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Another – very useful – detailed analysis of the Singaporean bureaucracy

Continuing from here. The following article shows how the Singapore bureaucracy is based on some of the word’s best economic principles of performance and accountability (In comparison, IAS and Indian systems are based on the worst).

Download PDF: Milestone programs for the administrative service in the Singapore Public Service James Low

In line with meritocratic principles, entrance into the apex of the Administrative Service is based on qualifications and is highly stringent. AOs are typically scouted from among the best and brightest of 18-year-old high school leavers. Those who excel academically and exhibit leadership abilities are offered Singaporean Government scholarships sponsoring their tertiary studies in prestigious overseas universities. On graduation, these ‘scholars’ are required to serve in the public service, typically in the Management Associates Program, in stints of three to four years at one or two government agencies (SAS n.d.(b)). If performance at these junior policy positions is deemed ‘outstanding’, they are then absorbed into the Administrative Service. AOs who do not perform to expectation during their probation of one to two years can choose other schemes of service in the public service. Entrance into the Administrative Service, in other words, is not direct and involves a highly rigorous process.

On confirmation of their appointment by the Public Service Commission, AOs are held to demanding standards as these generalists are rotated across the public service. Each posting spans two to three years to expose them ‘to a broad spectrum of policy work and acquire knowledge, experience and expertise in government administration, economic, security and social fields’ (Teo 2001). Regular postings are also meant to evaluate them in different job contexts for their suitability for promotion to senior positions. These postings and promotions are decided by the Special Personnel Board of senior permanent secretaries, whose standards are exacting. AOs who meet the standards after two to three postings are promoted to the SR9 grade as directors heading departments, typically at age 32 (Teo 2007; PSD 2010). The SR9 grade’s S$365,000 (A$357,000) annual remuneration illustrates the policy of high pay to attract and retain talent. In comparison, the MX9 grade director in the general public service receives no more than S$264,000 (A$258, 000).7

While there are no official data on MX9 salaries, the monthly salary at the midpoint of AOs with potential for higher leadership positions after two to three directorships are promoted into Public Sector Leadership—that is, chief executives of statutory boards and deputy and permanent secretaries of ministries.

note: MX9 grade was revealed as S$13,750 (A$13,400). Assuming the typical 13-month payment and three months’ performance bonus, the annual salary of the mid-scale MX9 officer is S$220,000 (A$215,000) (Teo 2012). Internet discussions listed the MX9 monthly salary range from $10,580 to $16,540 (A$10,300 to A$16,200) and typical bonuses as four months (Salary Singapore 2011).

However, if ‘an officer’s potential is assessed to be below that of at least deputy secretary when he reaches his mid-30s, he will be counselled to leave the Administrative Service’ (Teo 2001: 5). The tenures of public sector leaders are capped at 10 years to allow leadership renewal but also to accommodate rapid mobility up the ranks.

Critics argue that AOs ‘should work their way up’ (Koh 2006; see also The Straits Times 2006; Loh 2007; Lim 2008). Rapid promotion and postings may have shielded AOs from experience implementing policies on the ground and working with everyday citizens. While they may excel at writing papers and table-top planning, some AOs— detractors allege—may lack ‘soft skills’ such as working with people: from members of the public to their staff and peers. The Public Service Division (PSD) clarified that AOs ‘are subject to stricter requirements and higher expectations … those who do not measure up to the high standards are asked to leave or transfer to another Service’ (Ong 2007). In response to criticisms of AOs’ high pay, the minister in charge of the civil service pointed out:

[T]here is no perfect method for doing this benchmarking … We do not want pay to be the main reason for people to join us. But we also do not want pay to be the reason for them not to join us, or to leave after joining us. (Teo 2007)

Most of the training for AOs, as for other public service officers, is conducted by the Civil Service College (CSC). The CSC is a statutory board established by legislation specifically to provide training for the Singapore Public Service. Its status as a statutory board affords it greater autonomy than government ministries in areas such as financial arrangements and human resource management. For example, the CSC has the liberty to offer greater remuneration to attract staff. As with all statutory boards, the CSC reports to a parent ministry, which, appropriately, is the public service’s Personnel Management Ministry, the PSD, which, in turn, is located within the Prime Minister’s Office. Providing CSC management with oversight and strategic guidance is a board of directors. Chaired by the Permanent Secretary of the PSD, this board also includes permanent secretaries of several ministries, chief executives of other government agencies and senior executives from the private sector (CSC 2014).

The CSC currently has three training departments. Apart from the international training arm, the two local training departments allow the CSC to train about 40,000 public officers each year, or one in every three officers (CSC 2008b: 9). The bulk of this training is conducted through the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM). The range of courses caters to officers from Division 1 to Division 4, and includes induction skills training (human resource management, fiscal planning, information and communications technology, and so on) and pre-retirement planning—almost a cradle-to-grave offering of training in the career of a public officer (CSC 2008a).


The department in the CSC responsible for training AOs is the Institute of Policy Development


Sanjeev Sabhlok

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