20120807 Public service 21 – a sorry state

From: phillip ang
Sent: Tuesday, August 07, 2012 10:15 PM
To: LEE_HSIEN_LOONG ; KHAI_Yann_Lin ; khawbw ; lui_tuck_yew ; MEWR_Choi_Shing_Kwok ; PSD PS21 (PSD) ; <a title="LEE_Shuyi
Cc: bga336 ; bok koh ; <a title="bok_ngam_lim ; chairman ; chairman ; choonhock ; Chow Teing CHAN (PUB) ; <a title="Clarence.tan ; desmond_kuek ; feedback ; hdbceo ; hock_yong_chew ; jayakumar89 ; jjauto ; jeffrey_siow ; ken_dxb ; Lay Cher ; <a title="cue_liew ; mcslim ; Meihui CHEN (MND) ; <a title="Min_Kwang_LEE ; news ; newseditor ; Nguan Sen TAN (PUB) ; <a title="ngys ; nicole.rebecca.seah ; ongqyqy ; pritam.singh ; stanley93896999 ; stforum ; STICS ; stlocal ; Toh Pee WONG (LTA) ; <a title="Tuck_Kai_HO ; v_bala ; Wai Kwong CHOY (PUB) ; <a title="zblocal
Subject: 20120807 Public service 21 – a sorry state

PS 21 – “As the change movement of the Singapore Public Service, PS21 aims to build a Public Service that is ready for change and ready to change”. (Its indifferent attitude certainly needs to change) http://www.ps21.gov.sg/index.html

Dear PM Lee

I would like to thank the government for the replies to my feedback. But to be frank with you, most civil servants only paid lip service/simply skirt issues highlighted/reframe them. I have highlighted numerous instances of brazen irresponsibility (there are many more) of different statutory boards. Nothing short of a review will reverse this ‘bochap’ attitude masking as PS 21.

2 As evidenced by the hundreds of photos (actually self evident), irresponsible acts are getting more brazen, no thanks to our system of unaccountability. ** We are not even talking about value add but discharging basic responsibilities.

3 The issue of accountability has been raised numerous times but the government does not seem to be taking seriously.

4 From the numerous replies which I have received and through personal observations, it appears the government does not have any trusted eyes and ears on the ground in the form of civil servants. The organisational structure of the civil service seems to comprise only directors, with contractors doing all the legwork and taking the blame.

5 To date, there are still thousands of malfunctioning drains and poorly maintained PUB assets, thousands of LTA structures turned into bicycle racks or vandalised, decades-old issues faced by heartlanders ignored by the HDB/Town Councils etc. How is one reassured by the meaningless actions taken?

6 The government seems to have a unique definition of accountability – when it “accepted responsibility” for December’s MRT breakdowns WITHOUT holding any LTA officer accountable. No reasonable Singaporean is asking for the Minister’s head to roll (as in the Mas Selamat case, Orchard Road flooding) but there must have been an MX 9 grader in charge. Or wasn’t there?

7 My description of civil servants is a fact which is easily verifiable by the government. There are obvious cracks which have been getting bigger – directors seem to have no idea of the actual situation on the ground despite my my feedback.

8 I hope to be engaged on an objective level and not be painted as an impatient and unreasonable person because I understand it takes time to resolve an issue. But more often than not, civil servants work without any time frame or initiative and compound simple problems by kicking them down the road. A year or two to reduce a problem to an exceptional level is not unreasonable but at the rate which statutory boards are going, it looks like the status quo will be maintained years from now. Cosmetic changes and token actions reflect laziness.

9 The government needs to determine the causes of brazen irresponsibility by the different statutory boards, review the organisational structure of the civil service (if necessary, employ more manpower on the ground etc instead of relying on contractors) and, belatedly, create an independent Audit Department.

11 Before I give my take on my observations and suggestions, allow me to summarise my recent feedback on the various statutory boards.


The most glaring issue would be vandalism of LTA’s assets ie. traffic lights, lamp posts, road signs. covered linkways etc. island wide. I will highlight only the worst ones and leave it to your imagination what the actual situation is.

It must be self evident that the LTA has always been reactive in tackling vandalism. Advertisements are pasted, plastic-wrapped or cable-tied to LTA’s structures in areas with high human traffic.

In June 2012, after investing much public resources and creating ‘positive’ publicity for itself, LTA’s target was a lone defenceless lady!

There remain thousands of vandalised structures and the mother of all vandalised LTA structures must be this (photo below) – beside a traffic junction. Where the Police Intelligence Department was involved in the “My Grandfather Road” case, advertisements such as these (below) do not require much intelligence – the advertisers are just a phone call away.

The mother of all vandalised LTA’s assest

LTA has been real slow in addressing vandalism, to the point that ….

it is no longer uncommon to see 2ft by 4 ft advertisements instead of A4 sized and smaller ones.
Hopefully, the LTA is not waiting for the entire sign to be covered up before taking meaningful action.

Ingenious – advertisement within an advertisement – the latter not guilty of vandalism?

As advertisers become more emboldened, LTA seems to be testing its (height?) limits.
Of course LTA does not need to worry too much as ladders are probably carried by its contractors anyway.

LTA is wasting precious public resources with its reactive attitude.

As has already been shown in previous emails, the LTA also allows all its structures to double up as bicycle racks island wide.
One officer replied and said that “they do not necessarily obstruct pedestrian movements along linkways and public walkways”. He clearly does not know what he is talking about and needs to be ‘grounded’ regularly.

Not obstructing pedestrians? This linkway from Tampines MRT station to a nearby bus stop serves tens of thousands of commuters daily.

Clearly also a nonsensical statement because if obstruction was never an issue, thousands of taxpayers’ money should not have been spent on a pilot project. (half-height metal panels)

Pasir Ris MRT station

Before After

ii PUB

PUB’s attitude towards vandalism and allowing its structures for use as bicycle racks is similar to the LTA – no feedback, no work.

Again, just one instance of the ‘bochap’ attitude, this junkyard of sorts along a busy road was highlighted some months ago.

However, the main concern with PUB is its attitude towards the drainage system. More than 2 years after the unprecedented flooding along Orchard Road, there are still thousands of malfunctioning drainage inlets. Partially choked ones may not be obvious, although still inexcusable, but the government should not accept any ‘explanation’ for these below.

Along a busy road in Tampines, seven such drainage inlets (below) in a row. A coincidence which the PUB hopes but it has already seen similar examples of these in Pasir Ris in my feedback dated Mar 8 and Mar 29.

(taken of another estate from public bus)

It takes many months/years for a drainage inlet to accumulate enough sand/dirt to become totally choked.
This cannot be PUB’s “proper maintenance regime”.

Were the condition of drainage inlets, such as these, not a likely factor of flooding?

iii NParks

Advertising space and derelict bicycle issues have been extended from PUB and LTA assets to NParks’.

Derelict bicycles

A common problem among many statutory boards.

If NParks officers could even missed these derelict bicycles for years, Brompton bicycles are unlikely to help.

iv HDB and Town Councils (TCs)

The HDB and TCs have always ignored its own bye laws and common-sense guidelines. This has led to unnecessary and unresolved issues among residents.

My earlier email “20120626 HDB – managing website or estate?” is self explanatory.

The HDB and TCs need to review how public estates are managed. Whether it’s killer litter, derelict bicycles, cluttered corridor, uncovered laundry socket (dengue risk) etc. none of these should require public feedback as they are clearly visible. Instead of discharging an estate manager’s duties, the onus has been ‘transferred’ to residents – no feedback, no work.

I will highlight one blatant act of irresponsibility here and again leave it to your imagination as to how irresponsible HDB and TCs have been.

Taking pride in our environment? – for decades, HDB/TCs have allowed public space to be used as storerooms.

Tampines estate

Mah Bow Tan, ex MND minister from 1999 to 2011 (12 years) made no difference in Tampines as its MP for 23 years.

Back in Pasir Ris, foreign workers/FTs have rightly assumed that HDB/TCs have consented to inconsiderate behavior, which is evident in just about every HDB block.
About ? of them (3 bedrooms, 4 persons each?) renting this unit have created an obstruction for hundreds of residents daily.

The HDB and TCs have been reluctant to address serious maintenance and management issues. I will highlight individual instances more clearly in future feedback.

(I certainly hope PM Lee is not referring to all the above when talking about being “messy selectively”)

12 I would like to clarify that my feedback is directed at civil servants and not contractors. It is the responsibility of civil servants to check on contractors’ workmanship and they are the ones who should be taken to task.

13 What is wrong with the civil service?

a Top management is disconnected from reality on the ground, rudderless and not passionate in their work.

b Jobs requiring legwork have all been delegated to contractors and their supervisors as well as members of the public. (This explains the ridiculous situation where blatant irresponsibility has become the norm)

2 derelict bicycles required to firmly secure a road sign? No Traffic Police, civil servants or grassroots leaders passed by this busy road for years?

c Remuneration of rank and file employees not commensurate with workload.

d Organisational structure top heavy, contractors now eyes and ears of government.

13 Suggestions

i The government should verify my feedback and take appropriate courses of action. Same issues which are repeatedly highlighted over a prolonged period go to show that problems have not been resolved. In our densely-populated ‘Red Dot’, the ‘bochap’ attitude of directors of statutory boards cannot be more evident. Such civil servants, if indifference proven, must make way for those with passion to serve.

Incompetent heads must roll and this must be made a policy. Arbitrary decisions of any minister (including the PM) must not be allowed.

ii The organisational structure needs a revamp. Typical situation – public feedback to statutory board, officer contacts contractor but never personally ensure work has been properly done.

Just an example on derelict bicycles.

From standing outside linkway for years………. to resting inside. With construction work started 6 months after my feedback,
LTA’S precious derelict bike still stands tall. (not all nearby were removed)

There are hundreds of instances to prove that officers have never been present at their respective sites. The serious shortage of manpower has to be addressed. (If the issue is not one of manpower shortage, then all officers must have been sleeping on the job.

iii Rank and file civil servants, unlike management, seem to have a remuneration issue which has resulted in an attitude of indifference. Compensation has to commensurate with the job scope.

Eg. HDB/TC officers walk from point A to B oblivious to glaring issues faced by heartlanders. An underpaid officer has no incentive to perform, much less value add. No amount of public feedback will be seriously addressed by disgruntled (shortchanged) employees. Paying top dollar is not the solution as there are trade-offs with the private sector. Job security and a good career path are equally important incentives.

iv The civil service needs a policy where the onus is on civil servants to meticulously check contractors’ workmanship before handing over taxpayers’ money. (PUB – choked drainage, painting) and LTA (painting of kerbs, removal of ‘advertisements’) etc.

v The press should be allowed some sort of investigative reporting to help improve the civil service.

vi The ‘stick’ should not be the preferred solution to social issues. Civil servants must find ways to accommodate reasonable needs of society ie. advertisement space for small businesses and individuals, bicycle parking space near town centres etc. Presently, there seems to be a total disconnect from the ground.

vii CEOs and directors should be periodically ‘grounded’ in order for them to understand problems first hand. That way, the government will not get a wrong assessment so often. Engagement and interaction with commuters provide useful insights into real problems, not imaginary ones in air conditioned comfort. HDB CEO, directors and TC GMs who have not interacted with residents to find out what our real problems are will not be able to provide any solution. PUB directors will never be aware of the lack of maintenance in our drainage system and its structures if they are hardly on the ground.

ix There needs to be more collaboration among statutory boards ie. TCs and HDB, LTA and PUB/NEA etc.

14 Civil Service – backbone of society

Political parties come and go but the civil service is here for good to serve Singaporeans. It is the backbone of our society and only through accountability and transparency could public institutions be strengthened to serve us better. Over reliance on contractors and the public for feedback are shortcuts, not service.

The absence of accountability in the civil service does not bode well for our country.

15 Summary

The civil service is in a sorry state and seriously needs a revamp – nothing short of the removal of ‘dead weight’ and a new ‘accounting’ policy.

The biggest flaw in the organisational structure – the ‘head’ does not know what is happening at the tail end. Something is seriously wrong when brazen irresponsibility is unquestioned and total incompetence (eg. LTA – SMRT breakdowns etc) is excused instead of axed.

The civil service house is not in order and as the PM, please have it fixed.

Thank you.


Phillip Ang

Refer to my previous emails below:

20120626 HDB – managing website or estate?

20120617 Re: 20120611 Vandalism – LTA’s double standard

20120611 Vandalism – LTA’s double standard

20120529 Town Councils’ systemic problems not addressed

20120501 PUB must not delay proper maintenance of drainage system

20120423 Public transportation breakdowns – who is in charge

20120308 PUB – throwing money down the drain (1)

20120329 PUB – throwing money down the drain (2)

20120214 Irresponsibility of LTA causes Illegally parked bicycle problem

20120126 HDB – blurring irresponsibility into creativity

1 Flooding – First World country, Third World drainage system/mindset?


The civil service is in such a sorry state to require feedback for simple tasks which are actually its responsibility. Civil servants should not trivialise and turn a blind eye to every issue. As can be seen, problems have been compounded over the years. SMRT’s maintenance regime mirrors LTA’s and if LTA, as its regulator, is not able to lead by example, the recent changes post COI will merely be cosmetic.

What will the government allow next?

For days, this ‘invisible’ bicycle cable-tied to a fire hydrant. (cable ties gaining in popularity, thanks to SMRT)

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