Speech by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at Committee of Supply 2016

13 April 2016

SPEECH BY DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TEO CHEE HEAN AND
MINISTER IN CHARGE OF THE CIVIL SERVICE
PUBLIC SERVICE DIVISION (PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE)
COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY 2016
13 APRIL 2016
 

1. Thank you Madam Chairperson. First I would like to thank Members for their interest in and strong support for the Public Service. 

Singapore Public Service – Ready for the Future

2. The Public Service has continually reviewed and re-organised itself, to be ready for the future. 

3. Last July, we set up the Strategy Group under the Prime Minister’s Office. It is headed by the Head of Civil Service. Its role is to identify emerging priorities early and tackle medium to long-term issues. The Strategy Group looks at the impact of future trends in our external and domestic environment, the policies we might need, and the capabilities we need to build in the Government to address these challenges. It has also coordinated the plans and programmes across Ministries to set out the policy agenda for this term of Government. 

4. This year, we are re-organising four Statutory Boards to deepen capabilities and better tackle emerging challenges. SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) and Workforce Singapore (WSG) will support our citizens in acquiring useful skills to remain employable. The Info-Communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) will develop and regulate the converging infocomm and media sectors in a holistic way, while the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) will transform government services using technology. 

5. These changes allow the Public Service to develop and deliver better policies, services, and programmes for Singaporeans.

Putting Singaporeans at the Heart of Service

6. Mr Ang Hin Kee asked about our efforts to deliver good services to citizens. Our public agencies have made progress in working together to serve Singaporeans better. For example, the 24 Social Service Offices under MSF partner other public agencies to offer integrated services. Members will know that when a family that needs temporary financial help, housing rental assistance, and employment assistance, they can go to their nearest Social Service Office, which will coordinate with WDA and HDB to provide this help in a holistic way.   

7. At MND’s Committee of Supply debate, Members were updated about the work of the Municipal Services Office, to improve the coordination and delivery of municipal services across public agencies. 

8. MOF also highlighted recent e-initiatives by several Ministries during its COS Debate. We will continue to use technology more effectively to enhance the delivery of government services, for example by making more services available online and on mobile platforms, so that they are accessible at any time, from anywhere. Recently, this has been tax filing season and many Members have been filing their taxes. IRAS has been making it as painless as possible by having an efficient filing system. Never a pleasure, but at least as painless as possible. 

9. We are also doing more to communicate government policies and programmes in a simple and clear manner. For example, our Pioneer Generation Ambassadors go door to door to help our Pioneers and their families better understand how they can benefit from the Pioneer Generation Package and MediShield Life – using different languages and dialects most comfortable to our Pioneers. CPF Board has added an illustrated summary in CPF members’ annual statements so that we can see at one glance, our own CPF contributions, account balances, and transactions. CPF Board also provides personalised financial tips on retirement planning targeted at different segments. 

Raising Capabilities of Public Officers 

10. Mr Ang also asked about our plans to help our public officers do a better job at the frontline.

11. In line with SkillsFuture, we will continue to raise the skills of all our public officers, and provide them with learning and career development opportunities. And this applies to our frontline service officers as well. We have developed a service competency framework to spell out the skills that our frontline service officers need. These include partnering members of the public to address concerns, and working across organisations to manage cross-cutting issues. For a start, five public agencies – CPF Board, HDB, ICA, NEA, and NLB have adopted this service competency framework. 

12. We have also provided additional learning and development opportunities for service staff to acquire these skills. For example, the Civil Service College runs a suite of programmes for service staff, and these service staff come from different levels of responsibility. Some of these modules account towards a UniSIM certification programme in public sector service management. Officers can also use the credits from this certification to count towards a minor in public sector service management from UniSIM, if they wish to pursue a degree. This helps to raise the professionalism of the service role and provides avenues for our officers to deepen their knowledge and skills. PSD is also working with agencies to develop competency-based service career paths, and introduce more leadership positions for service professionals.

13. Besides upskilling individual officers, agencies are also improving their organisational ability to improve service delivery. This includes integrating key components of service delivery, such as customer experience, data analytics and operations planning. This helps our agencies to serve Singaporeans more effectively. 

Protecting our Frontline Service Staff

14. Mr Seah Kian Peng and also Mr Ang asked about harassment towards public officers and the measures to protect them. 

15. The Public Service is committed to providing good service to the public, based on a principle of mutual courtesy and respect. Indeed, the vast majority of the many millions of interactions between the public and our officers take place in a courteous and professional manner. In 2015, there were 437 cases of hurt or verbal abuse against public officers that were reported to the Police. As mentioned during MHA’s COS debate, 344 of these were from the Home Team agencies. So we have to take this in perspective. The remaining 93 were from other public agencies. This is a very small proportion of the millions of interactions between public officers and members of the public every year. However, we take each case seriously, and will take a very firm approach to those who hurt or abuse our public officers.  

16. Agencies have already taken steps to protect our officers and prepare them better for their public-facing roles. For example, officers with frontline responsibilities are trained to manage difficult situations. Our agencies have also established safe work environments that encourage positive interactions with the public, for example by installing CCTVs at service counters, assist buttons for service staff, and for those on the move, body worn cameras. We also display service charters at many of our service counters so that the expectations that our frontline officers have and the members of the public bring are better matched 

17. Where the facts justify this, we will take legal action against those who abuse public officers in the course of their duties. The Protection from Harassment Act which came into effect in November 2014 provides for stiffer penalties against such perpetrators. But I would emphasise that we will do so only when the facts of the case justify this, and we will continue, and must continue to promote a culture of mutual courtesy and respect. As Mr Seah says, it is more about developing this culture, rather than more sanctions, body worn cameras, or CCTVs. It is this culture of mutual courtesy and respect that we must build up in Singapore. 

Building up Engineering Capabilities across the Public Service 

18. Madam Chairperson, I will now answer Mr Patrick Tay, Mr Liang Eng Hwa, and Er Dr Lee Bee Wah’s questions about our plans to build up engineering capabilities in the Public Service. 

19. This is an important area, as we depend on science and technology to overcome our resource constraints such as water and land. And these constraints will bite even more in the coming years, once the climate change agreement come into effect. And we have to make sure that what we do is sustainable from the carbon emissions point of view. We will need to use technology more strategically in the next phase of Singapore’s development – in infrastructure, housing and transport to make Singapore a highly desirable city to live in, to make full use of the revolution in infocomm and technology (ICT) to improve business efficiency and public services, and to protect our people and our country. 

20. Our water story is well known, so I will use land-related examples today of how science and technology has played a role in our development. Our geotechnical engineers built the world's first large-scale Underground Ammunition Facility, which opened in 2008, and it freed up space above ground for other uses. The professionalism and thoroughness of our analysis, design and testing by our engineers has been internationally recognised. The safety standards developed by our engineers for underground ammunition storage have been adopted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation as the standard. In 2014, we opened the Jurong Rock Caverns, Southeast Asia’s first commercial underground liquid hydrocarbon storage facility on Jurong Island. There are nine storage galleries with a total capacity almost 100 times the size of this Parliament Chamber. So each storage gallery is about 10 to 11 times of this Chamber. And it is 130 metres below the seabed. Today, our engineers are looking to further exploit underground spaces, such as the feasibility of an underground reservoir. 

21. SLA, NRF, and GovTech are working together on Virtual Singapore, a dynamic 3D city model and collaborative data platform with 3D maps of Singapore. With a diverse range of real-time and static data, this platform will allow authorised public and private users to run simulations, plan new infrastructure, design new solutions, in line with our Smart Nation vision. 

22. We will need more engineers in the Public Service to drive these efforts. I spoke about building up engineering capabilities across the Public Service at the Institution of Engineers in February, and will provide more details today. 

23. First, the Public Service will employ an additional 1,000 engineers this year, which will grow our current pool of some 7,700 engineers by more than 13%. About 70% of these 1,000 additional engineers will support our infrastructure development needs, including transport and water systems. The rest will support our Smart Nation efforts. Public agencies are also now in the process of studying their medium-term engineering manpower needs, and are working towards building up a sustainable pool of engineers in key engineering clusters in the Public Service.

Attracting Good Engineering Graduates; Paying our Serving Engineers Competitively

24. Second, we will raise the salaries of our public sector engineers, to attract and retain engineering and ICT officers in the Public Service. 

25. Salaries for engineers and ICT professionals vary across different public agencies today. Some of our agencies are already paying salaries that are largely competitive with the market, while the salaries in other agencies lag significantly. We will review our salaries regularly to ensure that they are competitive with the market. In specific areas, we will pay a premium for engineers with skills that are in high demand and short supply such as cyber forensics and malware analysts, or those with niche skills that are critical and specific to the Government for which there may be little market demand but we still need them in the public sector. 

26. Taking reference from the market starting salaries of good engineering graduates, we will set the salaries for good engineers joining the Public Service upon graduation starting from $3,800 per month, and those in ICT starting from $4,000 per month. This means an increase in starting salaries of 20% on average.

27. We will also review the salaries of our serving engineers, and raise them where needed, to ensure that public sector engineering salaries remain competitive at every job level, and not just at the starting level. 

28. Agencies will implement new starting salaries and make the necessary salary adjustments from the middle of 2016.

Building Up Our Engineering Expertise 

29. But improving pay alone is not enough. Third, we will offer our engineers good learning and development opportunities to build deep technical expertise throughout their careers. 

30. We will start by developing competency frameworks for engineers from seven public agencies, such as the PUB and HDB, in the second half of 2016. This framework will articulate the knowledge and skills that our public sector engineers require as they progress in their careers. Our engineers can use this framework to identify their own training needs, and develop expertise and mastery in specific areas. So we hope to have many more engineers of the type that Mr Liang talked about - people who know their job and love to serve people, and can do their job very well.  

31. In addition, we will build on existing programmes that agencies have in place for technical specialists, and make a more concerted effort to identify and develop engineers with deep technical expertise to take on key scientific, engineering and technical leadership positions in ministries and public agencies. They will be given greater support in their career development and growth, for example mentoring by senior technical experts, working on exciting inter-agency engineering projects, and networking across the engineering community. 

32. Through such training opportunities and exposure, good public sector engineers will be prepared to take on positions such as Chief Engineers, Chief Technology Officers and the like in the Public Service. We will be expanding the scope of some of the existing technical leadership positions in our agencies, and creating more new ones. These technical leaders will champion research and development (R&D) efforts to develop new solutions, improve performance and service, and help build deep technical expertise in key capability areas. They will act as the bridge with industry and research partners, to supplement public sector engineering expertise and help our ministries and agencies use technology strategically for the future. 

Strengthening Key Engineering Capabilities  

33. Fourth, we will establish Centres of Excellence for key engineering knowledge clusters, building them around public agencies which already have a strong base of engineering capabilities. These centres will aggregate key capabilities and build deep engineering expertise in critical areas of need. They will support other government organisations, optimise scarce engineering resources, and invest in R&D to build cutting-edge engineering expertise. 

34. We have established three such Centres of Excellence. 

a) JTC: for infrastructure projects and facilities management services, and R&D in innovation, safety and construction productivity. 
b) DSTA: in the areas of sensors, robotics and the integration of command systems, to boost our Smart Nation efforts. 
c) GovTech: for the digital transformation of the public sector, including nurturing ICT officers, to improve the delivery of public services for Singaporeans. 

35. We are in the process of establishing other Centres of Excellence in geospatial information science and cyber security.

36. Taken together, these measures will attract more Singaporeans to take up engineering as a meaningful, fulfilling and exciting long-term career in the Public Service, and deepen our public sector engineering capabilities over time. 

Conclusion

37. Madam Chairperson, let me take this opportunity to thank Members again for their support for the Public Service. 

38. Our public officers have worked closely with Singaporeans to contribute to nation-building in our first 50 years. To ensure that the Public Service remains ready for the future, we will continue to identify key priorities early, and invest in strengthening the capabilities of our officers in new and important areas such as emerging technology, data analytics, leadership skills, service management, and public engagement. 

39. But beyond skills and capabilities, our officers must have the heart and passion to do their best for Singaporeans and Singapore, to derive satisfaction from seeing other Singaporeans happy and fulfilled. Our Public Service values of Integrity, Service and Excellence provide an anchor for our officers as they carry out their duties, every day. I am confident that our public officers will continue, with your support, to work hand in hand with Singaporeans to build an even better Singapore in the future. 

40. Thank you.