SINGAPORE: Charging parking fees at schools is about upholding the value of self-discipline, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has said in a Facebook post in response to Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng's speech in Parliament on the controversial decision.
"We have to respect our internal system of checks and balances. We cannot pick and choose which finding to address or comply with – we take them all seriously. This is about upholding the value of self-discipline," said Mr Ong in a post on Friday (May 24).
Mr Seah, MP for Marine Parade GRC and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, had said during the debate on the President's Address on May 18 that the decision was an "insult" to teachers who have forked out their own money and time for their students' benefit.
"Not all government policy has a complete recourse to dollars and cents. We need within our current structures to make more room for the lexicon of morality, duty, relationships and trust," he said in the speech which has been shared widely online.
Mr Seah urged the Finance Ministry to recognise the "limits of price, cost and expenditure, as a proxy for value", and asked that it recognises "moral reasoning as a legitimate form of argumentation".
In his post on Friday, Mr Ong said he thanked Mr Seah for his speech and wrote: "I also told him I agreed with him that we should never allow ourselves to see things from a purely economic lens."
However, he said that there are checks and balances within Singapore's governance system, one of which was the Auditor General’s Office (AGO) checks on practices pertaining to the use of public funds.
AGO's 2014/2015 Financial Year report had highlighted that some educational institutions did not charge or undercharged for parking on their campuses. It had called this a "hidden subsidy" which went against government guidelines for public servants.
After a review, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced in March that schools will start charging market rates for parking in August.
"In line with PSD's (Public Service Division) clean wage policy, an appropriate season parking charge in schools will be imposed," MOE had said.
The review and decision sparked much public debate, and many have spoken in support of not charging teachers for parking.
However, Mr Ong said that MOE will stand by its decision as it has a duty to address AGO's findings.
"We have explained to our educators the need to abide by the clean wage policy, and that we cannot be giving a benefit just to one group of teachers who drive. Free parking is also at odds with the rest of the civil service," said Mr Ong.
"In the end, we must recognise that charging for parking stems from our duty to address the AGO’s findings, of abiding by our system of internal self-discipline. Charging for parking, therefore, is primarily a decision borne out of duty."
He added that this did not diminish the appreciation of teachers and educators.