Speech by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Trade and Industry and Minister-in-charge of the Public Service at Committee of Supply 2020

28 February 2020

“Transforming the Public Service for the Future”

Mr Chairman, Sir, I will deliver my reply in half the time that I was supposed to.

Mr Chairman, Sir, a strong, competent and forward-looking Public Service has been central to Singapore's success. It has been so and it will continue to be so. Let me first deal with Mr Leon Perera's question on how PMO decides which programmes come under its purview. There are usually three sets of considerations. First, if it deals with strategic issues with long-term consequences. Second, if it requires close coordination across many agencies. Third, if it is a nascent new capability where we need to incubate that capability development before we pass it on to a relevant Ministry.

So, you are right. Over time, those agencies that fall under PMO would have satisfied one or more of these criteria. When the capabilities mature, they will be passed on to the relevant Ministries that best house them.

Let me now deal with the rest of the questions from the other Members. I would just like to organise them into two sets of answers. First, what can the public expect from our Public Service? Second, what can the Public Service officers expect, going forward? Let me deal with the first.

The first and most fundamental mindset shift required before we even talk about all these technologies is this. The Public Service is committed to design our services and processes around the people whom we serve, around the businesses whom we serve. Now, this is fundamental. The rest will follow from here.

So, as mentioned, digital is a tremendous opportunity for the Public Service to embrace to better deliver our services in a more integrated fashion, at a faster speed at a lower cost. And we have heard many examples of this with The Moments of Life app and also the GoBusiness app and I will not repeat what Minister Vivian and Senior Minister of State Janil have mentioned.

The second thing that we can expect with this mindset shift would be the crosstraining of our officers to deliver services in an integrated manner. Our Tampines Hub is a great example. Various public agencies have come together to first co-locate and provide convenience to residents seeking services across different agencies. Today, we have moved on whereby a single officer has been cross-trained to provide services across different agencies.

This is the direction that the Public Service will continue to go in order to deliver quality services to the residents who need help. So someone who needs help, from financial assistance to housing to employment, can approach the same officer with the same understanding so that he does not need to repeat the story over and over again. So, this is the second example of how the mindset shift has gone on in the Public Service.

The third shift that we can expect from the Public Service is this. The Public Service is no longer just an agency trying to prevent things from going wrong or bad things from happening.

When the Public Service partners our businesses, we are in real partnership with them to catalyse new ideas to enhance their competitiveness for Singapore. Now, this is a very different mindset shift.

When we work with a start-up, it is not about the start-up trying to fit into the current regulations. The regulators also need to change their mindset whereby they embrace the start-up culture to see how regulations can evolve to become a key competitive advantage for Singapore. So, the public can certainly expect a more integrated and more efficient Public Service.

But what I want to end off on this part is what Mr Cedric Foo mentioned. No matter how technology-dependent we will be, we will never forget that at the core of the Public Service is the heart for our people. The way we design the services, the way we design the app, be it for the young or the old, is to make sure that the service is delivered with the heart. For people who need the services but are unable to access technology, we will make sure that the processes are simplified, the service delivery is integrated, so that they will never be left out. And that is how we want to design an inclusive Public Service.

The second part of my speech will, therefore, touch on what the Public Service officers can expect. With the changes in public expectations, with the change in job scopes, we will certainly need to change the skill sets of our Public Service officers. I have mentioned this on various occasions and the Prime Minister has also mentioned this during the inaugural Annual Public Service Leadership Dinner in the earlier part of this year.

Today, we expect Public Service officers not just to be savvy in policymaking, but we also expect them to be good in translating policies into operations, have the ability to communicate and mobilise the public to come and work together to deliver results. And we want our public officers to have a sense of what is going on beyond Singapore, beyond the Public Service. These are the new skillsets that we expect all Public Service leaders to have and this will be how we form leadership teams within the Public Service.

One of the things that we will also change is to more regularly rotate Public Service officers across different domains and even within the same domain. Across different domains, I have mentioned, in that four domain areas – policymaking, operations, communications and mobilisations and international or beyond Public Service exposure.

The second thing that we want to is to make sure that they have the ability to rotate more even within the same domain and this will address one of the points that Dr Teo Ho Pin mentioned. How do we make sure that we check our own blind spots even if we are doing the same job? For example, in regulatory matters, by being able to go to different agencies and see how different regulatory ideas are applied, will allow our public officers to be much more responsive, much more agile. 

The third thing that we can expect our public officers to do is this. If we have a 50-year career for the Public Service officer, we must make sure that they have the training that can allow them to have lifelong employability, as Mr Patrick has also mentioned. And this will require us to structure their training such that every few years, there will be a booster jab in their skills. When we ask our Public Service officers to be agile, it cannot be at the age of 40s or 50s. It must be done systematically, from age 20 and above. 

Next, we will also challenge our Public Service officers, especially those in leadership positions to go beyond the Public Service, that they will have regular stints beyond the Public Service to expose themselves to the challenges that the private sector and the people sector have. But at the same time, to also bring back good ideas that the public sector may not yet have that are now in the private sector of the people sector or, for that matter, also even in the international organisations. 

The Public Service Division will make sure that we organise ourselves to systematically rotate our officers within the Service, across domains and beyond the Service. 

Next, we will also make sure that there is greater porosity in the Public Service, from the way we recruit people, beyond just academic qualifications, to the way we develop people and post people throughout the entire lifespan that they are here. 

Having dealt with all the changes that we can expect from the Public Service, I must reiterate one point. While the methods can change, the technology can change, the values of the Public Service will not change. The values of service excellence and integrity will never change in the Public Service. Service beyond self. The interests of the country and our people must always come before the interests of the individual officers. The pursuit of excellence is not just for today but always being able to anticipate the challenges of tomorrow, put in place systems and processes before the challenges even arise.

And finally, integrity. Integrity to do what is right for this generation and for the next. Just as Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat says, our definition of success is not just how well we deliver for this generation but also for the next. Integrity also to know that there is no such thing that we are at our best. That is only that we will continue to improve to bring about better of life for Singaporeans and for a better Singapore. So, we will keep engaging the ground, keep improving our processes, keep improving the skillsets of our Public Service officers, in order for us to deliver on a better Singapore, a stronger Singapore and a better future for all of us.