Public or Civil Servant? There is a difference.

Having been in the Singapore public service for the better part of 5 years or so, some mandated others not so much. There has been a lot of confusion from people on how to use the term public service or civil service. So in the spirit of clarity I thought I would provide some illumination.

  1. Everybody that works in a Ministry (e.g. Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Home Affairs, etc.) is considered to be a civil servant. There are a few exceptions to that rule. The people working in departments that fall under the Prime Minister’s Office are also considered to be part of the civil service, these are namely the Public Service Division, National Research Foundation, National Climate Change Secretariat, the National Security Coordination Secretariat and the National Population and Talent Division.
  2. If you wear a uniform you are not a civil servant. The SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), SCDF (Singapore Civil Defence Force) and the SPF (Singapore Police Force) to name a few are not considered part of the civil service and while some practices are maintained (administratively) they largely operate quite differently from their ministry peers.
  3. If you work in any of the numerous statutory boards (“stat boards”) of the Singapore government you are not a civil servant. You are a public servant as all stat boards are mandated separately and are funded through the budgets from their parent Ministry.
  4. If you work in a public hospital you are not a civil servant. The public hospitals are privately incorporated and in turn owned by MOHH (Ministry of Health Holdings) which is in turned owned by MOH (Ministry of Heatlh). As such the employees at hospitals are treated the same as Statutory board employees and are technically not considered to be public or civil servants, and are a separate category altogether as a healthcare services employees.
  5. If you are a judge or legal officer (DPPS, etc). You are not a public or civil servant. You are under the legal officers scheme which was essential in maintaining that the judicial system and the prosecutorial system are entirely separate from the government (in design).

These are some of the reasons why the public service employs about 139,000 people while the civil service encompasses about 80,000 people. Here is a simple breakdown as to where you’re civil service staff is spread out.


So in the future when you want to make a complaint or a compliment about someone in the public service or civil service. Find out where they work.

How does change get effectively managed across so many ministries, stat boards, and the fact that they aren’t all one service?

Well it isn’t easy and the Public Service Division attempts to push out changes through it’s central authority in terms of HR and even strategic direction but largely speaking each organisation (whether ministry or stat board) is independent and operates exclusively on it’s own. It helps to think of the public service not as one massive amalgamation or continent but rather as a archipelago.

– #thebumblingtechnocrat