Thursday, March 29, 2007

One cent too high?

YawningBread put up a good analytical critique on the issue of salaries in the Singapore administrative service. I thought i should add 2 more cents in and ask if it is due to flawed logic?


in the first 20 years,

the model worked. Everyone pulled together.

having tasted the fruits of success, the model required 'tweaking'. We have tweaked.

We thought we should retain talent in the civil service, and simplistically, we thought, an individual's only incentive towards public service is the size of his pay packet. So, therefore, the simplistic logic meant that we had to pay for the best. Not necessarily the object of the work, or the intrinsic value of patriotism, but just the size of the dollar value of their 'talent'.
(which also means, as a society, we also put dilly-squat on concepts such as "serving the country", since it doesn't require any form of 'sacrifice' at all!)

The best in any private industry are always paid the best salaries. Any lesser, and they can leave for somewhere better. (can, not WILL. we confused those 2 concepts somewhen back in the 80s).

In Singapore's Civil service, the "best" come from our scholastic training, graded by educators who apply a subjective assessment of an individual's ability that determines his starting position on the grid. There are no real market forces within the public service; it would take an act of gross stupidity and negligence for one to be fired in the civil service. Bright prospects are sent around the various departments, like pidgeons stopping briefly, before being shuttled on to their next position. (which could be a cause for the mismash of policies that didn't seem to make coherent sense, as each bright prospect attempted to make his/her own mark to add to their service docket before moving on to their next position)

Why then should we be benchmarking civil service pay rates to the best in the private sector when the "market forces" are different? In a civil service, one can easily rise up to a senior position by showing some level of competence, the ability to flow with the political wind, and to avoid being caught in mistakes or potholes.

In the private sector, you rise because you are deemed to be able to deal with bigger things (and the corresponding bigger pay packet, and accountability/responsibility that comes with it)

It cannot be that such salary structures are due to the concept of preventing corruption, since if that is the argument, then by extension, we are accusing the civil service in richer countries in the EU, and the US, and other countries ahead of us in GDP to be corrupt, since their ministers are insufficiently paid in relation to the 'wealth' they manage.

Can civil service salaries at the top level come down then?

Can we ever reverse the logically-flawed course we have taken?

Or is this the grand strategic path to make SG salaries (private and public) in general so attractive that the best talent rather work here than be working in NY or London?
(A case of building a better mousetrap, and hoping that they will come eat here?)

Did we even consider that besides the huge disparity in income, public servants in Singapore also generally pay less tax than their equivalents in other 1st-world countries? (which in turn, magnifies their income streams vis-a-vis international benchmarks even further?)

Will the illusion that Singapore is successful fail one day due to such little slip-ups in logic?

truly, a slippery slope we are sliding down on.


link to original article.



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