Sunday, November 26, 2006

Post No. 94: "Money-minded" Civil Servants?

[Just a short post before I return back to revising for my exams]

Assuming you all have been keeping up with the news, you all would surely be aware that it was reported in yesterday's Straits Times (“Civil Service salaries likely to go up”, 25/11/2006) that, after receiving a generous bonus pay package for this year, local civil servants will most likely receive another increase in their salaries next year. The official rationale for this proposed increase in civil service wages, as stated by Mr. Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Defence and who is in charge of the civil service, is to ensure that the civil service “remain competitive both to recruit and retain” talent within its ranks.

To substantiate this official rationale, it was cited in the abovementioned article that resignations from the civil service in the first 10 months of this year have reached 5.2%, an increase from the 4.8% for the whole of last year. The article even cited the example of this ex-civil servant who resigned because of the 10% pay rise he got working as a relations manager in a local bank.

Well, on first look, it does seem like the rationale behind the proposed increase in civil service salaries is a valid one. Yet, if one takes a closer look, one would undoubtedly realise that the rationale is too simplistic. Just think about it. While dissatisfaction with the salary levels of the civil service may well be a reason why people are resigning from the civil service, is this the most important or only reason for the resignations? In my opinion, there can be a myriad of other reasons why people are resigning from the civil service. These would perhaps include disillusionment with the civil service, inability to cope with the amount of job stress, inability to adapt to the way the civil service operates, poor relations with one's superiors and/or colleagues, amongst other possible reasons.

Also, if we take a closer look at the resignation figures cited in the article, we will observe that though there is indeed an increase in the percentage of resignations, there were no explanations offered as to why there was this increase. For all we know, this increase in resignations is not due to dissatisfaction with salary levels but for other reasons. Anyway, though I may be nitpicking here, there is only so much that statistics can tell us. By this, I mean that it is misleading to think that 5.2% is an increase from 4.8%. Just think about it. Which will be larger: 4.8% of 1000 or 5.2% of 100?

Furthermore, if my memory does not serve me wrong, in a recent interview with the Straits Times, Mr. Peter Ho, who is concurrently the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Civil Service, revealed that one reason why mid-career civil service officers (i.e. civil service officers who have joined the civil service after spending some years working in the private sector) are leaving the civil service would be the mismatch in work expectations. In other words, these mid-career civil service officers come into the civil service thinking that they will play a significant role but it turns out that they do not. Also, the superiors of these mid-career civil service officers mistakenly expect that they will immediately start performing in their jobs without realising that these mid-career civil service officers need time to adapt to the way the civil service operates.

This goes to show that there are indeed other possible reasons why people are leaving the local civil service. Dissatisfaction with salary levels may be one reason but it cannot be the most important and/or only reason. It is too simplistic to assume that it is and that by increasing the salaries of local civil servants, the problem of increased resignations from the civil service would be resolved. Instead, in my opinion, the relevant authorities should investigate further to see what are the other reasons contributing to the increase in resignations from the local civil service before they just increase the salaries of civil servants as a means of preventing them from resigning and to recruit new talent into the ranks of the civil service. Increases in salaries would not help much if there are other more critical factors as to why people are resigning from the civil service, if not reluctant to join it in the first place, which remain unresolved.

In addition, I am also concerned that this method of increasing the salaries of local civil servants in order to retain them and to attract more people to work in the civil service may perhaps have some less-than-positive side-effects. Well, perhaps I am being too idealistic but shouldn't people in the civil service be there because they have the passion and desire to serve the people and the nation and not because of the attractive high salaries they civil service offers? Yes, I concede that people cannot survive on only ideals and passion. However, to me, it seems worryingly that people in the local civil service should be there because they want to enjoy high salaries. I mean, if a person have no desire and/or passion to serve as a civil servant, perhaps he/she and our country would be better off if he/she does not join the civil service just because of the money and/or prestige of being in the civil service. To quote from the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Well, I suppose this is also true for a civil servant: he/she will find it most difficult to serve both the people & the country and his/her high salary at the same time.

Sidetracking, I am guessing that this talk about how one main reason for the continued success of Singapore is its efficient, effective and cheap public administration (this would include both the civil service and the Government) is perhaps a way to counter the idea that the Government should also reduce the salaries of its senior civil servants and ministers so that it will have more money to expend on helping the less well-off in Singapore (cf. “Questioning The GST Increase”, 14/11/2006).

Okay, I guess I have said enough. Back to revising for my exams! Wish me luck! (I really need luck, in large amounts)


jonathan said...

if mid-career civil service officers can have such inaccurate expectations and difficulty in adaptations, we can't really expect 18 year-old JC students, who have virtually no work experience or inkling about careers in general to make wise decisions - the PSC scholarships. it's really too much for an 18 year-old to decide how to spend the next ten precious years of his youth when he hasn't got a chance amidst all that stress to consider his life properly. many end up taking the scholarships because that's all the "hype" - everyone's doing it, and the prestige attached to scholarships is definitely tempting, but many end up realising that this prestige is not enough to overcome their eventual dislike of the job.

career decisions can't be made at 18 years old.

Chris said...


I think you're absolutely right. Pay isn't probably the only determinant for resignations in the civil service. Perhaps I can offer another one.

My mother is in the civil service and she claimed that her Director isn't a scholar. Rather, her boss ascended to his/her lofty position through good work performance. Nowadays I look at the civil service and I'm just amazed and how many scholars occupy top management positions. I must be fair and say that some are there on their own merit but I'd bet that some are just there because they're scholars.

Some civil servants may only hold bachelor degrees and had hoped to show their worth through their work capabilities but begin to get disillusioned when inevitably, they aren't considered for higher positions because of their lack of qualifications. Somehow, they had hoped for more than mediocrity but are left frustrated at a lack of opportunities.

It's true that you will be able to achieve a decent living by being in the civil service. The civil service has definately more welfare(sorry for the vulgarity) than the private sector. BUT..I guess many people now aren't simply content to be a cog in the clockwork, they want more, they thirst for more and it seems the only way to fulfill their aspirations is to step out of the civil service.

Anonymous said...

"shouldn't people in the civil service be there because they have the passion and desire to serve the people and the nation and not because of the attractive high salaries they civil service offers?"... I think its rather unfair to say that. You have not been in the Civil service and therefore you do not understand how ppl work like shit to ensure singapore is what it is today.. With all the pressure on the ministers (abt their high salary etc)..the demand gets higher and in the end who do the dirty work? Its those civil servants.. (They do not have OT pay).. shouldn't your mum raise u out of love and not becoz of ur monthly allowance(to her)? Therefore you do not need to give her too much money..

LCC said...

To Mr/Mrs/Miss/Mdm/Dr (or whatever title you may go by) Anonymous:

While I may acknowledge the hard work put in by local civil servants and think that they should be appropriately rewarded for this, my concern is that by using the promise of high salaries to retain & recruit people into the civil service, we may perhaps be attracting the wrong sort of people into the civil service, that is people who are in it just for the money.

To borrow the analogy which you have used above, while I think it is proper for grown-up children to provide their parents with the necessary amounts of allowance, I, and I suppose you will too, would find it rather disturbing if a pregnant lady told me that she is having children just because of the large amounts of allowance they will give her in the future and/or just because of some form of baby bonus provided by the government.

Anonymous said...

But if you don't increase the salary cap for civil servant, even if the right type of people join, they will still quit sooner or later due to the high amount of stress or workload they have. They might have passion in serving the public, but if their salary does not match with their increasing workload. They will have to leave. At least, they see govt's effort to retain them.
If many ppl were to leave civil service, even more would have to be hired. and even more money will be spent to train the newcomers. Wat do u propose to recruit the right type of ppl (ppl who do not mind low salary and high working hours)? Maybe more foreign talent like Indian, Thai workers?
jus my personal opinion..correct me if im wrong..

Anonymous said...

A pregnant lady might be giving birth out of love, or out of the huge allowance/bonus, This we do not know. But if she is to nurture/educate the baby into a fine growup, should the child not repay her back even if she had given birth for the rewards?

LCC said...

To Mr/Mrs/Miss/Mdm/Dr Anonymous:

Don't be mistaken. I am not against our local civil servants getting high salaries. Instead, what I am questioning is the logic of using the promise of high salaries to retain & recruit people into the civil service.

It seems to me that, though I may be wrong about it, the promise of high salaries has been employed as the primary tool by the government to retain & recruit people into the civil service, in that they seem to be thinking: "Oh! People are resigning from the civil service and/or are reluctant to join it. They must be dissatisfied with how much money they are getting. Let's raise the salaries of the civil servants. This will certainly solve the problem".

Yet, as I have pointed out, there are perhaps other reasons why people are resigning from and/or reluctant to join the civil service. In fact, you yourself stated that civil servants may resign due to the heavy workload.

Thus, since there are other possible reasons, other than dissatisfaction with the salary levels, for the resignations and/or lack of people joining the civil service, it seems to me that the use of high salaries may perhaps only be a stop-gap measure. Solutions still need to be found for these other problems.

I mean, if a person cannot cope with a heavy workload, a high salary may perhaps retain him/her for a little while but eventually, I suppose he/she will still burn out and resign.

Yes, promising a high salary for civil servants may perhaps be an important tool to retain & recruit people into the civil service but it is and cannot be the only tool used.

Anonymous said...

I understand wat u mean. There are surely many factors or combination of factors that ppl will wan to quit civil service. Same as for private sector, people will quit for better oportunities. For those in private sector, they may also have problems like poor relations with superior, management, inability to cope with stress etc. Furthermore, civil servants are supposed to have better welfare, such as chalet, more leaves, better job security etc. But why are they still quitting? In private sector, if your job are supposed to be highly stressed, or u need to be highly skilled or qualifications, u need to be highly paid as well. This again points to the fact that it is money that counts. If not, who wants to work? Therefore, in my opinion, the promise of higher pay is not only used by govt, but by private corporations as well. And it is a tool that works. If you are looking at other means, Im sure government would have been looking at it, since it would save them money. Using money would be the last resort in the eyes of the management.

Anonymous said...

I am a neutral party in the debate of this topic of 'Pay rise for civil servant' and would like to share some of my thoughts. Firstly, I must clarify that I am not making an argument on right or wrong rather I am looking for interested parties to constructively discuss about this hot topic.

I personally too agree that there should be someway to demarcate a reasonable pay packet for civil servant but how should we define a 'Reasonable' pay and who should have a say to it. Is it the President, Prime minister, the government body itself or the members of public?

Should the pay packet be based on qualification, experience, risk involved, courage or the willingess to take on jobs that others would not want?

If we leave the decision to the government, the members of public might be unhappy as it would be deem to be unfair. If we leave it to the members of public to decide then most of them might probably suggest to bring down the civil servant's pay to the minimum possible. Thereafter they would be able to pay less for taxes or the difference in savings can then be channeled to other areas e.g helping the lower income earners, which is one of government’s intended move.

Now let’s make a comparison on the private sectors. If we were to allow consumers to decide on the pay packet for the private sectors, which do not affect themselves then I believe most of them would also want the pay of the private sectors to be brought down to the minimum possible. This will definitely lower the cost for the manufacturing of products and the cost of service, which will in turn lower the cost price of products and services . Needless to say, the consumers will benefit from it.

My view is that there is no right or wrong to both thinking. Its only how one looks at a similar problem. In fact, everybody would most probably put themselves as a top priority over others. This is inevitable as this is human nature.

There is no one thing in this earth that can make every individual happy. Nothing is perfect. Maybe you would say that pay rise to everybody will do it but have you given it a deeper thought? Pay rise will only positively affect the employees but not the employer, who will have to give away more, meaning employers will earn less.

I think this is the current trend or behaviour in society. You are expected to do more than what you are being paid. Does it ring a bell to you? Workload increases unknowingly and within seconds but when comes to pay rise, bosses will consider a hundred times (Maybe takes months or years).

I often hear people saying that which line is better…… maybe easy life or earning easy money … so on and so forth. But have you tried it? It always looks brighter on the other side of the river until you step foot on it. Do you know how much the workers are putting in and their sacrifices, be it in the private or government sector.

Lets highlight one example. If we were to set a pay of $3000/mth for a refuse collector or an undertaker, would most of us make a fuss over it? Would we say that they are over paid in view of their education and job scope? What if you are paid the same to do their job? Are to going to undertake the job? Frankly speaking, I will not even if I am paid much more than that.

So is it high time, we look outside the box and at the bigger picture as to what could happen or what would have been the difference if we change the present. Would it be better or worse?

Maybe somebody can shed some light on this matter.

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