Keynote Address by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education and Minister-in-charge of the Public Service at the 2021 PSC Scholarships Award Ceremony

28 July 2021

1 A very good afternoon to all of you, Chairman and members of the Public Service Commission, parents, teachers, principals, and recipients. 

2 First, a warm welcome and my congratulations to all the award recipients.

3 All of you could have chosen a different path, but you didn’t. 

4 You have decided to join the ranks of many who have come before you, to commit your future to taking care of our country and people. For that, thank you very much. 

5 The challenges that will confront our country and our people in the coming years will be no less daunting than those that we have overcome.  

6 COVID-19 has accentuated many of the trends shaping our future – for example: digitalisation, the political flux of our region, and many others.

7 COVID-19 has also compounded many of our challenges – from the security and sustainability of our supply chains, to our connectivity with the world, just to name some.

8 Yet COVID-19 has also provided new opportunities for us to transcend the tyranny of geography and demographics to reinforce our brand, as a trusted and principled partner that brings relevance to the parties we deal with.

9 So what has the Public Service learned from the COVID-19 pandemic thus far? There are many lessons, but I will share three aspects today – Agility, Connectivity and Trust.

10 No country in the world could claim they were ready for COVID or had fully anticipated its impact. Even now, we are all grappling with the surprises that COVID continues to throw at us.

11 However, in such an uncertain environment, agility is key. Countries that survive best are not necessarily the biggest or strongest, but those that are most agile in adapting; countries that do not just tackle COVID, but also seize the unexpected opportunities that come their way.

12 These are the ones that have done relatively better than us. We have not done too badly thus far. But we should not be complacent.

13 Our Public Service has to reconfigure ourselves to have new organisations and processes to keep Singapore going through this pandemic.

  • We had to change our processes in double quick time to determine the industries and businesses to keep open, and those whose operations had to cease, as the situation evolved.
  • We had to start up a new Assurance, Care and Engagement Group, or ACE Group, to take care of the wellbeing of migrant workers in a very short time.
  • We worked out new ways to manage our airports, ports and points of entry to maintain our connectivity while safeguarding our public health.
  • These are just some examples of what we had to do to keep our country going, and our people safe.
  • Our responses may not be perfect, but they have allowed us to keep going, hopefully better than our competitors.

14 The lesson learnt is that no organisation and structure of yesterday can fully prepare us for the future and tomorrow’s crises. We all have to be agile and adapt quickly – faster than the competition if we are to keep our lunch.

15 How did we get things done in an uncertain and chaotic environment?  How did we secure critical supplies and vaccines? The answer lies in Connectivity.

16 We tapped on our whole of nation network, our public, private and people sectors working together. We leveraged our extensive network of overseas contacts.

17 Take the example of the disruption to our food chains. We kept supplies flowing by pulling out all stops to leverage our domestic and overseas networks to secure supplies ahead of time.

18 All these would not have been possible if our people did not have a culture of anticipation and working together across sectors and domains as a habit, and these were all developed in times of peace. 

19 All these would also not have been possible if our Public Service operated in silos and not in close partnership with the private and people sectors, leveraging each other’s perspectives, capabilities and capacities.

20 Hence, it is of utmost importance that we continue to enrich the public sector with private and people sector perspectives, experiences and contacts.

21 To this end, we will introduce the Mid-Career Leaders Track to strengthen our recruitment of mid-career professionals with the heart to serve, and the skills and experience to contribute. Doing so will inject diversity and consequent resilience to the public sector.

22 There is one very important aspect that brought us this far, much further than many other countries, in the fight against COVID. And that is trust

23 Trust between people and Government. Trust between Singapore and partners beyond our shores.

24 If we did not have a reputation of being a principled and trusted partner globally, we would have had a much harder time securing the things that we need in a crisis.

25 If we had not built up a reservoir of goodwill and trust with our people, we would not have been able to execute our responses so effectively in a collective and cohesive manner. This is what distinguishes us from many others in the world.

26 However, this trust must be earned, and renewed every generation.

27 So to all the award recipients today, I hope you will remember the significance of today’s ceremony where you commit to help take care of Singapore and Singaporeans in time to come.

28 I hope you will always strive to help Singapore and Singaporeans find opportunities amidst challenges by staying agile and adaptable.

29 I hope you will help build up our network of ties with the world, and with the private and people sectors, for us to be able to mobilise a whole of nation effort, in times of peace and in crisis.

30 I hope you will work hard and earn the trust of Singaporeans and partners beyond Singapore, so that we will always have a reservoir of goodwill to call upon.

31 Thank you for your service to our nation.

32 In partnership and with teamwork, we fear no challenges too big for us.