Singapore’s achievements over the past 50 years have been hard won. They are founded on the grit, determination and sacrifice of a pioneering generation, supported by a clean and capable administration. The men, women and institutions of our Public Service have made it possible, through dedication, integrity and ingenuity in every field – securing an island, housing a city, growing an economy, educating a people, nurturing a community – to build a thriving nation once considered impossible.
Today, Singapore’s bureaucracy is renowned for being impartial, responsive and often innovative, always working for the betterment of the nation, with the public good at heart. To be a public officer in Singapore is to be held to very high standards indeed.
But this was not always the case. In the period leading up to Singapore’s Independence, British civil servants, who had held the vast majority of senior positions in the colonial government, began leaving in droves. They had little incentive to train the local staff who would eventually replace them, and left many vacancies, with few candidates able to fill them. In 1956, local officers held only 15 out of 153 key leadership positions in a Civil Service riddled with corruption.
DEVELOPING A PUBLIC SERVICE
FOR AN INDEPENDENT SINGAPORE
Ironically, it was the British government who, as early as 1946, had noted that for the colonies to successfully govern themselves, their public services would have to adapt to local conditions, and preferably be staffed by local people. Singapore’s Public Service Commission (PSC) was established in 1951 to appoint able public officers from among the local population. The Commission was composed of respected individuals who were not themselves from the Public Service.
Looking back at that difficult period, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew noted, “[i]n the first phase, 1959 to 1963, the priority was to get the right officers into the key positions” 1 so that Singapore could have a strong corps of public officers able to help build up the nation. This challenge fell to PSC.
In the difficult years following Independence, PSC acted as a de facto human resource agency for the entire Civil Service, being responsible for the recruitment, promotion and terms of service (and later, discipline) of civil servants. Mirroring the values of the new People’s Action Party (PAP) government, who had come to power on a platform of a clean and effective government, PSC’s bywords were meritocracy, impartiality and integrity. It worked quickly to find capable people to fill key posts. Individuals were appointed or promoted on the basis of “qualifications, experience and merit”. 2
Promotions came to be based more on merit than
on seniority. For the first time, young officers who
proved their worth were promoted ahead of their
older colleagues. From the 1960s to the early 1980s,
several able officers such as Mr Sim Kee Boon and
Mr J. Y. Pillay became Permanent Secretaries while
still in their thirties, a situation inconceivable just a
decade earlier. 3
By the 1980s, the Public Service had grown significantly. In 1983, the newly formed Public Service Division (PSD) took over some of PSC’s personnel functions. Later, in 1995, the ministries and agencies would be given greater control over recruiting and promoting their employees, even as PSD guided personnel policy, and PSC continued to oversee discipline and senior appointments across the Public Service. These changes allowed the Government to maintain a responsive and effective personnel system.
THE SCHOLARSHIP SYSTEM
From the British, Singapore had inherited a system of awarding scholarships for bright students to study in England. The new government commandeered this
system, stipulating that all scholarship holders would
have to serve in the public sector for five to eight years
after graduating. In this way scholarships came to be
used to grow the talent pool in the Public Service – a
system which continues today.
Scholarships in the early years were awarded mainly on the basis of examination results and an interview with the Public Service Commission (PSC). The linguistic ability of applicants was not taken into consideration so as not to disadvantage applicants who were less proficient in English – which was not uncommon in the 1960s. 4 The system gave many able but poor students the chance to acquire a good education, readying them to serve the needs of a growing nation.
Over time, the scholarship process has been refined to ensure the selection of candidates most suited to a future role in the public sector. Apart from examination results, scholarship candidates today are assessed via a battery of psychometric tests and psychological interviews, as well as through their non-academic contributions at school and to the community. This enables PSC to get a better sense of their character and values as well as many other qualities such as their resilence,
leadership and interpersonal skills.
AND PUBLIC SERVICE VALUES
When Independence was foisted on Singapore in 1965, the Public Service had to quickly develop the administrative, managerial and operational skills needed to run a young nation and carry out the Government’s policies. A Staff Training School had been established in 1954 to provide new public officers with centralised induction and vocational training, 5 but Singapore’s transition from colonial rule to self-government called for a wholly different form of training for the Public Service.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, training and development in the public sector were conducted mainly on an ad hoc basis, responding to the needs of the moment. More structured and consistent training began in earnest with the creation of the Staff Training Institute in 1971. Throughout the 1970s, the Institute, later known as the Civil Service Institute (CSI), aggressively expanded the scope of its programmes as resources were invested to build up its staff strength, facilities and courses.
Training was focused on two main areas: management and language. In the 1970s, before the education system had established English as Singapore’s main working language, the standard of English across the Public Service was low. CSI introduced courses to help officers (especially those who had attended Chinese-stream schools) ramp up their language skills. 9
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Public Service pursued a more structured approach to training and development, to keep pace with Singapore’s rapid development and booming economy. Training was reframed as an important part of a public officer’s development. Some supervisors had been reluctant to allow their staff to attend training, seeing it as an imposition and a distraction from daily work. From 1995, every civil servant became eligible for 100 hours of training a year – a dramatic increase from the average norm of two-and-a-half days (or about 21 hours) per annum. 10 A cultural shift has since taken place. Today, public officers take much more personal responsibility for their own training and development. Training is seen as essential for preparing the Public Service for the future: in an environment where change is constant, public officers must continually improve and develop new skills.
In 2001, the Civil Service College (CSC) was set up as a statutory board, incorporating a range of different public service training institutes. CSC now provides training for all public officers at every stage of their careers, responding to the changing needs of the Public Service. It has expanded its offerings to important new training areas such as service management, public communications and public engagement. It has also invested in new channels to deliver training, extending learning opportunities beyond the classroom through e-learning, collaborative teaching and other methodologies.
GETTING THE CIVIL SERVICE ON BOARD
When Singapore was granted self-rule in 1959, the Government could not take for granted that the Civil Service that had been established under the colonial administration was familiar with the new government’s policy goals and philosophy. Indeed, the civil servants of the time were nervous and uncertain at the transition. That same year, the Political Study Centre was set up to familiarise senior civil servants with the social and policy problems that the new government wanted to address, and to explain the realities on the ground and gain their support for the challenges ahead.
Above all, the Centre sought to change the values and attitudes of the Civil Service – to shake off their “colonial mentality” and develop a new understanding of the crucial role it would have to play in the development of Singapore. 6 At the Centre, speakers such as Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr Lee Kuan Yew addressed topics ranging from “The Parliamentary System in a Plural Society” and “Muslim Political Thought” to “The Ideal Civil Servant in a Revolutionary Situation”. 7 A pioneering generation of civil servants “watched and followed the example shown by our political masters”; 8 in the process, developing invaluable instincts – for integrity, pragmatism, dedication, service to the greater good – that would serve Singapore in good stead in the difficult years ahead.
Today, these values are instilled through milestone programmes, fireside chats with senior leaders, and other initiatives to build an esprit de corps in a new generation of public officers.
Recognising that effective, dynamic leadership is key to a sound
and strong Public Service, PSD is also seeking to nurture a broader
range of skills that cannot easily be acquired in the classroom.
Future public service leaders are now being exposed to a wider range of operational postings to increase their exposure
to issues on the ground, improving their empathy
and policy-making instincts.11 More diverse options
for postgraduate training are also being offered,
beyond the typical Masters in Public Administration
and Masters in Business Administration programmes.
Programmes have also been introduced to build a
pool of specialist leaders with deep domain expertise
to complement the generalist Administrative Service.
While personnel management in the public sector has undergone tremendous changes since Independence, Singapore’s Public Service has not neglected its core values of integrity, service and excellence. Enshrined in the Code of Conduct and other regulations and ever present in induction and milestone programmes, these values continue to guide the everyday work of the public sector, from financial dealings to personal matters, and are vigorously defended and diligently modelled. PSD is now looking at ways to help all officers deepen their understanding and expression of these values throughout their careers.
VALUES IN THE PERSONNEL
In the Public Service, salaries are more than just
payment for work done or a way to attract talent. The
system is designed to reflect the values of integrity,
meritocracy and reward for hard work. Some examples
Paying a Clean Wage: In many countries, public
sector jobs are attractive because of additional and
often hidden benefits in the form of housing, cars and
various allowances. In Singapore, salary packages are
kept clean, without hidden perks.
Performance-driven Pay and Promotions: Part of
public sector salaries depends on performance. The
performance bonus system was introduced to senior
civil servants in 1989 and all other officers in 2000,
and provides a direct link between an officer’s annual
performance and pay.
Paying Competitive Rates: The salaries of all public
officers are reviewed regularly to keep pace with the
market. To help attract talent to the public sector and
to reduce the likelihood of corruption, the salaries of
top civil servants and politicians are benchmarked
against those professions considered comparable in
terms of scope.
PUBLIC SERVICE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY:
BEING READY FOR THE FUTURE
In the 1970s and 1980s, governments around the world looked to business and market principles for ways to do their work more efficiently. This era of New Public Management12 saw waves of reform, ranging from decentralisation, deregulation, outsourcing and privatisation to the adoption of private sector management methods in the public sector. Other changes were in the air. The public in Singapore, as was the trend elsewhere, was becoming more affluent, better educated and welltravelled, with higher expectations of how they should be treated as customers.
At the same time, rapid progress in technology and the global economy meant that the pace of life was accelerating even as the world was becoming a smaller and more interconnected place. Dramatic changes were taking place, and at a faster pace than ever before.
Singapore’s Public Service needed to respond to these new challenges: its traditional strengths of efficiency, impartiality and incorruptibility were still necessary, but no longer sufficient for the new environment. It was no longer enough just to implement rules and enforce regulations. A mindset change was needed.
In May 1995, Public Service for the 21st Century (PS21) was launched across the public sector. Championed by Mr Lim Siong Guan, then Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office and later Head of Civil Service, PS21 aimed “to foster an environment which induces and welcomes continuous change for greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness by employing modern management tools and techniques, while paying attention to the morale and welfare of public officers.” 13 It would become the most comprehensive, ambitious and radical public service reform effort since Singapore attained self-government in 1959. 14
PS21 sparked future-oriented, efficiency-led and service-driven reform initiatives at every level of the public sector. Efforts towards improving service delivery to the public ran in parallel with improvements to staff well-being and organisational effectiveness. To nurture an engaged and committed corps of public officers, the Public Service worked closely with the unions to continually innovate and improve employment practices and management approaches. Among the more radical of the PS21 initiatives, the Excellence through Continuous Enterprise and Learning (ExCEL) movement sought to empower and equip ordinary officers at every level to make improvements in their daily work, through programmes such as the Staff Suggestion Scheme and Work Improvement Teams. At the same time, public sector-wide committees such as the Pro Enterprise Panel and POWER (Public Officials Working to Eliminate Red Tape) sought to improve the efficiency of government.
While much of the activity associated with PS21 involved work process improvements, service delivery as well as staff development and empowerment, it was not aimed at any concrete end goal, but was instead intended to transform Public Service attitudes towards change. It sought to create a mindset of anticipating change and perceiving it as an opportunity rather than threat. Such a paradigm shift would enable the Public Service to organise itself in ways that would allow it to be adaptive, dynamic and resilient in the face of future change and uncertainty. The goal of PS21: to create a Public Service with an enduring capacity for strategic foresight and operational excellence, oriented towards the future and always readying itself for whatever might come.
NEW SYSTEMS FOR THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE
If we don’t address tomorrow’s… problems today, we would
be left with today’s problems tomorrow, unsolved, and
tomorrow’s problems, if left for the future, will just get larger. 15
– Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, October 2014
Part of the PS21 agenda to nurture a future-ready Public Service involved various tools to help the Public Service think about the future. These tools were not intended to help policymakers gaze into a crystal ball in the futile task of predicting the future. Instead, they provided input for them to make more informed assessments, surface and challenge hidden assumptions, and facilitate better strategic planning. Scenario planning was the first of these tools to be adopted across the Public Service as a whole.
Scenarios are plausible “stories about the way the world might turn
out tomorrow” 16 > that can trigger thinking about long-term strategies.
Strategic plans can then be tested against these scenarios
and refined. Singapore’s efforts at scenario planning began as an
experiment in the late 1980s in the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF),
whose long-term planning horizon made the Ministry a natural
starting point. Drawing on a tool used by the Planning Department
of Shell in the 1970s and 1980s, the Public Service extended the
use of scenario planning beyond MINDEF’s security focus to look
at long-term policy and strategic development in 1993. A new
Scenario Planning Office (SPO) was set up in PSD to carry out scenario planning in the public sector, helping the Government to
develop a keener sensitivity to changes in the environment. 17
The first set of national scenarios was completed in 1997, after over a year of work. The arduous process involved research and writing, along with hour-long interviews with over 50 decision-makers and other individuals with different perspectives, as well as numerous workshops to bring people and ideas together. Ms Elizabeth Quah, then Coordinator of SPO, recalls that two of these early scenarios, Hotel Singapore and Home Divided, struck a deep chord and sparked much discussion:
In a way they went deep into the meaning of our national identity, what it means to be Singaporean. In future, will Singaporeans feel a sense of belonging to the nation or will they treat this as a hotel? Will we stay as one united people, or will we not? 18
Subsequently, sets of scenarios would appear every three to five years, with the cycle becoming more closely aligned with government strategic planning and budget processes. More focused scenarios on specific issues were also produced.
Scenario planning was also used as a way “to strike an understanding between the civil service leadership and the political leadership as to what the future environment could be like and how Singapore could position itself for these different futures.” 19 Over time it succeeded in providing a common language, tools and platform for conversations about the future where none had previously existed. Today, the Public Service thinks almost instinctively about the future and how driving forces will affect its strategic plans.
WHEN THE IMPROBABLE BECAME UNDENIABLE
Although scenario planning gradually became a key part of the Government’s strategic planning process, it was not always smooth sailing. By 2001, the Public Service was familiar with the methodology and was developing a third set of national scenarios, but it was still a challenge to persuade stakeholders that they might have to face a very different set of circumstances in the future.
One of the three scenarios created in 2001 focused on radical Islam and its impact on Singapore. Ms Jacqueline Poh, who was with SPO at the time, recalls:
This possibility was not on many people’s radar at the time. The scenario was an uncomfortable one and was not regarded as “likely”. We were still seeking further evidence to make it more realistic, when 9/11 happened. Overnight, the unlikely scenario had become much more real, and even more research was commissioned to fully flesh out the implications and consequences. 20
Beyond Scenario Planning: Expanding the Toolkit
While scenario planning was instrumental in nurturing a mindset that looked to the future, it has some limitations: it tends to extrapolate from existing trends and is less suited to identifying sharp, disruptive events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis, or the Arab Spring in 2011. Such rare, disproportionately impactful events – termed “black swans” 21 or “wild cards” 22 – have led the public sector to explore additional foresight tools.
One of these new foresight developments is the Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning (RAHS) programme, launched in 2005 under the National Security Coordination Secretariat. Inspired by the Total Information Awareness Office in the United States, RAHS identifies, synthesises and prioritises emerging issues and risks that can have a strategic impact on Singapore. It uses a computer- based tool to help in scanning the environment for weak signals on important emerging issues; it also incorporates a wide range of analytical methods such as narrative capture, quantitative modelling, data fusion and analysis, and policy gaming. Former Head of Civil Service Peter Ho has described RAHS as “a big data tool which was developed before the term big data was coined”. 23
Although RAHS focuses on security issues, it serves the wider public sector through its Environmental Scanning Information Service, as well as through training workshops. It has also carried out projects with other agencies, such as a narrative capture project with the Ministry of Education involving some 8,000 stories collected from students, teachers and principals to evaluate the PETALS™ Framework for promoting engaged learning in the classroom.
The Scenario Planning Office was renamed the Strategic Policy Office (SPO) in 2003 to reflect the strengthened links between foresight work and strategy formulation. With growing interest and faculty in futures-related work both at SPO, RAHS and in ministries and agencies, a small Centre for Strategic Futures (CSF) was set up in 2009 within SPO to broaden strategic planning and systematic futures thinking in the public sector. CSF would also operate like a futures-oriented think-tank within government, with the latitude to explore open-ended issues that might prove important but were not yet urgent, and to experiment with new foresight and risk assessment methodologies. The challenge, as Mr Aaron Maniam, CSF’s first Head puts it, is to juggle the Centre’s research on emerging issues “while also convincing our sometimes sceptical Public Service colleagues that futures-thinking was valuable even when trying to ‘fire-fight’ today’s problems”. 27
FINDING A NEW WAY TO LOOK AT THE FUTURE
Like scenario planning, Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning (RAHS) had its origins in MINDEF. According to Mr Peter Ho, RAHS grew out of a confluence of factors and “a process of discovery, synchronicity, serendipity, good luck and a good network of friends.” 24 But the Public Service was hesitant at first to take on these strange new tools and methodologies. Mr Patrick Nathan, the first head of the RAHS Programme, remembers that “[t]he initial years were tough. Agencies wanted RAHS to produce a ‘smoking gun’, proof of concept before they were willing to take the plunge.” 25 The RAHS office worked hard to persuade agencies that “discovery was only possible by working with them and that they provided the context against which weak signals could be discerned.” 26
WORKING TOGETHER TO
ADDRESS COMPLEX PROBLEMS
Working Together as One Public Service
One of the insights to emerge from the Public Service’s growing capacity to think about the future and its own role in ensuring Singapore’s success in the years ahead is that the important issues we face will become more complex, multifaceted and long term, with no simple causes nor single solutions. Challenges such as international terrorism, for example, do not fall neatly within established institutional boundaries, but have security, social and economic dimensions that need to be tackled in a coordinated manner by many agencies in different sectors. To address such issues – often termed “wicked problems” 28 – ideas and resources have to flow freely between ministries and agencies, and indeed between the Government and other stakeholders in Singapore.
Yet government bureaucracies are traditionally structured hierarchies, with each agency tasked with a specific mandate. This focus helped to drive development in Singapore’s early years: the Housing and Development Board, for instance, was set up to zero in on the urgent problem of housing a booming population. The drawback of this specialisation is a silo mentality, where information flows efficiently within agencies, but not between them. 29 Resources tend to be directed exclusively towards individual ministry or agency goals rather than broader national outcomes. 30 The decentralisation that characterised many public sector reforms in the 1980s and 1990s enhanced individual agency efficiencies, but also contributed to this silo effect.
Traditional government structures are not suitable for addressing wicked problems. 31 A more flexible and responsive system better suited to a fast-changing and unpredictable environment is needed. Singapore’s approach has been to create a matrix of agencies and a network of links that brings together officers from across different institutions and domains, pooling their expertise to create better and more cohesive policies that benefit Singapore. Existing structures are retained and the relevant agencies remain responsible for taking action, with a small active unit coordinating public sector-wide efforts. Examples of this approach include the National Security Coordination Secretariat, the National Population and Talent Division, the National Research Foundation and the National Climate Change Secretariat.
Other platforms – including inter-ministry committees, Adhoc cross-agency project teams, sectoral committees and forums and the Committee of Permanent Secretaries – also bring public officers from different agencies together to discuss cross-cutting issues, share information, and develop expertise. Communities of practice have sprung up around specialised areas such as human resources, communications and service delivery.
In 2015, a new strategic policy unit called the Strategy Group was set up in the Prime Minister’s Office to enhance strategic coordination on whole-of-government issues. 32 The Strategy Group is tasked with creating a shared understanding of the Government’s priorities, looking at how a policy might affect other government programmes or services, and flagging areas where more synergy could be reaped, or where trade-offs have to be resolved. The unit also identifies emerging issues that cut across ministry boundaries. An important role for this unit is to incubate new programmes or capabilities for which there is no clear ministry or agency currently responsible. It will start up and shape these capabilities until they are ready to be transferred to an appropriate ministry or agency. This was how the Municipal Services Office, which coordinates the delivery of municipal services, was created. Incubated under the PS21 Office at PSD, it was later placed in the Ministry of National Development in 2014.
PUBLIC SECTOR TRANSFORMATION
Striving to become “One Trusted Public Service with Citizens at the Centre”, our public agencies embarked on Public Sector Transformation in 2012. The Public Service is committed to operating as one integrated whole, maintaining the trust of the public, and putting citizens at the heart of all we do.
Service delivery and public engagement became key focus areas in the Transformation effort. Agencies took a more relational approach to understanding the needs of our citizens. Our Singapore Conversation, a national conversation initiative launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2012 that drew out public views, aspirations and ideas, paved the way for us to craft policies and services that better address Singaporeans’ concerns.
To realise this Transformation, we have to develop new and sustained mindsets, behaviours, processes and skills, including clearer government communications, better public engagement, and the application of design thinking and behavioural insights to public policy. Learning from international experts as well as from each other, our officers form communities of practice to anchor and deepen these new capabilities across the Public Service.
Working with the Broader Singaporean Community
While the role of developing policies and delivering services has traditionally been tasked to the Public Service, the public has also become much more interested in co-creating Singapore’s future. Increasingly, the Public Service will be called upon in future to convene, coordinate and facilitate broader efforts from across other sectors of society who want to participate in serving Singapore.
This is something to be welcomed: such active involvement strengthens our people’s sense of belonging to Singapore. With the public, private and people sectors coming together to share ideas, tackle national problems together and deliver services to the community, we are likely to see more robust and sustainable outcomes to the challenges we face.
Many such partnerships and collaboration already exist, but the range of participants and areas of involvement are likely to expand significantly in the years ahead. To make the most of this shift, our public agencies and officers will have to develop new approaches, attitudes and skills in the years ahead.
TECHNOLOGY AND THE FUTURE:
FROM E-GOVERNMENT TO SMART NATION
The Singapore Public Service’s aggressive adoption of information and communications technology (ICT) over the past 30 years has led to a revolution in the nature and delivery of public services.
However, when the first computer arrived in the public sector in 1963, the Civil Service was slow to embrace the power of computing. By the late 1970s, it was lagging far behind the private sector, adopting processes and computer systems that banks had used a decade earlier. Even as the Internet and email were taking hold in the 1990s, the Civil Service still relied mainly on paper documents, carbon copies and fax machines.
Nevertheless, Singapore’s National Computerisation Plan in the 1980s was matched with an ambitious Civil Service Computerisation Programme 33 to help kick-start Singapore’s fledgling IT industry. Initially, efforts were focused on improving efficiency and productivity by automating routine labour-intensive back-office work and reducing paperwork.
In characteristically pragmatic fashion, Singapore selected elements from the different competing systems 34 of the time, and soon became a leader in electronic data interchanges, which allowed users to share and process information from a single platform. The award-winning TradeNet was one such platform, which made trading much more efficient. The time taken to submit and process trade and shipping documents was cut from two days to 15 minutes in 1989; it was later brought down to less than a minute. Other systems such as MediNet and BizNet soon followed, along with systems that made Government transactions more convenient for the general public, such as the OSCARS, (One-stop Change of Address Reporting System) and a portal for the electronic filing of income taxes.
Introduced in 1999, the eCitizen online portal was a major
milestone for eGovernment services. It featured a wide array of
public services, streamlined, redesigned and organised for the
first time according to a citizen’s needs rather than by government
agency. Today, Singapore is a global leader in using IT in the
with over 1,600 online government services and
300 mobile services.
ICT has also been used to engage the public more effectively. Since 2009, the REACH (Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home) portal has been a platform for soliciting public views and facilitating discussions on government policies.
With the announcement of the Smart Nation vision in November 2014, a new chapter in the public sector’s engagement has begun. 37 Smart Nation stands out because of its whole-of-government approach and its breadth of scope: a Smart Nation Programme Office is working with agencies across government to look at broad policy problems and opportunities to improve the way Singapore lives, works and plays in the future. 38
One feature of the Smart Nation concept is an island-wide network of sensors gathering real-time data which can be shared across the Public Service, improving planning and development in areas ranging from crowd control to transport planning. For example, a highly connected Singapore could use technology to support an ageing population with devices that remotely monitor the well-being of the elderly. The possibilities of a Smart Nation are just starting to be identified, as a source of solutions to tomorrow’s challenges. 39 Just as the Public Service laid the infrastructure and groundwork for Singapore to thrive over the past 50 years, the Smart Nation vision will establish new foundations for success in the decades to come.
- Mr Peter Ong, Head, Civil Service, April 2015
Over the past five decades, the Public Service has undergone several cycles of transformations in response to changing context and national priorities. At each stage, we have risen to meet the challenges that confronted us. In the early years of Independence, our Public Service worked swiftly, with a sense of urgency and deep purpose, making the most of limited resources to meet anew nation’s dire needs. Over the years, we would find ways to improve the way we work, becoming more professional, efficient, systematic and thoughtful, even as Singapore thrived around us, becoming a society with ever more sophisticated needs.
In the decades ahead, the Public Service will need to call on a
broader, more diverse range of capabilities. It will need more doers,
thinkers, innovators, entrepreneurs and mavericks, with all their
different perspectives, so that better solutions can be found for
As our national challenges become ever more complex
and intertwined, we will need people who can work collaboratively
across different sectors, recognise the contributions of others and
manage the trade-offs between policies.
Even as the Public Service casts its net more widely, establishes new institutions or explores new technologies, our basic values of meritocracy and integrity must remain. The key to a strong Public Service and a successful Singapore will depend on whether we remain firmly committed to serving Singapore and Singaporeans. 42
The future will undoubtedly bring further transformations to Singapore and the Public Service; the institutions familiar to us today could change beyond recognition in the years ahead. Yet in the uncharted waters of the future, our core values and principles – integrity, service, excellence, meritocracy, clean government, pragmatism, a pioneering and indomitable spirit – will continue to define our public institutions as they evolve. Forged in our nation’s tumultuous and remarkable history, it is these values that make us a Public Service worthy of Singapore.