Don't be afraid to question traditional ways of doing things, DPM Teo tells public servants

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean called on public servants to find better ways to deliver public services, and "be prepared to disrupt ourselves before we get disrupted".
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean called on public servants to find better ways to deliver public services, and "be prepared to disrupt ourselves before we get disrupted".ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Public officers should not be afraid to question orthodoxy, whether it is their own or those propagated by others, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Wednesday(Nov8), as he urged the public service to make innovation second nature.

He called on public servants to find better ways to deliver public services, and "be prepared to disrupt ourselves before we get disrupted".

"We should instead have a well-founded optimism about our future; that we have the ability and the confidence to come up with new and innovative strategies and solutions... to overcome our challenges," said DPM Teo.

This will require the public service to work across Government agencies, with industry and the public, he told 600 public servants at the annual Public Service Leadership Programme dinner, held on Wednesday (Nov8) at the Shangri-La Hotel.

DPM Teo, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Civil Service, suggested three ways to do this.

First, policies have to be executed well, because that is how the public "perceives us and perceives the policies that we develop".

He pointed out that policy development does not stop when execution begins, noting that public officers should be prepared to engage stakeholders and explain why certain trade-offs have to be made in crafting certain policies and what mitigating measures have been taken.

Second, public servants also have to find better ways to serve the public, and public agencies must put the needs of their consumers first and pool resources together.

This could include ways that might seem disruptive, said DPM Teo, citing how the Smart Nation & Digital Government Office has been working with agencies to accelerate the adoption of technology solutions.

"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," he said.

But providing better services could also mean that agencies or public servants take the initiative to step up to address issues, even if they might not be normally responsible for them.

He cited the example of National Environment Agency (NEA) officers from the agency's South West Regional Office, who carry out house visits during cases of high-rise littering, instead of merely issuing summonses.

"This helped them to uncover cases where the family needs assistance," said DPM Teo, adding that the NEA officers then work with agencies such as the Social Service Office or welfare organisations to help the person.

While this goes beyond the NEA's traditional scope of work, it delivers help that the resident needs and could also help address the root problem behind the litterings, he said.

Third, public servants have to take pride and ownership of what they do, said DPM Teo, pointing out that the Public Service is "not just another job".

"We need to have a more complete, up to date and multi-agency-view of what is going on. This goes beyond what we have talked about before, a 'no wrong door policy', it is more like a common hall where agencies can work together to tackle an issue and its related challenges together," said DPM Teo.

He said public service is "neither a marathon nor a sprint", likening it instead to "multiple Ironman races" - a long-distance triathlon comprising swim, bike and run segments.

"We can do this as a team... And we can all do better when we leverage each other's strengths, and motivate each other along the way," he said.

At the dinner, about 100 officers were also appointed to the PSLP, launched in 2013 to develop specialists in fields such as security and economics. More than 800 officers are now on the programme.

These officers work with officers from the Administrative Service to lead the public service.

Head of the Civil Service Leo Yip echoed DPM Teo's sentiments in a speech, pointing out that the Public Service must "rise above narrow organisational interests".

Mr Yip, who was appointed to his role in September, said agencies need to seek out opportunities to collaborate, instead of guarding their turf - this is essential to the "whole of government" effort to work together to build a better Singapore.

"We must see ourselves as part of that collective, in giving directions, in taking responsibility, and in being accountable," he said.