Monday, January 14, 2013

Civil Servants, Public Servants, Public Servants for Purpose of Penal Code

A recent discussion on town council staff as public servants "for purpose of the penal code" opened questions on whether a town council is a government, political or even a corporate organisation.

"Public servants for purposes of Penal Code
56.  All members, officers and employees of a Town Council and all employees of its managing agent shall be deemed to be public servants for the purposes of the Penal Code (Cap. 224)."

Town Council Staff are Not Public Servants...

The above quote was circulated about that town councils and their members are not political associations but a public service and made up of public servants. However, the caveat "for the purposes of the Penal Code" is a curious one. The loud qualifier, a caveat, is clear to all  is that there are situations when the town council staff or member is not regarded as a public servant. Town council staff are not categorically public servants unless to an unschooled person in English which are surprisingly legion in the Internet. If town council staff are categorically public servants, the Act would have just been,

"56.  All members, officers and employees of a Town Council and all employees of its managing agent shall be deemed to be public servants"

So when is a town council staff a public servant and when he is not, and similarly as a result, are town councils categorically public service organs, or not and actually political organs as Baey Yam Keng said? The safe answer is that it all depends.

Other Cases of "Limited" Public Servants in Acts

This caveat appeared in other Acts besides the Town Councils Act. It also appeared as a common caveat for the particular staff in the Building and Construction Authority Act, the National Heritage Board Act, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority Act, and even the Commercial and Industrial Security Corporation Act. So the idea of public servants covered those in the statutory boards, but also CISCO security guards. CISCO is a commercial company so how can they be public servants in the sense we understand.

Unless "for the purpose of Penal Code" means they, Town Council, CICSO, BCA etc have the power of public servants and can exercise powers of enforcement under Penal Code?

Public and Civil Servants More than Semantics

What then are public servants and are they the same as civil servants? There is confusing conflation of civil and public servants in everyday use of the terms. Even in the UK civil service, there is confusing employment and political distinction between those in Her Majesty's Service as civil servants, and other public servants like politicians. The military are traditionally not part of the civil service, and also not the public service. The BBC is seen as a public service company and funded by the UK government, but its staff are neither civil servants nor public servants.

In the Singapore context, civil servants and the civil service are public servants and part of the public service. But public servants and the public service do not only refer to the government, but to statutory boards as well. The confusion is compounded when civil servants are managed by a government department called the Public Services Division, rather than called the Civil Service Division.

If anybody can explain this semantics labyrinth of civil and public servants, please have a go.


Anonymous said...

" Under clause 11, employees of managing agents are deemed to be public servants for the purposes of the Penal Code. Since employees of managing agents are carrying out the instructions of Town Councils, they should be given the same protection provided to public servants under the Penal Code." - Former MND Minister Lee Boon Yang in 1990 during reading of Town Council (Amendments) Bill. This clause is to protect town council staff in their course of duties by giving them status of public servant if he is abused or attacked.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 2:43:00,

You have made at least one aspect clear. But, there are many others that are begging to be defined.

One question in my mind is how could the govt (HDB) DIVESTS its responsibility for the running of HDB Estates to 'Town Councils' with some formal documentation of the terms of reference detailing such mundane stuffs like limits of responsibility, accountability, powers and relationship and links with the HDB on a whole host of operational, legal, admnistrative etc matters? The political element especially is indeed very interesting. On what premises and rationale was it deemed acceptable for the govt to hand such functions over to a political party without it raising a whole host of conflict of interest issues as exemplified by the current case? In any case, on what justification, and how would it be more effective to hand over control of HDB estates to a political organisation to run - and in the process increase cost for residents in the form of salaries for the TC members? Surely, none of them are doing it gratis?