Nearly 3,000 current and former public service officers will be compensated with a total of around S$10 million after errors were discovered in the civil service’s human resource (HR) records, the Public Service Division (PSD) revealed on Wednesday (18 November).
“The errors arose primarily because of human errors in data entry and coding of the HR and payroll IT system. The IT systems also had inadequate error detection capabilities,” PSD noted.
PSD also disclosed that most of the errors, which was spotted while upgrading the systems, are related to inaccuracies in the full-time National Service duration records of male civil officers.
Some of the errors discovered were connected to the individuals’ salaries and medical leave wages.
“Since 2002, the Civil Service has recognised the ‘fitness cut’ period that a full-time national serviceman was eligible for, as part of the NS period recognised for the purpose of determining starting salary and service benefits,” PSD said. It was referring to the deduction in NS liability given to servicemen who fulfil physical fitness requirements.
PSD added, “However, we discovered that the ‘fitness cut’ period was not included in the HR records of some male civil servants. This in turn affected their leave and other benefits”.
The remaining errors involved retired civil servants and current civil servants who went on service injury leave.
“The other errors involve inaccuracies in the IT algorithms used to calculate the medical leave wages for civil servants on service injury leave, as well as errors in the HR system program to compute the payments that some pensioners make when they retire from the Civil Service in order to receive annual allowance,” PSD explained.
In response to the errors, Permanent Secretary of PSD, Loh Khum Yean, has apologised on behalf of the public service.
“The Public Service is deeply sorry for the errors and inconvenience caused. We will make every effort to reach out to every adversely impacted individual to apologise for the error, explain the situation, as well as make good the discrepancy,” he said.
He continued, “We have rectified the system programming and built-in error detection capabilities to flag potential errors and ensure such inaccuracies do not recur.”
PSD said to Channel News Asia (CNA) that it first spotted the errors sometime around mid-late 2017, adding that it took time to single out the specific algorithms and formula that were faulty before identifying the officers who were affected.
“Through the extensive process, which took more than two year, about 3,000 former and currently serving officers in the Civil Service were found to have been undercompensated as a result of the errors,” PSD noted.
This figure accounts for about 2 percent of the civil officers who have served for more than 20 years.
“The Civil Service will make good the shortfall in benefits to existing and past officers. The total compensation is around S$10 million.” PSD added that two-third of the 3,000 undercompensated officer will receive less than S$1,000 as their compensation amount.
Overcompensated officers will not be asked to return the amount
Apart from those who have been undercompensated, PSD also revealed that about 2,000 individuals were overcompensated over the years – amounting to S$3.9 million- and this figure will not be recovered.
“As the errors date back to about 25 years ago and occurred through no fault of the officer, the Government will not recover these excess payments,” said a PSD spokesperson to CNA.
The undercompensated officers will be informed by PSD from this month until March 2021, and they will be paid the amount between now and the middle of 2021.
“As we will be proactively reaching out to all individuals who have been undercompensated, we will like to assure both in-service and ex-public officers that there is no need to rush to contact us,” PSD said.
“If they have not been contacted by March 2021, they are not adversely impacted by the errors.”
It added, “On balance, we felt it was important to check through the records comprehensively before notifying the individuals in a systematic exercise. This is so that we can better appreciate the extent of the workforce that is materially affected. Moreover, the friends or colleagues of individuals who were adversely affected and informed, may also wonder if they are affected, and we will be in a better position to address their concerns”.
Upon reading this, many online users slammed the Public Service for making such a huge error, and falling to identify it for so many years. Penning their thoughts in the Facebook pages of The Straits Times and Channel News Asia, one netizen called the mistake a “national joke”, while another user said that this shows “unforgivably poor management and auditing” of PSD.
On the other hand, others questioned how is it possible for the Public Service to not spot the errors for years. They also asked if anyone in PSD is going to take responsibility and resign for these severe lapses.
Some netizens wondered if the S$10 million compensation paid will include interest as well.
Separately, one user asked what will happen to civil officers who had passed on? She questioned if the compensation will be given to the affected deceased officer’s next of kin instead.