Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Don't be harsh on Tan Yong Soon....

Did you notice that I don't have a single article on our most famous French chef cum civil servant on my blog? I believe Tan Yong Soon is not to be blamed. He is after all just a product of the system.
Singaporeans please be understanding. Tan Yong Soon and our top civil servants make about $1.54M a year (after the pay cut!). $46.5K for a vacation is merely 3% of his salary or just a fraction of the interest on his savings account. The misunderstanding is the other way round - Singaporeans should have a sense of proportion and be more understanding why Mr. Tan cannot possibly comprehend that you find his vacation so extravagant because it is not extravagant at all to him.

".... My colleagues and I feel very bad about this episode, because it stands in contrast to the values and ethos of the service. " - Peter Ho, Head of Civil Service
"Gee...ethos and values? Tan Yong Soon has merely exposed the truth about our civil service!"
- Lucky Tan.
At about the same time I received my "A" Levels exam results, I received a pile of scholarship applications form from various govt bodies. I took the whole pile and threw them into the waste paper basket. I wasn't sure what I've done to deserve one of these scholarships and what I'll being signing away if I accepted them. I did pay a heavy price ..... I had to take up a loan to pay for my school fees and gave tuition on weekends to earn an allowance so that I didn't have to burden ageing parents. So while my friends on overseas scholarships were enjoying skiing lessons on weekends, I travelled all over the island to give tuition to primary and secondary school kids. No hard feelings...it was a decision I made and I accepted the outcome. A few months ago one of my cousins called up and told me that he had won a scholarship to study in London, he asked me if I can be his guarantor. I agreed and having supported myself through university, I thought it would be a good idea for him to have a "easier life". I arranged to meet him at the scholarship office to sign the documents. When I got there, the walls of the office was filled with posters of smiling scholars diving, skiing, ...and experiencing the good life around the world. I sat down and the public servant did an outstanding job of explaining the T&Cs of the document I was signing. However, when it came to the bond quantum, I almost had a heart attack - the amount I was asked to guarantee was just short of 7 figures (one reason was my cousin has been with the organisation for a few years and will receive full salary while he is studying). I had a chat with my cousin afterwards and among other things make him promise not to break his bond and get me into trouble.
You see the starting point of our top civil servants are all the same - fully paid education with generous allowance even before they put in a single day of work. After that a well paid recession proof job - they can afford a car and say goodbye to public transport the day they start their working life. If they are as successful Tan Yong Soon and climb the ladder in this elitist system all the way to the top, the pay is $1.5M....entitlements aplenty - free medical care, pension etc. We cannot blame Tan Yong Soon for the lack of empathy because it is impossible for him to understand the struggles of ordinary Singaporeans. He cannot possibly understand what it is like to stay up at night to worry about mortgage payments or having your electricity cut off because you can't pay for your electricity bills. Peter Ho and Teo Chee Hean are completely wrong to expect humility, the "ethos and values of the service" when the entire system breeds nothing but a oversized sense of entitlement and importance. When the civil service pay for top civil servants was hiked to astronomical levels, we are told that they are men of rare talents and their leadership is a scarce commodity....it is only scarce because of the elitist system in place that narrows the selection of good men...with rigid beliefs about what makes a man a good public servant. What is so difficult about about the formulation of public policy? The ordinary citizen cannot understand the tradeoffs and what is good for himself?
What will bring about the empathy, humility, ethos and values are the things the PAP govt continue to resist - the freedom for ordinary men to express their views and demands democratically. The freedom of ordinary citizens to access information....so that there will be accountability, transparency and competition of ideas. Many of us don't understand why Tan Yong Soon deserves his $1+M salary ...we also don't understand why our leaders are paid so much higher than those of all other countries. But it is not Mr. Tan's fault that he paid whatever he is paid, he is just part of a system ....a system that the PAP govt wants to preserve.
."Maybe it made lesser mortals envious and they thought maybe he was a bit boastful. Would people have taken offence if his wife (a senior investment counsellor at a bank) had paid for everything ?” - Charles Chong
Teo Chee Hean and Peter Ho expressed great disappoint over Mr. Tan's article. This will encourage all the other govt mandarins to keep their extravagant ways secret.....yes, the ordinary citizens can feel better once they do not know. In the words of Charles Chong, the fault lies with us lesser mortals who became envious of Mr. Tan. His only mistake was to let us know what we don't....and the solution is for top civil servants to keep their secrets and keep the people in the dark and that is suppose to lead to great respect for our top civil servants.


Anonymous said...


you got it wrong this time.

It's not the system that we can't understand Tan.

According to Charles Chong, it is in the genes. We are actually the LESSER MORTALS.

That's why we can't understand why Tan was not boasting and not being insensitive. Greater mortals behave like that.

It's we that should apologise.

bbqchickenwings said...

Hi Lucky,

That is why I wanted to be a civil servant when I was doing my undergrad. But then, failing to get the 1st class honours that will carpet my way to riches, I decided otherwise. Guess its just wistful thinking from a lesser mortal like me.

Anil Balchandani said...

Beautifully written. Sadly, an era of Enlightenment has bypassed Singapore.

Anonymous said...

As long as there is no credible political alternative, this is the result, and many other "similar" results.

Despite what the blogs said, what those in Parliament said, nothing will change, except maybe not publicised but may still happen or even more outrageous. Even got change, eg 20% pay cut, still $1.5m, substantially still the same. We folks take 20% pay cut, our livelihood will be in trouble.

redbean said...

you people should be grateful to be led by immortals and demigods.

Anonymous said...

He made $1.54M pa and spent $46.5K on a cooking course.

Lets say a middle income folk make $50K pa.
If you have a sense of proportion, $46.5K is only equivalent to 46.5/1000000*50000 = $1509 for the middle income folk.

I am sure $1509 for a course or holiday is very affordable to the middle income folk. No big deal what, right?

So what's the fuss? Unless of course the fuss is over his $1.54M pay, not the fees for the cooking course.

Anonymous said...

you shouldn't sound apologetic if you are not embarrassed about your wealth.

likewise, if you are not embarrassed about your worth, why should you be embarrassed spending your millions openly?

maybe it is time for the old man to come out defending his wealth( and colleagues wealth) over the regular man's salary in the street you think?

Anonymous said...

Well said. Hurray!

Anonymous said...

the fuss, in plain English, is the obscence amount of money he makes, coupled to his insensitivity and lack of solidarity of tax payors.

if tan makes his money in private business and flaunts his culinary adventures in mainstream media, all is fine.

but for a civil "servant" whose fortune is tied to the economic prosperity of the citizens, to do what he did is "zero EQ" indeed.

Anonymous said...

he, and many like him, seems to make horrendous amount of money without much...effort it seems.

wow, i didn't know leadership has reach such a glorious height that if you are as good as him, you can literally walk away from your office, leave all the work to your subordinate for what...five weeks or even more?

wow, which mean to say, if you can walk away for a whole year and yet still be rewarded with that kind of money, you must be a hell of a leader.


Anonymous said...


Diary of a Lesser Mortal?!

I feel so sad.

Wish Obama can invade Singapore for a change.

Onlooker said...

The amount spent is peanut on PAPer. >_<
But the price that we pay for Dis service are phenomenal.
Price hike and inflation (ego) anyone?
PS GST is contributing to inflation.

Anonymous said...

I guess now, with this financial tsunami, our esteem PAP, have reasons to use people's reserves, so that they can have more good years. Like a 45k cooking lesson.

Anonymous said...

IMMORTALS need world highest salary scale to ensure no corruption.

pumpkin said...

Hi Lucky,

I thoroughly enjoy reading your piece especialy about you having to pay for your study. Had you applied for scholarship, I am sure you would have be given one and rise up the echelon in the civil service. With your million $alary,you will be much happier living and working here- a veritable Lucky Tan!

Anonymous said...

walau. obama maniac.

like the black messiah.

scary phenomenon.

isn't like putting your money in....a single basket?

Anonymous said...

Anyone who spends $15,000 on a cooking course is a moron in my books. He had overpaid, and he still is bragging about it just because he paid it to some dude with a French name and a french hat.

Not surprising that whenever our GLCs purchase shares in overseas banks and companies, they tend to overpay as well.

Citicorp, Shin Corp, UBS, Merill Lynch, Suzhou, and the list goes on and on...

Anonymous said...

As long as there is no credible political alternative, this is the result, and many other "similar" results.

To even suggest and believe that the opposition is to be blamed for this situation shows you do not understand cause and effect and have swallowed the PAP herring hook and sinker.

Anonymous said...

Never thought that Lucky Tan is once almost a elite student!
Well done, Lucky Tan. I want to rechristian my son name as Lucky !

Anonymous said...

"you people should be grateful to be led by immortals and demigods."

So when will Buddha appear to keep thing in proportion again. Our immortals and demigods are destroying the ecosystem ! They no longer able to live in harmony with lesser mortal due to superior status !
Buddha, please exercise justice in the name of ....ehhhh.. BUDDHA , and banished these fake immortals and demigods to become lessor mortal as a punishment.

Anonymous said...

They are just "one of my classmates" who is slightly more intel than me.
Why the world of diff betw us???
shd ponder carefully.

Anonymous said...

pt is, we should question their worth.

the reward system has been designed by the elites and mostly for the ultimate enhancement of the elites

there is a book i came across that suggests success is random.

should our livelihood then be left to chance?

should the less talented and lucky be resigned to constant struggle with instability because the elites pursued unbridled wealth?

enough is enough.

don't feed yourself like a pig at the poor expense!

Anonymous said...

If the people get to know how much our Ministers, Politicians and top civil servants are worth they will die of shock and utter disgust. I heard one old man claim that they have not enriched themselves. So easy to talk and make claims. Well if they have nothing to hide, declare your assets publicly before you talk. Wake up singaporeans

LuckySingaporean said...

Anon 10:19,

You said:
"there is a book i came across that suggests success is random."

I'll be writing an article soon on the Bell Curve, equality and the role of luck. Look out for it!

Anonymous said...

i appreciate all your wonderful insights and links


The Pariah said...

What else is new? The concept of "public service" is alien to the PAP government. No money, no talk.

Travelling the hard route is good for the soul. No pain, no gain. If I were you, I would NOT have signed the scholarship guarantee. Now, one less young person will learn one less Lesson of Life!

The Pariah, www.singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Last night I saw Obama's swearing in ceremony. His speech evoked tears in my eyes. I recalled our leaders, no they did not move people to tears with their speech but shed crocodile tears. Here was a true and extraordinary leader, according to the people and not a self proclaimed one like our leaders. To think that our leaders will pay themselves more than Obama is not only incrediable but is downright insulting to the true and great leaders of the world. Don't they have any shame..

Anonymous said...

I have no qualms about Sim Wong Woo
or Bill Gates spending a mil here or there on the most trivial of things. Because these guys make their money in business, they can also loose it. But when super elites in the CS threw S$46000 on a holiday and bragged about it, it makes me boil because many of us are struggling to make ends meet. These elites despite all their screwups, cockups or whatever ups are still assured a place in their golden ricebow (eg WKS is still collecting his 2mil worth pa)
When TCH or Peter Ho came up to clear the fray, all I see is the
hypocritical talk and actions that are so common in play at the Top

Anonymous said...

Mr Tan Yong Soon had written a book called "Living The Singapore Dream" http://mediaclub.stomp.com.sg/blogheads/post.php?blogid=79


I guess being able to spend so much on french cooking class, he is indeed living the singapore dream

Anonymous said...

In our system, you have to pay top civil servants high pay so as to justify the ministers' 5M per annum.
Who would work for the ministers if the civil servants' pay is too low?

Dylan said...

I read one comment in the NET ..... it goes like this.

We cant blame TYS , why ? It is because he is being part of the system.

The system pick out selected person. They will groom him , pay him, path his career nicely for him. At the end of the career, he will still get a pension after that. They never expereicne lack. They never take public transport. Yet they are the ones who will formulate your transport policy. That why you get comment LIke " Transport Hike is not abt the fuel price". Simply becos they got too much money inside the pocket to FEEL for the common ppl on the ground. Then we have MPs (who are suppose to represent the ppl), address his PPL as
"LESSER MORTAL" If LHL is here, i would urge him to engage ppl on the blogsphere or net citizen. That is becos ST is just a NEWS LETTER. Tell me what on the ST which is not on the NET. NO use going to JC or NUS to talk to a bunch of kids where question is being crafted and vetted before being asked. What does today kids know abt life in SIngapore? How many of these kids will turn our to be like TYS , whose life and career has been planned and laid down nicely for him.

Scary right , you get someone who has no experience at all , dump him inside office ( not becos he is experienced and capable, but becos he is a SCHOLAR) to plan your public policy.

We can argue that current administration is going the wrong direction. Mis guided policy ..... etc etc. But they already knew all these 1st hand.Side Track a bit, but sometimes these elite just shoot off their mouth without any sense of propotion and their MASTER has to clear their SHIT, which is unexpected. And some elite created more contreversy by using the WORD "LESSER MORTAL" Now then we know at their back of their mind, we are lesser MORTAL.

Ultimately, who shall bear the greatest responsibiility for all these shit on ppl's face ? It not that PAP . It the ppl who voted for them and gave them another 5 yrs supply of vaseline to screw their own fellow singaporean.

Change-we-need said...

You voted for the PAP - you voted for the System that screws you up right and proper, front and back, top and bottom. You have no credible opposition to take on the PAP, to be an alternative govt.

What are you going to do?
What can you do?
And do it Right!

Think deeply:

1. How many good people do you need?
2. Can you get them all come together?
3. Have you got a good and workable strategy and plan?
4. Can you muster all the forces that you need?
5. Do you have all the logistics and financial resources to last the entire length of time needed?
6. How long more are you willing to wait for things to happen, for things to change?

Think, think, and think again.

Anonymous said...

What is a good opposition? Can anyone tell me. Chiam and Low only proved their worth after being elected. No point joining in the character assasination instigated by the ruling party without even giving the person a chance to prove his worth. Like Obama, people must be given a chance to prove their worth. After 44 years our leaders are slowly showing their true worth, which is nothing like the claims they make of their talent in paying themselves millions. All I say, give them chance and be ready to throw them out if they do not perform. Judge people on their performance and not rhetoric and history. Be it the ruling party or opposition, the power is with the people and we cannot go on complaining without excercising our power to choose

Anonymous said...

I sent your article to my friend and she was thankful that I did share your article with her. She would like to contact you - would you email her at hlingc@singnet.com.sg? GongXiFaCai Lucky.from

Anonymous said...

Hmm..They should have reBranded their party as WS_PAP. Wall Street_PaPer.

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