Mr Ngiam Tong Dow, a former permanent secretary in various ministries, told an audience of top civil service and business leaders that young civil servants need to “walk the ground” first and understand the problems first before formulating policies.

“When a young scholar comes back, he should not be sent to the Ministry of Finance’s Treasury division and become the regulator. He should really be sent to the Economic Development Board (EDB), or the Housing and Development Board, and serve an internship of a year to learn the problems of the ground,” said Mr Ngiam, who is also an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

“Unless the civil servant knows the problems on the ground, he would become just a regulator. And regulators, there are too many (of them) in Singapore,” he said, prompting applause from the audience..

When asked whether he civil servants were being paid too highly and thus driving away talent from the private sector, he said that civil servants are worth their pay but the key is in how they are trained.

He was supported by Banyan Tree Holdings executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping, who said that it is better to “err on the side of overpaying” civil servants rather than allowing them to become corrupt because of underpaying.

Mr Ngiam added that bright and talented Singaporeans should be spread across various segments of society and not concentrated in the public sector.

“If you just keep them within the Government, in the long run, (they) become an elite, become fossilised,” Mr Ngiam said.

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