Public service is about love of country

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Amidst the entire hullabaloo about the ministerial pay issue, there seems to be a few other things that are getting overlooked. Indeed one item that no one seems to be questioning is the logic behind the government’s claim that it needs to have the high salary figures to attract political talent from the private sector.

This claim makes the assumption, no, emphasizes, that successful businessmen, doctors, lawyers or engineers with no prior law making experience would make for good public policy makers. It believes that the upper echelon of society would be able to run a nation and solve complex national issues within a dynamic national and global environment.

But what of the “lower dregs” of society?  Surely people such as electricians, teachers and social workers have something of value to offer a nation at the policy level. Professionals such as them work on the ground and are acutely aware of the problems that plague us everyday.  Are they then incapable of formulating policies that are more in tune with addressing the daily needs of society?

There is no test for political office written into our constitution. Yet, here we are with the mindset that we need high qualifications to be within the halls of government. The current quagmire that we are in is due in part, to our elected government constantly telling us that we need high academic qualifications to be in public office. That high pay is compensation for the sacrifice of the successful individuals who have stepped forward to serve their country. That scholastic achievement somehow translates into the ability to come up with ground breaking solutions that will be the panacea to the ills of society.

And that is exactly why during the last G.E., many Singaporeans degraded and derided a member of the contesting opposition for merely being an ITE graduate and a warehouse assistant. Many of us thought he was unfit to be in parliament because of his station in life instead of measuring his ability to understand the national issues and his capacity to empathize with the people. If  Lech Walesa, an electrician, can become the president of Poland; Mike Huckabee, a pastor, the governor of the state of Arkansas; or even Chiam See Tong, a former teacher can become the former MP of Potong Pasir, then surely a warehouse assistant is not too much of a stretch for political office in Singapore.

Public service is about love of country; of love of people and wanting to affect change for the greater good. My sense from my own personal experience with some of the politicos within Singapore, from both incumbent and opposition, has shown me that they all in their own way wish to serve their country. Monetary gain has never been a factor for them. Love of country and a sense of duty are. And that is what the government should be looking for when it invites people to join public office. Leave the academic and entrepreneurial achievements for social mobility. That is what they are supposed to be for in the first place. Political office is not about social mobility but social service and we all need to be mindful of that.

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