Debate on President's Address: Speech by Mr Teo Chee Hean
DEBATE ON PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS
29 MAY 2014
29 MAY 2014
1. Madam Speaker, I rise in support of the motion of thanks to the President for his address at the opening of the second session of this Parliament.
2. Several Members have raised matters relevant to the Prime Minister’s Office on a variety of subjects, Population, Climate Change, Research, and National Security; as well as on matters relevant to the Ministry of Home Affairs. I thank Members for their interest in these matters. I will not be responding to all these matters today, but will be happy to reply if Members wish to file a Question. Several of these matters are already under active consideration, while we will take the other suggestions and comments into account as we work through these issues in the coming year.
3. Today, I will speak about the Public Service. How the Public Service is readying itself to help put into action the policies and plans announced by the President in his speech, and by the Prime Minister yesterday.
4. Members including Ms Denise Phua and Dr Intan spoke about the Public Service in their speeches earlier. Mr Baey Yam Keng also had many useful suggestions. As the Minister in charge of the Civil Service, I welcome all these suggestions and constructive feedback to improve the Public Service.
Public Service – Working Together to Serve Singaporeans Better
5. Over the past few days, we have discussed the new challenges and opportunities that Singapore faces in the coming years, and how Singaporeans are ready and willing to help shape that future.
6. What kind of Public Service and public officers do we want for Singapore and Singaporeans?
a. Public officers who put Singaporeans at the heart of what they do, and who work together with Singaporeans to develop policies and implement programmes that make Singapore better for Singaporeans
b. Public officers who abide by the Public Service core values of Integrity, Service and Excellence – none of which can be taken for granted, and which we must work to achieve in what we do every day
c. Public officers who continually strive to improve, so that the Public Service can serve Singaporeans better.
7. We need public officers across all ministries and agencies, at every level to live by these ideals so that we can always do our best, and Work Together to Serve Singaporeans Better. Many front-line agencies and many public officers have done good work in the last two years to improve service delivery and policy responsiveness. And we will continually strive to do better. Just last week, when we marked Public Service Week, I reminded public officers that we need to place renewed focus on three areas: strengthen inter-agency collaboration to more effectively resolve issues that Singaporeans face; be more responsive to the changing needs of Singaporeans; and find better ways to engage Singaporeans, and tap on their ideas and energy.
8. Madam, I meet our public officers from different ministries and agencies, and visit them at their work places regularly. Among those I’ve visited recently are our Air Traffic Controllers in Changi, and our doctors and nurses at the Institute of Mental Health. Many of our public officers tell me that the work they do is deeply meaningful. They find fulfilment from making a difference to Singapore and fellow Singaporeans. Indeed this is the main motivation for many of them to join the Public Service and remain in it for a full career.
9. We must ensure that good people continue to want to come forward to join the Public Service, people with both the ability and the heart to serve Singaporeans. Where the Public Service or public officers have fallen short of these high standards, we will endeavour to correct, counsel, and improve. But do also spare a word to encourage our public officers, and motivate them when they do a good job.
Developing Public Service Leaders
10. Key to a good Public Service is good leadership, at all levels. We are providing opportunities for officers at all levels to train, upskill, and upgrade themselves. So that they can fulfil their potential, and at the same time develop the abilities and skills to serve Singaporeans better.
11. We have also widened our outreach to develop our Public Sector Leaders. We recruit able and energetic people with different backgrounds, skills and experiences into the Public Service.
Over the past few years, the Public Service Commission has awarded scholarships to students from a range of schools, including the Polytechnics, NUS High School of Mathematics and Science, the School of the Arts, and the Singapore Sports School, from which we have had a President’s Scholar. But scholarships are only one route into the Public Service. There are other opportunities to join the Service, including immediately after graduation or as a mid-career entrant. The Public Service takes in about 150 undergraduate interns each year under the PSD-run Internships@Gov programme. Many more take up internships directly with public agencies. Such internships give students an opportunity to experience work as a public officer, understand what public officers do, and we hope to encourage them to join the Public Service for a fulfilling career.
12. We want to develop good officers across the whole Public Service, wherever or whenever they demonstrate their ability and potential for further advancement, at any stage of their career, which Dr Intan spoke about yesterday.
13. Last year, we launched the Public Service Leadership Programme to develop specialist leaders in each sector, with deep domain knowledge in five key areas: economy, infrastructure and environment, security, social, and central administration. These officers will spend much of their careers within their respective sector developing deep knowledge and expertise, but they will also have opportunities to develop their leadership qualities and have exposure beyond their sectors. We also need officers who can work across all our ministries and agencies, to integrate policies and programmes on a whole-of-government basis. Our Administrative Service officers have traditionally been developed to be strong in whole-of-government perspectives. Our Sectoral Leaders and Administrative Officers in the Public Service will therefore be able to form strong partnerships and strong teams with a deeper and wider range of capabilities, perspectives and experiences. Both Sectoral and Generalist officers can rise to the highest positions in the Public Service, as it is so today.
Political Leaders and Public Officers Working Hand-in-Hand for Singapore and Singaporeans
14. On Tuesday, we all smiled when Ms Denise Phua mentioned the scenario played out in “Yes, Prime Minister”. The reality however, should it come to pass, will not give rise to much mirth. I agree with her that revolving door politics raises the risk of that happening – where civil servants are more able, stay longer and therefore know more than their ministers, and may well run rings around them. That is in fact what happens in some other countries. The best way to avoid this is to ensure that we have MPs and ministers of the highest quality – people with ability and the interest of Singaporeans at heart.
15. That will give us the best outcome – able elected political leaders, with a good feel of the ground, working hand-in-hand with able and committed public officers to develop sound policies with the long-term future of Singapore in mind, to implement practical programmes that serve the needs of Singaporeans.
16. Madam Speaker, our public officers work around the clock to improve the lives of Singaporeans. Teachers who do their best for their students, especially the ones from disadvantaged backgrounds. Policemen, civil defence officers, SAF servicemen who often put themselves at risk to keep all of us safe and secure. Enforcement officers who help to provide the sense of order, safety, security and cleanliness that is a hallmark of Singapore, which all of us appreciate.
17. Last week, Madam, we marked Public Service Week, where public officers re-affirm their commitment to serve Singaporeans and Singapore. We presented awards to 18 agencies and 133 public officers who have done well. But equally importantly, we presented awards to 5 members of the public who have contributed to improving the lives of their fellow Singaporeans by helping the Public Service to do better. We have been giving these awards for members of the public since 2009, five years ago. It takes two hands to clap and the Public Service is sincere in wanting to work together with Singaporeans in partnership.
18. Madam, Singaporeans have millions of interactions with public officers every day, and many Singaporeans do appreciate the good work that our officers do. I hope that Members will also support and encourage our officers when they do a good job. It will help give them a boost – motivate them to do their best, and re-affirm their belief that the work they do makes a difference to Singapore and our fellow Singaporeans.
19. With the support of Members of this House, and fellow Singaporeans, we can continue to build a good Public Service, with able public officers with a heart, working in partnership with fellow Singaporeans to build a better home, a better future, for all of us. I support the motion.