5 reasons why the civil service is out of touch

Posted on 27 September 2012

A Facebook note from the founder of the World Toilet Organisation went viral yesterday. Departing from his usual work of making sure that third world countries get adequate sanitation, Jack Sim launched a tirade title “Civil Service’s Low Absorption Capacity for Social Innovation”, detailing the bureaucracy’s dedication to preserving the status quo, and why the government should appreciate vocal Singaporeans a lot more.

We love Jack. So much that we published a week’s worth of articles just about toilets last year, non-sponsored. And we agree with him on his note too. Which is why we’ve picked out the five points that we liked the best about why the civil service is out of touch with the common guy.

1) The civil service is incentivised to preserve the status quo, and to defend it against new ideas. Why? Because its all about protecting your backside — no one wants to be known as they guy responsible for the new idea which led to a waste of resources, or worse, one that led to an entire department clocking OT just to write reports for you. Besides, if things can be improved, it means that someone, somewhere is not doing an optimum job. And again, no one wants to be the bad guy to tell another colleague (or boss) that “what you do can be done better”.

2) The government likes to portray Singaporeans in a negative light. Because the government is made up of government scholars parachuted down from the most elite universities in the west. Terms like “Ugly Singaporeans” and constant remarks about local people being soft, complacent, uninventive and lazy are all derived from the mentality that if you’re not on top of the social ladder (unlike high achieving bureaucrats), something must be wrong with you. Because Singapore is a meritocratic society. If you’re not on top, it’s your fault for having the wrong attitude.

3) The government ignores its critics, who are the citizens that care most about the country. Quoting Jack directly “it’d be much easier to be a sycophant but that contributes nothing”. That doesn’t necessarily mean being in tune with the latest insults about the PAPees or the LEEgime, which are generally comments made by people needing validation from the rest of the hate mob, but looking out for genuine feedback from people who have something useful to contribute. This also goes beyond just performing a display of the ‘National Conversation’ via the social media — feedback MUST result in actual policy change and the government has to note that until that happens, it will always be criticised for not listening to its critics.

4) Government sees economic growth only in numbers and does not see increasing dissatisfaction over the foreign worker policy as a problem. Singaporeans do not dislike foreigners — all of us were from immigrant families anyway. But it is the policy that has led to a huge influx of people, without a commensurate expansion of the public infrastructure that has led to friction between the locals, and the newcomers. It doesn’t help that official rhetoric still labels Singaporeans as an ungrateful, troublesome bunch while praising foreigners for being hardworking and hungry.

5) MPs think that Singaporeans are ugly because they only regular Singaporeans they ever meet are those with problems during meet the people sessions…. to which New Nation says: If the doctor only sees sick people everyday, does it mean that there’s an epidemic? It must suck being a PAP politician: to see only the ultra privileged and the ultra unhappy day in day out. Go out and eat $3 chye tow kway, who knows, you may find that its nicer than the $10 plate from Peach Garden.

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Wang Pei can be considered a new citizen of Singapore. She has been here all her life, just that her environment's changed beyond recognition.

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