Member of Parliament Lee Bah Wah recently made comments to the effect that she would be on the receiving end of retaliation from civil servants for her critical remarks about them. Ms. Lee’s comments drew sharp rebuke from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in a statement he made on February 4, Sunday.

DPM Teo emphasized that it would be wrong for public officers, MP or other civil servants to retaliate against each other just because of arguments in the work that they do.  He wrote, “If anyone knows of either public officers or MPs using their position or authority to act in this improper way, he or she should raise the matter with me with the facts, and I will have it investigated.”

In an interview published in Channel NewsAsia also on February 4, Ms. Lee had stated, “They told me that those who are the ‘can work’ types, love to work with me because I can make decisions very fast. Those who are the ‘cannot work’ type are very scared of me.

I even have friends who tell me, ‘Bee Wah, when you step down, then you will know, these civil servants will get back at you’. So be it. If I’m afraid then there’s nothing much that I can do, right? So if you really want to serve, don’t be worried.”

Ms. Lee also said that in the past, other ministers had brought criticism of her to the Prime Minister, but she was certain that he comprehends what she is doing, and that she did not take her position in order to be popular.

In the interview, she also commented on the plan to shift toward fewer cars, saying that the nation is not ready for such a plan, since both infrastructure and discipline are still lacking for this plan to fully succeed.

In his statement, DPM Teo acknowledged Ms. Lee’s, as well as other civil servants’ passion for service, but that public servants, elected leaders and MP must all collaborate closely for the good of the nation. He commented on Singapore’s highly functional Parliament and noted that public service in the country is “excellent,” and that continuous improvement must be made. He also reiterated the need for all officials to show respect and conduct themselves in a professional manner, saying “MPs and public officers play complementary roles, and will not always see issues from the same perspective. The different perspectives may well have valid justifications – the needs of residents, resource or site constraints, or national priorities and policy.”

DPM Teo noted that there are occasions when public officers and MPs will not see eye to eye, or they may have conflicting priorities, but that resolution through “reasoned discussion and objective analysis” must always be arrived at. He explained that officials are expected to behave properly toward each other and that disagreements may be aired with mutual respect.

Netizens, especially Ms. Lee’s constituents, were quick to defend her.

Others commented that civil servants should be able to take criticism well

Still, others commented that the Deputy Prime Minister may be unaware of what’s really happening