Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Trust between citizens and Govt will determine success of policy shifts: PM Lee

He sets out the tenets public sector must uphold to raise people's trust
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2013

THE success of major policies that Singapore is undertaking hinges on one key factor: the trust citizens have in the Government, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

And the public sector plays a pivotal role in strengthening this trust, he added, as he set out the tenets it must follow in implementing policies and ensuring zero tolerance for corruption.

These include having a public service that operates seamlessly across all agencies, always sees things from the viewpoint of those it serves, and is in touch with the ground.

It must also uphold the highest standards of integrity, with leaders taking command responsibility and setting a good example.

Speaking to some 250 public service leaders at an annual planning seminar, he added that trust is essential for the Government to operate because without basic trust in the State, "none of our plans can make it off the paper and be realised".

"There will be no end to the demands for more reviews, or doubts about whether a policy is to benefit those with connections rather than the public good."

For this reason, the Government is firm on protecting the integrity of the system and its key people against unfounded attacks, because "if they go unchallenged, they will slowly erode trust".

In his National Day Rally speech in August, PM Lee outlined big policy shifts in housing, education and health care as he pledged his Government's commitment to improve Singaporeans' lives and give everyone a share in the country's success.

Yesterday, he stressed the importance of implementation, and that to do it well, "we have to see things from the perspectives of those... who are on the receiving end".

Crucial in this process, Mr Lee added, is staying in close touch with the ground.

Citing the new MediShield Life scheme which provides medical coverage for life to all Singaporeans, Mr Lee said it involves many trade-offs. "That is why the Ministry of Health is taking its time to consult the public, engage insurance companies and work out the specific details, and in the process, have the public educated," he said.

However, in upholding Singapore's national interests, the public sector must not be "captured by special interest groups" or the group it is regulating.

"If the policy is not working - fix it," he said.

If the policy is painful but necessary, like the tightening of foreign worker inflows, then "communicate our intent, fine-tune the policies, smooth off the rough edges wherever possible".

"But hold our ground on the core of the policies," he said.

Mr Lee also urged public service leaders to ensure their front-line service staff give good and courteous service to the public.

But at the same time, people need to be courteous as well, he added.

To maintain a clean public service, Mr Lee called on its leaders to be personally responsible for upholding high standards of integrity in their organisations.

"Ultimately, integrity is not about systems and processes but values... Each officer and the public service as a whole must take pride in being clean and incorrupt. This is your command responsibility. You cannot devolve it to your subordinates," he said.

"Every case involving a public servant and public money is one case too many," he noted.

The public service will strengthen its systems to "dispel any doubts that our standards have gone down", he said, as the Public Service Division announced yesterday tighter rules for its officers, including stricter measures on casino visits.

Offer seamless experience or risk losing people's trust: PM
The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2013

THE public service must present a seamless, coherent experience to people or risk losing their trust over time, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

And it must also "operate as one integrated whole, fully committed to serving Singaporeans", he added, even as he observed that issues now increasingly straddle multiple agencies because they are inherently complex and interrelated.

He cited as examples population matters, and policies to uplift the poor, transform the economy and address climate change.

Addressing public service leaders at an annual planning seminar, Mr Lee then related what he described as a "not so serious but telling example" of how divisions internal to the public sector could stand in the way of seamless service.

A member of the public called the National Environment Agency after seeing a snake near Tanglin International Centre.

The officer who took the call asked him a slew of questions about whether the snake was in a public park or in the building, and even which direction it was moving in.

The officer was trying to work out which government agency of the four - the National Parks Board, national water agency PUB, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) or the police - was responsible for dealing with this particular snake.

In the end, the officer called non-governmental organisation Acres (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) and asked it to deal with the snake.

But there would be no repeats of such incidents as the AVA now fronts all animal issues and has one phone number for the public to call (1800-476-1600) for such matters.

"So we made some progress but I think we can do somewhat more in other areas.

"Licensing start-ups involves multiple jobs, integrating agency masterplans is also a complex matter and we must be able to put all these all together and make it seamless to the public," Mr Lee said.

Civil servants who frequent casinos must declare visits
Tighter rules from today meant to boost integrity in public service
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2013

ALL public officers who visit casinos regularly must identify themselves to their superiors from today, as the Government moves to strengthen integrity in the public service.

Those who go to local casinos more than four times a month, or buy an annual pass which allows unlimited visits over a year, must declare this within seven days.

For a smaller group of officers who are in positions vulnerable to bribery, or those whose misconduct "will have significant reputational risk to the Public Service", every visit to a local casino must be declared, the Public Service Division (PSD) said yesterday.

The new rules come after a string of high-profile malfeasance cases involving public servants. The latest, in July, involved an assistant director with the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) being charged with misappropriating $1.7 million over five years - apparently to fund his gambling habit at the Marina Bay Sands casino.

In a statement, the PSD said that the new rules stem from a review it conducted after the case, during which it also looked into strengthening measures to reduce the risk of fraud and corruption.

So, from January, officers in positions vulnerable to bribery and exploitation will be rotated every five years, while those in "transactional work" must take at least five consecutive days of leave per calendar year. The change will affect those whose core responsibilities relate to finance or procurement, or are in regulatory roles where the risk of bribery is high.

Some front-line enforcement agencies, like the Land Transport Authority, already have these safeguards in place. The "block leave" measure, also practised in the private sector, would mean that others look over their work processes when covering for them.

In the past year, former civil defence force chief Peter Lim and former Central Narcotics Bureau head Ng Boon Gay have stood trial for graft. Lim was found guilty and sentenced to six months in jail while Mr Ng was acquitted.

The PSD said that it has reminded agencies to help officers who may be in financial distress, as indebtedness can put them at higher risk of being exploited.

Superiors have a list of community groups to refer those in trouble to, but PSD stressed it would not hesitate to carry out disciplinary actions against an officer once a case is made against him.

It has also refreshed its internal code of conduct after townhall sessions with staff. The code's key principles include upholding the integrity and reputation of the civil service, and ensuring there is no conflict of interest between official duties and personal interests.

Civil servants had mixed reactions to the new rules, with some wondering how they would be enforced given that local casinos do not give out the information of patrons freely. Some worried that the declarations may become common knowledge among colleagues, causing unfair stigma.

One public servant who declined to be named said that forcing those who gamble regularly to come clean to their bosses would help those "on the brink" as they would be forced to get help early.

But another said he was "surprised that they would do such a thing and subject personal preferences and interests to scrutiny".

"But I guess it's to protect the image of the civil service."

Rebuilding trust in public service will take time, say observers
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 30 Sep 2013

Observers said it will take time to rebuild trust in the public service as a new social compact is forged between the government and citizens.

Observers Channel NewsAsia spoke with agree that public officers need to adapt to a new electorate even as the government makes strategic shifts in policies.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, Singapore is entering a new phase. The country is seeing a new electorate that is diverse, more questioning and demanding, creating more challenges to governance.

Observers said it is no longer that 'the government knows best" and the people should follow. These days, it is about getting buy-in from the electorate on policies.

Associate Professor Reuben Wong from National University of Singapore's political science department, said: "They've seen that things have gone wrong so the relationship between the citizenship and the government is not what it used to be where people trusted the government to make the right decisions for their interest and were willing to let the government make decisions without very much public consultation."

Experts said there are merits to having diverse voices in public opinion.

And if trust is needed both ways, citizens should then step up to offer solutions, and the government and public officers should listen.

Assoc Prof Wong said: "If civil service and civil societies can interact in constructive ways, form joint committees for example, to talk about national development, joint committee on environment, on manpower issues, then it's a win-win situation.

"You're not working in your own ivory tower and silos, you're trying to find solutions from different perspectives, different viewpoints and each one of course has expertise which is useful in putting a composite fuller picture together."

Assoc Prof Wong added it is also about getting civil servants to be more flexible in administering their duties.

"There are many jokes about bureaucrats being very inflexible and pen pushers and they don't want to change anything and they wait for next government to be elected and they stick to their own principles. In Singapore, we see that civil servants are basically told that they need to change with the times just as government or elected officials are adapting to this kind of electorate.

"He (PM Lee) is also telling civil servants that they also need to change and the kinds of things that they have been doing many years, the Standard Operating Procedures, some of these need to change as well. If something doesn't fit a certain rule… then they have got to figure out what's the spirit and intent of that law and then adapt policies accordingly for the individual or for the community that's affected."

Assoc Prof Wong added that it is a very important message for civil servants to be more flexible and more adaptable.

Observers acknowledged that there will be added pressure as the government seeks to be more "customer-oriented".

Zaqy Mohamad, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, said: "We also have to avoid a situation in which that social compact becoming transactional. In a sense, citizens view one transaction as the only means to judge government so you have to look at things in entirety."

He added: "I think we also need to communicate with citizens better, engage them better but also set expectations. There are many stakeholders involved in any policy change, in any policy for that matter. There has been a maturity within government but also with citizens as well.

"As we build that social compact, it is about that scope of government as a whole and not just based on one transaction, whether you're unhappy you got summoned, whether you're unhappy you didn't get a flat for example, but the whole compact."

The issue of trust was also a key feature in the recently concluded Our Singapore Conversation sessions. Participants had said that they felt that trust between the government and people can be deepened.

One way to do so was to have greater access to government data so that policies and trade-offs can be better understood.

"I think there are expectations in terms of increasing transparency. You can't just tell a citizen 'No, you can't do it. You go and appeal to an MP'. You can't just do that," said Mr Zaqy.

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