12 April 2022 Speeches

Speech by Mr Leo Yip, Head, Civil Service, at the 2022 Administrative Service Appointment and Promotion Ceremony

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong,
Ministers,
Chairman and Members of the Public Service Commission, 
Colleagues and Friends,

A very good afternoon to all of you. As PM mentioned, our gathering this afternoon is a milestone. In case you have forgotten, in 2020, soon after the pandemic began, we had to cancel our Admin Service annual dinner and promotion ceremony, and last year, we had to hold a hybrid event. This year, we are finally able to hold this ceremony in person and come together once again as one Admin Service community. 

Today, we congratulate 20 officers appointed to the Service, and 80 colleagues who have been promoted. This includes my Permanent Secretary colleagues, Chee Khern, Swan Gin, Ngai Seng, Gabriel, Gee Keow, Stanley, Kai Fong and Wan Yong.

We are also paying tribute to and celebrating the decades of dedicated service of two of my former Permanent Secretary colleagues, Ying-I and Wee Kiong, who are retiring after a cumulative 76 years of significant contribution to Singapore. I have worked closely with Ying-I and Wee Kiong over the years and have benefited tremendously from their counsel, their perspectives, and their acumen. I appreciate the strong support they have personally given me over the years. I thank them for all that they have done for our Service and for our country, and for their camaraderie and friendship. On behalf of this community, once again, I wish both of you, Ying-I, Wee Kiong and your families, all the very best. Thank you very much Ying-I and Wee Kiong.

Appreciation for COVID Contributions 

Colleagues and friends, as we come together today, I want to thank all Admin Officers for your important contributions to the national fight against COVID-19. In particular, I would like to thank those among us who lead agencies and teams:

- For holding our organisations and teams together in the face of pressure, 
- For providing our people clarity and confidence in a time of uncertainty and volatility, and 
- For supporting our officers through the stresses and strains of the past 26 months.

Leadership by the Admin Service

The Admin Service is a leadership service. What defines us is not formal leadership position alone, but demonstrated leadership in thinking, in word and in deed, and in our convictions to do the right thing for Singapore. As an Admin Officer, whether we are a senior leader or a newly appointed young officer, other public officers look to us for leadership. I say to all of us, let us  aspire to this leadership persona, out of a deep sense of duty and humility. 

Drawing on our COVID experiences, I want to highlight three areas in which Admin Officers must demonstrate leadership: 

1. Firstly, in exemplifying a strong sense of purpose
2. Secondly, in working together with other public officers as One Public Service; and 
3. Thirdly, in continually renewing and reinventing our thinking and our work

Sense of Purpose

Let me explain. The first area is in exemplifying a strong sense of service and of purpose as members of the Singapore Public Service. 

Indeed, the pandemic has been our most severe of tests. It imposed huge pressures on the service, on our organisations, and on ourselves. Many officers had to dig deep to find psychological, emotional, and physical resilience. 

But this crisis has also brought out the strong sense of purpose we have as public officers – of what we are fighting for, working towards, and what we deeply believe in. It is to protect lives and livelihoods, to keep our people safe, and to work with Singaporeans towards a stronger Singapore beyond the pandemic.

Public officers and leaders across the service rose to the call of duty, to overcome the odds, and to persevere even when we are fatigued. Because we know we need to, and because we wanted to. From the trenches of the frontline to the drawing board of our planning groups, the hallmark was devotion to duty. 

I am particularly proud of how this sense of purpose shone through among this community and across the Public Service. 

As Admin Officers, we lead not just through position, intellect, policy skills, or by getting things done - those are all important - but also by exemplifying this deep sense of purpose that I spoke about in our service to the public.

- We must continue to show this sense of purpose – to go the extra mile, to strive for another bound of ambition, and to push through something that is really worth doing, because this is what will be good for Singapore and for Singaporeans. 

- We must also be very clear what is in our national interests. Singapore must continue to be special to thrive. In a dangerous world for small states, being special and valuable to the world is all the more important. Our work and our leadership must be guided by our national interests. 

That’s my first point. 

Working as One Public Service 

The second area in which Admin Officers need to demonstrate leadership is in bringing agencies and teams together to work as One Public Service.

Indeed, a One Public Service mentality was a defining characteristic of the Public Service’s response to this pandemic. Ministries and agencies came together to contribute to common missions – from the frontline fight against COVID-19, to supporting businesses and workers badly affected by the economic slowdown, also to the agile allocation of manpower and fiscal resources to agencies that needed extra help in the COVID fight. We did many things well, but also some things not so well, which we will learn from and do better.

But throughout the pandemic, leaders leaned forward, contributing resources and effort, to help other agencies, and to work towards a common mission. This sense of common mission helped focus minds and efforts and alleviated silo mindsets or turf concerns. Thus, by and large the Public Service was aligned, co-ordinated, and well joined up. This also makes me very proud. 

Even as we emerge from this crisis, Admin Officers must continue to exemplify this One Public Service spirit in all the work we do, to think broadly and be guided by the interest of the Whole of Government, not just your organisation, bringing our teams and agencies to work in close collaboration with other agencies. It is a mindset, but it is also a skillset of achieving collaboration, forging common missions, and building trust across organisational boundaries. 

Because all of you Admin Officers are, by design, deployed across different ministries and agencies throughout our careers, we will develop a strong perspective and ethos on how the Public Service ought to work closely as one. We must epitomise and champion this wherever we go, to have a One Public Service working with ambition, alignment, and action, constantly looking ahead and planning for the future. 

Renew and Reinvent

Let me touch on the third and final area which is for all of you to demonstrate leadership is in continually renewing and reinventing our thinking and our work.

The Singapore story is one of continual renewal and reinvention – of our economy, of our city, of our education system, our healthcare system, of the SAF and the Home Team, and so on. 

We must always look beyond the immediate. Admin Officers must be at the forefront of the effort to look ahead, to rethink our policy ideas, to review our plans, to renew our capabilities and to refresh our approaches to policy implementation. 

To be able to lead this effort, all of you must firstly have a strong drive to make Singapore better tomorrow than it is today, secondly always think and plan ahead, and thirdly constantly look out for opportunities to make this happen. 

As a Public Service, we have organised such renewal efforts under the Singapore Agenda and also under Public Sector Transformation.

- The Singapore Agenda provides the framework to continually refresh our policy thinking and translate that into new policy ideas, proposals and capabilities. 

- When COVID struck, and it was clear quite quickly that there would be deep-seated changes affecting our economy, our resource resilience and even our security, we refreshed the Singapore Agenda to update our plans. 

- Public Sector Transformation is how we are planning for and building the future of the Public Service – how we will do our work differently, how we will design and manage our workplace, and how we will develop and support our workforce and our officers. 

- For example, after two years of fighting COVID, all of us are familiar with the notion that some of our work can well be done remotely and flexibly. Looking ahead, we must adjust our perspectives of what makes our future workplace in the new normal. It is not just a place where we do work, because that can be done remotely and virtually, but a place where we draw support to help us do our work better. A place where we gain clarity to better direct our work, where we strengthen trust, and where we forge connections and build teams.  

- As leaders, we must lead the way to reset and transform the workplace of the future and not just revert to the status quo ante of the pre-COVID workplace. 

- We must apply this fundamental rethinking also to many other aspects of our future work and workforce. 

Hallmarks to Keep Singapore Going 

If we as Admin Officers lead well, demonstrating these three areas of leadership and more, we will play our part to build an excellent Public Service with similar characteristics: 

- First, we will build a Public Service with a deep sense of purpose to build our nation, secure our future, and ensure that Singapore remains exceptional. 

- Second, we will have a Public Service where all constituent parts work closely as One Public Service, so that we can achieve more together.

- Third, we will achieve a Public Service that continually renews and reinvents ourselves, our thinking and our work, to continue to excel into the future. 

Conclusion

Let me close. The world is not just volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, or “VUCA” as we well know. It is also dangerous as demonstrated most recently by the events in Ukraine. It is also divisive within societies and across nations. 

The confluence of forces, from Ukraine to climate change to our ongoing fight against COVID-19 and the associated economic, financial, security and other ramifications, will clearly and surely reshape the world we live in. 

All of you, Admin Officers, must continue to demonstrate leadership as we face up to these and other challenges, as well as the many opportunities that will be presented in the face of change. Working closely with the political leadership, it is our role and responsibility together with other public service leaders to steer the Public Service through these choppy and dangerous waters, to enable Singapore to continue to survive and thrive, and to secure our future.

On that note, thank you very much.