Parliament: Louis Ng calls for public servants to be fearless in speaking up against bosses, politicians

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng said that many public servants he has spoken to fear a bad appraisal if they speak up, oppose their bosses' views and challenge the status quo.
Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng said that many public servants he has spoken to fear a bad appraisal if they speak up, oppose their bosses' views and challenge the status quo.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

SINGAPORE - Public servants need to be able to challenge their bosses and not be afraid to speak up and fight for changes that would better Singapore, said Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) in his Budget debate speech on Tuesday (Feb 27).

"We need to make sure we don't have a public service filled with 'yes sir' men and women. To demolish this culture, we need to break our entrenched processes and bureaucracy," said Mr Ng. "We urgently need to cut the extremely long red tape that may be frustrating not just for members of the public but also our public servants."

In his closed-door sessions with public servants over the past year, two questions were always raised, recounted Mr Ng.

They are: "Will I get into trouble if I speak up and share my thoughts with you" and "Even if I meet you and share my thoughts, nothing will change so what's the point".

The second question is more troubling because it shows that the public servants have given up. "They are thinking: Why care? Why try, then get frustrated and then get upset for nothing?"

He said that many public servants he has spoken to fear a bad appraisal if they speak up, oppose their bosses' views and challenge the status quo.

"Hence, they don't speak up although their suggestions may in fact improve the lives of their fellow countrymen," he said.

He did not say how many of such sessions have been conducted, or how many public servants he has spoken to.

Mr Ng suggested a revamp of the public service appraisal system by studying those used in the private sector, citing Google's and Alibaba's, allowing for employees to review and grade their managers.

The current top-down approach, he said, does not incentivise risk-taking and innovation.

He also suggested having internal quality service managers in ministries and statutory boards who can follow up on internal feedback from public servants, similar to how existing quality service managers look into feedback from the public.

Mr Ng asked for more agencies to adopt the practice of having frequent staff meetings, where all levels of public servants have direct communication channels with senior management.

He said: "We urgently need to change this perception, change this system, recognise that we need to empower our public servants and ensure that the public service attracts superheroes and people who want to change the world."