A Trusted, Capable and Agile Public Service Ready to Serve Citizens Better
1. On behalf of the Prime Minister, let me first address the cut by Ms Sylvia Lim on voting age. This is not a new suggestion. Both sides of the House have previously raised this suggestion and our previous considerations remain valid.
2. A number of countries have lowered their voting age — some to increase voter turnout, and others, perhaps for perceived political advantage. We do not have the first problem, and we certainly should not do so for the second reason. Some of them regretted doing so when the political outcomes were not as they had expected, although they would not say so publicly for political reasons. Others were not clear if this had led to a better government.
3. The opinions of our youths are indeed important. The majority of our youths under age 21 are in our post-secondary institutions. We do regularly and proactively engage youths on national and societal issues to take into account their views in our decision-making and policy formulation. Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, National Youth Council, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social and Family Development and other government agencies do this on a regular basis. An example is the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development in 2021. The views surfaced in these dialogues were considered in the White Paper which was tabled in Parliament last year.
4. However, if we take a step back, the evergreen challenges for any democracy is how we deliver good governance and good government. And the key to that lies in two things. First, how do we have good people with the right values and capabilities to stand forth to serve. Second, how do we encourage every voter to not just think of his or her individual interests, for the here and now; but also the wider interests of the society and future generations.
Conflicts of Interest
5. Next, we thank Ms He Ting Ru for her comments on how we should not be complacent in managing conflicts of interest, both in the Public Service and for elected Members of Parliament (MPs). We adopt a three-pronged approach to safeguard ourselves.
6. First, there are policies and guidelines that help organisations and individuals avoid and manage situations of potential conflict. We have this in the Public Service. Officers who engage in external activities and may have potential conflicts of interest have to do the necessary declarations. For MPs from the People’s Action Party (PAP), our Prime Minister issues Rules of Prudence after every general election to remind ourselves of the standards that we should hold ourselves to. I cannot say this for other members of the House but I think what is set out by the Prime Minister for PAP MPs should be applicable to everyone in the House.
7. Second, while these policies and guidelines are in place, it is equally important to have people with good character and judgement to make decisions on specific cases or situations.
8. Third, where lapses occur, there must be processes in place to make things right and subsequently update and strengthen the system to prevent recurrence.
9. This three-pronged approach must be refreshed and updated regularly so that we can maintain our hard-won reputation as a society that is corruption-free and with high integrity amongst our public officers and elected personnel.
Transforming to Serve Better
10. Next, I will address the cuts by Mr Yip Hon Weng, Mr Saktiandi Supaat and Mr Patrick Tay.
11. This month, we stepped down from DORSCON Yellow to Green for the fight against COVID. But I would say that the fight is not over yet.
12. The Public Service will lock in the lessons learnt from COVID and apply them in our ongoing Public Sector Transformation efforts. We have reinforced four key lessons for good governance in an uncertain world. First, deliver services centred around citizens. Second, harness the strengths of the people and private sectors. Third, develop agile organisations and people. Fourth, strengthen our forward planning capabilities. Let me elaborate.
Deliver services centred around citizens
13. First, COVID-19 reinforced the importance of officers from different agencies working together to address citizens’ issues in a citizen-centric manner. We will continue to organise more services around citizens, instead of along agency lines.
14. To Mr Saktiandi’s point, technology is indeed a key tool in achieving this. As part of the Digital Government Blueprint, we have achieved almost 100 per cent digital service delivery. However, digitalising services alone is not sufficient. We need to integrate and redesign services and processes in a manner that is meaningful and intuitive to citizens. An example is the recently launched ‘Care Services Recommender’ digital service, which provides personalised recommendations on areas such as care services and financial support schemes to caregivers based on their needs. This helps caregivers to find the right services and schemes across agencies quickly, easily, and from one place.
15. While digitalisation has helped to improve services for most Singaporeans, we acknowledge Mr Yip Hon Weng’s point that some citizens, including elderly citizens, may still need physical transactions. Hence, we are also building a network of physical ServiceSG centres that aim to be a one-stop concierge for citizens. Today, we have two ServiceSG Centres at Our Tampines Hub and One Punggol, and four smaller satellite centre nodes at Community Clubs (CCs), each offering hundreds of services from over 20 agencies. Officers at these centres can advise citizens on the suite of services that can help them, based on their circumstances and needs. ServiceSG is opening one more satellite centre at Bukit Canberra CC by the middle of this year. This will make integrated government services even more accessible to more citizens.
Harness the strengths of the people and private sectors
16. The second lesson from COVID-19 is the value of partnership with the people and private sectors. Take for example how the various sectors rallied together to secure essential supplies for Singaporeans, distribute masks, hand sanitisers, and reach out to affected families.
17. Our future challenges will be more complex, requiring whole of nation efforts to overcome. The Public Service must build up the mindsets and skillsets to work with the private and people sectors. This effort is not entirely new. During the past few years, we have set up structures such as the SG Healthcare Corps and Alliances for Action (AfAs), to aid us in saving lives and livelihoods. This is also why we want to send more officers to outside the Public Service to gain exposure and build new networks.
Develop agile organisations and people
18. The third lesson from COVID-19 is that our organisations and people must be agile. During the pandemic, the Public Service has managed to stand up large inter-agency operations and deploy manpower nimbly at short notice. Under SGUnited, more than 4,000 public officers were deployed to fight COVID-19. They took on roles such as safe distancing ambassadors, officers handling dormitory operations, and call centre agents managing public’s queries. All these were not their primary responsibilities.
19. Without formal structures in place, we had to rely on agencies to redeploy manpower at short notice or individual officers to volunteer to cover the manpower gaps. I am heartened that our agencies and officers have actively leaned in, across agency boundaries, to support our battle against COVID. Many officers have also gained new competencies and forged new connections along the way.
20. Notwithstanding this, the pandemic underscored the importance of having a centralised system to identify and redeploy surge manpower across agencies to quickly support critical crisis functions. As we emerge from the pandemic, the Public Service Division will systematically set up a structure to do this, so that we are better prepared for future crises.
Strengthen our forward planning capabilities
21. The fourth lesson from COVID-19 is the importance of building forward planning capabilities while managing current operations. Singapore could react quickly when COVID emerged as we had the benefit of learning from our SARS experience. We strengthened our emergency preparedness following SARS, and established key public health institutions, including the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) which was set up in 2009. It developed a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test during COVID.
22. There will be other crises in our future. The Public Service must retain our muscle memory in crisis management and strengthen our forward planning capabilities. To Mr Patrick Tay’s point, we are upskilling our officers to meet new demands in a post-COVID world. This requires our officers to acquire skills in areas such as scenario planning, risk identification, data analytics and sense-making. These skills are not only useful in crisis, but also in the Public Service’s work in a dynamic and uncertain world.
23. To achieve this, we continue to actively invest in training our officers to build broader and deeper competencies in their respective domains. This is further reinforced with a range of “learning by doing” development opportunities such as structured job rotations, inter-agency gig work and bite-sized attachments.
24. Chair, I would like to conclude this segment by thanking all public officers for their contributions over the past three years. Our public officers have not only worked hard, but also applied innovation and worked across agency lines to achieve a common mission — to safeguard lives and livelihoods. “One Public Service” is not a slogan. It is something that we live by, it is something that we believe in, and it is something that we want officers to have in their DNA.
25. COVID-19 served as a glue to bring all sectors – public, private and people – together for a larger and higher purpose. As we work together to build Singapore towards SG100, I hope that this partnership will be continuously strengthened, so that we can better serve Singaporeans and Singapore, together. Thank you.