WP’s Leon Perera Proposes Mandatory Time Gap for Civil Servants Before Entering Politics

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Using our civil and military service as breeding ground for future political appointees has perverse effects in the governance of our country. In a speech in parliament, NCMP Leon Perera of the Worker’s Party proposed a mandatory time gap for civil servants who intend to leave public service and pursue a political career.

Mr. Perera spoke in the context of the Public Sector (Governance) Bill citing that a culture that nurtures the rise of self-serving civil servants must be avoided, since they would anticipate the wishes of their superiors and begin to take actions which, while being lawful, would be done to curry favor with a particular party, and eventually tarnish the good stature of public service.

Mr. Perera expressed his approval of the bill, which aims to integrate the rules that govern how public bodies operate, and called it a step in the right direction. However, he added a particular concern about the speed with which public servants may take up political careers and becoming Members of Parliament or government ministers as soon as they leave public service, without taking a break.

Mr. Perera spoke on the premise that some public servants would leave the civil service and desire to run for office one day, maybe even becoming a Minister or even Prime Minister. This kind of ambition may lead them to second guess what their party leaders want, and act accordingly, even when they receive no direct orders, in order to gain favor with them, in the hopes of being chosen by the party as a candidate for office for upcoming elections.

He asserted that this proposal does not reflect things happening at present, but he was acting on principle and wants to prevent such from happening in the future. And, while this is not illegal, such self-serving actions would be detrimental to Singapore’s culture in the long run, as it would encourage blatant partisanship.

Mr. Perera also cited a famous example from history, when England’s King Henry II complained about the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett, in the twelfth century. King Henry II was supposed to have famously said, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Afterwards, four of his courtiers reportedly conspired to assassinate Beckett.

As a pre-emptive solution to this problem, Mr. Perera suggested a mandatory time gap from the time a public servant resigns until the period when he or she enters politics. In the MAS, this mandatory time gap is sometimes called a “gardening leave” or “cooling-off period,” that already exists for MAS officers who take a break between leaving MAS and joining other financial institutions. He admitted that this solution is not a perfect one, but neither is it unprecedented.

Mr Perera further stated that a mandatory time gap of possibly three years, “would give pause to any ambitious public servant who might seek to read their political master’s mind and do their partisan bidding, unasked, so as to facilitate their chances of joining the ruling party as an elected politician. He or she would know that they would need to find employment outside the public service – in the private sector or not-for-profit sector – for a certain number of years before joining politics. Hence there would be a period of time when they would need to find alternative employment and the fruit of their partisan action or actions could not be reaped immediately. And with the passage of time, the memory of their acts in the public service and their links to their former political masters may become more attenuated, thus further reducing the motive to commit such acts.”

He asserts that this time gap would be a good signal to send to ambitious public servants that their partisan actions would not immediately work in their favor. It would also give future politicians valuable experience in the private sector and/or non-profit organizations.  It would also give them time to seriously consider whether they really want to have a career in politics.

Many netizens applauded Mr. Perera’s proposal, and suggested an even longer time gap.

Others claimed that such a time gap would merely hinder the way for young people who wanted to get into politics, and make their way unnecessarily  harder

A point that yet other netizens refuted