High Earners In Civil Service


If you hear someone say that civil servants don’t earn a lot when compared to the private sector, tell him he’s not entirely correct.

Ask him whether he knows about the elite Administrative Service.

Chances are he’ll look puzzled, or even start wondering if the service is about doing mundane clerical administrative work.

The truth. You can find some of the highest earners in the Administrative Service.

No, I’m not talking about cabinet ministers. They hold political appointments and are not actually part of the Civil Service (though their pay is quite astounding too, but that’s another topic).

In the Administrative Service, you’ll find specialists and policy makers who are groomed to lead government agencies. The super high flyers move on to become CEOs of statutory boards, and Deputy Secretaries and Permanent Secretaries of government ministries.

They are the de facto leaders in the Civil Service. The elites.

After retirement, some of them move on to lead big GLCs, e.g. former Head of Civil Service Lee Ek Tieng is a director of SPH.

High earners. You can be sure that officers in the Administrative Service are paid well. In fact, very well.

According to a recent speech by Minister In-Charge of Civil Service Mr Teo Chee Hean, officers at the lowest “superscale” salary grade (SR9) are set to receive a total of $372,000 to $384,000 this year.

Some of these officers are only in their early 30s, I reckon.

Salaries for those at the MR4 level – these are typically senior Permanent Secretaries – are set at $1.6 million.

Are these salaries comparable to those in investment banking, the industry that pays astronomical compensation? You bet.

Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew even name dropped a couple of big investment banks when he said this:

“So for the average family earning S$1,500-S$3,000, we are talking of astronomical figures but for people like me in government, to deal with the money which we have accumulated by the sweat of our brow over the last 40 years, you have to pay the market rate or the man will up stakes and join Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers or Goldman Sachs and you would have an incompetent man and you would have lost money by the billions.”


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  1. Pingback: Pay Rise For Government Leaders | Salary.sg - Your Salary in Singapore

  2. As mentioned previously, I am not a high flyer, but my sister was a scholarship holder sent to Oxford and her hubby is now the CEO of a major statutory board. Never talk about salary so do know specifics but I know about how they are recruited. Also top civil servants travel first class on airlines. Brother-in-law mentioned once that sometimes, he is the only person in 1st class.

    Most of them are chosen after A-levels – with top marks, top extra-curricular activities (or CCA as they are called now), and high intelligence (they are sent for IQ tests), they are sent all expenses paid to top US and British universities.

    However,it is good to note that top performing civil servants from other sectors eg the SAF, are also now being recruited mid-career into the admin service.

  3. Pingback: All signs point to Major Retrenchments, yet Permanent Secretary Flaunts Wealth | Salary.sg - Your Salary in Singapore

  4. so govt’s theory of paying the highest salary similar to what investment banks pay to acquire best talent will not hold ground now that Lehman Brothers is gone and ML already lost their independence. You pay so much money to people and still they will manage to bring down the whole bank and worst the global economy. what an irony…

  5. it is a myth that renumeration positively correlates with intelligience, capabilities and other measures of non-monetary attributes..

  6. i wonder if the current worldwide financial turmoil will cause the s’pore civil service to re-adjust the pay of these high flyers. Keito made a good point. morever, how many of these so called high-flyers are good enough to actually survive in the private sector is anybody’s guess. only time will tell.

  7. Blameitonfate on

    There’s alot of internal politics in the civil service especially at the higher echelons, or those near the superscale grades. The scholars are paid lots to hold the fort, those who are not scholars fight and step on one another to get close to the top. Eg, force out mid-career switchers, unco-operative, withold information etc. Some managers even remove your job duties to remove you altogether by passing the jobs to vendors/private businesses. So who does the work? The private sector. Of course, such things also happen in the private sector…but if you think about it, these people are taking taxpayer’s monies!

    My personal take is, Singapore is a country where the government employs people to keep itself as government by hiring many people and paying them tons to keep their ‘loyalty’. Try removing their salaries and these ‘parasites’ will start an exodus.

    Don’t even think about patriotism. We should be glad that the people here are happy with their lives. Otherwise don’t even think that people are going to keep quiet while you collect gold coins in your backyard.

    Don’t think people don’t know, people just don’t want to bother.

  8. Terence On a typical staff trip only the minister takes first class. Even the deputy sec only takes business class.

    The “top performing civil servants from other sectors eg the SAF, are also now being recruited mid-career into the admin service” are the SAFOS scholars. This is not even news. It’s a longstanding fact since the 1970s. After retirement go civil service as perm sec or minister. They are given AO interview right after they come back from their overseas studies at 23 and can get into the AO at any point in time until retirement.

  9. Blameitonfate on

    The thing is, the paymaster decides who are the elites unless you can show them to be wrong in their choices?

    I personally think it is right to pay top money for talent, HOWEVER….the majority of those in the service have absolutely NO TALENT. They play dirty politics.

    Its also a known fact that when you work with the service you must be able to cover their ‘back-side’.

    Take for example the recent food cases. NEA is supposed to conduct twice yearly checks on food centres, so how the @#$# did 100+ RATS end up in Geylang’s hawker centre??? And have these people been collecting their MVC (ie salaries) all these years for doing nothing? And their bosses? Also didn’t check.

    We all know the majority of the civil servants are frankly ineffective…the terrorist escape shows a total lapse in the system…problem is if you fire these people you have nobody to work…but the question is, why aren’t the directors and above fired? Even when the customer services for CPF lapsed (eg super long wait…dumb answers), why wasn’t the director(s) taken to task but allowed to continue to take taxpayer’s monies?

    One thing you will never find in many parts of Singapore is having the heads chopped instead of the juniors. DBS’s Koh Boon Hwee did a FABULOUS job in axing the senior managers. This is what I call INTEGRITY.

  10. when u have too big a system, it tends to deviate from the original path.
    when u dangle carrots to lure talents, you are bound to attract undesirable people.
    when u have too big of a problem, it tends to become unstable.
    when u finally realise it, … …

  11. Who are the ones responsible for ENSURING the grunts are kept in line? They are the middle managers. The middle managers in the civil service and all statutory boards are also farmers which is why they are ineffective. They are also jia liao bee, and cannot make it in the private sector. They are local graduates. The farmers. Part of the hoi polloi like you and me.

    There is a dire and sore lack in macro assessment, an exercise often used in consulting.

    Admin Officers were not conducting checks on hawkers or guarding Mas Selamat’s cell. The thing is, I know you’ll say something like it flows from top down, but only policies do. Policies and culture influence operations by a very large percentage, but never 100 per cent. If so, then you would find your 17 yr old McDonald’s burger flippers having the exact same character as the CEO of McDonald’s.

    We all know the very same group of people who complain that all organisations move away from micromanagement are the same ones expecting a perm secretary or director to keep tabs on every hawker in Singapore. Even if NEA grunts are little gods, they might still have missed the 24 hour action of food preparation of all the hawkers and restaurant chefs here.

    Intellectually, I highly question the symptom some afflicted people exhibit of attributing blame of lone grunt to the top, something I’ve seen quite a lot recently and which I believe to be connected to envy of the powerful.

    In corporate analogy, it would be akin to penalizing the late Richard Stanley if a DBS teller gave you the wrong change at the counter, causing a chain of events that led to catastrophe eg you putting in the wrong sum in a red packet to the in-laws for your wife’s dowry.

    It’s reasonable to attribute blame to the top for overall crash of a framework, because systemic failure would have been conclusively proven. An example of this? CEOs sacked after a company crashes. Systemic crash of homeland securities is fulfilled when there is a crash of homeland security and safety, charted through crime and safety rates of the country. An example? If the crime rate soared to a level when Singapore is as safe as, say, Malaysia?

    In any case, the cause of Geylang food poisoning was not ‘rats’ but water from raw sotong kept in the refrigerator above the rojak gravy dripped right into the bowl of gravy.

    adiemuso, regarding January 20th, 2009 at 9:34 am, it must be hard for you. From all your posts, you have neither non monetary and monetary…

  12. Last I checked, they make policies. Policy = 100 % of Operation =/= Operational lapse. Policy making sets the framework. Culture furthers shapes it. The influence is marked but not total, because it is simply not logically do-able(reread teller analogy for understanding).

    Operational lapse is caused by little farmers and grunts like me. The millions of average joes like me who are not bright and whom you expect the CEO to keep in line?

    So why do you always blame people like me? When I am no different from you. Do I blame you when you or your colleagues screw up at work (everyone screws up, so please don’t say you haven’t ever)?

  13. are you saying no one in our government is responsible for any mistake? or are you saying that our government has not made a single mistake at all? how about the management people in charge of our sovereign funds? no mistakes at all? no one is accountable and no one needs to apologize or step down? they’re all perfect?
    all the faults are from the “grunts”?

  14. I am saying the person(s) some of the above people blamed could be blamed when the conditions for systemic crash stemming from policy failure are fulfilled. If you understand the framework of organisations, you will know that policies determine direction of organisation and more microscopically the systemic outcome.

    Dude Reread the following logical equations. Policy makers make policies. Policy AND culture shape framework outcome. And operations by and large. But not 100% of operations. Which means operational lapse cannot be logically attributed to a policy makers 30 rungs above the farmer.

    Now back to blaming the people who keep the grunts in check. The farmers like me. The hoi polloi. The Mediocre people. I also live in HDB after I graduate from some local university. I also did not have money to buy a car until many years of working like all of you.

    WHY do you blame me when no one blames you when you screw up at work? Do grunts like me screw up even as frequently as you? I bet there are tons of farmers just like me in the private sector screwing up all the time, at a rate more frequently than my hawker’s sotong water dripping into the curry gravy which I ‘miraculously’ did not ensure my grunts caught. What to do? My grunts are not deities.

  15. dude, really? I am sure there have been instances of head roll, I did not say there never was. I know for a fact about countless screw-ups in the private sector by the grunts and farmers. The middle managers who are also HDB, local grad grunts like me also got away.

    My friend’s subordinate made mistakes resulting in lawyer’s letter being issued to the company, a private company. The grunt and the grunt’s farmer boss- the middle manager both did not suffer any repercussions even though the grunt made a very clear error. The grunt only had to make an apology over email, really easy peasy to the aggrieved party. In fact, the farmer middle manager protected the grunt.

    In another notable case, the error resulted in a marked discredit to the reputation of the company and department, which often interacts with the public. The error? Was catastrophic. A factual error that was reported and certified as ‘truth’ and correct, and which also implicated and slandered a very prominent person outside of the organisation whose stature is high level to be in the league of MM Lee (for public sector) or Wee Cho Yaw (for private sector). The farmer-middle manager in charge of the grunt also got away.

    So can you explain why farmer middle managers like me are blamed all the time? Oh sovereign funds hahaha. You tell me one fund, sovereign or very in-sovereign who did not make a loss in this crisis and then come back to me.

  16. dude, for many “in-sovereign” funds, the fund managers have been sacked. well, mdm ho has stepped down, but “without regrets” wor…

  17. Oh I will also go to church this Sunday, and pray to God to give my grunts- under me, the farmer middle manager that gets the blame- bionic eyes to see through solid surfaces, as well as eyes on the back of his head, and also other powers such as the ability to be at all places and all time, so they can monitor the hawkers from start to finish. Pray for me too.

  18. wow really?? Warren buffett the finance deity stepped down from his own in-sovereign fund?? i see!!! How come he so ‘shen’, but he lost $$$ sia??? You tell me the farmer please.

  19. Note to moderator: this ish meant for you. too lazy to email you. But yea now suddenly comments are ‘moderated’ :). I knew you had an agenda against farmers. i’m impressed with myself i was right haha 🙂

  20. farmer,
    I use a spam detection system called Akismet. It automatically marked your comment at 10:28pm for moderation, probably due to the 2 links in it. I just approved it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. 🙂

  21. for the record, i have nothing against farmers.

    for the record, i do not blame the CEO when his cashiers give me the wrong change.

    off the record, i think you are frustrated at work.

    btw your post was truncated, would u repost the remainder.

  22. Blameitonfate on

    Farmer, in Japan, when something fails, the CEO takes the rap. The guy appears on TV, either offering a public apology or RESIGNS. Obviously you do not agree with this superb culture because to you the grunts are not flawless and therefore their heads/CEOs are absolved from blame.

    Frankly with this attitude, the entire organisation becomes crap. Because if the parent is not responsible for the children’s failures, then who is? The teachers? The kids themselves for being born dumb or because kids are prone to fail???

    Wait, we’re not saying the CEOs should be chopped for minor mistakes. We are saying the CEOs/HODs MUST be held responsible for whatever happens on the ground. If it is a minor error, then the CEO/HOD gets an alert, if moderate, a warning, if serious….terminated.

    PS. If a war is lost, we don’t kill the soldiers, we execute the general. That is the way of a true leader. To attempt otherwise would be an escapist and such a person would be pure opportunistic. There’s nothing to be jealous/envious about such people, they grab what they can in this life and departs from it naked.

    Wait. We are talking about INTEGRITY.

  23. Blameitonfate on

    Lets not forget the HODs/CEOs are getting salaries over 20 times of the grunts, so why should they be getting negative 20 times of the responsibilities when things go wrong?

    Money you grab, Responsibilities you SIAM???

    What kind of a leader is that? IN a war, such a general would be assasinated before the war is even engaged.

  24. dude, why should buffett step down when it’s his OWN money. he built up his wealth from his own money. then after a reverse takeover of berkshire, he had more money to manage. the BIG difference between him and our sovereign funds ceos and management is that the latter group manages the nation’s money. the people’s money. money from u and me.
    the fund management and wealth managemetn industry has been shaken up a lot, with many people getting the sack, most recently seen in the hsbc’s retrenchment of 100 private bankers.
    i dare say i speak for many when i say there ought to be some answers and accountability when billions are lost in hasty investments into the big banks like citigroup, ubs and merrill lynch. well, i think mm lee has said they invested “too early” – this is a good start in explaining, but still not good enough for many people.
    people are reasonable. we just want to see responsible answers and not extreme actions like having heads roll. answers like “too bad we lost money”, “what to do? it’s happened. (mas selamat has escaped)” are really unacceptable.

  25. Well in the West paying people high salaries etc to supposedly stop then from being corrupt and work hard , is bribery , a form of corruption . Working for the civil service in most countries means a lower than normal wage , but a resonably safe job , but efficiency is necessary and transparancy is an obligation .

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  27. “you have to pay the market rate or the man will up stakes and join Morgan Stanley, LEHMAN BROTHERS or Goldman Sachs and you would have an incompetent man and you would have lost money by the billions” MM Lee

    Fast forward 5 years and Lehman brothers ceases to exsist. So high pay = competent bankers? I don’t think so.

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