Aged Administrators, Innovative Ideas

Perhaps influenced by Yi Da, but more because of my curiosity about Singapore’s history, National Day Holidays seems appropriately (though not necessarily meaningfully) spent on reading Mr Ngiam Tong Dow’s book. Rather than to review his book in this entry, I would say I am choosing to thank the book for the sort of thinking I have been forced into and the insights I have gained about Singapore. Reading the book, I do sense a rather strong nostalgia, which strange enough, I felt I share. Never been in favour of public sector jobs, never even ever been a administration career, and in fact never been into the society, I must admit it feels extremely weird to feel the excitement of nation building as I flipped through Ngiam Tong Dow’s personal reflections of the policies he have contributed and participated in implementing. Maybe that’s what’s pushing Yi Da towards his goal.

For me, the book has offered me valuable information about the past of Singapore, the stories of how our forefathers built and transformed Singapore. Because our nation is so small, I believe the core of the transformation can only lie within the public sector, the civil service. The vision of our leaders, was important but perhaps overemphasized in our social studies syllabuses. I am interested in the thought processes, the things that were going through the minds of the administrators, the policy-makers and those who implement the policies at those points of time. Our leaders often offer us the most pragmatic explanation that the perspective of a rational governor can give – forcing us down with the weight of undeniable logic. I thought that if we look deeper into the concerns of our government, the emotional tirades they might be going through within themselves, we can get a better picture of how the system erected came to be so sound and steady.

Going through the book really makes me appreciate our achievements better, and more forgiving towards any blunders that our state has committed, but I observe this particular recurring idea that I thought is important. We can no longer look back into the past to learn what to do in the future and we (as in Singapore and its rulers) must look into the future in the way we have done, in the past. Change must be better accepted. During the time of independence, the organization of the public sector was built upon the simple stuff left from the colonial government and the flexibility offered to the public service administrators were immense. I have decided that the idea that administrators are inflexible and rigid only came about in recent decades when the system stabilized and people became too comfortable. Today, the huge structure we have erected is producing difficulties within the system. The tradition we have laid down have become a burden to people today (which very much parallel some other institution’s student council as far as I know).

On talents I think the monopoly on talents that our public sector have is something very real. As I flip through the scholarship brochures of the major scholarship providing bodies in our nation (most of which, in fact almost all of which are public service), I realized our ‘local talents’, are all tied up in the public service. I saw one Cambridge Masters Economist in the police force, probably already served pass his bond period; and there’s also those engineers from top international universities, working on administrative stuff. Of course, I am not saying they are not suited for the job or that they would have greater opportunities outside public service; but the point is that the system should not be aiming to produce a couple of really top people and then putting them into public service, while peripheral achievers (nice term for those who fail to make it to the extreme top) fail to be educated in top universities (because they have no money), stifling their opportunities. My point? Spread the funds out, let more people who truly deserves it enjoy overseas education (with subsidies) and make the gradient uphill less steep.

The existing situation is such that there’s this pile that goes all the way to the top and it probably can only accommodate a few person. Everyone fights to climb up the pile because no one is allowed to be in-between and then finally the ‘few’ are selected and poof, even those who are almost reaching now have to be on par with those who are right at the bottom.

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