recall he received sexual favours with 3 different women in return to committing to business contracts with the companies these women represented. To put it simply, Peter Lim requested these women to perform sexual acts, which they did, and in return he approved the business contracts. Such business contracts were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and these women were Sales representatives for their companies who were incentivized to close such a large sales contract.

Regardless of whether the Sales women were the protagonist or initiator, the fact remains the Commissioner of the SCDF should NOT have received such sexual favours. For those of you who are unaware, the SCDF is Singapore’s Fire Service and is responsible for all fire outbreaks and rescue work. In addition, SCDF is responsible for Search and Rescue for any accidents, Extrication in traffic accidents, Ambulance services, Chemical and Hazardous Material outbreaks, Air-raid and bomb shelters, Food and water storage, and even potential Nuclear leaks. Clearly the SCDF is a very important organization responsible for the safety and welfare of all people physically living in Singapore.

Now, the Commissioner of the SCDF is its Number One man. He is similar to the CEO of any organization. Peter Lim was this Number One man. Peter Lim’s career history shows he first joined the SCDF in 1987 as a Fire Safety Engineer. In the course of his career, Peter Lim assumed various leadership and key management appointments, including Division Commander, Head of the Operations Department in Headquarters, SCDF, Director of the Civil Defence Academy, Assistant Commissioner of the General Staff and Deputy Commissioner of SCDF. On 20 May 2009, Peter Lim was officially appointed as the Commissioner of SCDF by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Peter Lim graduated in 1986 from the University of Applied Science, Hamburg, Germany with a Bachelor Degree in Mechanical Engineering. He has also participated in the Columbia Senior Executive Program in 2003 and the Stanford Executive Program in 2008.

What a colourful career history Peter Lim has! After becoming the commissioner, he abused his position of authority and was found guilty in the sex for graft case. My question to the people of Singapore is: Where is the Professionalism and Integrity of such a Public Servant?

CNB Ex-Director Sex for Graft Case (acquitted)

Ng Boon Gay who is the ex-Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) was proven NOT guilty in a sex-for-contracts case. What is clear though is he admitted to committing such sexual trysts with another woman despite him being married. Many of you would recall the evidentiary proof given by the parties is undisputable that Ng Boon Gay did indeed commit sexual acts and adultery whilst being appointed as a senior officer in CNB. CNB is Singapore’s primary drug enforcement agency entrusted with the responsibilities of coordinating all matters pertaining to drug eradication. Singapore has always taken an extremely tough stand towards drug abuse, and clearly, the CNB’s role is extremely important.

Now, the Director of the CNB is its Number One man. Ng Boon Gay was this Number One man. His career history shows he was a PSC local merit scholar, majored in Mathematics and graduated with First Class Honours from NUS in 1990. He joined the Singapore Police Force soon after and was appointed Assistant Superintendent of Police the following year. Ng was promoted 8 times and took on key command and staff appointments in the Police Force. As Commander of Tanglin Police Division from 2001 to 2003, he was charged with the overall responsibility to police one of the busiest regions in Singapore encompassing Toa Payoh, Bukit Timah and Orchard Road. In 2003, he was appointed the Director of Manpower Department, Police Headquarters and in 2008, he was promoted to Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) of Police and appointed Director of Criminal Investigation Department (CID). As Director CID, he was overall in charge of the principal agency responsible for the detection and suppression of major and specialized crimes. In Jan 2011, he was appointed to his last position in the Police Force, Director CNB before his arrest in Dec 2011.

As a senior member of the Force, he is also the staff authority responsible for policy formation, operational strategies and system & technological development on all investigation matters in the Police Force. In 1999, in recognition of his performance and potential, Ng was awarded the Singapore Police Force Postgraduate Scholarship. He opted for the NUS Master of Business Administration programme with an exchange module with University of Michigan. He completed the programme and obtained his MBA in 2001 with excellent results, topping the class and being awarded the Reginald Quahe Medal. Ng was also a board member of Certis Cisco. He was a former council member in the Northwest Community Development Council, and participated in clubs’ and associations’ activities.

What a colourful career history Ng has! But that does not deny the fact that although he was acquitted of his sex-for-contracts case, he still committed adultery when he was a married man holding an extremely important appointment in one of Singapore’s most important civil agencies. My question to the people of Singapore is: Where is the Professionalism and Integrity of such a Public Servant?

Academia as a Yardstick to Select Competent Civil Servants is WRONG As far back as I can remember, civil servants in Singapore have always been selected based on their academic grades. Good grades have always been a measure of competence and performance. And the younglings with the highest academic scores get appointed to the highest ranks of public service. This is a practice that is WRONG and has to be eradicated. The main problem with academia is it does NOT measure other virtues such as Integrity, Benevolence, Chastity, Commitment, Compassion, Dependability, Discernment, Discipline, Forgiveness, Fortitude, Generosity, Grace, Gratitude, Helpfulness, Honesty, Impartiality, Kindness, Magnanimity, Mercy, Meekness, Patience, Prudence, Purity, Reliability, Responsibility, Righteousness, Selflessness, Sensitivity, Sincerity, Tact, Trustworthiness, Understanding, Wisdom, Zeal etc and the list goes on and on.

So what has happened since Singapore gained its independence in 1965?

Over these past 40+ years, our public servants have been selected through this flawed notion of meritocracy, measured in large part by Academic Grades. So many of these trained scholars, who have excellent grades and impeccable resumes on paper, have been put through our flawed systems and are now amidst us, in extremely high positions and ranks throughout our most important organizations. The above two cases in the Number One man in SCDF and CNB are but simple examples. How many more are out there?

And perhaps this leads to a more pressing issue. If these senior civil servants are cut from such a stained cloth, where they have been appointed solely because of academic prowess and not because of other virtues, then it is difficult to believe the policies they put in place are indeed good policies. As many people have attested, the policies implemented in recent times have been terrible and are not in the best interests of the Singapore people.

If the above thinking is indeed true, then this opens a larger can of worms. It leads and follows on to the highest authority of civil servants in Singapore – the Government and the Cabinet of Ministers. If the individuals with the highest authority in Singapore have been selected in large part due to good academic grades, but have not been assessed based on other virtues, then it is extremely worrying as these individuals will NOT be instilling policies which place the people of Singapore as priority. They simply will not have the “Heart” to do so. How can these individuals in power understand and relate to the people on the ground, when they have for a good part of their entire lives, conducted their management by merely sitting behind a desk and pushing a pen.

Another extremely worrying issue is many of our key organizations are helmed by individuals who for a good part of their lives, were signed on regulars from the Singapore Armed Forces. As many people have noted before, these senior officers from SAF (some call them “Paper” Generals) have been parachuted into many key state-owned organizations after nearly reaching the tail-end of their military career. One often ponders, how much does a military man, especially one being conditioned in a Singapore type “Wayang” military for so long, know about managing a real-world commercial organization? Are his experiences and skills sets even relevant to begin with?

I do admit it may be challenging to assess an individual based on other virtues and characteristic traits. And really, it is the easiest way out to measure someone by merely looking at academic grades. But clearly, this is an extremely flawed measurement yardstick that has permeated many facets of our Singaporean culture and practical lives. Academia does not automatically translate into success. There are many other developed nations and global organizations that have started to realize such a fact, and are selecting their employees based on many other worthy merits instead of just paper grades.

The old adage used to read “Knowledge is Power”. I beg to differ. Knowledge is NOT Power. What you actually do with relevant knowledge, and do it well you must, is true Power.

3rd Generation Singaporean