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02 March 2022 Speeches

Speech by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education and Minister-in-charge of the Public Service at Committee of Supply 2022

“A Stronger Public Service in a New Normal”

Mr Speaker Sir

1. Let me first thank the various Members for your useful suggestions and concern for the Public Service. I would also like to thank all my public officers for the hard work that they have done over the last two years, in particular. I am sure Members of the House will agree with me that over the last two years, the Public Service has really pulled together to do three things concurrently and to do three things well.

2. First, to maintain current operations to make sure that all our services to our people and our country continue to run smoothly amidst the crisis. 

3. Second, to run crisis operations, we had to invent on-the-fly many of the new things that we had to do to cope with the ever-evolving virus situation. To this end, we had to even cross-deploy officers to new roles. In fact, a few thousand officers from the Public Service have been redeployed in order to help out and manage the crisis. They continue to do this even as we speak. 

4. Third, our Public Service continues to plan for the future. Notwithstanding the crisis and current operations, we have established conditions for us to emerge stronger and distinguish ourselves. For all these reasons of running current operations, crisis operations, and future operations, I would like to thank all my public officers for their hard work and determination.

5. Mr Chairman, we have heard various suggestions on how the Public Service can do better. Indeed, we agree with the Members that we must not rest on our laurels. The Public Service is always looking for better ways to use our finite resources and manpower. I will give some examples of how the Public Service has done this over the last few years.

6. The first example is from GovTech. The GoWhere platform supports our location and eligibility-based queries as part of our COVID-19 response. The Public Service agencies use GoWhere as a channel to provide citizens with the locations of key services, starting with the collection of masks via MaskGoWhere in 2020. Since then, we have expanded to cover 16 Government initiatives today, including the recent CDC Vouchers Merchants GoWhere.

7. Another example is our establishment of the Centres of Excellence, or what we call CentExs, by leveraging agencies with critical science, technology, and engineering experience to build deep technical expertise and pool specialised resources across the Public Service. For example, JTC is designated as the Centre of Excellence for facilities management and is progressively consolidating the facility management contracts for public sector-owned buildings under one integrated contract. And JTC also provides its expertise to guide various agencies on how to structure those contracts to get value-for-money.

8. The third example will be how we are bringing together more services under our Integrated Public Service Centres, or what we call ServiceSG Centres, which have integrated and delivered a wide range of public services across different agencies under one roof. Since 2018, the Centre at Our Tampines Hub has expanded to provide 400 services across 19 agencies for our citizens. Citizens can now also conduct videoconferences with officers from different agencies in one place. Going forward, we will extend the pilot to establish more ServiceSG Centres within Community Centres (CCs). The first of two such ServiceSG Centres have opened in Nee Soon Central and Kampong Chai Chee CCs.

9. Likewise for businesses, we have also developed a one-stop GoBusiness portal to provide easy to use, seamless, and relevant services, as well as create a more pro-business environment. Developed by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG), GoBusiness allows users to access information of over 300 Government-to-Business e-services. This year, business owners can expect a new GoBusiness dashboard that will allow them to track their license applications, and access various e-Advisers for recommendations on grants and other services.

10. On Mr Melvin Yong’s point about developing the competencies for our public officers, that is indeed our focus going forward, especially when our public officers have a longer career working lifespan. There are various things that we intend to do for our public officers for their career development, in order to build up their capabilities.

11. We intend to have greater porosity between the public sector and the people and private sectors. Within the public sector, we also intend to have greater porosity between agencies. Let me explain how we intend to do this. 

12. The Talent Attachment Programme (TAP) has been expanded. In fact, over the last year, we have almost doubled the number of people who have gone on TAP. These are programmes that allow our public officers to be attached to organisations outside the Public Service, so that they can establish connections and bring back new ideas for us in the Public Service. We will continue to look for opportunities for porosity of exchanges, so that we can get the best ideas from the private sector, the people sector, and international organisations. 

13. Within the Public Service, we also want to make sure that our officers – even if they are performing the same function in different agencies – get opportunities to be posted across the different agencies. Even within the same functional areas, no two agencies perform the function in the same way. And we can of course learn from one another. 

14. Now, beyond this, we want to make sure that as we go forward in the way we govern, we will work closely and closer with organisations beyond the Public Service. We also want to broaden our connections with these organisations. We want to tap on their capacities and capabilities. This is also how we are executing our plans to manage COVID-19.

15. Therefore, starting from this year, we will allow each public officer to use up to 40 hours a year to participate in developmental opportunities with the private, social, and non-profit organisations. And why do we do this? We want our public officers to first deeply understand the partners that they are working with, so that when they make the rules and regulations, they have a deep understanding of the people and the organisations that they are serving.

16. The second reason is we want our public officers to continue to learn from the sectors and organisations beyond the Public Service and bring back new ideas and connections.

17. Last but not least, a crisis like COVID-19 has demonstrated that we depend not just on a Whole-of-Government capacity. In fact, we depend on a Whole-of-Nation capacity when our public officers have to make adjustments for crisis management operations. They bring in volunteers from outside the Public Service who help to add to our capacities and capabilities. To this end, I want to further this connection between the Public Service and the organisations beyond. That is why from this year onwards, every public officer will be able to use up to 40 hours a year to participate in developmental activities with the private, social, and non-profit organisations. These opportunities can be made available by the Public Service Division (PSD) and other agencies, or self-sourced as long as the activities are developmental and do not lead to any conflict of interests.

18. On Mr Leong Mun Wai’s point to streamline the organisation of the government, I would like to let Mr Leong to know that, indeed, we have already done many of the things that he suggested. Where it is logical, we bring services and facilities together. Good examples of this include the Heartbeat@Bedok and Our Tampines Hub. Where it is logical and saves us money and resources, we bring different agencies under one roof. We also have an asset-light model. For example, in the new generation of CCs, like the one in Potong Pasir and the upcoming development in Woodleigh, we have integrated the CCs with commercial developments so that we can operate with an asset-light model.

19. But a more important point that Mr Leong asked is what is the purpose of the People's Association (PA). The role of PA is to help us build up our social capital in peacetime. It serves the Government of the day. For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, where did we get the extra capacity to reach out to do vaccination operations and the distribution of masks and sanitisers? Where did we get people to reach out to residents who are in isolation in their homes? We did not depend on just the PA staff. There are only about 2000 PA staff, but there are many volunteers that we can mobilise.

20. Without these capabilities and capacities, I am not sure that we will be able to achieve the various things that we have been able to during our crisis operations to manage the ongoing COVID-19 situation. So, for these two years, what we have built up assiduously in peacetime – these social bonds, this trust, this deep network – to help our people has been invaluable to Singapore. And that is not something that many other countries have, because perhaps many other countries take it for granted that the social bonds will be there.

21. In fact, Mr Leong would also like to know that PA works very closely with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY). The Chief Executive Director (CED) of PA works very closely with the Permanent Secretary (PS) of MCCY – their budgets come together. On Mr Leong’s suggestion about having the Ministry of Education (MOE) work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) seamlessly, I would also like to inform Mr Leong that I have been involved in this effort on both sides. Why is the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) an agency that is reporting to both MOE and MSF? That is because ECDA performs the role of taking care of pre-school children, with both the education component by MOE and the care component by MSF. This is how we flexibly configure our organisations to meet the needs of our people. So, it is not a “stovepipe” mindset that we adopt, when going into how we structure and organise. But having said that, we will be the first to admit that circumstances change and evolve. We will continue to evolve our organisations and structures to best meet today's needs and to also anticipate tomorrow's challenges.

22. But, I will be the first one to say that the Public Service is not perfect. We are constantly guarding against complacency and we want to do better for Singapore and Singaporeans. We will never be complacent. We will constantly check our blind spots, take the best ideas from within this chamber, from the Public Service itself, and from people and organisations beyond the Public Service. Because our goal is to make sure that we have a Public Service that Singaporeans can be proud of and one that can do justice to the potential of Singapore and Singaporeans. We will continue to work on that basis to adjust and adapt flexibly according to the circumstances. On that note, I would like to thank all the Members for your various suggestions. If you have other suggestions on how we can do better as a Public Service, we welcome and will certainly look into them. 

23. Thank you.