Friday 3 April 2015

New strategic govt unit to tackle critical issues

Move to improve coordination among ministries and agencies
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor And Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 2 Apr 2015

A NEW government unit will be set up to identify the most critical issues facing Singapore and come up with action plans that draw on resources across its agencies.

Called the strategic policy unit, it will tackle issues over a horizon of three, five, 10 years and even beyond, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

The unit is a major push in the Government's ongoing effort to improve coordination among ministries and agencies.

With the better coordination at "the centre of government", these organisations can better develop policies and programmes which are in line with overall government objectives, Mr Teo added.

It will be formed in July, come under the Prime Minister's Office and be led by the head of the civil service, Mr Peter Ong.

Mr Teo, who is the Minister-in-charge of the civil service, was speaking at the annual Administrative Service Dinner and Promotion Ceremony last night.

He told the audience of elite public servants that the unit will be kept "small and nimble".

In particular, it will look at how a certain policy has knock-on effects, trade-offs or synergistic possibilities with other government programmes or services.

In recent years, new units to lead and coordinate whole-of-government work on specific areas like population, climate change and municipal issues have been set up, noted Mr Teo.

"But as issues become more complex and inter-connected... it may not be tenable or desirable to keep setting up new outfits for each area," he said.

The strategic policy unit will play three primary roles.

One, it will "anticipate and tackle" medium to long-term national issues, and be responsible for strategically allocating resources in terms of budget, manpower, and even land to meet the priorities.

While ministries will remain responsible for policies in their own areas, the unit will "join the dots" across initiatives, said Mr Teo.

Two, it will nurture new functions and capabilities required in the public sector.

DPM Teo gave the example of the current need to build up engineering capabilities in the public service.

Three, it will take the lead on issues which do not now fall under any ministry or agency.

The unit will provide a platform for different agencies to come together to resolve current issues, and where appropriate, identify the agency most appropriate to spearhead the work.

In his speech, Mr Teo also called on the administrative service officers to live up to the values of excellence, incorruptibility and meritocracy that founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died on March 23, instilled in the public sector.

A total of 73 administrative officers will be promoted this year.

Among them is Dr Fereen Liew, 35, director of operations at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Reflecting on the importance of cross-government work, she said: "In today's context, health care policy is no longer purely a healthcare issue. During a disease outbreak for example, there are security concerns, economic considerations, and more often than not, social issues."

How Mr Lee shaped the public service
The Straits Times, 2 Apr 2015

DEPUTY Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean spoke yesterday about how the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew shaped the public service.

Here is an extract of the remarks he made at the annual dinner of the Administrative Service.

"Mr Lee shaped the ethos of the Singapore Public Service. He instilled the values of excellence, incorruptibility and meritocracy that we have preserved to this day.

He was a powerful orator, but for him, Government was not just about rhetoric. He lived up to what he said. He delivered on his promises. He led by example and set high standards - working hard to get things done for Singaporeans.

He had an eye for detail, getting the small things right, along with the big things... For him, any policy or programme was only as good as its implementation. For him, if something was worth doing for Singapore, it was worth doing very well.

His commitment to clean government is legendary. In the early days, corruption was rampant. When Mr Lee won the mandate to form the government, he strengthened our anti-corruption laws and gave the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau wider powers to investigate and eradicate corruption.

Today, it is not just the Public Service, but Singaporeans as a whole who are committed to maintaining a corruption-free society.

Mr Lee believed strongly in meritocracy. He was adamant that public officers should be appointed, and advance, on the basis of their abilities, effort and achievements, not connections. For Singapore to succeed, he believed in picking the best person for the job, regardless of race or family background.

Mr Lee established the practice of paying public officers market- competitive salaries that move with the market - a practice which we still maintain today. There is no "iron rice bowl", as poor performers are exited...

Mr Lee believed that public officers needed to understand the ground, in order to hold the trust of Singaporeans.

In 1960, he told public officers that he expected them to know the problems facing citizens, whether they were city-dwellers, farmers, or fishermen. He wanted a government that grows "from the ground up", putting Singaporeans at the centre of all that he did. He expected public officers to communicate clearly and simply, especially to citizens...

Mr Lee also spoke about how public officers should work with the political leadership - offering frank and impartial advice to ministers, so that ministers could make sound decisions.

Mr Lee and his Cabinet continually emphasised that public officers should consider more than just the technical aspects of policymaking, but also ground realities - whose interests are affected, how the policy fits into the Government's long-term objectives, what the reactions might be, and how to communicate the policy.

Once the decisions were made, it was the duty of public officers to implement them well."

'Stay anchored to core values but be adaptable'
That's how to tackle new realities in policymaking, says Civil Service head
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 2 Apr 2015

AS ISSUES in policymaking become more complex, public servants need to build up a wider range of skills and nurture their "ground feel" and empathy, Head of Civil Service Peter Ong said yesterday.

Speaking to an audience of administrative service officers (AOs), the cream of the public sector, Mr Ong urged them to "be anchored on values" of integrity, service and excellence.

The issues facing civil servants "are becoming more complex, more conflated and conjoined", he said. "New divides like class, values and political leanings may reduce our policy manoeuvring space." To meet this challenge, its institutions and its people need to stay adaptable while holding fast to its core values, Mr Ong said in his speech at the annual Administrative Service Dinner and Promotion Ceremony.

The Government has consistently reorganised ministries and agencies - such as creating the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth - to meet new realities and priorities, he noted.

Its push to have more top public servants know the ground better is also bearing fruit, he added.

More than half of all its 344 AOs have experienced at least one operational posting, like working with, say, patients in a hospital to improve service.

More are also being sent to the private sector or for unorthodox training programmes.

For example, one AO did an attachment at a design consultancy and later came up with the idea of a football-themed train cabin during the World Cup.

The Land Transport Authority found the cabin made 80 per cent of commuters smile, noted Mr Ong.

He also said that communicating policy well is increasingly important.

In today's hyper-connected age, agencies that excel at connecting with the people "will be those that empower their officers to make decisions without going through layers of clearance''.

The public sector will also open its doors wider for those from non-traditional backgrounds, such as non-degree holders.

Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the Management Executive Scheme will be extended for non-degree holders with adequate capabilities and potential to go on the same track as degree-holders.

Last night, he said the public service is studying ways to apply this principle to other schemes.

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