Look at each civil service job to see if pay is fair

All civil servants now pay for parking at their workplaces. So the key issue in the debate over school parking is not "internal discipline" or "checks and balances", but the specific grounds on which school teachers, who are civil servants, should be treated differently (School parking fees: Minister stresses checks and balances; May 26).

Some argue that school teachers are special - they work for love and dedication, put in extra hours and often go beyond the call of duty.

But what about fellow teachers who work in the Ministry of Education headquarters or its statutory boards? Do they not work equally hard in the education of our children, even if their work is less visible to the public?

What about firemen, policemen, air traffic controllers, immigration officers, customs officers and other civil servants who work irregular hours or sometimes even put their own lives at risk in carrying out their duties?

All of them pay for parking at their workplaces.

Instead of engaging in invidious arguments over which civil servants are more caring, dedicated or hardworking than others and hence deserve perks, should we not look at each civil service job in its totality and determine objectively whether the remuneration for that job, minus any perk, is fair and competitive?

If some civil servants work longer or more irregular hours than others, should that not, as a matter of good public governance, be reflected in their wages, instead of through opaque perks like free parking, subsidised meals or housing?

This is what "clean wage" means.

While the implementation of public policy must not be rigid, one must not forget that every exception exercised in favour of one is potentially an injustice to another.

Exceptionalism also necessitates discretionary powers, and too much of it can breed opacity and has the potential for abuse and corruption. Clear, transparent and objectively determinable rules, with minimally necessary exceptions, are the hallmarks of good public administration.

Counter-intuitively, perhaps, it is such rules, not exceptionalism, that guarantee fairness for all.

Cheng Shoong Tat

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2018, with the headline 'Look at each civil service job to see if pay is fair'. Print Edition | Subscribe