SINGAPORE: Young civil servants should first walk the ground and understand the problems before they formulate policies, said former top mandarin Ngiam Tong Dow at the DBS Asian Insights Conference on Friday (Jul 10).
Mr Ngiam, who had served 40 years as Permanent Secretary in various ministries, was one of the panellists discussing the topic, “How Can Singapore Future-proof its Relevance for the Next 50 Years”.
Responding to a question from the audience on whether high salaries in the civil service are diverting talent and growth away from the private sector, he said that civil servants are worthy of their salaries but the way they are trained is important.
“When a young scholar comes back, he should not be sent to the Ministry of Finance’s Treasury division and become the regulator. He should really be sent to the Economic Development Board (EDB), or the Housing and Development Board, and serve an internship of a year to learn the problems of the ground,” said Mr Ngiam, who is an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
“Unless the civil servant knows the problems on the ground, he would become just a regulator. And regulators, there are too many (of them) in Singapore,” he added, prompting applause from the audience of about 900 Government, business and thought leaders.
Weighing in on the question, Banyan Tree Holdings executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping said that while tweaks to the public sector’s pay structure may have to be considered along the way, it is better to “err on the side of overpaying”.
“It is better to tweak and reform the system from where we are…