Reward public officers who exercise proper initiative

I applaud the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) decision to waive the summons for the cabby who appeared to have been beaten up (LTA waives summons issued on unattended taxi after it emerged cabby was beaten up, seriously injured; Straits Times Online Oct 11).

Following the report and a video that was shared on Facebook, many Singaporeans criticised the LTA enforcement officer for issuing the summons before fully investigating the situation or, worse still, for doing so despite knowing about the injured taxi driver.

It can be frustrating if a public officer sticks to a policy or a rule, or refers the matter to someone higher up when it is clear that he should be flexible.

This call for public servants to exercise empathy and discretion in their decisions has been raised many times before, including in Parliament.

As a former civil servant, I understand why the LTA enforcement officer preferred to record the summons and have the appeal for a waiver be dealt with by LTA.

I think we should not be too harsh in judging him.

In this situation, a waiver was granted based on the facts of the case. However, the facts may not always be available in other cases for a higher authority to consider.

Such discretion is better exercised by the public officer on the front line, who would be most familiar with the case.

While I am aware that this letter risks oversimplifying the many complicated issues faced by public servants, I wish to make two suggestions to the civil service.

First, encourage public officers to provide reasons to support their decisions, where appropriate.

Second, tangible performance rewards should be provided to public officers who exercise well-substantiated decisions to deviate from policy, regardless of the consequences of that decision.

We should also remind ourselves that public servants and officers deserve respect and empathy as well. It is human nature to return kindness with kindness; a smile may make all our lives better.

Ahmad Firdaus Daud

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2018, with the headline 'Reward public officers who exercise proper initiative'. Print Edition | Subscribe