Keynote Address by Mr Chan Chun Sing at the 2023 PSC Scholarships Award Ceremony
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND MINISTER-IN-CHARGE OF THE PUBLIC SERVICE, MR CHAN CHUN SING, AT THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION SCHOLARSHIPS AWARD CEREMONY ON 19 JULY 2023
Chairman and members of the Public Service Commission
Scholarship recipients and your families and friends
All of you who are here and who have made this possible
1. A very good afternoon to all of you.
2. First, let me congratulate all the scholarship recipients today. As Tzu Yang has mentioned, you are here not just because of your hard work or intelligence. You are here because of the love and support of your families and the opportunities provided to all of us by our country.
A more diverse cohort
3. Next, I would like on this occasion to particularly thank the Public Service Commission for your hard work behind the scenes all these years.
4. As you can see, this cohort of scholarship recipients is much more diverse than ever before. And this is a continuing journey that the Public Service Commission has committed itself to. Diversity not just in terms of the kinds of backgrounds that you have, the kinds of schools that you come from – be it polytechnics, A-level programmes, IB programmes and so forth – but diversity also in terms of how you are awarded a scholarship.
5. In the spirit of what we mean by truly being a continuous meritocracy, where the system is porous, we want people to know that even beyond your initial years after the A-levels or IB programme, even while you are in university, or even as you are completing your university and may have started work, you can still apply for a scholarship with the Public Service Commission. This is a mark of the diversity that we aspire to, and this is the work which the Public Service Commission is committed to do. So, I thank Tzu Yang and your team for leading us in this, to broaden the diversity that we have in the Public Service.
6. To all our recipients today, I thank you for stepping forward to serve. You are entering the service of our nation in interesting times.
Challenges and opportunities ahead
7. The world is fragmenting. The global security order that we are so used to for the last 30 to 40 years can no longer be taken as a given. The war in Ukraine and the many crises, in this region and beyond, have shown us that the international rule of law is no longer a given. How can Singapore survive and thrive in this new environment? This will be a big challenge for our generation and your generation.
8. The global economic order is fragile. The international dispute settlement mechanism has broken down. Today, under the guise of security considerations, many countries are adopting protectionist measures. What does this all mean for a country like Singapore that is so dependent on trade? How do we seek out new ways to earn our livelihoods?
9. Today, we live in a much more fractious social environment. Part of this is caused by a growing inequality — real and perceived, absolute and relative. How do we pull people from different walks of life, different backgrounds, with different aspirations, towards a common goal? We should and we must have diversity of views. But we should not have diversity of purpose.
10. A fragmenting global order, a fragile economic order, and a fractious social environment. These are the challenges that you will be confronted with as part of the team serving our nation in the Public Service. Yet at the same time, there are many opportunities for us to seize.
11. New technologies and connectivity have allowed Singapore the opportunity to transcend our geography and our geographical location. If we look back at the history of Singapore in the last 700 years, this is the first time we are trying to defy the odds of history as an independent and sovereign nation without a conventional hinterland. Therein lies both our challenges and opportunities. With the new technologies and new connectivity, we must think about how we can entrench our relevance to the world, earn our keep and keep our people together through thick and thin.
What is required of those in Public Service
12. Having said that, what do we need from you? Today, I would just like you to remember a simple imagery – the iceberg. Whenever we see the iceberg, most of us will see the beautiful part that is above the water. But the true strength of the iceberg is actually beneath the water. For every inch of iceberg that we see above the water, many more inches of ice lie beneath the water. What has that to do with the public service and your future?
13. Above the surface, people will look at your capabilities and connections. All those are essential. We talk about the different skillsets that you must acquire within the Public Service – the ability to make good policies; the ability to execute good operations; the ability to communicate and mobilise stakeholders to work with us; the ability to build networks both domestically and internationally, to leverage our collective strength as well as the strength of our networks for us to overcome any crisis. These are all important and I have no doubt in time to come you will build up these capabilities and connections.
14. But today, I want you to remember that these are but what you see on the surface. What we are looking for in all our public officers and in our public sector scholarship holders goes beneath the water – people with the conviction to help Singapore defy the odds of history, the commitment to do the right things, whether people are watching us or not, and ultimately, the right instincts for Singapore and Singaporeans.
15. Let me just share two lessons that I have learnt from Mr Lim Siong Guan, who was once Head of Civil Service, and was my Permanent Secretary in Defence. He always reminded us that success was not just when we got the job done; and success was certainly not when we got the job done when we were around. Success was when the job was done, and everyone involved felt that we had done it together. Success was also when everyone could get the job done even when one particular leader was not around. I hope you remember that success is not about what we have achieved for ourselves in our time, but what we enable everyone else to achieve together.
16. There was a second lesson that Mr Lim used to share with us – and this is particularly salient to those of us who will be in the security agencies and armed forces. Again, what is success? Once, he told us success was when the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) had built up a capability, trained it, honed it, retired it and never had to use it. From there, I learned a few things.
17. First, the work in the Public Service is not just about the here and now. I learned in my life in the Public Service never to give media interviews for my first 100 days, because I never believed that our work could be measured in days. When I was in the Ministry of Social and Family Development, people asked me after two to three years how many people I had helped. I humbly replied, our key performance indicator (KPI) was not how many people we had helped, but how many people we need not help going forward.
18. Because for every child whose life we have touched, it will only be a success one generation later when the child grows up unshackled from his past, and is able to stand up independently and confidently, and contribute to society. Just like in the SAF and in education, we never measure success by how well we do now. We must have this sense of perspective if we want to help Singapore and Singaporeans defy the odds of history.
19. Finally, you will be the generation that will be present when Singapore celebrates her 100th birthday. The Commission Members and the senior public officers seated in front with me today just have one simple wish – that you have the guts and the gumption to see us through to SG100.
20. I am not saying this lightly, because I know the journey ahead will not be easy. I have never taken it for granted that Singapore will be around effortlessly. Your generation has the chance to join all those who have come before you, to work at helping Singapore defy the odds of history. But you need not worry because you will not be working alone. Our greatest strength is in the collective.
21. Achieving success for Singapore is a team sport. You are part of the team and you must bring more people to be part of that team. With that, I am confident that Singapore will continue to exist and thrive as a strong country in 2065.
22. Thank you very much.