[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Monday, May 26, 2008

[Sparta or Athens?]
I really appreciate the skills that I have developed over time. One such skill is to be able to read pages and pages of documents and fully comprehend them. Over the weekend I dropped by Times bookstore and I picked up Ngiam Tong Dow's book titled A mandarin and the making of public policy.

This book presents candid accounts of how the civil service works - the deadlocks, the mistakes and the successes. I am not sure how true or if there was any information deliberately left out. So far I found it to be an honest no-holds-barred account of the Singapore civil service.

One pertinent point is on the future of Singapore - whether we want to be a Sparta or an Athens. Does Singapore want to emulate Athens, a city with unique talents and individuals, and one that fails but ends up successful in the end or a Sparta - a city that only the best survive and the best selects the best. Ngiam Tong Dow describes Sparta as an elitist model. Truth to be told, politics is about being elitist. That is the elitist model that the best is selected to govern. Further in the elitist model, one powerful person makes all the decisions and calls the shots. Does that happen in Singapore? My answer is "I really don't know".

Once I started on a few pages, I was hooked. I read about how in one instance some Ministers had made wrong judgements in their roles. I won't say who but you have to read the book to find out.

The book also shares about the earlier and respectible leaders and their characteristics - Hon Sui Sen, Goh Keng Swee and many more.

One exciting anecdote is on the over-building of HDB flats which had cost the Government huge deficits. Another is touches on the complacency of the civil service/servants.

Key milestones that attributed to Singapore's current succees are also documented - from the implementation of GST (they called it the bitter medicine), changes in CPF contributions and the economic decisions which led to growth.

Whether you are an opposition supporter, a politician, a public policy student, an economics student or one that just loves to devour the written word, Ngiam Tong Dow's writings have that appeal.

The text is simple to read and easily digestible. And it took less than three hours for me to finish reading the book at the bookstore.

Great wisdom from a man whose carreer spanned various sectors in the civil service and statutory boards. Whether you want to believe it is another story altogether.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Ngiam appears to be a impartial civil servant. I remember once reading a article about him and his answers to the interiew. He was quoted saying, " Singapore is larger than PAP. But good economics must come together with good politcs. and so on. I was surprised and impressed by his remarks. A rare find in our civil service indeed. Most civil servants abide by the political neutrality rule and said nothing about it for fear of crossing over the line. Not Mr Ngiam. He clearly know where to draw the line.
Currently, I just bought a book "Pennsylvania avenue". I like it because it is written in simple and clear language, easily understandable. A good break from reading for academic purpose. Explains a lot about the inner workings of American politics. As I said before, American politics is a lot about showmanship. From what I can see, Obama knows better than the Clinton. If I am a American, I would vote for Obama. pretty impressed by his rhetoric. Plus, I am somewhat entreated at the possibility of the first African American president than a first female president. We shall see.
I will take note of this book by Mr Ngiam.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 3:46:00 pm


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