Ex-SAF officers in senior civil service roles have 'valuable experience': Chan Chun Sing

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SCREENGRAB: Gov.sg YouTube channel
SCREENGRAB: Gov.sg YouTube channel

SINGAPORE — Former Singapore Armed Force officers have “valuable experience" in working with and winning the confidence of Singaporeans from all walks of life, as well as skill sets that are generally relevant to senior management positions in the public service, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing in Parliament. 

They would have served in roles such as strategic leadership, organisation transformation and policy formulation, Chan told the House on Monday (4 October). And officers who demonstrate the capacity to assume top leadership positions are tested and prepared through “challenging postings and leadership programmes”.

Such officers are given opportunities such as inter-agency projects, board directorships and external postings to the public service during their military careers. These experiences provide them with the background and perspective to take on senior leadership positions in the wider public service, if called upon and found suitable.

The 51-year-old, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, stressed that the civil service is guided by the principle of finding the "best available person for the job" when it comes to senior appointments, with candidates from both the wider public service and the private sector considered. 

Chan, who rose to the rank of Major-General in the SAF and was appointed Chief of Army before he entered politics in 2011, was responding to Aljunied Member of Parliament Gerald Giam's queries on retired SAF officers in the civil service.

Giam asked: 

  • How many retired officers with the rank of Colonel and above have held senior positions in public sector organisations? 

  • How does the Public Service Division (PSD), which is responsible for human resource policies in the civil service, determine which officers are suitable to lead these organisations despite not having had civilian work experience?

  • Has PSD considered requiring these officers to spend several years in understudy before taking the helm of these organisations?

Chan revealed that as of 24 September, there are 15 former high-ranking SAF officers who are now holding senior leadership appointments in the public service. They hold various senior leadership positions such as permanent secretary, deputy secretary and chief executive, forming 10 per cent of these appointments.

Of the SAF personnel holding the rank of Colonel or Military Expert 7 (ME7) and above who retired between 2010 and now, about 7 per cent went on to assume senior public service appointments.

Former general at ECDA

Separately, Giam's fellow WP MP He Ting Ru also asked about the recent appointment of former Brigadier-General Tan Chee Wee as chief executive of the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA). 

Tan established the Inspector-General's Office in 2019 and was SAF’s first inspector-general. He will assume his new role as on 15 December, succeeding current CEO Jamie Ang. He has no prior experience in the early childhood or educational sectors.

The Sengkang MP wanted to know how many candidates were considered for the role before the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) appointed Tan, and what factors and qualifications were considered in establishing the candidates.

In response, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said that “several qualified candidates” were considered, with Tan “assessed to be the most suitable”, but did not elaborate.

Masagos also disagreed that the former general lacks relevant experience, given that he previously served in the then-Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports from 2006 to 2008. According to the minister, he supervised the macro-planning of government-funded social services and development of the social service sector, building up capabilities and human resources.

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