Speech by Mr Teo Chee Hean at Committee of Supply 2014
PUBLIC SERVICE DIVISION (PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE) COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY 2014
5 MARCH 2014
1. Madam Chairperson, I thank Mr Seng Han Thong and Mr Ang Hin Kee for their interest in, and support for, the Public Service.
Strengthening Public Trust
2. The Government places strong emphasis on the integrity of the Public Service. We expect public officers to uphold the highest standards of integrity and professionalism. As I informed the House last year, the Public Service does not tolerate wrongdoing and misconduct. The Government views every case of misconduct seriously and takes firm action, including prosecuting the cases vigorously where appropriate. Recent cases have shown that we take errant officers to task, regardless of seniority or job function.
Robust Systems and Processes
3. We have systems and processes to maintain the integrity of the Public Service. And I agree with Mr Seng’s two suggestions for improving the integrity of the service. We regularly review and strengthen these measures to address weaknesses or adapt to new circumstances.
4. For example, in addition to requiring all public officers to declare their financial standing when they are first appointed to the Service, and every year thereafter, we introduced rules last year on casino visits to reduce the risk of officers becoming indebted and susceptible to exploitation. More stringent rules on casino visits apply to senior public officers whose misconduct will have significant reputational risk to the Public Service, such as the Permanent Secretaries and Chief Executives, as well as officers in positions that expose them to the risk of being suborned and exploited, such as police officers and officers performing cash transactions. For example, while most public officers are required to declare only if they have visited the local casinos more than four times in a month, senior public officers are required to declare every single visit they make. Police officers working on law enforcement matters involving the casinos are not allowed to visit the casinos, except for official reasons. These are slightly tighter than what Mr Seng had suggested.
5. We have also extended Mandatory Job Rotation for fraud-prone positions such as those handling procurement and market-sensitive information.
6. There are several different avenues for public officers to report suspected misconduct. And we want our public officers to do so. An officer can report such cases to his supervisors, his Permanent Secretary, the Head of Civil Service or the Public Service Commission. Officers may also report to enforcement agencies such as the Police or Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. Officers do use these channels and surface suspected wrongdoing which will be investigated. So officers are looked upon not just by external agencies, but also by their colleagues, supervisors and subordinates. And this is the system we want to have, where every officer is responsible for the integrity of the service.
Building a Values-driven Public Service
7. Beyond systems and processes, it is values and culture that define the Public Service, our public officers, and how they carry out their duties. Our public officers must be anchored in, and driven by the core values, of Integrity, Service and Excellence. These values are embedded in our human resource processes, such as when hiring new officers, training and developing our officers, and assessing their performance.
8. All public officers are governed by a Code of Conduct which is based on the principles of integrity, incorruptibility and impartiality. The Code was refreshed in September 2013 and is available in the Government Intranet. But of course the Code is a very dry document so we have produced a handbook with frequently asked questions and illustrated examples. And this handbook is given to all civil servants, and made available to the Statutory Boards for distribution to their officers. I have a copy of this handbook here with me today. In January this year, Ministry of Finance (MOF) also issued a Government Procurement Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct for procurement officers. This is also available in the Government Intranet. The Code sets out the professional values, ethos and appropriate behaviour that we expect procurement officers to abide by in their engagement with suppliers.
9. We emphasise the importance of values throughout the career of a public officer, at the point of induction when they join the public service, and in milestone leadership programmes at all levels, including the middle management level that Mr Seng was concerned about. In the past five years, CPIB has conducted an average of about 60 anti-corruption talks for public officers each year, especially those who are new in service and those in enforcement and regulatory agencies. Mr Seng also expressed concern over the number of recent cases. The number of public officers prosecuted under the Prevention of Corruption Act has remained stable over the past five years, and we will continue our efforts to eliminate corruption, and bring down the numbers further. And this is so, also for other cases of misconduct.
10. Public service leaders are also made aware that the tone that they set in an organisation affects the culture. Their personal demonstration of the values of integrity and accountability helps the staff to understand the importance of both values, the types of conduct which are acceptable and should be carried out, and help them to apply them in their daily work.
11. Even with tight systems and processes, and efforts to build strong values, there may be people who try to circumvent the rules. When wrongdoing occurs, we adopt a zero-tolerance approach and take firm action against the officer, in a decisive and transparent manner.
12. Madam Chairperson, though there are some errant officers, the vast majority of our public officers take pride in serving Singapore and Singaporeans and uphold the Public Service values of Integrity, Service and Excellence. Each year, we recognise our outstanding officers, so that they will inspire their fellow officers and encourage those who are considering a public service career to do so. I am confident that our public officers will continue to do their best in their work, and in so doing, help to strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the Public Service. And it is indeed a tribute to our system and to our public officers that many feel proud that their children join the Public Service_._
Supporting Lower-Wage Officers
13. Mr Ang Hin Kee asked how the Public Service is helping our lower-wage workers.
14. We review salaries regularly to maintain market competitiveness. Most recently, in December 2013, lower-wage civil servants, for example those on the Operations Support Scheme, received a salary increase of $50 to $70. In 2012 and 2013, we had also given wage increases of $60 and $70 respectively to Division IV officers, going beyond the National Wages Council’s (NWC) recommendations. With the above adjustments, the monthly salaries of approximately 2,200 lower-wage civil servants have increased by between $180 and $200, or some 15%, over and above their annual increments.
Helping officers to upgrade
15. We also help lower-wage civil servants by encouraging them to train and develop themselves through skills upgrading because increases in wages should be accompanied by increases in productivity. We recently implemented a training roadmap that helps them to identify competencies and learning programmes that will enhance their productivity and ability to undertake bigger jobs. For example, we have developed a range of courses in customer service, including how to deliver service more professionally, and to supervise a frontline team. Through these courses, frontline officers can be considered for a higher job responsibility, which will pay a higher salary.
16. In November 2013, the Training Incentives Scheme was enhanced to encourage and support skills upgrading.
17. And with this, Division III and IV civil servants will receive double the incentive, $200 instead of $100, upon completing a relevant Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) course. There are around 230 officers tapping on this scheme each year. Given the increase in incentive quantum, we expect even more officers to upgrade themselves through training and benefit from it.
18. These efforts to help our officers upgrade themselves are communicated to our lower-wage workers and their supervisors through briefings and via collaterals from the Public Service Division (PSD). We also meet regularly with the HR officers of public agencies, and also the public sector unions to gather feedback to further improve these measures.
18. PSD is also working with the unions to conduct a pilot study into the future work of our lower-wage officers, and the skills and training they will need to take on these new roles.
19. In terms of re-employment, since 1 July 2011, 324 or almost 9 in 10 Division III and IV civil servants who retired at age 62 have been re-employed. Since 1 April 2012, Division IV officers have been re-employed at the same substantive grade and at their last drawn salary. This has been extended to Division III officers since 1 August 2013. These re-employed officers will also continue to benefit from salary adjustments and training initiatives.
20. Madam Chairperson, the Public Service will continue to work closely with the unions to uplift the salaries of our lower-wage officers, in parallel with updating and upgrading their skills so that they continue to serve and contribute to Singapore.
21. Thank you.