Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Legacy Of Bull Dozers

Everybody loves pushing pins into voodoo dolls of civil servants. These are the fat cat bureaucrats who hide behind closeted doors and make life miserable for the ordinary men, while feasting on their income taxes. The Singapore breed is even worse, with their world class paychecks which adfford them pastry cooking lessons in France. Instead of logic and persuasion, they bully their way to get their pipe dreams implemented.

Case one is this Low Sin Leng who wanted a $2 million budget to put a computer in each school. It probably never crossed her mind that one singular keyboard could hardly serve the needs of the 100+ teachers and 100s more students in any one school. A more decent canteen could service more. When approval from the Budget Division wasn't forthcoming, in her own words, "I bulldozed it." She made a telephone call to Minister Goh Keng Swee, who assigned two "big shots", Goh Kim Leong (Permanent Secretary for Education) and Philip Yeo (Permanent Secretary for Defence) as "body guards" for her approval meeting with the outnumbered and outflanked Permanent Secretrary of the Ministry of Finance Budget Division. Even if George Bogaars had no love of horses, he wouldn't have relished the prospect of waking up next to a severed head on this bed.

Case two is Ngiam Tong Dow with his brainwave of auctioning out "hot" numbers for car licence plates to address the bribery problem of clerks at the Registry of Vehicles exchanging cash for favours. The Auditor General, quite correctly, gave him a piece of his mind, "Ngiam Tong Dow, how dare you tax without a law behind it? You have no right. It's illegal taxation." This was way before David Frost got Nixon to shock a nation, "I'm saying that when the President does it, that means its's not illegal." Not only did Ngiam do away with the law, with the connivance of Hochstadt Herman, Permanent Secretary, Budget, he started an accounting entry called "Miscellaneous" to park all the extra cash collected. From the slippery slope right there, everything has to be downhill. Ngiam had the same "mentor" in Goh Keng Swee.

Chua Miu Hoong's book, "Pioneers Once More: The Singapore Public Service 1959-2009", was probably intentioned to sing odes to a coterie of selected Mandarins, but the unintended skeletons are tumbling out of the cupboard like the flood waters at Bukit Timah canal after a thunderstorm.

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