Speech by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security at the Public Service Leadership Dinner on 8th November 2017, Shangri-La Hotel

08 November 2017


“Professionalism and Taking Pride in Public Service”

Chairman and Members of the Public Service Commission,
Head of Civil Service,
Permanent Secretaries,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good evening to all of you. 

1. Congratulations to all our new appointees to the Public Service Leadership Programme (or “PSLP”). 

Public Sector Leadership Programme

2. The Public Service recognises that it is important that our officers acquire deep skills and expertise, particularly for those in our professional and specialist services, operational departments and regulatory agencies. 

(a) In 2008, we introduced a programme for public officers with high potential. This had worked, but only up to a point. We needed a more systematic way to develop and prepare our officers, so that we will have good leaders for the Public Service in the future.

(b) Hence, in 2013, we launched the PSLP, to prepare key leaders in key sectors across the Public Service. And currently we have some 800 PSLP officers, with an inflow of 100 officers this year. This gives us a good flow of able officers whom we can develop, and will have opportunities to take up challenging leadership jobs in the future. 

(c) The PSLP general phase provides a good foundation for our officers, and allows them to discover their aptitude and interests before they specialise and develop along various professional tracks in the sectoral phase, where officers have opportunities for career development and broader exposure within their sector but beyond their own agencies. 

(d) We continue to enhance the PSLP and we have added a couple of sub-tracks; Service Delivery last year, and the Information and Communications Technology & Smart Systems this year. 

(e) We have also created Engineering career pathways for officers in the General Phase. This is in line with our renewed focus on engineering in the public sector, including the new PSC (Engineering) scholarships. Our public sector engineers will have opportunities for career development to take on challenging engineering leadership posts in the public service.

(f) Our PSLP officers, working with our officers from the Administrative Service, will form a strong leadership team. Together, they will have deep expertise within domains, as well as the perspective to work across the whole of government, and partner industry, the community and citizens to Build Our Future Singapore.

Navigating our Challenges and Seizing the Opportunities, as a Nation and as a Public Service 

3. The challenges we face are well-known to you. Among them: 

i. Rapid technological developments; 
ii. Changes in the international and regional geo-political environment; and 
iii. Domestic challenges such as a rapidly greying population. 

(a) These challenges will have enormous impact on us in areas such as:
i. Our jobs, industry and economic structure; 
ii. Our social interactions, the way we interact with one another. How the media, especially the social media, affects opinion and attitudes; and 
iii. Our security.

(b) We have to seek new solutions to address issues such as: 
i. A globally-connected, cashless, digital economy – understand how it will disrupt existing economic activities, which new ones we would need to seed, and how we prepare our people;  
ii. The gig economy -  and its impact on work, social support for health, housing and retirement adequacy;
iii. A greying population – which could mean more people to support, but on the other hand, when looked at in another way, is also the fastest growing potential pool of mature and experienced workers, if we design our work and workplaces well. 
iv. We also need to work on emerging new threats such as cybersecurity, and also fake news. 

4. We are not alone. Every country is facing these challenges to a greater or lesser extent. 

(a) Some have recently only come to be recognised. I was reading the Economist over the weekend, and I never expected that the Economist magazine would proclaim in large font on its front cover “Social media’s threat to democracy”. Just a year ago, anyone who suggested that the social media was a threat to democracy, rather than an unmitigated boon and fundamental to its proper functioning, would have been castigated in that magazine’s pages.  But, this problem is now upon us, better that it is recognised and before the unfettered propagation of fake news and extremist ideologies, causes more serious damage to all our societies. This is just one example of a new problem and a new issue, which we all face. 

(b) We thus need not be afraid to question orthodoxy, whether it is our own orthodoxy, or the “–isms” propagated by others. We should, instead, have a well-founded optimism about our future; that we have the ability and confidence to come up with new and innovative strategies and solutions based on sound analysis and facts, contextualised to our own situation to overcome our challenges, and execute them well to seize the opportunities of the future. 

5. These endeavours will inherently require you to break new ground, work with your counterparts across agencies, with industry, and with our citizens.  Let me cite a few examples.

(a) Managing Economic Restructuring
i. The Future Economy Council is overseeing the implementation of the Industry Transformation Maps which cover 80% of our economy. I asked one of your colleagues just now how many of the ITMs have we put up. We have launched 14, more than half the 23 ITMs are now in place. And the others will follow in the next few months. But this is not just a matter of putting out the plans, it is a process of working together with unions, companies, trade associations and other agencies to restructure each sector, seek new markets, and uplift and deepen the skills of our workers. And it is the execution that is going to count, not just the plans;

ii. We have to move faster in digitisation, for instance on digital identity, e-payments, and in using data to help us provide better and faster services. In some ways, we are behind some other countries. 

(b) Managing Key Resources
i. I spoke at length last year on the need to manage and optimise our key national resources – finance, manpower, land, energy and carbon emissions, and to make use of smart technology to address our economy, ageing, social and security challenges. 

ii. The PMO-Strategy Group is working closely with fellow central agencies such as MOF and PSD, and across ministries and agencies to harness and match these resources to our key priorities, and help our ministries and agencies to do their work better, in a coordinated, systematic, and synergistic way. 

iii. We are also reviewing regulations and want innovation to become second nature to the Public Service. 

6. Having a strong sense of professionalism and taking pride in Public Service should guide our work.  I would like to highlight three aspects that the Public Service must continually pay attention to:  Executing well, finding better ways to deliver service and taking pride in our work to sustain efforts over time.   

Execution is important

7. First, execution is important. We must continue to develop policies which will best serve Singapore and Singaporeans; getting the policy right is starting right. As we endeavour to do the right things, we also need to do things right, and have an eye to execution. Because execution is the way the public perceives us and perceives the policy we develop, so we have to have the ability to walk the talk. And this, historically, has differentiated us from others. 

8. I was chairing the EDB IAC some years ago, and we gave them a briefing about what we were going to do in the education system. These were very senior people from top corporates in the US, Europe and Japan. After they listened to me, as this was not new nor unique to Singapore, they asked what it would take for Singapore to succeed. I thought for a while, and said that our parents and students are very committed. We placed great emphasis on education in our society.  And our teacher union members are on board, and they wanted to do things better. I told them that when we started our first computer masterplan for schools, this was in 1997 – 1998, about twenty years ago. Our teacher union members wanted to be on board and help train their members to use computers for teaching. The IAC members said that they wished that the unions in their countries were like ours.  Hence, the execution is important and being able to get it done. 

(a) Policy does not stop when execution starts. 

(b) Often, there will be some trade-offs in policies. But we should be prepared to move forward, engaging the various stakeholders, explaining why it has to be done, and what mitigating measures have been taken. Whether it is:

i. Taking major decisions to invest in our future, like a new port, airport, or MRT line that will take more than a decade and many billions of dollars to build, and maybe having to affect some land and properties. We should be prepared to do the plans properly, convince people that these need to be done and press on;
ii. Revamping our education, retirement or health systems to make them future-ready. But we have to do it, get it right, and prepare for our future; or 
iii. Making daily life more pleasant and convenient – reliable services, clean and green housing precincts, streets and parks. And making sure our trains run and run on time. 

Finding Better Ways to Deliver Services

9. Second, we must find better ways to deliver public services, and be prepared to disrupt ourselves before we get disrupted, by technology, by market or by what our citizens expect.

(a) A specific service that we deliver to the public might be working well now, but we must look beyond and think about how we can do better. 

(b) The challenges that confront Singapore and Singaporeans often cannot be compartmentalised. Where working collaboratively across agencies is the best way of providing a service, the Head of Civil Service, the Permanent Secretaries will allocate resources – manpower and budget particularly - combining officers and work, and responsibilities across agencies, so that we can get it done together. The Municipal Services Office is one example.

(c) Another is the Business Grant Portal launched this January – it’s a one-stop grant application channel for businesses. To make it easier for our SMEs, the various agencies, (including SPRING, IE Singapore, S’pore Tourism Board, Infocomm Media Development Authority, Building and Construction Authority), agreed to adopt this common interface, revamp the application process and share information with one another to improve the grant consideration and approval  process. It is important to look at the issue from the SME’s perspective, and not from the perspective of how much grants have been given out. 

10. Our agencies must put the needs of the customers they serve first and pool resources together. Technology is offering us new ways to disrupt our processes and improve the way we serve the public. The public’s experience with technology also means that they expect us to adopt technology faster to serve them better. And because they’re using technology, they are also familiar with what we are doing in our agencies. Hence, we had to get organised so that we are better aware of what we are doing across agencies for our citizens. 

(a) The Smart Nation & Digital Government Office has been working with agencies such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Ministry of Health to accelerate the adoption of technology solutions in a wide range of services. But each of your agencies also has to critically examine its own processes, map out its digital strategy and prepare your employees to be ready to be more data-savvy.  

11. There will also be times when better service delivery means being the first to step up even when you or your agency might not normally be responsible for the outcome. Hence, you might have to volunteer to do something which is not usually in your line of duty:

(a) Tackling the root cause of the issue at your end may be more effective than just informing others and waiting for them to take the first step. 

(b) We already see some of this on the ground. For instance, instead of simply issuing the offender a summons for high-rise littering, NEA officers from South West Regional Office will carry out home visits. This helped them to uncover cases where assistance is needed. The team then works with other agencies such as the Social Service Office or welfare organisations to help the person. While this obviously goes beyond the traditional scope of the NEA or their officers, this is what the resident truly needs, and the littering is just a symptom of the resident’s issues. And if we can help to resolve the resident’s issues or address some of them, then perhaps we would have addressed the root cause for the littering in the first place. 

(c) We have to hone our instincts to work together better. We need to have a more complete, up to date and multi-agency-view of what is going on. This is beyond “no wrong door”, it is more like a common hall where agencies can work to tackle an issue and its related challenges together. The health system is one such example, where our hospitals are trying to organise themselves around the patient, so that different specialisations can look at the patient holistically.  

Taking Pride in our Work to Sustain Efforts over Time

12. Third, we have to take pride in what we do and take ownership.

(a) Public Service work is not just another job. Our teachers mould the future of Singapore, our colleagues in the social services help to lift the less advantaged in society, our diplomats in the Foreign Service expand opportunities in our external space. 

(b) We are shaping Singapore for our children and our grandchildren. We have to take pride in what we do, so that we can hand over a stronger Singapore to our successors. Our Singapore story on sustainability and liveability for instance, requires many generations of officers to work on a cleaner, greener, low-carbon future for all Singaporeans.  This work was started by Mr Lee five decades ago. And we can all see the results today – and only with sustained effort, pride in work, and ownership can we build upon this for tomorrow.

(c) While we might identify ourselves as an HDB officer, an LTA Engineer or a PUB officer, we deliver as a team, share the credit, and the responsibility as a collective. That’s what citizen-centricity means, that’s what being a part of the Public Service means. 

13.   We must also bear in mind that this is neither a marathon nor a sprint. It’s more like multiple Ironman races. We must run, swim and cycle, always trying to do better than before. We must sustain this over time. The good news is that we don’t have to master all these individually. We can do this as a team, and even as a relay. And we can all do better when we leverage each other’s strengths, and motivate each other along the way.


14.    Colleagues, we are embarking on a new phase of economic and social development. Regardless of agency or sector we are in, we can and will rise to these challenges and changes that are upon us. 

(a) Execute our policies well, be meticulous; 
(b) Find better ways to deliver public services, and disrupt ourselves before we are disrupted;
(c) Work hard, work together and take pride in your work to sustain our efforts;
(d) Look for opportunities to create new value within your agencies and domains, but also across agencies and the whole-of-government; and
(e) Make use of technology to transform your mission and how you achieve it.
Let us work as One Public Service, for All of Singapore and Every Singaporean. Thank you very much.