Speech by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at Committee of Supply 2013
1. Madam Chairperson, I thank the Members for their interest in, and support for, the Public Service.
Engaging the people we serve
Singaporeans at the centre of all we do
2. Mr Seng Han Thong spoke about the need for “policies with more heart”. The Government seeks to design policies and services that bring the most benefit to the largest number of Singaporeans. At the same time, I do agree with Mr Seng that public officers need to have the flexibility and compassion to better understand the particular needs and circumstances of individuals and be prepared to allow exceptions where these are possible. Indeed, Singaporeans must be at the centre of all that we do.
3. Singapore has largely gone beyond just fulfilling citizens’ basic needs. Singaporeans’ interests and aspirations are becoming increasingly varied. Sometimes, different people or groups may have interests or needs that tug in opposite directions, and a middle ground has to be found.
4. The Our Singapore Conversation provides a new and good avenue for Singaporeans from all walks of life to express their heartfelt concerns and aspirations. Just as Our Singapore Conversation provides opportunities for citizens to hear from one another, it also has been offering a good opportunity for public officers to gain a deeper understanding of the concerns and aspirations of fellow Singaporeans so that they can design policies and implement programmes that are better attuned to Singaporeans’ needs, taking into account their varied aspirations and interests. Listening to and taking into account different perspectives and concerns will help strengthen us as a community.
5. Government agencies also have mechanisms for engagement, to reach out to the community, understand their local or unique needs and tailor initiatives to meet these needs. Mr Seng cited a few. Let me give a few more examples. The Land Transport Community Partnership Division helps LTA to understand local road and traffic issues at the constituency level. Ground feedback from the community is systematically surfaced, and LTA can respond more quickly and effectively to these requests. The Singapore Police Force also launched its Community Policing System last year, with more police officers sent to the Neighbourhood Police Centres to tackle local crime. Police officers also go out on foot and bicycle patrols to get closer to the community, and play an active role in community safety and security programmes.
6. This is in line with three new Service Principles that the Public Service added last year: people-centricity; mutual courtesy and respect; and shared responsibility for the public good.1
Delivering service to Singaporeans with heart
7. Each year, we give out Excellence in Public Service Awards to recognise public officers and agencies for their efforts in providing good service. One of last year’s PS21 Star Service Award winners is Ms Cadence Goh, from People’s Association. As the coordinator of the constituency’s social assistance programmes, she often delivers welfare funds personally to the sick and elderly whose mobility is restricted. On one occasion, she coordinated responses across several agencies to help a distressed family restore their utilities after clarifying that arrangements had been made for their bills to be paid through a financial assistance scheme. This is a good example of a public officer who has gone the extra mile many times over to deliver service to Singaporeans with heart.
8. We also recognise customers – Singaporeans, ordinary citizens – who have been exemplary in contributing to better public outcomes through their partnership with public agencies. The Public Service will continue to work hand-in-hand, whole-heartedly, with citizens for the good of Singapore and Singaporeans. Both the public and the Public Service have a shared responsibility for the public good, with both partners working together with mutual respect so that this relationship will thrive and bring about positive results for all of us.
Caring for our employees
9. I will now address Members’ questions concerning the well-being of our public officers.
Flexi-work arrangements well-established
10. Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef asked about flexible work arrangements. The suite of flexi-work arrangement options offered by the Public Service includes part-time employment, telecommuting and staggered work hours.
11. Today, 95% of public agencies offer flexible work hours. Officers can choose the time they prefer to start work within a time-band, as long as they perform 42 hours of work a week. This flexibility allows officers to better manage their work and personal needs.
12. All public agencies also offer part-time employment with pro-rated salaries and benefits. As at 31 December 2012, there were some 1,700 public officers working part-time. And one example just last month, the Accountant-General’s Department accepted an applicant’s request to work part-time in a role that was originally advertised as a full-time position. The officer is now able to pursue a meaningful career while spending more time with her two young children. I agree that the Public Service as well as all employers in Singapore can do a lot more in this area.
13. Mr Heng Chee How asked for a review of re-employment guidelines with regard to wages and medical benefits and Mr Yeo Guat Kwang asked for a review of medical benefits.
14. The public sector re-employment guidelines were drawn up in consultation with public sector agencies and the unions. They take reference from the Tripartite Guidelines on the Re-employment of Older Employees. Hence, what the Public Service is practising is not different from what has been discussed and agreed on the tripartite basis.
15. Since the implementation of re-employment in the Public Service in July 2011, PSD has made refinements to the guidelines based on the feedback received. For instance, since 1 April 2012, all eligible Division IV officers are re-employed at their last drawn salaries at the point of retirement. Agencies also have the flexibility to re-employ officers with strong performance at their last drawn salaries if they are doing the same jobs.
16. The practice in the private sector remains mixed – some companies adjust pay at the point of re-employment, while others do not. PSD is currently reviewing the salary guidelines for re-employed officers in the light of these private sector practices. And PSD will support a national consensus on re-employment practices. The review will be completed in six to nine months.
17. Re-employment is a new episode of employment after retirement. That was the way it was structured. Non-pensionable officers who are re-employed are hence placed on the Medisave-cum-Subsidised Outpatient (MSO) scheme which is offered to all new appointees. Pensionable officers who are eligible for post-retirement medical benefits can choose to remain on their post-retirement medical benefits during the period of re-employment.
18. Officers on the MSO scheme receive an additional sum of 1% of their monthly salary (capped at $70 per month) beyond their normal Medisave contributions, in their Medisave account. This helps the officer to buy medical insurance (MediShield or Medisave-approved insurance plans) or to pay for his medical expenses.
19. It is important for officers to plan ahead and ensure that they have adequate medical insurance coverage, particularly after their retirement. Agencies have been encouraging officers to buy medical insurance for themselves and for their families.
20. To facilitate this, PSD has arranged for a panel of insurance companies to provide Medisave-approved medical insurance coverage at group discounted rates for public officers since October 2006. More than 40 roadshows were held in public agencies in the last year alone to create greater awareness of the importance of medical insurance. Over the past 3 years, more than 21,000 public officers have enrolled in plans under this central arrangement, bringing the total to over 37,000 officers. Most other officers have their own medical insurance plans.
21. As at end 2011, 97% of civil servants have either basic MediShield or Integrated Shield Plan. We will continue these efforts to encourage more public officers to take up medical insurance.
Enhanced medical and dental benefits
22. Members have asked, over the years, particularly Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, for a review of medical benefits for our civil servants. Last year, I informed the House that we are carrying out a review to assess if the MSO scheme and the dental benefits scheme are sufficient to meet the needs of civil servants and how they compare against practices in the private sector.
23. After a careful study and consultation with the Unions, the Civil Service will revise its medical and dental subsidy caps with effect from 1 April 2013, to keep up with market practices in employee benefits.
24. Currently, an officer who visits a private clinic can claim up to 85% of the medical bill, subject to a cap of $10 per visit. This cap for the reimbursable amount will be increased to $20 per visit. And this is comparable with the average amount that the Civil Service subsidises an officer for outpatient treatment at a polyclinic, which is about $18. So it equalises both of them.
25. Civil servants can currently claim up to $350 per year for their outpatient expenses. Any unutilised balance of the $350 is credited into the officer’s Medisave account at the end of each year. While some private sector employers may provide a higher annual limit for outpatient subsidy, it is usually on a reimbursement basis so if you don’t consume it, it is not credited into your account.
26. We recognise that some officers may need more than $350 for their medical needs in a year. We will thus raise the annual outpatient claim limit to $500, with the additional $150 (beyond the $350) given only on a reimbursement basis. This approach allows us to better meet the different needs of our officers while ensuring that our overall package of salary and benefits remains competitive compared to the private sector.
27. On dental benefits, the Civil Service currently pays 50% of the dental bill per visit and the annual claim limit is capped at $70. This is a very modest amount. Not many officers make use of the dental benefits today. We see the importance of maintaining dental health, and want to encourage our officers to visit a dentist regularly. We will increase the subsidy of the dental bill per visit from 50% to 85%. Officers who used to pay $35 for a $70 dental bill will only need to pay $10.50 with this change. The annual dental reimbursable limit will also be increased from $70 to $120, bringing it closer to market practices.
28. The enhanced medical and dental benefits will also apply to our re-employed officers and Statutory Board employees.
1 The original Service Principles of Courtesy, Accessibility, Responsiveness and Effectiveness were introduced in 1995.