Key public jobs shouldn't be outsourced

The recent incident involving a Land Transport Authority enforcement officer getting into fisticuffs with an Uber driver raises serious questions on the "outsourcing" of public duties ("Spat at Bugis cab stand turns violent"; Sunday).

In private commercial businesses, it is often more cost-effective to outsource unimportant or peripheral jobs to unrelated contractors. It might even be necessary for tasks that require special expertise beyond a firm's capabilities.

However, no self-respecting company would outsource critical tasks pertaining to its core business. Likewise, essential public services, such as defence and law enforcement, should not be outsourced, given the tremendous responsibility involved.

Accountability is one critical consideration for quality performance. Public law enforcement officers answer directly to their superiors within the state apparatus.

Outsourced personnel are managed by third-party, profit-driven entities, which do not possess the same degree of authority as government agencies, and which may have disparate disciplinary standards.

For instance, an errant public officer would likely be subjected to a rigorous investigation, and punished under a prescribed stringent code of conduct, while an employee of a private firm would, at worst, face the sack.

Moreover, the credibility of private contractors may be doubtful. Regular law enforcement officers must meet stringent criteria to even qualify for their positions, and are exposed to a rich culture of public service within their organisations.

Many prospective personnel are incentivised to sign on out of civic-mindedness and a genuine desire to serve. The same cannot be said of firms, which may not screen their applicants with the same high degree of scrutiny, which may entice recruits based largely on salary or job perks, and which measure their performance merely in terms of monetary profit and contractual obligations.

The Government should spare no expense in maintaining high-quality law enforcement for our city-state.

Rather than outsourcing these services, direct recruitment should be the favoured strategy. The integrity of public institutions cannot and should not be for sale.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2015, with the headline 'Key public jobs shouldn't be outsourced'. Print Edition | Subscribe