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    May 28, 2014

    Relook sacred cows, says Denise Phua

    THE elected presidency and civil service were put under the microscope in Parliament yesterday.

    In a radical speech, Moulmein-Kallang GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Denise Phua called for a relook at the elected presidency.

    She had previously spoken on the need to review the Non-Constituency MP and Nominated MP schemes, and the elected presidency in 2011. She said then: "If the conditions under which they were introduced have changed, let us have the courage to slay these sacred cows before they become obese and unhealthy."

    Yesterday, while she supported the motion of thanks to President Tony Tan Keng Yam for his opening address during her speech, she admitted that she "cannot agree with certainty" with his conclusion that "our best years lie ahead".

    Referring to the Elected Presidency Scheme, Ms Phua, who is from the ruling People's Action Party, said that she shares the same reservations that Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang had about the power given to the elected president.

    On Monday, Mr Low had expressed his concern that the "efficiency of the government can be paralysed by the President exercising his blocking power if the Elected President and the Government do not see eye to eye".

    Ms Phua agreed, pointing out that "he (the President) holds the executive right to block attempts by the Government of the day including specified statutory boards to draw down reserves that it did not accumulate".

    Another area for concern, she added, is that the Elected Presidency Scheme has admitted candidates "who were non-executive chairmen of companies or portfolio managers with no strong solid executive experience, expecting them to exercise the very critical executive functions expected of the Elected President".

    During her speech, Ms Phua also called for a re-examination of the public sector.

    She warned that what is depicted in the British political comedy Yes Prime Minister - in which politicians come and go, and senior civil servants run the country, believing that the civil service knows best what is good for the country - is "not an improbable scenario".

    One suggestion she gave was that the public service needs to relook the way it selects and develops its leaders, and to relook the competencies needed for leadership in its ranks.

    "Is there still a need for an elite Administrative Service which primarily admits persons of a specific intelligence?" she asked.

    "Or should the Administrative Service scheme be replaced by a more open and robust system to identify different talents and competencies for different types of jobs?"

    She said that there is a "rumbling on the ground" by civil servants on how they are recognised. This calls for a relook at how the public service recognises and rewards performances, she added.

    "The traditional system, by which officers are ranked in groups among supervisors who hardly know them, calls for an update," she said.

    "There is a rumbling on the ground by civil servants... on the quality of a recognition system that is based in part on how agressive one's supervisors fight for one's ranking against other similarly enthused supervisors similarly pushing up their own staff."'