05 August 2013 Forum Letter Replies

Reply to ST Forum letters on “Spell out clear rules for civil servants" and “Debt-hit employees should be helped, not punished”

Code guides officers’ conduct at work; they are helped when in trouble

We thank Mr Colin Loh and Mr Kuo How Nam for their comments in “Spell out clear rules for civil servants, ST 1 Aug and “Debt-hit employees should be helped, not punished” ST, 31 Jul, which allow us an opportunity to clarify and explain some of our rules and processes.

The Civil Service is governed by a Code of Conduct based on principles of integrity, incorruptibility and impartiality. The Code articulates the key conduct principles and expected behaviour of our officers. Officers are expected to conduct themselves in a manner which upholds the integrity of the Service and the public confidence in it.

The Code is a live document and agency chiefs hold town-hall sessions to discuss with staff how the Code would apply to them as they go about their daily work. The Code is also discussed at induction and periodically at milestone programmes that officers attend.  

On Mr Loh’s suggestion to have an ombudsman process for the reporting of wrongdoing, there is a reporting framework in place where officers can report wrongful practices or behaviour they observe in the Service. An officer may report wrongdoing to his supervisors or his Permanent Secretary directly.

Beyond his own agency, he may report to the Head of the Civil Service. He may also report to the Public Service Commission, which is an independent body with the authority to discipline civil servants. The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and Auditor General’s Office are also independent channels for such reporting. As part of CPIB’s preventive programmes, it also regularly conducts talks to remind officers of the importance of maintaining incorruptibility and the potential consequences of a failure to do so.  

We agree with Mr Kuo that we should help our officers and indeed we do when they encounter problems. The default consequence for a declaration of financial embarrassment is not punishment or retribution. As caring employers, our agencies implement such declaration rules with empathy. Factors such as whether the officer had made an honest declaration, and whether there were extenuating or mitigating circumstances, are considered. This is because we recognise that each officer’s circumstances are unique.

We will help officers resolve their financial issues eg through financial counselling and helping him to work out a repayment plan. Some agencies such as the Ministry of Home Affairs are already actively doing this. As part of continuing education and awareness for officers, talks and seminars on financial planning and prudence are also held. Officers are also informed of assistance channels such as the Credit Counselling Singapore.  

We would like to cite an example of assistance given to an officer in need. This officer was heavily indebted due to a combination of family medical bills and unemployment of loved ones. His house was re-possessed as a result of loan defaults. Upon learning of his situation, the agency referred him to a government co-operative to get a loan with a repayment period that he could cope with. The officer remained in Service and was able to sort out his financial problems with the assistance offered.  

Steven Bong
Director, Capability Development
Public Service Division, Prime Minister’s Office