Monday, February 13, 2012

The Systematic Implosion of Lee Kuan Yew's "Intellectual Class"

Hot on the heels of the resignation of the SCDF and CNB chiefs, an online prostitution ring has been reported to be busted, in the process exposing the involvement of a police officer and the principal of a top primary school in Singapore. Singaporean parents have been reported to be "totally disgusted" by the news, and at least one member of the public has been quoted as saying that "these public servants should be sacked on the spot."

Members of the PAP, trying to respond to the fiasco with a semblance of relevance, have been quoted with such platitudes as "civil servants should be expected to uphold the reputation and integrity of the civil service" (Hri Kumar) and "I think [it's] difficult for ... teachers ... to look up to [a person with] moral flaws in his character." (Lim Biow Chuan)

Of course, none of the PAP MPs have the decency (nor the insight) to analyse the fundamental flaws in the scholarship and leadership selection process, and incentive system.
It is widely known that the system emphasizes intelligence tests, academic performance, with incentives such as scholarships (money), fast track promotions to senior positions in the civil service (money & power) and for an elite few, ministerial responsibilities and mountain loads of cash (more money & power).
Well, what do you get when you combine intelligent people with a desire for money & power? Here's a smattering of quotes for the uninformed:
"In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you."  
- Warren Buffet, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway 
"Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful." 
- Samuel Johnson, Rasselas, ch. 41
It really should come as no surprise that Lee Kuan Yew's so-called "intellectual class" is imploding. Lee's scholarship system has recruited smart, intelligent people and motivated them with the promise of money and power, and has placed such individuals in positions of senior responsibility in public institutions without any reliable method of testing their integrity or morality. Is it thus any surprise that these scholars are now turning up with "dangerous and dreadful" behavior?

This is why the scholarship system needs to be comprehensively revamped, if not abolished. This is why astronomically high ministerial salaries need to be downsized. Better to have slightly less intelligent people motivated by a true sense of public service, than to have super high IQ individuals who are driven by money and power — the latter almost always ends up being corrupted by the rewards, and the rest of society pays dearly for it.

It is time for Singaporeans to demand real change not just in their schools or the MOE, but also to in the political system at large and in their society and community. The examples of our founding fathers such as Toh Chin Chye, and more recent examples such as Chen Show Mao show, that we don't need to pay astronomical salaries to attract top talent to the leadership of this country.

Conversely, the examples of the SCDF, CNB chiefs and the school principal show that integrity and morality can be found wanting even at the highest levels of public leadership, even when such leaders have been "screened" by a "rigorous" testing and selection process.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A system of too much, easy high pay and monetary incentives for our scholars in civil service and GLCs have dirtied them minds and lowered their moral values.

This country needs to revamp its compensation scheme.

Top civil servants and top executives of monopolistic GLCs (eg Singtel, SMRT, PSA, PSA, GIC, TH, etc) compensation should reflect their non-competitive status; which is a much lower pay structure from current levels.

Ogopolistic GLCs executives should then be rewarded at most 30% higher than those in monopolistic GLCs eg Sembcorp, Keppel, NOL, SIA, etc.

While those GLCs truly operating in global open markets with many highly competitive competitors should be determined by market, eg Capital Land overseas businesses and some local entities.