Bureaucracy – Lessons for Pakistan from Singapore

pic Originally published in The News Tribe on  20 March 2013.


Given an opportunity, what ONE change you would like to bring in Pakistan? The possible answers could include strengthening of education system, reforming health sector, reviving economy, promoting religious tolerance, widening the tax base and many more.

However in my reckoning the implementation of good governance is the most imperative factor on which foundations of a progressive society can be laid upon.

The rampant corruption; an off spring of poor governance, in our society is testimony to that. With in a state the direct responsibility of governance apart from the political leadership directly rests upon the civil bureaucracy. Bureaucracy acts as the eyes, ears, brain and most importantly the “hands” of state machinery to smoothly run the system. Given this system falter to deliver, the result is what we witness daily in Pakistan.

However, Pakistan is not the only country that suffers in the hands of an inefficient bureaucracy. In fact its performance must be relatively better than India which was identified as the worst bureaucracy in Asia according to a report.

The bureaucracies of Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia were identified as efficent; however the top slot for the best bureaucracy in Asia was maintained by the small island state of Singapore.

With a land mass almost thousand times smaller than Pakistan, the total population of Singapore is half that of Lahore. Identified as one of four Asian Tigers besides Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea the Singapore is the world’s fourth leading financial hubs with one of the fivebusiest ports in the world. According to an IMF report of 2010-11 in terms of purchasing power parity it has the third highest per capita income in the world.

The intriguing success story of Singapore, a 63 island country, which like Pakistan obtained independence from Britain, in 1963, has many dimensions. However among other contributing factors of Singapore’s achievements, one resides in carving the most efficient civil services system.Instead of divulging upon the reasons of our own low performing bureaucratic system lets get a bird’s eye view of strengths of Singapore’s system which offers many insights and lessons for Pakistan.

The government of Singapore introduced reforms in civil service in 1990s .The Public Service for the 21st Century (PS21) was the flagship reform program. Introduced in 1995, PS21 seeks to foster a culture of change reflected in its official slogan” be the change”. In Singapore, the public services include the Armed Forces, Civil Service, Legal Service and the Police Force. It comprises of almost 110,000 officers serving in 15 Ministries and more than 50 statutory boards. Here are few cardinals of Singapore’s Civil Services:-

Best – Human Resource
Just like Pakistan, the selection of candidates for serving in civil services of Singapore is primarily based upon the performance on competitive written examination .However in quest for hiring best possible human resource the options are not closed for hiring talented individuals from outside the service structure. Thus finding graduates from world class institutions like Stanford University and London School of Economics in Singapore Civil services is common.

Highest – Pays and Perks
Singapore Civil Services does not bank upon sermons and verbosity to remove temptations for corruption .It pays special emphases on promoting official honesty through high salaries paid to public officials.

Young – Age Profile
The Singapore Public services focuses on hiring younger generation and that is why almost 60 % of the public service workforce comprise of individuals less than 40 years of age. This brings in fresh perspective and ideas to the problems that is translated into efficient public service. It is in stark contrast to Pakistan where promotion criterion of civil servants mainly depends upon the age and number of years put in the service.

Harnessing Private Sector Expertise
Unlike Pakistan, the inclusion of highly talented technocrats into the civil services of Singapore is not discouraged. The inclusion of competitive technocrats from private sectors has changed the overall outlook of the Singapore civil services and increased the efficiency many times.

Training And Development
Singapore Public Service pays special attention to the training and development of its workforce. All public officers are entitled to 100 hours of training and development per annum so that they can upgrade and acquire new skills. Interestingly, every officer is required to develop an individual training roadmap to make sure that he is equipped with skills for the job and long term employability. The Civil Service College (CSC)  plays an instrumental role in identifying organizational capabilities and competencies critical to the Service.

Tapping the Talent through Scholarships
Identifying the importance of tapping the talent at an early stage, Public Service Commission of Singapore grants lucrative scholarships to prospective candidates. These are granted for study both in Singapore and at foreign universities on the condition that the recipients join the civil service after graduation. Efforts are also done to reach university undergraduates with mid-term scholarships and internships.

Status with Prestige
In order to elevate the self esteem and inculcate pride in their profession officials are provided with a social prestige that is at par with their peers in business and other fields. The associated power and official title normally surpass the money, in otherwise a rich society.

Powerful –Corruption Investigation Bureau
The investigation of corruption in both the public and private sectors is under the authority of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), which enjoys sweeping powers under prime minister. The same model was followed by Hong Kong in 1974.In January 2012, CPIB arrested senior civil servants on the charges of corruption, including the former head of the Singapore Civil Defense Force.

Complete – Automation
At quite an early stage it was identified by Singapore public Service that paper based file system is a big hurdle in efficiency of public offices. Automation was resorted to replace papers with emails and registers with servers and databases. Under its eGov Plan the Singapore Civil Services has introduced an array of IT based services for the public, businesses and the public office bearers that include innovative programs like Government Cloud (G-Cloud and CUBE (for collaborative ideas sharing) etc.

Keeping in view the economic constraints and other limitations ,all of the examples above may not directly apply to Pakistan’s Bureaucracy and Civil services system .Yet the success of Singapore in this regard is indication of the reality that where there is will there is a way.

For Pakistan, one day we may find light at the end of the tunnel. How long? Who knows?


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