All signs point to Major Retrenchments, yet Permanent Secretary Flaunts Wealth


The writings are already on the wall. Today newspaper reported a fortnight ago that retrenchments will “go up” after Chinese New Year.

In TV news just now, it’s said again that there will be more retrenchments toward the end of this month, with more cuts targeted at white collar workers in the manufacturing sector.

Yet, our lovable Permanent Secretary Tan Yong Soon wrote a rather show-off article in today’s Straits Times Life, flaunting how he and his family spent more than $50k attending cooking lessons in Paris, and how he as “a good leader” can afford to take five weeks’ leave.

As a perm sec, he must be one of the highest earning civil servants. If his salary grade is MR4, he earns $59,760 per month [edited 19 Jan: this was before an 18% cut in end 2008, pending further cuts in 2009, but still a lot nonetheless].

No wonder he can flaunt his wealth.

But as a senior civil servant and a “good leader”, isn’t it a tad bit insensitive to boast at a time like this? Well, maybe he has low EQ, or maybe he just doesn’t realize that people are getting retrenched by the hundreds and families are suffering. (See another blog criticizing what he wrote.)


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  1. goes to show how much fat and excesses our bureaucracy has built up over the years. this article highlights a few things:
    1) to disappear for 5 weeks either shows how dispensable he is or how excellent a leader he is as well. Maybe it is time that he needs something more challenging, like finding a solution to our economic recession, since he has a lot of time on his hands.
    2) the timing of his article goes to show how out of touch our decision makers are with the people on the ground. I wonder if people above him thinks the same way as well.

  2. really boastful on

    At first, I thought this perm sec got played out by some smart alec reporter. Then I realized he himself actually wrote the entire boastful travelogue!
    See how boastful he is:
    – He purposely mentioned his wife is a “senior investment counsellor at a bank”
    – He purposely mentioned his son is going to Brown University in USA
    – He hinted quite overtly that he is a “good leader” – “Taking five weeks’ leave from work is not as difficult as one thinks. Most times, when you are at the top, you think you are indispensable. But if you are a good leader who has built up a good team, it is possible to go away for five weeks or even longer.”
    – He purposely mentioned he studied in England.
    – He hinted he’s been to Paris many times when he said he visited Musee D’Orsay, “a perennial favourite of (his)”.

  3. Talk about Total Defence.
    I think his article does much damage to the morale and trust of Singaporeans. It’s not about his spending money per se but the negative externalities generated by his self-publicity. There have been less ‘dangerous’ things that authorities are bent on censoring.

  4. dun just bash him because he is a civil servant…

    i think some of the private sector guys live a more extravagant lifestyle than he does…

    look at it from another angle, at least he is not wearing a Vacheron, smoking high end cigars while supposedly on a meagre salary…

    and its a good way to motivate your kids to study real hard too…if $$$ is all that matters…

  5. true, but he doesn’t have to boast about his extravagant lessons. just enjoy life quietly. i think the strait times team may be whacked as well.
    btw, did u read his writing- he sure sounds a bit “hao lian”.

  6. OK, here’s a somewhat contrarian view for the sake of discussion.

    – to all who bash him for “showing off” – it just sounds like any other dad writing his honest and candid account of a family vacation. He even bemoans about the expensive food “3 times the cost” of back home.

    – He made his money legally, why begrudge him. Maybe you should have qualified to be Perm Sec instead if you are more capable than him. To the many, many multi-millionaires, they are probably going, “Hah! Poor guy. I have my own PERSONAL French chef, why the fark take lessons”. To you, just because you don’t have it, you bash him.

    – And, make sure you read the article first because it sure sounds like you didn’t – just bashing him for your own fears and frustration with the economy. What about the farkers in the US who created this mess in the first place? Shouldn’t they be waaaaay on top of your bash list?

    – To those who thinks he is arrogant and showing off – he seems pretty humble to me, saying he sucks at cooking and surprised he came in fifth. He’s just stating facts and being proud of his wife and son. Being arrogant is when he bashes other people for not being able to make it to Brown. Bashing him for that – sour grapes much?

    – If you have been working for so long, and you can’t take 5 weeks leave – seriously, you are doing it wrong. Why don’t *you* work every last bit and give every day of your life for the country for the rest of your life? Some bosses of companies take half the time off. Some go straight to the golf course – why the fark?

    – “I’m suffering, so everyone must suffer” syndrome. You are worried about your economy. Someone else is not. So they must STFU?

    – When there are challenges ahead, you buck up and ask yourself why you never work harder in school so you could get a recession-proof job, or you rise to the challenge and survive the recession. Spend less. Fark that SG$5 cup of coffee. It’s not a right.

    – Are we in a communist country where the state MUST provide income for you without your effort? A democratic country provides security & legal boundaries – the rest is up to you. You want to be a slacker, open restaurant, sell cars, or a billionaire – you can.

    – Foreigners “taking over” your jobs? Get creative lah, upgrade your skills, change careers, start a business or migrate. It’s a globalised world. What do you think of lazy US auto workers who resent foreign competition? Scumbags, right? Well, now you’re being the scumbag.

  7. Tag civil service pay to private sector to get good people. I agree, but have we forgotten “civil service” is also meant to serve the nation.

    Where is our moral value and loyalty towards the country if everything need to be rewarded by money. I am not sure how long this scheme can sustain.

  8. agree with the above, but if u read his article, it definitely sounds a bit ‘hao lian’ though in some parts he sounded ‘humble’. heck, if he laments food is 3 times more ex, why din he enrolled his family in local french cooking courses conducted by shatec!!??

  9. the article should not have made it to the papers anyway..nothing insightful nothing interesting..but full of potential short think he got saboed…

  10. I agree with aw and 5m10y. It’s up to him what he does with his legally earned money. It’s another thing to have sensitivity and empathy not to publicize such a thing in the time where people are retrenched and struggling to meet their financial obligations.

  11. Agree that the matter is probably blown out of proportion when examined objectively, but the timing, the timing….

    After all, it’s plausible that he could have gone on holiday on his wife’s income as a “senior investment counsellor”. To those who think that civil servants serve the public, think again – they serve their ministers who are accountable to the public. It may seem a small distinction, but it’s a significant one. The ministers are politicians, there by the grace of the public’s trust and votes. Civil servants are administrative professionals who happen to be working in the public sector. That is the justification for paying civil servants competitive salaries with those in the private sector because the skill sets are presumably similar – though this argument holds considerably less water to explain why ministers should be paid a high salary since a political career should be seen as distinct from an administrative one.

  12. if he is not doing his current job, he may be earning as much doing another.

    capitalism and globalisation = top talents are paid most.

    average joes too bad. cos they are replaceable.

    not happy ? change the system, or be your own boss.

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  14. classic elitist mindset obviously apparent. i am sure he’s not the only one in the civil service. but guess that’s what you get when you put monetary rewards as carrot for attacting the best talent for the admin service. Good that someone brought this up in parliament.

  15. im sorry aw, you are not understanding what is wrong with the passage. Its one thing to be hao lian and its one thing to go to france and learn cooking. He earned his keep.

    But you must remember he is a Member of parliament, writing about his 50K trip, during times of recession IN THE NEWSPAPER WE READ = =’…

  16. Even a perm-sec of a water ministry in Singapore earns more than Obama! There is just something wrong about this.

    Meritocracy is a good ideal, but to reward people in public service with obscene wealth is just wrong. And everybody in the developed world realizes that fact except Singapore…

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  18. i tink ppl who resent this are just jealous, if you envy, then get into the civil service, why start pointing fingers…if you cant get into or dont want to get into, why talk so much? sour grapes in my opinion

  19. dun give good pay and u wun get top ppl to lead, simple as that, spore is a small country with no natural resources, we cant afford to have incompetent politicians and leaders, its only natural that we pay more than other countries….wake up ppl..

  20. be careful. pay too much and you’ll get people with the wrong motivations. money doesn’t always solve every problem.

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