Speech by Mr Leo Yip, Head, Civil Service at the Public Service Leadership Dinner 2018

21 November 2018


Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam,
Ministers Chan Chun Sing and Lawrence Wong,
Members of the Public Service Commission,
Friends and Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen

A very good evening to all of you. 

2. I want to begin by thanking all of you, for your service and contributions to the Public Service and to Singapore over the past year, and to congratulate the officers newly appointed to the Public Service Leadership Programme (PSLP). 

3. This year marks five years since we introduced the PSLP. Today, there are more than 880 officers on the PSLP, both in the General and Sectoral phases. The other group of officers here tonight are the Public Service Leaders (PSLs) who lead our agencies, departments, or specific functions across the Service.

4. Together, you already are, or will be, part of the collective leadership of the Public Service.  

5. As members of that collective leadership, I expect all of you to embody and exemplify the spirit of One Public Service. Much has been said about One Public Service, and working together as a Whole of Government (WOG). In essence, it means we work in particular ministries or agencies, but belong to One Public Service and are animated with the same higher purpose, which is to serve the people of Singapore and to build a better Singapore. This is the spirit that spurs us to rise above individual organisational perspectives and interests, to work closely and collaboratively across the Service.

6. But One Public Service must be more than just a mantra. It should be our ethos and practice, and embodied by all members of the leadership community, all the time.

7. This evening, I want to speak about your leadership responsibilities, as PSLs and PSLP officers, in three areas.
a. One, exemplifying this ideal of One Public Service in the context of where our Public Service is heading. 
b. Two, knowing the ground well in order to drive Public Sector Transformation. 
c. And three, what it means to be part of the Collective Leadership of this One Public Service.  

One Public Service 

8. All of you should be familiar by now with the two key thrusts that we are working on collectively as One Public Service – developing and implementing a WOG policy agenda to support the priorities of the Government over the next many years; and transforming the Public Service. The first seeks to build a better future Singapore; and the second seeks to make big, bold transformative changes (as well as the aggregation of marginal gains as Minister Wong mentioned earlier), to build a better future Public Service. The two are linked.

9. We have deliberately organised these two key thrusts to exemplify and strengthen the ideal of One Public Service. These two key thrusts are Whole-of-Public-Service priorities. They apply to, involve and require contributions from every ministry and agency, and from each of you.

10. Firstly, the work under both these priorities has been organised as an Ambition frame. That means we should push the bounds of ambition and possibilities of what we aspire to achieve for Singapore and for Singaporeans. It is our duty as a Public Service to do this instead of settling for convenient, safe and easily attainable goals. Otherwise we will not be offering our citizens outcomes that are aspirational, bold and stretched targets – the best that we must realise for our Service and for Singapore.

11. Secondly, the work under both these priorities has been organised as an Alignment frame. That means we should develop a set of coherent directions that aligns all ministries and agencies. It means bringing our agencies together to better understand the needs of particular citizen segments and to develop policy solutions from that citizens’ perspective, rather than just from an individual agency’s viewpoint. This is particularly so when the solutions to many of our challenges have to be developed and executed at the system-level; they are multi-dimensional in nature and cut across different ministries. One example of how we are organising ourselves for better alignment and collaboration across agencies is in WOG data sharing. We are building a new Government Data Architecture and it will seek to break down silos and speed up cross-agency data sharing from months to days. 

12. Thirdly, we have organised both these priorities as an Action frame. That means orientating the entire service towards Action – it means making things happen, it means getting things done, and it means better implementing policies and initiatives. There is no point developing strong ideas and policies if we cannot realise them on the ground. 

13. These characteristics of Ambition, Alignment and Action exemplify what it means to think and act as One Public Service: A strong sense of ambition as our motivating spirit; aligning our work and efforts across the entire Service as our organising principle; and focusing on action and outcomes as our impelling force. 

14. As public sector leaders, I will rely on you to exemplify these characteristics as we develop and implement the WOG policy agenda, and undertake Public Sector Transformation.

Public Sector Transformation  

15. We are pushing ahead with our plans for this next phase of Public Sector Transformation. All ministries are implementing their transformation plans. Our push for a Digital Government is progressing well. Many exciting and transformative digital projects are in the works that will fundamentally and significantly improve how we serve the public. We are also building new capabilities across the Service. 

16. I want to speak about two areas in particular under Public Sector Transformation: Strengthening Citizen Engagement and Service Delivery. To do both well, public sector leaders must know the ground.

17. Some of us interact directly with citizens in our daily work. Others do not. And for this latter group, it is all the more important that we make the extra effort to interact with and listen to the citizens whom we serve. 

18. In this context, we have launched a new initiative under Public Sector Transformation, called Engagement Immersion for Leaders (EIL). This is designed to give our leaders an immersion experience, as the name suggests, at the frontline to serve and work directly with citizens and gather ground feedback. The pilot run of this new programme was launched at the end of last month. The first batch of more than 30 Directors will in the next few months spend time at the service frontline. A few of my Perm Sec colleagues will do the same and are also joining these attachments. 

19. I spent time at a Social Service Office earlier this week, understanding directly how we are helping our fellow citizens in need. When I started my career in the Police Force many years ago, I interacted directly and regularly with citizens. But over the years, those opportunities have decreased. I must therefore make the effort to keep in touch with the ground. It is not good enough to only read reports of feedback gathered by other officers. We develop a stronger sensibility and empathy by directly understanding the needs, concerns, anxieties and hopes of the citizens we serve.

20. There are other ways for you to know and sense the ground. And as leaders, it is up to you to find a way that works for you. But a good understanding of the ground is fundamental and particularly important for these two focal areas under Public Sector Transformation.

21. The first is strengthening citizen engagement. This is an area where the Public Service needs to develop better approaches, methods and capabilities to reach out to, connect with and engage different groups of citizens; and as Minister Lawrence Wong mentioned in his speech, to forge new collaborations and partnerships with citizens.

22. Another major priority of Public Sector Transformation is improving service delivery. We have already made progress in this direction. Most of you are aware that in June this year, we launched the Moments of Life (Families) app, which consolidated some 10 services for parents with new born children, into a one-stop mobile app. We call this initiative and approach of transforming our service processes, “Service Journeys”. We are scaling up this concept to apply it to other service areas, beyond parents of new born children. Each of you, as public sector leaders, has a role to play in leading and participating in these service journeys, and encouraging your officers to do so, in order to serve our citizens and businesses better. The success of this major effort depends on our knowing the ground well, and channelling that understanding of the ground into serving the public better.

Collective Leadership 

23. The success of our two key thrusts – the WOG policy agenda and Public Sector Transformation – depends on how well we work as One Public Service. That in turn depends on how well the public sector leadership works together.  

24. This is where the notion of collective leadership is important. All of us in the Public Service leadership community are part of that collective. We share the same purpose in doing our best for Singapore and Singaporeans, see the same burning platform, and have the same burning ambition.  

25. This collective responsibility is being exemplified by your Perm Secs. We are working together to drive, develop and implement our WOG policy agenda and Public Sector Transformation. In fact, the PSs meet at least once a fortnight to exercise this collective leadership. In the same way, our other Senior Public Service Leaders, comprising also the DSs and CEOs, are taking ownership for and implementing Public Sector Transformation. As we do so, we are sometimes asked to make difficult decisions that will benefit the Service as a whole, but require trade-offs for our own individual agencies. 

26. And I expect the same from all of you as part of this collective leadership – taking ownership for where we want to go as One Public Service, taking ownership of the journey that will take us there, and taking ownership for achieving the ambitious outcomes that we have set out. And give expression to, and exemplify, these missions to all your officers. 

27. Collective leadership, after all, is an expression of our responsibility as custodians of this institution that we proudly belong to, the Singapore Public Service. And as custodians and stewards, our responsibility is to make it better. 


28. Colleagues and friends, I want to end off reminding ourselves of the spirit of public service that we as leaders should exemplify. 

29. We, and the officers who serve with us and for whom we hold leadership responsibility, all serve a higher purpose from which we draw meaning and a sense of pride. That purpose is to build a better country, and improve the lives of our fellow Singaporeans. 

30. This spirit finds expression too in our Public Service values of integrity, service and excellence. We as leaders should personify these values every day – through our attitude to our work, the example we set, and in our humility to serve. We as leaders must show our officers what service means by always asking ourselves what we can do for our Service and for our Country. 

31. Here I want to draw inspiration from something my former British counterpart, the late Sir Jeremy Heywood, said. I met him in April this year, sadly for the last time. Sir Jeremy retired as Head of the UK Civil Service in October to concentrate on his recovery from ill health. Sadly, he passed away early this month.

32. On his retirement, he had penned a personal statement to the UK Civil Service, which contained this sentence which resonated strongly with me: “I still have all that desire to serve my country and to make a positive difference.

33. We are all in Public Service because, like Sir Jeremy, we still have all that desire to serve our country. For all of us who are still privileged to have that opportunity to serve our country, let us make the best of it and make that positive difference. 

34. Thank you very much everyone.