Term of the day: “lesser mortals”

In 2008, the then-Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources Tan Yong Soon took a 5-week long leave to attend a cooking course at the world-famous Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris.

The cost for the 3-week long course was $15,500 per head with his family paying more than $45,000 on course fees alone. Mr. Tan wrote an article to share his experience which was subsequently published in the Straits Times’ Life section.

His article caused considerable outcry, with some seeing it as an inappropriate display of wealth given the then Global Financial Crisis. Reuters then published an article on the issue entitled Bureaucrat’s cooking trip sparks outcry while Malaysian daily The Star went Not the time to flaunt your riches.

Subsequently, Mr. Tan was reprimanded by the Minister in charge of the civil service – DPM Teo Chee Hean who said that what Tan “does during his vacation leave.. is (a) private decision”

However, PAP MP Charles Chong came to Mr Tan’s defense saying that the latter did not “brag” about his expensive trip at all: Maybe it made lesser mortals envious and they thought maybe he was a bit boastful. Would people have taken offence if his wife (a senior investment counsellor at a bank) had paid for everything?”

*According to Parliamentary definition, a Permanent Secretary is a public officer appointed by the President to head a ministry. A separate article by theonlinecitizen put the salary of a Permanent Secretary to be “about $1.7 million a year”.

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