On his public Facebook account, Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s Minister of Education defended a policy that Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng questioned in a speech last week. This speech had been shared online by many netizens.
In his speech, Mr. Seah had talked about the need to prioritize values, moral foundation and trust in policy making, and not to depend solely on economic and market reasoning. He used charging teachers to for their parking fees as an example to prove his point.
Mr. Ong says that he was grateful that Mr. Siah had brought up the situation of teachers and that he agreed that economics should not be the only perspective to be considered in governance and and running a public service system. And, to a large extent, he argued that when it comes to public service, foreign policy, land usage and even everyday life—the guiding principle should still be core values, which is probably why neither teachers nor members of the armed forces were not asked to pay for parking for many years.
However, the Minister of Education writes that “within our governance system, we also put in place checks and balances.”
He specifically mentions the Auditor General’s Office (AGO), the institution tasked to perform checks on the use of public funds. The AGO’s findings are then evaluated by parliament. The AGO had called attention some years back that free parking for teachers is in actuality a staff benefit, which makes it contrary to the clean wage policy of the civil service.
Mr. Ong explained that while this ran counter to what the Ministry of Education has adapted as a practice for a very long time, he said, “Yet we have to respect our internal system of checks and balances. We cannot pick and choose which finding to address or comply with – we take them all seriously. This is about upholding the value of self-discipline.”
Mr. Ong took his explanation further by writing, “Furthermore, the whole public service subscribes to the discipline of having a clean wage, so every public officer knows that his salary is all he gets – there are no hidden benefits. This is one of our core practices to ensure a clean government. As Kian Peng said, clean wage surely must be a moral idea. Indeed, it is.”
He said that they sat down with teachers to explain the situation and make a choice in moving forward.
The Minister of Education announced that staring from August, teachers will be subject to car park charges. He wrote, “We have explained to our educators the need to abide by the clean wage policy, and that we cannot be giving a benefit just to one group of teachers who drive. Free parking is also at odds with the rest of the civil service.”
He endeavored to make it cleat that addressing the findings of the AGO was the duty of the MOE, “of abiding by our system of internal self-discipline.”
He ended his post with saying how much he appreciated educators, and that he was gratified to see so many come out in support of teachers. He also reiterated that “policy decisions should be grounded not just on economics, but more importantly on values, morals, and public duty.”
Many netizens were not thrilled by the MOE’s defense for charging teachers for their parking spaces
Others suggested that perhaps it was time to amend the clean wage policy
One teacher took to the comments section to express his disappointment