Speech by Mr Leo Yip at the Administrative Service Dinner and Appointment & Promotion Ceremony
Speech by Mr Leo Yip, Head, Civil Service, at the Administrative Service Dinner and Appointment & Promotion Ceremony
Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong,
Chairman and Members of the Public Service Commission,
Colleagues and Friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. Good evening.
2. All of us here tonight are contributors to the quest of nation building. But as JRR Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings, puts it, along this quest we have been “there and back again”. “There” because we have travelled far over the past 3 years to fight the pandemic. And tonight, we are “back again” together for our annual dinner. It is an occasion for us to formally welcome new members, celebrate with those promoted, pay our tributes to recently retired senior leaders, and reconnect with our friends.
3. The Public Service has put our heart and soul into combatting the pandemic. I am immensely proud of the teamwork, contributions, and resilience of our public officers, and all of you here. You rose to the call of duty at a time of our country’s greatest need. To my public service colleagues, I appreciate and commend you once again for all that you have done.
4. Tonight, we congratulate 17 officers appointed to the Administrative Service and 83 colleagues who have been promoted. This includes my PS colleagues, Joseph, Chung Han, How Yue, Zsin Woon, and Der Jiun.
5. We are also celebrating the over three decades of dedicated service of my former PS colleague, Hock Yong, who retired last October. I had worked closely with Hock Yong through the years. I have always valued and enjoyed his partnership, his deep sense of purpose, and his care for the people he worked with. On together with all of you, my deepest gratitude to you, Hock Yong, for your significant contributions, and we wish you a happy retirement.
Role of Public Service Leaders
6. As leaders in the Public Service, it is our job to make sense of and deal with the profound changes happening around the world as well as in our own society. They include our ageing population; intensifying US-China rivalry; accelerating technological change; and growing existential threat of climate change.
7. But tonight, even as we deal with change, challenges, and opportunities, I want to speak about issues that are more immutable or unchanging.
8. I will address two issues – the sense of purpose and conviction that must anchor all that we do, and the leadership responsibility of Admin Officers. These cut to the heart of who we are as Admin Officers.
Purpose and Conviction
9. Let me start with purpose and conviction. Nation building is a quest. As Admin Officers, we must have a deep sense of the purpose of this quest, and the conviction to pursue this journey. This anchors our motivations and commitment to contribute to this journey. And we know that ships without anchor go adrift.
10. Remember the day you decided to join the Public Service. Why did you make that commitment? I joined for the scholarship but stayed on for the purpose. Like some of you I was offered the opportunity to study overseas and thereafter to develop my career in the service. But through the years, I chose to remain in the service because of the purpose that we all serve.
11. So what is this purpose all about? It is a purpose that transcends our organisations, and ourselves. In the Public Service, we serve not for ourselves. Working closely with and in support of the political leadership, we serve to secure Singapore’s survival and success and improve the lives of Singaporeans, now and into the future. Always remember that we in the Public Service are doing work on behalf of Singaporeans. Our effectiveness and success, commission or omission, impact our fellow Singaporeans, for better or for worse.
12. Given Singapore’s small size and lack of natural resources, achieving this purpose will always require exceptional effort – of sheer will, audacity of ideas, hard work, and teamwork. Thus, we must have the conviction that such an exceptional effort is well worth putting in. Because this is an effort that must be sustained over and over again. We must have the firm belief that the Singapore story can and will continue strong into the future. We must have the steely resolve that we can overcome challenges come what may, like the pandemic, and seize opportunities to write the next chapter of this story. We must have the conviction that nation building is never done, and the quest does not have a finish line. We must continue to work at making Singapore tomorrow better than it is today.
13. So when we are not clear whether something is worth doing, go back to the purpose of why we serve to renew our conviction. If it is worth doing for Singapore and Singaporeans, it is worth doing well. In difficult times, or when we are tired or frustrated, it is this sense of purpose and conviction that will keep us going. This is exactly how many of us got through the last three years of COVID-19, going beyond the call of duty, and persevering even in the face of fatigue. So when the skies darken or when doubts arise, dig deep to bring forth that sense of purpose and conviction, to refresh your clarity, your commitment, and your confidence on why and how we are serving Singapore and Singaporeans.
Growing and exercising leadership
14. Next, our leadership role. The Admin Service is a leadership service. All of us lead teams, agencies and, collectively, the whole Public Service, if not now, then eventually.
15. To lead effectively, we must continually grow our leadership competencies. I spoke last year about the Leadership Competency Framework that has been developed specially for our Public Service. We must all be familiar with this framework and work hard on growing our competencies, which is why I am highlighting it again this evening.
16. Beyond growing our competencies, our colleagues also look to us to exercise leadership. What defines us is not formal leadership position alone, but the value we bring to our fellow public service colleagues. That value includes our ideas and drive to make things better, our ability to get things done, how we collaborate and work together with others, and how we look after those who work with and for us. As importantly, we must show character leadership by being exemplars of the values and the purpose we all stand for.
17. Beyond positively influencing those we work with, as leaders, we must also mobilise them to continually make our One Public Service better. I have characterised this before and it bears re-emphasis. We must be a Public Service driven by ambition, alignment, and action. At the same time, we must be a strong people organisation.
18. First, we as leaders must instil in our teams and organisations a deep sense of ambition for our country and our people. There is always a next bound of what we can do for Singapore and Singaporeans, so imagining what that can be, and designing and making it happen, must be part of our DNA. This is our conviction behind the Singapore story, to forge continuing success by re-inventing success. We must always work hard on Singapore’s continuing long-term success – never stop at today’s good work, or be bogged down by today’s challenges. This is why, amongst other things, we have organised the Public Service to systematically and collectively review our policy thinking and devise fresh ideas, through the Singapore Agenda exercise.
19. Second, we must lead our teams to achieve a Public Service that operates in alignment. That means clarity and coherence of priority across agency boundaries. One Public Service means one aligned service rather than a collection of disparate agencies each acting on its own without co-ordination and collective purpose. Again, this is based on the conviction that for a country, like ours, with no natural resources, we must harness the full synergy and potential of the Public Service to serve Singapore and Singaporeans in unison. This is the spirit of our Public Sector Transformation, to strengthen this One Public Service mindset and practice. And we have made progress, for example with our ServiceSG centres that have now integrated over 400 services from over 20 agencies in a single citizen touchpoint, as well as through LifeSG, where Singaporeans can access over 100 digital government services through one single portal.
20. Third, we as leaders must show the way and go the way in getting things done. The public benefits from our policies and good intentions only when they are well implemented. We must be a Public Service that is action oriented, excellent at implementing plans and policies and making things happen for and on behalf of Singaporeans.
21. Finally, we must have a deep interest in our people, our fellow public service officers – their well-being, their fulfilment at work, and their growth and development. Our Public Service must be an excellent people organisation that offers an attractive employee experience and enables each officer to truly do great things for Singapore.
22. Many of these characteristics, such as the spirit of One Public Service and a focus on the long term, can be gravity-defying. Why so? The natural tendency in many large organisations and bureaucracies is a stove-piped mentality, insular rather than collaborative, and focused on the all-consuming short-term challenges instead of thinking about and building for the long term. To achieve what I’ve described — a Public Service of ambition, alignment, and action, and truly people-centric, may sound like trying to be “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once”. But it is not science fiction because we have made progress along these lines; it is a work in progress, and we must continue to work hard at it.
23. Through the years, I have had the opportunity to interact with many counterparts in other civil services and, in my time in EDB, with many global business leaders. In Singapore, our government and our governance system, have always enjoyed a strong reputation. This international standing has been further strengthened through our COVID-19 experience. Many civil services are keen to meet with us and understand our approach to common challenges such as digitalisation and public sector transformation. There is also stronger interest from global companies to invest here and global talent to work and live here.
24. Ultimately, our global reputation stems from our success at making Singapore a strong economy, society, and nation, with continual improvements in the lives of Singaporeans. We, as Admin Officers, play a key role in this continued effort. Let us draw on our purpose and conviction, develop and exercise our leadership effectively, and steer our One Public Service in service of our never-ending quest to build and sustain a successful nation.
25. Thank you.