Thursday, May 5, 2011

To whose drum beat does the public sector dance?

For the first time since the 1972 general elections, the most number of parliamentary seats are up for grabs – 82 out of 87 are being contested. The possibility of the PAP losing some seats looks very real. Casualties could include ministers and chairmen of town councils.

This presents an interesting scenario for the public sector, especially the Civil Service and Town Councils.

Both have long been closely associated with the ruling party. But, if you ask me, they should not be beholden to any party. Their accountability should be to the citizens whom they are expected to serve.

For the Civil Service, this association is a consequence of the long-standing dominance of the PAP as the government of the day and the absorption of senior civil servants into the ranks of the party when the General Elections roll by.

Town Councils too, are a construct of the PAP-led government to allow for some semblance of local/municipal government. For now, all but two town councils are currently managed by PAP Members of Parliament.

However, even if the town councils came into being through the initiative of the PAP-led government, should these town councils be beholden to the party?

For me, the answer is an emphatic 'No'. Town council are, first and foremost, there to serve the needs of residents, not the party.

While the reins have seemingly been handed over to caretakers while the politicians seek a new mandate, the partisanship of the town councils are quite obvious and it does not look like it is going to go away.

Gazing ahead past 7 May, and embracing the possibility of the electorate voting in more opposition MPs and giving the PAP less than the simple majority it needs to form the government, what would this mean for the Civil Service and Town Councils?

How will the Civil Service navigate the new political landscape in the event of the formation of a coalition government? How can we, the citizens, be assured that the bureaucracy will support all members of the new government with integrity, service and excellence, irrespective of their party affiliation?

Even if the PAP secured enough seats to form the government, the same dictum apply, that is, the Civil Service should provide all MPs with the same level of support and access to information, irrespective of their political affiliation.

Despite the Civil Service’s assertion of its party neutrality, one cannot help but wonder if this bureaucracy can be truly neutral given its links with former civil servants who crossed the divide to carry the PAP’s agenda and who in many cases become political office holders within the government ministries they once served.

Closer to the heartlands, can we be assured that Town Councils will extend their full cooperation to whomever gains the mandate of the electorate? It would be ungracious if Town Council officials refuse to work with the non-PAP MPs returned by the electorate on the basis that their allegiance was to the PAP.  

Let us hope that should the outcome of the elections not favor the incumbents, it would not lead to a form of denial-of-services whereby citizens’ needs become collateral damage.

It would be in the interest of the nation as a whole for public service structures to continue to serve the needs of the citizens, irrespective of who the political driver(s) may be.

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