Civil servant's winning ways

Outreach programmes to win the hearts and minds of critics and sceptics of the Establishment have always been the speciality of Permanent Secretary Benny Lim ("Tribute to retiring top civil servant"; yesterday).

I had the good fortune of working directly under him for a few years in the Internal Security Department (ISD) before I retired several years ago. He was then heading a critical unit within the department.

He was exceptionally caring and brilliant. He thought beyond set parameters; some of his operational initiatives were simply astounding and produced the desired results.

He would be in the office by 7.30am, feverishly typing reports on the electronic typewriter as we, subordinates, walked in sheepishly.

He never forgot the birthday of every staff member and would present a birthday card and/or cake to mark the occasion.

Sometimes, he would buy breakfast for all of us - nasi lemak and otak from his favourite stall in Katong.

He nurtured the camaraderie spirit among us and we worked as a closely knit team, inspired by him.

There were then some red-flagged individuals within the larger community and organisations who were viewed with suspicion and were shunned.

Mr Lim, as he rose up the ranks, reached out to them with a hand of friendship and turned them around.

He did likewise with some university dons. He invited some of them to give lectures to the staff.

Among them were Associate Professor Bilveer Singh and Professor Chan Heng Chee, both political scientists.

I remember Prof Singh beginning his talk with how he was nervous and worried at first when he was told that ISD was looking for him. The audience broke out in laughter.

Mr Lim's enduring hallmark is his gracious humanity.

K. Kalidas

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2016, with the headline 'Civil servant's winning ways'. Print Edition | Subscribe