Tuesday, April 28, 2015

PSC chairman on selecting scholars

Not that I purposely try to but Eddie Teo had never made a speech or written an article that I could criticize like I do his other colleagues who has also serve as head of civil service at other times.

I find this true too when I read, Values that stand the test of time in public service by the ST.

The PSC needs members who are good judges of character and motivation. They interview young 18 year olds whom I feel by and large do not even know themselves all that well. Therefore they must look for some qualities like litmus paper turn red to test acid with other tests to ago along. Then they judged and at that point science becomes art, the candidate is chosen or rejected.

Really, how do you assess a young person who doesn't even know himself or herself? Within very strict limits I would think. It becomes a process of recognizing attributes in the interviewee which he or she does not yet know their impact on his or her future because of inexperience.

Then there is the skill needed to sieve the genuine ones from the fakes. My ex colleague was one such fake who joined the admin service in mid career. I suppose it is harder to judge an older and more experienced candidate.

I also wonder if top executive recruiters try to learn the tools of the trade from the PSC. Are its methods copied by these Search firms? Imitation is the ultimate flattery and symbol of success.

What worries me is that our system failure to anticipate this, which I think is best to quote Mr. Teo.

But I do worry quite a lot about one downside of our meritocratic system. When scholars are told they have succeeded on their own merit and given public acclaim, a few may become swollen-headed. They may think that they have arrived on their own effort and owe nothing to anybody else. They forget that nobody succeeds in the public service or in life, for that matter, without the support of other people. They must never forget that their family, friends, school, bosses, peers and subordinates all play a key role in helping them succeed. From time to time, they have to be reminded that they must not believe in PSC's hype and should stay humble if they truly want to be a good public servant.

But I am not criticizing Eddie Teo or the PSC after all this wasn't his meritocratic system. I think it is just a statement of reality. At the end of the day there is not enough of the type of people the PSC is looking for. Take such types in too and then teach them. Why else do you get them so young if not to mold and groom them?

Nevertheless I told my children please do not apply for a PSC scholarship. We don't even want the bond free NUS scholarship.


  1. I'm interested to hear your insights and views on reasons you discouraged your children from applying for PSC scholarship or even the NUS one. Greatly appreciate your sharing. Thanks

    1. Well the answer is in a line I wrote in my blog post, "They interview young 18 year olds whom I feel by and large do not even know themselves all that well."

      But if you need the scholarship to go to university then that's a different story.

      The NUS scholarship is like a blank cheque. If they had spelt out our obligations more clearly, we would have considered it more seriously. I think unless you are entering into a contract with a benign and loving God, as a rule of thumb open ended agreements are a bad idea. This is a vital personal business value to learn as early as possible. Next to God, they will face the great challenge of decision some day deciding who to marry. Then they must understand that is far more than a contract and way more sacred than business.

      But to our government a scholarship contract is being conflated with the sacred. That is an oxymoron but we live with for practical reasons. Public service leadership is a calling and not a career. Some day we will pay a heavy price for then ignoring and now confusing the two. On that day it would be really hard or even impossible to preserve much less promote the values Eddie Teo spoke about.