School parking fees: Minister stresses checks and balances

Free parking for staff in education institutions was first flagged by the Auditor-General's Office in 2015.
Free parking for staff in education institutions was first flagged by the Auditor-General's Office in 2015.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
Free parking for staff in education institutions was first flagged by the Auditor-General's Office in 2015.
MR SEAH KIAN PENG
Free parking for staff in education institutions was first flagged by the Auditor-General's Office in 2015.
EDUCATION MINISTER ONG YE KUNG

Responding to MP, Ong Ye Kung explains it's public duty to abide by 'internal self-discipline'

The decision to charge teachers for parking is borne out of a public duty to abide by a "system of internal self-discipline", Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post yesterday.

Free parking for staff in education institutions was flagged by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) in 2015 for going against the civil service's policy of paying clean wages, with no hidden benefits.

"This finding went against years of MOE practice. Yet, we have to respect our internal system of checks and balances. We cannot pick and choose which (AGO) finding to address or comply with - we take them all seriously," Mr Ong wrote.

"This is about upholding the value of self-discipline."

Mr Ong was responding to a speech made in Parliament last week by Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng, who called for a shift away from looking at issues through an economic lens.

Mr Seah also said using the clean wage system to justify parking charges in schools "implies that all the years of free parking had tarred teachers with an 'unclean' wage".

POOR PROXY FOR VALUE

For too long, we have made decisions based more on an economic compass, as if the use of one dollar has the moral equivalence of the loss of another ... It is time we recognise money is merely a proxy for value, and at times, a very bad one.

MR SEAH KIAN PENG

CLEAN WAGE POLICY

The whole public service subscribes to the discipline of having a clean wage, so every public officer knows that his salary is all he gets - there are no hidden benefits. This is one of our core practices to ensure a clean government.

EDUCATION MINISTER ONG YE KUNG

Yesterday, Mr Ong said governance and running a public service system is not always about taking a purist market-based approach.

He cited examples such as how land use is planned not just for economic, but for social, community and environmental ends as well.

"Perhaps for the same reason, for a long time, we didn't charge parking for teachers in schools and servicemen in camps," he said.

However, there are checks and balances within Singapore's governance system, he added, such as the annual AGO report which pertains to the use of public funds.

The AGO had in a 2015 report faulted some schools for allowing their staff to park for free, or at fees below the market rate.

In response, the authorities discussed the issue with educators, culminating in the decision to implement parking charges in schools from August this year, said Mr Ong.

Defending the clean wage policy as a moral idea, he said all public servants subscribe to it, adding: "This is one of our core practices to ensure a clean government."

Moreover, the free parking benefit, he noted, was being given only to teachers who drive.

That said, charging teachers for parking "does not diminish our appreciation of teachers and educators", stressed Mr Ong."As Kian Peng said, it is a reminder about the kind of conversations and discourses we should be having. That policy decisions should be grounded not just on economics, but more importantly on values, morals and public duty."

An educator of three years, who drives to school, said he could understand the views of those who see the free parking as a sort of compensation for the sacrifices teachers make. However, he agreed the issue is one of duty rather than economics.

"The collected season parking fees will go back to the school for its use as funds, so it doesn't appear that the Government aims to make revenue from this," he told The Straits Times, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2018, with the headline 'School parking fees: Minister stresses checks and balances'. Print Edition | Subscribe