Parliament: Public sector seeking to be more productive, but growth hard to quantify

Office workers walking along Shenton Way.
Office workers walking along Shenton Way.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Unlike in the private sector, it is difficult to measure productivity growth in public services because the outcomes achieved and value created are "often intangible and not easily quantifiable", Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Thursday (march 24).

But he said: "The Public Service is constantly seeking to be more productive, doing more with the same or less resources, and ensuring that we continue to be effective and efficient in delivering our services."

He noted, "to give a sense of the numbers", that the Singapore population and real gross domestic product grew by 2.6 per cent and 5.3 per cent per annum, on average, over the past 10 years.

Over the same period, manpower growth in the public sector was maintained at an average of 1.8 per cent per annum to serve the population and support the economy, he said.

"The lower public sector headcount growth is a result of a deliberate policy to constrain Ministries' headcount growth under the Manpower Management Framework," he said, in a written reply to a parliamentary question by Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC).

Ms Foo had asked what the Government's productivity growth over the last 10 years was, and the areas which have showed the most improvement.

Mr Heng said the public sector's share of the total labour force has decreased from 4.3 per cent in 2006 to 3.97 per cent last year. He said: "This is one of the lowest internationally."

The figure is comparable with Hong Kong, where it is 4 per cent, and is lower than countries like New Zealand, at 7 per cent, and the United Kingdom, at 12 per cent.

Mr Heng added that agencies here have been extensively tapping on information and communications technology to boost productivity.

Today, there are more e-services on multiple channels - such as electronic tax-filing and the no-filing scheme used by the tax authorities.

As such the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) has been able to redeploy 100 officers to new and other areas of work in spite of a 32 per cent growth in tax base from 2009 to 2014, Mr Heng noted.

And the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA)'s Bizfile allows businesses to be registered and companies to be incorporated online in just 15 minutes or less.

This is a stark reduction from the manual process which Mr Heng said would have taken 24 hours for businesses and five days for comapnies.

Mr Heng also said the Government had sought to drive productivity gains through organisational restructuring. This included the launch of the Municipal Services Office (MSO) in October 2014 to improve coordination across governmetn agencies.

Public agencies have also started to use data analytics to improve services.

The National Library Board, for example, has analysed data to understand borrowing behaviour, so as to determine the type and number of books to purchase, Mr Heng said.