Parliament: No joy to say we recover from mistakes fast: Chan Chun Sing

When something goes wrong while government agencies are carrying out their public service tasks, the first step they need to take is to find out what happened and put things right.

After that, the agencies must share the lessons learnt with one another. But the most crucial step is to evaluate how the mistake could have been prevented.

"More important than playing defensive is the need to make sure that our systems are in place to pre-empt problems," Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in Parliament yesterday.

Such problems may be hard to predict, "but that's our challenge - that's the high benchmark we need to set for ourselves if we aspire to be a public service that Singapore and Singaporeans can be proud of".

Mr Chan, the Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, was responding to Nominated MP Anthea Ong, who asked what steps the authorities were taking to restore public confidence following a recent spate of lapses by public service providers and government agencies.

Even as the Government determines who is responsible when a problem occurs, he said the public service will question if it could have trained a person better, or changed processes to take into account human factors and prevent such mistakes from happening in the first place.

"We owe it to ourselves... to get things right and to prevent things from going wrong in the first place because it gives us no joy to say that we are able to recover from mistakes fast," he said.


Earlier in his speech, Mr Chan spelt out the high aspirations the public service had set for Singapore, including ways to encourage innovation and work on ambitious, long-term projects like the proposed Tuas Terminal, which is to be ready in the 2040s.

"These projects help to create a more vibrant Singapore and a better home for future generations of Singaporeans," he said. "Our public service cannot just try to play defensive to uphold the existing systems. We expect more from our public service - constantly thinking of breaking new ground to take our country forward amid the stiff competition."

He, however, cautioned that sometimes, things will not go according to plan. When that happens, the public service will work hard to fix the mistakes, he said.

In reiterating points made by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat last month, Mr Chan said that having "integrity means we need to take responsibility and be accountable at every level for what went wrong".

He said: "If we do not address the mistake head-on at the respective levels, but choose to indiscriminately sack staff or leaders every time something goes wrong, then we will have a weaker system over time."

Such a system would also discourage the public service from trying new things. "That will be the biggest mistake and disservice to our nation," he added.

Rachel Au-Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2019, with the headline 'No joy to say we recover from mistakes fast: Chan Chun Sing'. Print Edition | Subscribe