Speech by Mr Peter Ong at the 25th Administrative Service Dinner and Promotion Ceremony
ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICE DINNER AND PROMOTION CEREMONY 27 MARCH 2013
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam
Chairman & Members of the Public Service Commission
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. Good evening and welcome to the 25th Administrative Service Dinner and Promotion Ceremony.
2. Every year, we come together as a Community to reconnect with one another; reflect on our purpose, roles, and values in the Public Service; rejoice at the accomplishments of those amongst us; and renew our commitment to serve Singapore and Singaporeans.
3. Today, we are very honoured and privileged to have Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as our Guest-of-Honour.
4. I would also like to offer my heartiest congratulations to the 95 Administrative Officers who will be promoted.
A busy year
5. 2012 has been a busy year for the Public Service.
6. From Our Singapore Conversation, we learned about the values that define Singaporeans and also our citizens’ aspirations and concerns over a range of issues. At the recent Budget and Committee of Supply debates, many policy plans and announcements were made by all the ministries. On the economic front, we will continue to restructure our economy, lift our productivity and manage the inflow of foreign workers. We will enhance our social policies to nurture a more inclusive society with social mobility. We are also making strides to develop our infrastructure and deal with the current congestion issues.
Governance context is changing
7. As we look forward, we see the winds of change upon us. We are a nation and a society in transition.
8. Externally, the geopolitical environment is becoming more volatile. As a small country, Singapore is vulnerable to changes in the external environment and we must always stay vigilant.
9. Domestically, governance challenges have become more complex and multi-faceted. The face of the population is changing, with more diverse views and needs to meet. The attitudes, values and preoccupation of a younger generation are different. We are also grappling with the interconnectedness of our challenges where developments in one domain can have potential implications for another.
10. For the Public Service, this means we need to change in order to respond to these challenges. I see this need for transformation in three key areas: Capabilities, Collaborative relationship with the people and Conduct.
11. First, is the need for new capabilities. There is a rich tapestry of individual competencies that every officer needs to be equipped with to operate in the new landscape. The Civil Service College will help officers develop these competencies. But for tonight, I want to focus on organisational capabilities.
12. A key role of the Public Service is to deliver public services in an efficient, effective and empathetic manner. To further improve on our service delivery, we will need to develop our institutional capabilities to deal with the fragmented service delivery mechanism on the ground.
13. Last year, I shared about AVA as the First Responder to deal with animal-related issues. This year, I am happy to share with you another example of Whole-of-Government in action in the area of public cleanliness. Previously, depending on whose land the litter was found, the respective agency would be in charge of cleaning up. This led to varying standards of cleanliness and responsiveness.
14. We therefore devised a structural solution to improve our municipal service delivery in this area. NEA stepped forward to take up the job; this is commendable as you can imagine that dealing with rubbish is not a role that is much sought after. The formation of the Department of Public Cleanliness (DPC) in 2012 has been effective in two ways. First, it is people-centric. DPC serves as the Public Service’s customer touch point in dealing with public cleanliness, removing the need for the citizen to deal with multiple agencies. Second, it is a more holistic approach as NEA will now look into improving the overall standards of public cleanliness and has greater scope to adopt innovative technology to improve productivity. I am told that in the short period that DPC was set up, it had received over 900 compliments.
15. At the same time, we have also made major structural changes to our service delivery capabilities on the social front, an area of growing needs. The formation of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) allowed for greater policy focus for each of the 2 Ministries. The merger of the Agency for Integrated Care and Centre for Enabled Living will enable a better continuum of care for our senior citizens. The establishment of Social Service Offices will bring social assistance closer to Singaporeans.
16. Our quest for organisational capabilities in service delivery must continue to match the increasing expectations that Singaporeans have of us, and that we have of ourselves.
Collaborative relationship with the people
17. Second, we need to build a stronger collaborative relationship with our people. We need to be better at being a relational Government. We need to understand the people we serve and relook how we can better engage and connect emotionally with our people. The OSC is one good example where we have increased our engagement with our citizens.
18. We also need to master the skills of explaining rational policies simply, and in ways that can connect emotionally across a wide range of citizen preferences. We need to learn how to formulate policies with a heart. Given that Singaporeans are taking increasingly to expressing themselves on the internet, we need to be more savvy on new media platforms.
19. In service delivery, we can also involve our citizens more. The Library@Chinatown is our first community-supported library and is a good example of collaboration and co-ownership with the people, for the people. 40 volunteers help to run the library. Books and materials are curated and selected by the community. This is a very practical example of building a stronger collaborative relationship with our people and we can do more.
20. As we evolve in this area, we can build a stronger sense of ownership and belonging for our people.
21. The third area I want to touch on tonight is Conduct. Last year, I devoted almost my entire speech to public sector values. It was timely that we reflected on the values that should define us.
22. We need to continually uphold the integrity of the Public Service and not let up. We must safeguard the trust and confidence of our citizens zealously.
23. The Civil Service Code of Conduct sets out the key principles underlying the behaviour expected of public officers, and serves as the compass to guide us as we carry out our duties. Public Sector Leaders have been conducting town hall sessions over the past year to discuss and reflect on what the Code means for their agencies and how it would apply to officers as they go about their daily work.
24. Besides such townhall sessions, Public Sector Leaders must continue to engage and listen to officers’ concerns, build shared values and ethos, and keep the Code fresh and relevant. We are to lead in articulating the principles and help our officers to apply these principles to real work situations. Ultimately, the Code can only be effective if it is imbued in all our public officers, starting with the leaders.
25. As we look to uphold public trust, we need to serve as role models and conduct ourselves with utmost propriety and professionalism. Leaders, especially, must walk the talk.
26. Indeed, leadership remains key. A more complex landscape brings with it new governance challenges as our policy space becomes tighter and trade-offs become more difficult. A wider group of leaders with a more diverse range of capabilities will be needed. So we will invest more resources and attention to develop a Public Service leadership corps with a broader and deeper range of governance capabilities.
27. In particular, we need strong specialist leaders and sectoral leaders, armed with the depth of specialised expertise. We will promote the development of these specialist capabilities. We will also develop capabilities that cut across various agencies such as in Engineering and Economic Regulation.
28. At the same time, the role of the Administrative Service is more critical than ever. On the one hand, our unique role is to work hand-in-hand with the political leadership to serve the interests of Singaporeans and Singapore. On the other hand, we need to work closely with the sectoral leaders, and integrate the work of many specialists and professionals and present the best policy options to the political leadership.
29. As a community of Administrative Officers who straddle across different agencies, we should take a systems view and see the big picture. But this is not always the case and we may sometimes operate from the narrow perspective of our individual agencies. Silos can exist and we sometimes fail to see how a better overall outcome can be achieved if we reach across to work closer with the other agencies. It will take more time and effort to operate from a Whole-of Government perspective, but we must strive to do so in order to achieve the best results.
30. In this period of transition, many of you have shared your views with us on how you personally see the challenges. At our recent Admin Officers Forum, many of you reaffirmed the need to rise above the challenges and much of your feedback still brim with optimism, passion and energy. One sentiment, in particular, struck a chord in me: “I don’t think there has been a more exciting time to be a civil servant, at least not in the past ten years…But in this environment, opportunities abound for AOs and all civil servants to make a difference in shaping the course of our nation over the next decade.”
31. More than ever before, Singapore needs a high capability Public Service of integrity. May we as a community rise to meet the challenges before us and serve with passion to give our citizens a better life.
Thank you very much.