More needs to be done to prepare for electoral change

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Should a non-People’s Action Party government take over, they are going to have a lot of problems with the ministries — this seems to be a common view expressed by many whenever I pose the question of transition.

The belief that the higher levels of the civil service have been thoroughly politicised is widespread. My friends speak of obstruction and covert undermining. “They won’t be able to trust the top two, three or four layers of the administration,” says one.

The senior civil servants “will block new initiatives, making the new government ineffective, waiting for the return of the PAP,” says another.

I’m not sure that calling the top levels of the civil service ‘politicised’ is completely apt. I think it’s more a case of the seniormost civil servants sharing similar worldviews as the PAP. This would be no accident; they’d have been selected because they shared the same worldviews. They would also be personally invested in the policies that the previous PAP minister carried out, policies that they themselves helped design. Thus, any non-PAP minister’s attempt to depart from those policies would strike them as “rash decisions”; there would be a natural resistance, one bolstered by a feeling that they’re the only bulwark left defending “sanity” and “Singapore’s best interests”.

Bending over backwards

This topic came up following the Workers’ Party’s unexpectedly strong victory in the Punggol East by-election. Party leader Low Thia Khiang was quick to downplay the national significance of the result.

“You can’t take the by-election result as one that is going to be the trend in the future,” he told reporters before the WP went on a thank you parade with new MP elect Lee Li Lian, who won with 54.5 per cent of the vote.

“It is a by-election, it is not a general election,” said Mr Low, adding that voters did not have to worry that the Government would be voted out.

Mr Low said this was why he had taken pains to stress to voters the role the WP is able to play at this stage in its development. The party is “not ready” to form an alternative government and come up with a full set of alternative policies yet, he said.

— Straits Times, 27 Jan 2013, Low: Don’t take by-election result as sign of future trend

As you can see, he was also quick to tell voters not to expect the Workers’ Party to be ready to form a government.

Even more surprising was his comment that the PAP is a “competent government”. In the course of last week, a foreign diplomat mentioned this remark to me, saying it seemed very strange for the Leader of the Opposition to be saying this. A foreign correspondent told me that in his country, you’d never find an opposition leader saying anything like this, and if he did, the rest of his party might want to impeach him.

Yesterday, Mr Low sought to inject a further dose of reality, bringing up a point that he had made throughout the campaign.

His party, he stressed, is not ready to form an alternative government and come up with a full set of policies.

Rather, at this stage of its development, it will point out problems in existing policies and offer policy suggestions.

“I think we have a competent Government… we need to allow time for the Government to work, and I hope, eventually, the policies will take effect on the ground, people’s lives will be improved and we have a better Singapore.”

He added that while the WP will keep the Government on its toes, “it’s also not productive to politicise everything”.

— Straits Times, 28 Jan 2013, By-election win not sign of trend for GE: Low, by Leonard Lim

Party chair Sylvia Lim also repeated the ‘we do not politicise everything’ statement at a conference held 28 January 2013.

Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim said yesterday that she makes submissions on government policies away from the public eye, as she believes that political parties need to avoid partisan politics.

And the ministries have treated her feedback objectively, she added.

Ms Lim, an MP for Aljunied GRC, said that as political parties, “we need to constantly check ourselves to avoid getting too embroiled in partisan politics and miss the wood for the trees”.

The wood here is the people’s well-being, she added.

— Straits Times, 29 Jan 2013, Parties need to avoid partisan politics: Sylvia Lim, by Tessa Wong

Aside from wanting to temper public expectations, one of my friends had an unusual theory for this almost-contortionist bending over backwards to re-assure the PAP. He said Low and the party would be highly conscious of what happened to former Workers’ Party leader J B Jeyaretnam soon after winning the Anson by-election in 1981. The PAP saw him as the thin end of a wedge, threatening their eventual hold on power. They investigated Jeyaretnam for his handling of party accounts, charged him, disbarred him and disqualified him from parliament. Low might also be mindful that more than 20 persons were arrested and detained without trial in 1987/1988, and some of them had links to the Workers’ Party. He would want to avoid frightening the tiger again.

I am not convinced that this lies behind Low’s and Sylvia Lim’s unusual words; however, I don’t have a better explanation.

Not enough people

By contrast, the statement that the party is “not ready” to form a government is probably a straightforward, honest assessment. The party doesn’t even have enough experienced people to head all 14 ministries, let alone provide depth.

If the Workers’ Party is not ready, what more of any other opposition party?

Yet the day will come when the PAP falls and other parties take over. That said, coalition government (with the PAP) is more likely than an outright opposition victory. But even in coalition, a non-PAP minister taking over a ministry is going to face resistance.

I’ve heard some people say that by that time, enough good leaders will have joined the winning opposition party to give it the resources to take over government. This is too sanguine. Politics doesn’t move in such methodical ways. There are many examples from other countries of small parties catapulted into power after an election.

It is less of a problem when a country has experienced regular changes of government. The civil service is not much wedded to any party’s philosophy. But in Singapore’s case, one can almost say the PAP has remade the civil service in its own image through the last 50 years. Setting new directions and executing new policies will be immeasurably more difficult here.

And that’s provided the incoming party has new ideas. What is worrying is that even Low Thia Khiang admits that his party does not yet have a full set of alternative policies. Of the other opposition parties, only the Singapore Democratic Party is consistently working on developing new policies. Even so, it’s still very much a work in progress.

Bureaucratic capture

The danger with a new minister walking in to a ministry without clear ideas of his own lies in bureaucratic capture. This, I suspect, occurs even when PAP boasts of “renewal”, inserting newly-elected members of parliament into cabinet. As a comment in a previous post pointed out, how much would an ex-military general or rear-admiral know of manpower, transport or social services?

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Whether of the PAP or an opposition party, a new minister will want to read up as much as possible. But who would be giving him the papers and the briefings?  The seniormost civil servants of course. By this process, the new minister is quickly inducted into existing perspectives and priorities. Before long, the minister is seen to be defending the status quo; at best he speaks only of “listening more” and “incremental change”.

If this has been damaging, time and again, to the PAP’s claim to being responsive to people’s concerns, imagine how much injury it is going to do to a non-PAP minister elected on a wave of hope.

To succeed, a changemaster needs two important assets:

  • a clear-eyed view of what he wants changed, which means a prepared sense of what’s currently wrong and the direction he wants to take;
  • people available to him, who are (a) like-minded or (b) not necessarily like-minded, but equally skeptical of the status quo.

It is thus worrying that opposition parties — with the possible exception of one or two — aren’t investing enough in formulating alternative policies. Without them, an incoming minister will not have a clear-eyed view of what he wants.

He will also need a pool of advisors, preferably experts in the same field as the ministry is in charge of, who can provide input and fresh perspectives. But it is hard to remove civil servants. The rules are designed to protect them from the vagaries of political change, at least in the short term, and so the new minister cannot rely on replacing uncooperative civil servants.

Then what else is he to do?

Quite obviously, he will need to ignore and bypass the obstructive civil servants. In an informal conversation I had recently, someone suggested that the new minister would need to freeze out the top two, three or four layers. The minister may need to find ways to deal directly with the fourth or fifth layer to get his wishes implemented.

More importantly, he needs to make sure he continues to get good advice. Unable to replace his top civil servants, he will need informal ways to tap outside expertise. Either directly or through his Political Secretary — from the name, you’ll know that it is a political, not civil service appointment — he will need to maintain regular contact with three groups: his own party’s think tank that develops policies; academia; and civil society. The latter two often contain people who know the issues as well as (perhaps better than) civil servants. The new minister can send to them data that the ministry has collected and ask these experts what other interpretations are possible from the data. What other solutions should be considered?

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Hence, it looks obvious that to prepare themselves for the day when they are catapulted into power, opposition parties need to build trust and communication links with academia and civil society. They need to be able to draw on these pools of expertise if they are to avoid being captured by the bureaucracy soon after taking power.

Easier with corporatised arms

An interesting twist is that many branches of government have now been corporatised. We have, for example, the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the Media Development Authority (MDA), the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), the Housing and Development Board (HDB) etc. The general pattern is that all the members of these statutory beasts serve at the pleasure of the relevant minister; they can be replaced anytime unlike civil servants. This provides any new government with plenty of leverage to influence the directions of these bodies.

But where is an opposition party to find so many people as replacements?

I don’t really see that happening. I don’t see opposition parties reaching out.

At the same time, I suspect there is great fear among many in academia and civil society to be seen talking to opposition parties. Fifty years of PAP rule have made many people ultra-sensitive to accusations that they are consorting with the PAP’s enemies. Some might argue that as opposition parties win more votes, this fear will lessen. But the opposite argument may well apply: as the contest between the PAP and other parties intensifies to the point of winning or losing power altogether, the PAP may become even more suspicious of any academic or civil society group who gets friendly with opposition parties.

And thus is tomorrow uncertain. Even as PAP governance fails, and the need for an alternative becomes more pressing, we do too little too late to prepare for a different dawn. We spend too much time reassuring people that things won’t much change (“not ready” to take over the government, the PAP is a “competent government”), and not enough time thinking about and preparing for change.

55 Responses to “More needs to be done to prepare for electoral change”


  1. 1 Bong Kin Chen 11 February 2013 at 15:53

    Sure there are numerous problems attendant upon a change of political governance by a change of different incumbent. However, the top tier of civil servants would surely be able to know which side of their bread the butter is spread. If not, these particular minions are not worthy to be civil servants any longer for their own good self survival. It may be a slow pick-up but resolute political authority of ministerial office will definitely ramp through for the bright light of day just like when the pappies first came into office in the 50s. You, the Snr Citizens know what happened !!! The same scenario of deja-vu will be repeated. Believe you me.

    • 2 Ong Wah Beng 13 February 2013 at 14:45

      It isn’t the civil servants you need to worry about, it’s the judiciary. They know exactly which side their bread is buttered on. Given that they decide every dispute (constitutional or otherwise), a new government will have a hard time getting anything done.
      That is why The Economist magazine says change is not possible in Singapore: http://www.economist.com/news/21566576-singapore

      • 3 D 14 February 2013 at 12:52

        The Economist article should be taken in context – “The world in 2013”, not 2016. In the short term the PAP are not going to alter much, they have the power and presumably intend to keep it. That doesn’t mean meaningful change wouldn’t come about after a GE though.

  2. 4 Ace 11 February 2013 at 16:33

    The tortoise can only win the race if the hare goes to sleep. Hence what the WP is saying may not necessary be that they are not ready but that they want to reassure the hare that it can continue sleeping until the race is over. How else can you win a race that the hare can change the rules of the race at its whim and fancy?

    Once the race is won, there will be no lack of capable people to fill the Ministries. We can take heart that the change in Marcos and Suharto government in the past did not lead to a collapse of the countries, and I believe that Singaporeans are better prepared than citizens of the Philippines .or Indonesia when the historic moment arrived.

  3. 5 Goh EH 11 February 2013 at 16:47

    Lest we remember. Like it or not, any opposition party wishing to form a government would be in the form of a coalition, given the near total PAP dominance here. Not forgetting even the early PAP was a coalition of sort, riding on the tiger of its own leftist wing, breakaway as Barisan Socialist, to power in its teenage years.

    Coalition, in present day PAP lingo, are always painted bleakly, hence weak and unstable. In cold reality, that’s going to be the political climate of the future — coalition government. See Malaysia BN since Independence, Japan LDP, Australia Liberal/National etc. The only type of govt not in need of partnering coalition is Communist.

  4. 6 Daryl Boey 11 February 2013 at 17:05

    how do you know there isn’t already some bureaucratic capture by opposition party members at the middle to lower levels of the civil service?

  5. 7 Eureka 11 February 2013 at 17:08

    Mr Low is telling the truth he don’t have the capabilities and enough of the civil servants and academics to make up the government. He only have a few members in his think tank. But if he capture more than 1/3 of the seats next election then he have to rethink his co-driver strategy and collaborate with the civil service to run the alternate government.

  6. 8 Sulaiman Daud 11 February 2013 at 17:12

    This reminds me exactly of the situation in the classic British comedy ‘Yes Minister’. The Civil Service may not be politicised, but they sure not want to introduce anything too new either, even if it’ll do some good.

  7. 9 kampong boy 11 February 2013 at 17:22

    yes, i have seen that every new important minster always spent a few years first at the ministry of education. this must be to get them used to the workings of a safe ministry where nothing changes very much.

    and i agrees that the opposition have to expands their base not just politically, but intellectually. the recent ‘white paper’ has seen various think-tank speaking out, this will be a good time to reach out to the intellectuals.

  8. 10 The 11 February 2013 at 17:28

    Yes, it is going to be a Herculean task to change the juggernaut. All the power bases have been captured or are manned by like-minded people – the unions, academia, armed forces, police force, etc. Where there are organizations with many members, they are all required to be registered and monitored. Even religion organizations and professional bodies are not allowed to strayed beyond their narrow remit.

    In other words, all bases have been covered.

  9. 11 Anon HDc1 11 February 2013 at 17:30

    I have to question whether the alternative policies a party can come up now are good and valid given the lack of information. It may be more desirable the new government has no alternative policies at all but focus on making the society more democratic and liberate public discussions like enact a Freedom of Information Act to free up information.

    The new government may not have the alternative policies, but they can generate the environment to allow the academic and the public debate and shape alternative policies.

  10. 12 October Leung 11 February 2013 at 17:40

    Just as it would be objectively shameful to be known as a local journalist, the same may almost apply to local academia. Aren’t intellectuals supposed to be disinterested critics of society? And yet we have an academic who abstained from voting. Have you heard of an academic without an opinion? It’s shameful.

  11. 13 Debunker 11 February 2013 at 17:51

    Actually someone, and by someone I mean you, should come up with a table with our current ministers’ field of expertise vs the portfolio that they hold.

    For example, I know that Vivian is an eye doctor holding the MEWR portfolio. Do these pappies think that an eye doctor, even thou being a prestigious job, is qualified at being a minister for public utilities?

    Or do these idiots think any degree can already? Debunk it!

    • 14 eremarf 12 February 2013 at 06:49

      Nice arrow! :-p

      No I don’t think LKY’s ideology was “any degree can already”. He believed that intelligence was a general quality, and that highly intelligent men would be highly capable at everything. Which is bullshit, IMHO.

      • 15 ricardo 13 February 2013 at 12:09

        I rather think some of the views expressed here are a result of the ‘Elite’ propaganda from the PAP that has indoctrinated 5 or more generations of Singaporeans … including the PAP bashers like myself.

        I believe intelligence is necessary for leaders. But also integrity, empathy, compassion, courage, a passion to serve and the ability to inspire and encourage people to share your ideals.

        These qualities like integritry, empathy etc have gone from the PAP since the passing of the old guard like Dr. Goh Keng Swee & Toh Chin Chye. Only arrogance and self-serving Dignity seeking (which were NEVER evident with the 2 doctors) is left.

        Our Lord LKY also believed some races were lacking in intelligence … as he believed some religions were venomous. It is his beliefs that have shaped the beliefs of the present PAP … and his ‘qualities’ that remain to haunt the PAP and … will sadly haunt Singapore for a long time.

        I can’t help feeling that the scenario the WP are working towards is one the Mr. Au has mentioned before as most likely .. that the PAP do not secure >50% and have to form a Coalition Govt.

        Dr. Chen & the WP intend to be in on this. Let us pray they do the right thing for Singaporeans and not just rubber stamp PAP policy while collecting their Dignity … like most PAP MPs.

        As for whether the top civil servants will be obstructive? One only has to look at the (PAP controlled) People’s Association to see what might happen.

  12. 16 Duh 11 February 2013 at 18:08

    If WP doesn’t have the adequate numbers to form the new government then a coalition govt will be required – much like what is done in the States.

    Key appt holders in the various civil service need to realise that they are there to serve and support the ruling party regardless of whether it is the PAP or not. If they prove to be an obstacle and impediment to the ruling party or coalition govt, it is imperative for the new govt to efficiently replace them with people with more integrity and independence – people who cannot and will not adapt to the changing sociopolitical climate of Singapore should be made to leave those jobs.

    Unlike the PAP, the new govt should proactively seek people with independent viewpoints with courage and integrity to speak out against the govt’s proposals for the sake of the good of Singaporeans. Such people will help the new govt in refining their proposals.

    When this new govt takes over, there is a need to slowly, systematically and completely weed out these PAP machinery in the various GLCs, Universities and MSM and to depolitcised these institutions and organisations.

    In the end, there is also a need to launch a full independent inquiry into the potential self-serving policies of the PAP and enact changes to the Singapore Constitution to prevent the same thing from happening should in the future, a single political party dominates the Singapore Parliament again.

    • 17 octopi 12 February 2013 at 19:54

      Duh.

      You mean the UK, not the US. In the US, the executive of the government is formed by the winner of the presidential elections.

      • 18 Duh 13 February 2013 at 00:30

        The elected American president can select members of the opposing political party to join his administration – for example in Obama administration (1st term) was the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, who is a Republican, and John McHugh, the Secretary of the Army and among others. (Obama, as you know, is a Democrat.)

        This is akin to the PAP asking a WP member to be Minister for Transport. But as if this will happen with the PAP. LOL I am saying that WP should be more open to this if their party do not have sufficient talented people to form a government. The impt thing here is to seek the MOST relevant talent to help run the country in the direction the winning party wants REGARDLESS of party affiliation.

        Actually, what happened with the SDP proposal was akin to this but their communication of this idea to the public was really bad and also, the political scene in Singapore is not developed as yet to accept this idea. That is, Singaporeans have this idea that if one party wins the majority of votes then the ENTIRE govt has to be from that party. They are so used to PAP’s way of doing things that they have difficulty seeing it any other way.

  13. 19 MarkT 11 February 2013 at 18:10

    This is a result of a flaw in our constitution whereby a minister must be an MP. In US, the various Secretaries (State, Defense and etc) are non Senators and Representative. The President will nominated any American he deems fit to lead the ministry and his nominee must be present in front of the Senate Committee to justify where he should be confirmed.

    When more seats PAP loses the lower pool of MP PAP can select to become minster thus will lead of lower caliber of leadership. Example if PAP has only 50 seats, the party can only choose out of these 50 MPs who to become ministers.

    The separate of Executive (Cabinet) and Legislative (MP) power where one cannot hold concurrent appointments allows more flexibility in selecting the best person for the job and allows checks, balances and leadership responsibilities. An MP holding a ministerial appoint is like a soccer player whom is also concurrent a referee when playing a match.

    • 20 Lye Khuen Way 12 February 2013 at 08:09

      Yes, the American way certainty had intrigued me and what a brilliant way of making sure you have a wide as possible pool of good people to come in to manage.

      I read that the Speaker of Parliament need Not be a MP……
      Somebody like Steve Wu may want to dig furthur and explore how to fill that appointment!

    • 21 Rogueeconomist 12 February 2013 at 15:46

      In the US system, most Cabinet-level political appointees are current or former politicians. Very few are pure ‘technocrats’, e.g. people whose primary careers existed outside of politics and who are chosen for their specific expertise in that policy area.

      There are merits to separating political representation from policy leadership. One may be, as you say, the ability to appoint ‘political losers’ or political outsiders who may nonetheless be the right person for the job. But given that a large part of a Minister’s job is to provide political leadership (selling policies to the public, defending them in public) I think for the most part these jobs still should go to people who have the experience of dealing with the public.

      I know our political leaders are often criticized for being out of touch with the ordinary public. But my experience is that members of the elite civil service can be even more out of touch. MPs and Ministers do have to meet the people and press the flesh to get elected. Civil servants have to do no such thing to rise in the ranks. For that matter, academics, business leaders, and other such domain experts don’t have to meet the ordinary public in the course of their jobs.

      So, I would be concerned that allowing top policy makers to be non-elected would lead to even more elitist policy-making in Singapore.

  14. 22 zen 11 February 2013 at 19:13

    This piece is so spot on. So needed.

    This situation is a result of 53 years of discouraging
    Sporeans to think outside the PAP mainstream,
    and to take an interest in politics and how their
    country can be developed and run. It shows in
    all the PAP’s own appointed over the last decade.

    Perhaps opposition parties without seats now can
    work on how the system can be changed, while
    the WP works out the tech aspects f running the govt.
    However, am very hopeful that old hands will step
    forward to offer guidance. Meanwhile, we have
    two years to get it together.

    Isn’t it interesting though that Lim Chong Yah,
    Ngiam Tong Dow and Tommy Koh have not said
    a word so far on the National Destructive White Paper.
    Their silence is deafening. Still, I reckon a lot of
    answers can be found in what they have said in
    the last couple of years.

  15. 23 Lion 11 February 2013 at 20:14

    To be honest, I think that diagram is a recipe for disaster. An assumption is made here that the civil service is obstructionist. I cannot say that is true or not but to bypass the entire structure would create a massive sense of distrust from a organizational management perspective. It also assumes that the top tier civil servants are monolithic which several have already shown to be otherwise (E.g Ngiam Tong Dow) and potentially chaffing under PAP Ministers whom might welcome the change.

    While what is proposed above is a thought experiment, I can share with you that I have seen what you proposed being implemented for a certain foreign government. The Opposition in that country (a coalition as well) was elected into power. The newly appointed Ministers of the new government took control and proceed to tear up policies from the previous Government without taking a good look whether they worked or offered viable alternative. What was worse was they refused to trust any of the Permanent Secretaries in the civil service and everyone, including the third/fourth tier were very disheartened to see some of the good work being destroyed. The irony was those same Ministers introduced similar policies… with a different brand name.

    • 24 Lion 11 February 2013 at 20:24

      Don’t be mistaken, I am all for change. But how do we do with without creating a witch hunt?

      • 25 eremarf 12 February 2013 at 06:12

        Well, isn’t it a good idea for political parties to in general consult outside of the civil service (i.e. check with party-internal research arm, academia, civil society) in any case? So this bit is good advice regardless of whether future ministers have to bypass top tiers of the civil service.

        Re: whether and how many top-tier civil servant will be obstructionist, I really wonder about this.

        I recall a casual chat with an ex-civil servant recently, which left me with the impression that civil servants don’t formulate policy solutions (based on their domain expertise, which should exceed those of ministers) for ministers, but that ministers demand certain policy solutions, which the civil service then tries to justify based on selective evidence.

        A friend also pointed out to me the sparse expert support for the ideas in the recent population white paper (e.g. lack of citations) – which I think corroborates the above. And perhaps suggests that civil servants are politically savvy enough to go with the flow, but are unwilling to endorse PAP policies which are not well-founded on theory and evidence.

        This doesn’t rule civil servants out as potentially being obstructionist – but their fault seems to me more one of being overly compliant to politicians (ie being yesmen) than of being ideological bedfellows. Though of course, when one’s reputation and career is built on PAP ideology, one probably would have more interest in defending it.

        Based on this very very little I know, I’m not too worried about obstructionist civil servants.

        (BTW, is it me, or is Singapore’s civil service more insular than that of say the United States? It just strikes me that famous academics (or other experts, e.g. from industry) get appointed to the civil service quite often, e.g. Stiglitz into Clinton’s cabinet? If the US President can appoint academics or experts he trusts into civil service, why can’t our freshly-minted ex-opposition ministers?)

      • 26 yawningbread 12 February 2013 at 13:25

        You seem to be discussing whether “civil servants” will be obstructionist or whether, even now, they go with the flow.

        My sources have been careful to make the distinction between the top layers of the civil service and the civil service in general. I think what you are discussing is the civil service in general, whereas in my article I was focussing on the top layers.

        My own impression is the middle layers of the civil service are mostly dedicated and well-informed. They are not much politicised and will be able to function under a new minister from a different party. They can be a source of innovative policy ideas if called upon (which they rarely are). The problem they face is not just the PAP minister but the existing upper echelons of the civil service who don’t encourage much departure from the tried and tested.

      • 27 eremarf 15 February 2013 at 17:06

        @YB – I wasn’t talking about the mid levels or the entire civil service in general… I was thinking about the top tier. But I think I probably have too little knowledge of what the top-tier or top layer civil servants are like. My opinion was based on what I heard from not-so-close contacts or friends who worked in the Ministries (mid tier) and their interactions with the top tier. So, I think you probably are in a better position to know (and I trust you). And I’m revising my tentative opinion again.

        But I really wish we could know more about how civil servants work with politicians. I wish we had more civil servants like Neil Barofsky (who wrote about his experience in the US civil service handling the bank bailouts). Again, I lament our lack of a questioning, critical, independent press and public debate, lack of public information, lack of a safe climate for criticising PAP politicians, etc.

        @zen & YB – I agree too with Ngiam that the early PAP (whatever their other faults) did serve their electorate better than today’s PAP (although one might argue that they had an easy job picking the low-hanging fruit). It’s indeed a very different PAP today.

    • 28 zen 13 February 2013 at 01:29

      ngiam served a very long time ago. today’s perm secs are v diff people.

      • 29 yawningbread 13 February 2013 at 12:31

        And I have the sense that much of Ngiam’s (mild) criticism of the current govt is that they have departed from the excellent and brilliant ways of the first generation of PAP leaders!

  16. 30 Chris 11 February 2013 at 21:40

    Here in the United Kingdom, top civil servants hold informational briefings with Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition regularly (perhaps every 6 months) through the term of a parliament. When an election is called or scheduled (now that they are every 5 years) further briefings are held so that the Opposition, if it were to become the Government, is better prepared for power and not just dropped into the boiling soup, as it were.

    Does the Singaporean Civil Service hold such briefings with opposition parties?

    • 31 yawningbread 11 February 2013 at 23:22

      From the public record, nothing of the sort has been reported.

      Perhaps they’ve been held behind closed doors? I doubt it. Singapore is a small place. If such meetings have been held, someone somewhere would have alluded to it by now.

      • 32 Chris 12 February 2013 at 00:47

        I don’t believe they are statutory here, but customary. As the parties in Government change, it is in their interest to ensure that when they are in opposition, they get contact with the senior civil servants with whom they may have to work after an election.

        In Singapore, as there has never been a change in Government since independence, I suppose it’s not been felt necessary to hold such meetings.

    • 33 eremarf 12 February 2013 at 06:19

      This seems a good idea (I would like to see this implemented in S’pore). I guess it also helps to some extent in keeping the civil service from being too politically captured by the incumbent party (since they have to discuss things or at least answer questions from the opposition)?

      Would be a big improvement on seeing WP MPs ask for basic statistics and figures from PAP ministers in parliament (they can just obtain it from the relevant civil servants instead – or better yet – we should just get a FOIA), which is a huge waste of time IMO. Then WP can just make their points in parliament, and PAP respond, instead of asking for data and giving data.

  17. 34 alex toh 12 February 2013 at 00:05

    We need to cut the pay of the ministers and civil servants to make it easier for them to leave.

  18. 35 mike tan 12 February 2013 at 00:16

    If the opposition has a combined votes of more than 50%, can they form the coalition government and leave PAP out in the cold? What does the constitution say?

  19. 36 Francis 12 February 2013 at 12:24

    “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” It is very easy to comment from the sidelines when we don’t see eye to eye with the PAP. We must give credit where credit is due and the PAP over the years has managed Singapore well. However this does not mean that we should keep silent when we perceive wrong doings.
    The Workers Party are realistic and know what they can and cannot do.
    Has the PAP been so wrong that we can do with out them and someone else can take the helm ? Are we dreaming ? Can we not see what is happening in countries all around us? The PAP of old brought us to where we are under difficult circumstances for a lot less money. This new lot are more demanding and money. Can they deliver? Is it real passion or the montary rewards that guide them? Some are fresh faces, wet behind the years and they speak down to us. Ngiam Tong Dow states that there many
    “Lee Kwan Yew’s” in the PAP. When they can’t get what they want they leave.
    I don’t understand why they still think that the voters are “brainless” and can’t see through some of their antics. Is their PR so hopless and cluless ?
    They kick Chiam See Tong out of his office. Will this endear the to the residents of Potong Pasir? They try to put hurdles in the way of the Workers Party with the accounting system. They now tell Punggol residents that they will not help out since the WP has been voted in? They keep puting their foot in their mouth and this after all the “coversations” Have they learnt nothing after the last election? Is being the “bully” the best way?
    The white paper on population was thrust upon us and even PAP MP’s were not delighted. Now the PM says “we could have done it better. ”
    Thank God that there are those among us like the WP who are rising to the challange against many odds. Give them credit and there are others too who know that are up against a concrete wall but still stand up and work within the system. Who has more passion? They or PAP members, so before you cast that stone think, do you have the courage?
    As ZEN says there are no responses from Ngiam, Ching Yah, Tommy Koh and others big wigs. Wonder why????

  20. 37 George 12 February 2013 at 21:09

    I tend to believe the tortoise and hare story. No sense in alarming the sleeping hare.

    It is not really that difficult to decide what to change or modify by merely looking at the impact of each and every policy on the people and the country. These are extremely good start points to look into the issues/problems from the bottom up. As you peel away the layers of bureaucracy you would understand the rationale and justifications for them and from there decide whether changes or modifications are in order according/justified on the philosophy and ideology of the party concerned. It is not some chop and change process but an informed systematic and rational process of change guided by informed basic democratic socialist principles. Four immediate areas for scrutiny are health care, public housing, transportation and the indiscriminate importation of foreign workers that undermines the well being and welfare of local workers and by extension their families.

  21. 38 mike 12 February 2013 at 22:32

    Is the uper tier appointed , or up through the ranks? If they are appointed, is there any any vetting process to the qualifcations they hold other than support for the political party in rule?

    • 39 yawningbread 12 February 2013 at 23:26

      The upper tiers of public servants would be appointed/promoted from within the civil service. By whom? Political masters mostly. Based on what criteria? Nobody really knows, but we can guess.

      • 40 eremarf 15 February 2013 at 17:35

        @mike – definitely these people have very good paper qualifications – most of them would have been educated at the world’s most prestigious schools (is that actually a good or bad thing?). They would also generally be competent, dedicated and hardworking people. This narrows the range of choices down quite a bit – but from within this pool, support for or at least willingness to work with their “political masters” (as YB mentions) is probably an important factor for whether people get promotions and appointments.

        re: “up through the ranks” – not within the same Ministries – e.g. look at Yam Ah Mee – Air Force, to Public Service Division, to Min Transport, to LTA, to PA, and now out of civil service to “private sector” Semb Corp. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me (similar to how Ministers come from all kinds of weird backgrounds like being surgeons, generals, etc.)

        This network of top-tier civil servants looks like a very closed and intellectually inbred bunch of people (maybe by deliberate design). All potential top civil servants picked at 18 y/o with scholarships, doing “tours of duty” across different ministries with that “breadth” of experience accounted as positive diversity. Add to this closed circle the fact that many politicians emerge from the civil service. Add the filtering effect of promotions (weeding out people who have contrary views, don’t play ball, etc). The likelihood is very high that you end up with similar ideas across the political party and the top tiers of civil service.

        I’m just hoping that more civil servants were just cooperating or “playing ball” with their political masters (especially since they are domain experts who should be able to see past ideology), than ideological bedfellows. I’m also hoping that perhaps being civil servants, they don’t have as much vested interest in the survival of one particular political party, and will be willing to switch political-party allegiances in order to serve society.

  22. 41 The Pariah 13 February 2013 at 14:43

    What will be new is this:

    Annual Average Singapore CItizenships granted
    (ie, Number of New Singaporeans Per Year) –
    Source: ICA (Immigration and Customs Authority):

    1987-2006: 8k
    2007-2011: 11k
    2012 onwards: 20k

    Native Singaporeans Neutered by Naturalized Singaporeans!
    Way to go, eh, fellow Singaporeans?

    What to do lah? 60% voted for Pay And Profit (PAP) in last GE 2011. Singaporeans deserve the kind of government we get.

    The rot started from 2G PAP under PM Goh Chok Tong, festered in 3G PAP under PM Lee Hsien Loong and will be fostered even more relentlessly in 4G PAP. But remember who voted in the PAP, eh?

  23. 42 John Goh 13 February 2013 at 16:38

    Singapore can’t be like last time in the 80s and 90s, depend on lower cost foreign investments, now China had opened up with its billion of populations, cheap and educated labour.

    Singapore got to diversify to other higher end industries , Singapore is no longer cheaper in cost?

    Singapore need to develop its own industries capability, innovations and diligence utilisation of technologies and massive encouragement of its people to innovate and train them through massive incentives, like some of the small highly advanced and innovative countries?

    Singapore got to reinvent itself and depend on more of its own development of investments and technologiesto stay ahead?

    Because of its cost singapore can’t complete in the low end labour intensive industries?

    Singapore land area is finite, it can’t kept importing people without facing serious consequences?

  24. 43 Lim Bt 13 February 2013 at 17:01

    I would not think that many of the top tier civil servants will sabotage the new government. They have their children and grand children to think of. They have their assets here in Singapore too. Sure some of them can migrate. But how many? Initially the new government will face some difficulties. Civil servants are human too. They are smart people and know what and when to do what for their own and family’s survival.

  25. 44 Pop69 13 February 2013 at 17:02

    A Stalin-style purge will get rid of those uncooperative senior civil servants a.k.a. PAP lackeys who would throw a wrench into the gears of a fledgling non-PAP government.

    Just do a few in will do. Send a clear message and a solemn warning to the others. For starters, I would throw a few senior SPH pseudo-journalists into jail for an indefinite period of time. You know who they are.

    Once the weeds in the garden have been uprooted, the reform can then begin.

    • 45 K Das 15 February 2013 at 20:11

      I remember that soon after the PAP took over the government in 1959, it imposed a nominal pay cut for senior civil servants as part of its austerity drive. The head of the Admin Service then (I think so) critisised the move and strong action was taken against him and from somebody he became nobody. After that the rest of top bureaucrats fell in line.

  26. 46 qwertot 14 February 2013 at 00:51

    I feel the reason why WP is so reluctant to criticize the PAP is, quite frankly, that the WP relies on PAP to justify its existence. In every election, WP has never claimed it wants to form the government, instead it claims it wants to serve as the ‘checks and balance’ or the ‘co-driver’. Which obviously implies there must be someone in power for them to check on.

    If one day the PAP were to lose power, what reason would there be to vote for the WP? Unlike the SDP, WP has no firm policies or alternatives fleshed out, so no one knows what they will do if they ever gain power. That is reason enough not to vote for them.

    Add to the fact that WP is generally conservative (broadly speaking), and trying to be a less extreme version of the PAP so that it can draw away PAP voters while at the same time claiming to be against the PAP.

    Finally, how long are we going to accept the ‘we don’t intend to form the next government’ excuse? It’s high time we stop putting certain parties up on a pedestal, and hold them all to the same standards. I heard the same lines in the previous elections ; how many elections must we wait for parties to come up with ideas?

    • 47 Duh 14 February 2013 at 14:44

      I agree – WP’s close alignment to the PAP is responsible for its electoral success but can also be its political demise. By aligning WP closer to PAP’s approach to political governance style, it can earn the support of the sway voters from PAP’s camp. However, by aligning its political approach like the PAP’s, it risks committing all the mistakes that the PAP has made – for example, exclusivity in political governance in creating another groupthink effect and thus, increasing tendency for WP MPs to move towards more self-serving policies rather than nation building policies.

      ‘Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely’ applies to the PAP and also WP if it chooses the same or similar path as the PAP. Even now, people are accusing WP as ‘PAP Lite’ and this is very telling. WP is starting to have a reputation for its exclusivity in its political activities, much like the PAP.

  27. 48 yuen 14 February 2013 at 07:51

    surely there is another side: the new government would appoint its own cronies wherever possible; within the government, GLC and research/education organizations, many highly paid positions controlling large budgets are available, and I dont believe the new guys are any better at resisting temptation than the current ones

    how to minimize such “improvements”? I have no idea; maybe the opposition parties should discuss how they are going to ensure they are going to be “better” than PAP in this respect

    • 49 Chow 14 February 2013 at 18:31

      For a start, I’d say that a press that is more free, an independent judiciary, and a Freedom of Information Act can all help act as a check and balance on such acts of ‘chumminess’.

  28. 50 John Goh 14 February 2013 at 11:20

    Singapore at one time restricted the population birthrate at 2, the populations were around 2 millions. At that time, sometimes water were rations as there is not enough water, and foods supply sometime shortage.

    And needed to find jobs to feed the populations. So Singapore draw in cheap foreign labour intensive industries and Singapore grow rapidly, when China with its cheap, educated billion of population not yet open.

    Base on the assumptions the old age getting worse. But the cause could be due to their children move oversea to more attractive lest crowded destinations. And the new citizens leaving behind their children in their previous countries due to raising them is cheaper there. Making problems more serious?

    Advancement of technology had driven the birthrate replacement/dependency ratio to 1.7 from the assumptions of 2.1, it could drive the dependency ratio down further with further advancement of technology to the replacement rate of 1.5.

    Advanced small countries with high standard of living and low income gap. Are technology advancement driven, they continue to innovate and upgrade their economy through technology in making better product and services, so that there is little low wage workers and their old populations are well taken care of. Their birthrate is 1.9 through various babies friendly enviroments and incentives.

    Singapore can’t continue to depend on old technology and labour intensive industries to drive the economy due to the rising COE, Rentals, Levies GRP & GST etc?

    Keep on making better products through innovations,creativity, efficiency, inventions & prodivities etc is the way?
    Home grown SME got to develop to venture oversea and keep making better product? More of our home grown SME need to be groom to be multi national companies?

  29. 51 John Goh 14 February 2013 at 14:45

    Assuming tourist arrivals, from normally had grown from 8m without the IRs($16
    Billions) to recently 13m, to be at 18m in 2015 by 2020 the tourist arrivals could be 22m plus, so Singapore will be much more overcrowded by then?

    Now our population is 5.3m, should we restrict it to 5.6m base on assumption, we could intensify the use of technology and infrastructures development to attract more tourism and using less manpower?

    We need to be more conservation in our estimate, if err, it is very difficult to revert back. Every effort need to seek views and ideas how to run the economy with less manpower so to raise income and $standard of living of the old and the lower wages workers?

    Base on more tourists arrival the lower wages older workers could be trained to cater for the surge in tourism and improve their wages and raise their standard of living?

    So base on the less people easier to be develop, to high pay and less income gap different in the population?

    More suggestions and feedbacks on how to develop S’pore to a high value added country are encourage from the young highly talented, brain drain overseas populations and successful small developed countries consultants to learn from them and around the world?

  30. 52 Pratamad 14 February 2013 at 17:31

    Singapore can certainly learn quite a bit from its northern neighbor, Malaysia. In 2008, when the opposition won the additional four state governments, it was a surprise outcome in five decades and little was prepared for such a scenario. Worse, the federal govt was still in the hand of the incumbent BN. Adding that with a bunch of civil servants who have long been loyal to BN, you have the most challenging state governments to run.

    Selangor, being the wealthiest state, stood out and the achievement of its Pakatan chief minister, Tan Sri Khalid, becomes the best case study. While challenges did surface as expected, regime change did not seem all bad on how the civil service responded to it. Given the appropriate high level message, human nature would quickly make the civil servants adjust themselves and brace for the next four/five years of new life.

    In short, it is NOT as bleak as we would normally like to think. So, Singapore, be prepared mentally and have a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit.

  31. 53 Anon 4Tyt 16 February 2013 at 10:39

    Singaporeans tend to fear too much of uncertainties and make excuses for wanting to maintain the status quo. As long as Singaporeans keep to this dim-witted view, this country will never experience any positive change.

    One can ask, how did the PAP appoint like-minded thinkers in the upper echelons of the civil service? An obvious approach was to force retirement upon dissenting high level civil servants, replace them with PAP supporters and pay these people top dollar for their continued support.

    However it is not correct to assume to that all high level civil servants share the PAP’s line of thought. Although Ngiam Tong Dow comes to mind, I am sure there are others who simply want to keep a low profile.

    Likewise it is also not correct to assume that non-PAP politicians will not be able to successfully handle a ministerial portfolio. Although Low Thia Khiang maintains that his party and he are not ready to form government, it is obvious that he is taking this stand in order to avoid the full wrath of the PAP coming down on him or his party. If we look at other countries of similar size to Singapore, political parties who form the government, change from election to election. The civil service in these countries keep functioning and life goes on.

    I do accept that in Singapore, the PAP mindset is rather entrenched in the civil service. However, if a non-PAP party wins the election to form government, this mindset will change or change will be forced upon the civil servants who refuse to change. I personally would rather accept some rocky years (if it comes to that) of a non-PAP party running the government than see the PAP in continued power.

  32. 54 Helen 16 February 2013 at 20:10

    Many mid-level civil servants are opposition supporters. They are Singaporeans and their children go to school here, they are affected by cost of living increases etc.

    But yes, a lot of major policies costing huge chunks of money are basically ordered by the Ministers and Perm Secs (many of whom are not even qualified in the areas of concern). I would guess the White Paper was birthed this way. Then the lower levels execute. Along the way, some dedicated civil servants do their best to incorporate changes.

  33. 55 reservist_cpl 18 February 2013 at 12:33

    Unlike you, I have great faith in my obsequious fellow citizens.

    The civil service will bend over backwards for their new masters, should that day ever come.

    Let’s hope they don’t trip over themselves doing so.


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