The news this week is that Certis Cisco — a fully-owned subsidiary of sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings — is hiring Taiwanese for its auxiliary police force. Here are four thoughts that I had, leading on from this key news point. They are: (1) What are the implications of hiring Taiwanese? (2) Why must they be graduates? (3) What are the powers of auxiliary police? (4) Another example of rentier economy?
I saw this issue emerge from a post by opposition politician Goh Meng Seng on Facebook 26 December 2016. With a link to a Taiwanese news story, he wrote:
Singaporeans no one want to be (Auxiliary) police officers? We have to go Taiwan to recruit? Or is it that we are paying too low for police officers? They are paying $90K NTWD which is about SGD$4K to Taiwanese recruit!
Afternote: My bad, Bonus is SGD$4K after successfully getting the job… salary is SGD$2700 but overall costing of each foreign officer would be about SGD$3000 to $3500 with Work Permit (S Pass maybe) as well as free lodging… no Singaporean want this job at this salary? Or did they ever offer this salary to Singaporeans in the first place?
His angle was that a government-linked organisation was prepared to pay lots more to hire foreigners while claiming they cannot find enough candidates from among Singaporeans.
Clearly in crisis mode, Certis responded through the mainstream press (of course). The Straits Times and Channel News Asia dutifully reported that the insinuation of anti-Singaporean remuneration was unfounded. Here’s part of what Channel NewsAsia wrote:
Singaporean auxiliary police officers (APOs) hired by Certis CISCO are paid more than their teammates who are foreigners, said the private security firm as it sought to dispel speculation that it is paying foreigners more than locals.
Earlier this week, the company confirmed that it plans to recruit graduates from Taiwan as auxiliary police officers. It is looking to hire about 120 officers there.
Certis CISCO said that corporals are paid a starting salary of S$2,575 a month – regardless of nationality – but that the bonus paid to Singaporeans is higher.
For instance, new Singaporean officers get S$5,000 upon joining and S$10,000 after they have completed three years of service.
In comparison, new Taiwanese officers get S$2,000 upon joining and another S$2,000 when they complete their two-year contract.
— Channel NewsAsia, 30 Dec 2016, Singaporean auxiliary police are paid more than foreign officers: Certis Cisco. Link.
Meanwhile, Goh Meng Seng had been doing his own digging. Citing a page on Certis’ website, he said the “basic salary” advertised there, of $2,500, “is actually salary AFTER adding Over time pay! The Basic pay is only $1800! No wonder it says Terms and Conditions apply for that salary of $2500!” He didn’t say where he found the figure of $1,800.
At this point, it is not clear what the real facts are. Certis Cisco does not help its own credibility when it fools around with terminology like “basic salary” by adding terms and conditions to it when in fact its meaning is defined by law (see Employment Act, Section 2 “Interpretation”) and custom.
However, the above is enough to raise more, lateral, questions.
What are the implications of hiring Taiwanese?
No attempt has been made to explain why it was decided to source recruits from Taiwan. Interestingly, I can’t see anywhere any condition that the recruits must be able to speak and write English, the operating language in Singapore. Since the functions of auxiliary police often involve interaction with members of the public, surely the ability to communicate in Singapore’s main language must be of utmost priority. If not, misunderstandings can arise and this can be very dangerous since auxiliary police may be armed.
In earlier discussions about foreigner bus drivers, I have pointed out the opacity of decisions by our bus companies to hire from China. Several times, I have seen situations where the driver was unable to understand, let alone answer, a passenger’s simple query about the bus route.
In fact I am now reminded of an incident several years ago when the bus I was travelling in met with some kind of road block, and a policeman approached the driver’s window to tell him more. The policeman was ethnically Malay (so couldn’t speak Chinese) and the driver was from China (so couldn’t speak English). Passengers were roped in to help translate!
My memory of that incident is a bit hazy now; I wish I could tell you more.
I am surely not the first to wonder if there is an element of racism here. When our state-linked bodies (like bus companies) hire from abroad, why are they sourcing ethnic Chinese? As with bus drivers, I have argued that it may be cheaper and better to hire Filipinos, many of whom can speak English, albeit with a characteristic accent. Wouldn’t the ability to use English be more socially useful in those jobs? Wouldn’t it be more politically useful, to avoid generating feelings among our ethnic minorities that their communication needs are being neglected?
An element of racism, I will argue, is not all bad. Sometimes, it can be defended. For example, it can perhaps be argued (if it’s true) that the police and auxiliary police have disproportionate numbers of ethnic Malays in their ranks, and that hiring ethnic Chinese from abroad is akin to affirmative action to keep the forces’ racial balance aligned with society as a whole. If such an argument is deployed and strongly coupled with a condition that all new recruits from abroad be able to use English, it can win acceptance.
The problem here, as is so often the case in Singapore, is that our government and quasi-government decision makers lack guts. They just have no clue how to win people over. Instead, they do things behind a veil. In any case, even if they try to explain, they also have no credibility — this is what happens when they first attempt to do things in secret, but when the cat is let out of the bag they piss around with language (“basic salary” comes with terms and conditions?) instead of coming clean. This government likes to boast of transparency and accountability, but the reality is wide off the mark.
Why must they be graduates?
Another thing which no one is bothering to explain is why the minimum qualification is that of a university graduate. This is especially as they will hold a rank similar to a local recruit who needs only to have three O-level passes (O-level is the exam students take after 10 years in school).
The academic prerequisites differ as well: Singaporeans with three O-level passes qualify as corporals, whereas a Taiwanese officer must hold a recognised university degree to be hired at the same rank.
Singaporeans with a polytechnic diploma or four A-level passes can join as a sergeant, and qualified university graduates with “outstanding leadership qualities” will be appointed as senior officers – inspectors or assistant superintendents – who are put in charge of leading a team of APOs, and managing security operations.
— Channel NewsAsia, 30 Dec 2016, Singaporean auxiliary police are paid more than foreign officers: Certis Cisco. Link.
I can imagine all sorts of morale problems when a graduate holds a rank of corporal and has to report to a sergeant who has just an A-level. I can also imagine scenarios where to avoid having these morale problems persist, the graduate corporals are then rapidly promoted to much higher ranks. They may well deserve promotion by being smarter and more informed. But that would create a new problem when local officers feel that there is bias in promotions.
In light of this risk, is the decision to set eligibility standards at graduates all that clever?
Maybe it came about through “reverse engineering”. They first decided that foreign recruits must be paid roughly the same as local recruits (lesson learned from the bus drivers’ strike of November 2012), and then found that that salary level, when translated into the Taiwanese job market, can buy us graduates. Hey wonderful! So let’s hire only graduates.
That may speak a lot about how overpriced Singaporean graduates are, and how shortsighted those graduates holding senior positions in Certis are in making decisions.
What are the powers of auxiliary police?
Moving beyond this particular issue of hiring from Taiwan, I wondered too what powers auxiliary police have. I will share with you what I found after a quick search.
Firstly, the legislative basis is the Police Force Act. Part IX of this Act pertains to auxiliary police forces. Go to http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/ and search for it, if you wish. You will also be able to find subsidiary legislation from the same site, governing auxiliary police forces. For example, you will see in Section 9 of the Auxiliary Police Forces Regulations
Arms and ammunition
9—(1) Every auxiliary police officer in an Auxiliary Police Force shall be provided by the employer of that Force with such batons, arms, ammunition and other accoutrements as the Commissioner may approve for the effective discharge of his duties as an auxiliary police officer.
(2) Such batons, arms, ammunition and other accoutrements shall be kept and used by the auxiliary police officer in the manner provided by the Auxiliary Police Standing Orders.
A more helpful guide may be this parliamentary reply, 13 March 2015, by Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, during the second reading of the Police Force (Amendment) Bill. The relevant portion about auxiliary police powers is this:
23. Madam, I will next clarify the powers of Auxiliary Police Officers (APOs). APOs support the work of the Police. They help the Police maintain law and order and ensure safety and security in Singapore. This is why APOs have certain Police powers, such as those of arrest, and the right to bear firearms while they are on duty. However, APOs do not possess all the powers of Police Officers. In particular, APOs do not have powers of investigation. Furthermore, unlike Police Officers who can exercise their powers at all times, APO powers are limited to the period when they are on duty. This has been the policy intent when the PFA was amended in 2004 to provide for a regulatory framework for the Auxiliary Police Forces (APFs).
24. Clause 32 amends Section 86 to make clear that APOs may detain or arrest individuals in the course of assisting the Police in maintaining law and order. Such powers of arrest are restricted to the period they are on duty and are conscribed to two situations, as is the current practice. First, APOs would be able to make arrests for arrestable offences committed in their view or presence. Arrestable offences are offences for which a suspect may be arrested without a warrant, for example, shop lifting. Second, for arrestable offences not committed in their view or presence, but reported to the APO, they may require the subject to provide his particulars while awaiting the arrival of Police. Should a subject fail to comply, the APO may detain the subject until the arrival of Police. The APO must hand over the person to a Police Officer without delay.
Another example of rentier economy?
What I have so far been unable to find is any information as to how many corporations have been licensed to operate as auxiliary police forces. By casual observation I know of two: Certis Cisco and Aetos. Goh Meng Seng also speaks of “two main auxiliary police”, so I don’t think there is a third major one that I do not know about. But are there smaller ones?
What is the justification for having auxiliary police? Why create these beasts instead of relying on the state police to do the job?
I believe it can be argued thus: Not only state bodies, but a myriad of commercial bodies such as banks and concert promoters need security services. Given too the Thatcherite-Reaganite trend to “privatise” erstwhile government functions, we have now ended up with airports, hospitals and power plants in supposedly private ownership. How does one justify deploying state police to provide security for these profit-making bodies?
So yes, there is a case for private security firms with police-like powers. That way, they can charge a market price to the users of security services.
But implicit behind this argument is that there should be enough competition among auxiliary police forces that a fair market price can emerge. As Singaporeans know from our never-too-happy experience with three telcos, we’ll need more than three fairly-matched players in a market to have real competition. With only two major auxiliary police providers, it is doubtful that there is any genuine competition.
Moreover, both are linked to the government. As mentioned above, Certis Cisco is a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings. Aetos is a 100%-owned subsidiary of Surbanajurong, a private limited company, which a websearch revealed to be “jointly owned by Singapore investment company Temasek Holdings and JTC, the lead Singaporean government agency responsible for the development of industrial infrastructure.”(Link).
This exemplifies much that was wrong about the Thatcherite-Reaganite wave of “privatisation” particularly as implemented in Singapore. State functions were transferred to crony ownership (enabling sinecures) along with the right to mint money. The figleaf of privatisation — did you notice that the Channel NewsAsia story, in its very first sentence, described Certis as a “private security firm”? — didn’t come with real market competition. The claim that these functions would be better and more efficiently run by commercial entities subject to market discipline, than they were directly under the state, rings hollow when one realises that there has been no competitive market in the first place.
Have our concert promoters, banks, airports and other commercial users of security services been overcharged all these years for lack of real choice? Have shareholders, proximate and ultimate, of Certis Cisco and Aetos made fat profits through them? This might be difficult to pin down since they are held as private companies. Yet, we cannot help but wonder if this is one more reason why the cost of doing business is Singapore is out of control.
Lastly, although unrelated to the matter of auxiliary police, I’d like to add a shout-out about a post by lawyer Teo Soh Lung on The Online Citizen, springing from a case wherein a woman assaulted a police corporal. Headlined “We cannot but Minister can”, it highlights an institutional bias in the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, that may well pervert the intent of not swaying a judge in a court case. Go read it.