Call for public servants to work closer together

Civil service head also urges officers to raise feedback in order to refine, improve policies

Public servant Lee Chin Soon administered a fund that subsidises devices and equipment used primarily to help students in schools or employees in the workplace, but noticed that some people with disabilities could not benefit from it.

This was because those with disabilities who were not in school, or who were not employed, were not automatically eligible for subsidies under the Assistive Technology Fund for the equipment they needed, such as hearing aids or wheelchairs, to get to therapy sessions.

Mr Lee, now a director at the Ministry of Social and Family Development but who was with disabilities support agency SG Enable, told his bosses about what he and his team had observed.

As a result, the criterion was reviewed last year and now covers devices used for all purposes, including in early intervention and therapy and bringing about greater independence in daily living.

This change was cited by head of civil service Peter Ong to show how policies can be improved if public servants - especially middle managers - are sensitive to crucial insights from the ground.

Addressing 650 public servants at the annual Public Service Leadership Programme (PSLP) dinner, Mr Ong said bosses need to provide the right environment for officers to raise the feedback that they hear.

Public servants should sense when feedback starts to form trends or patterns so policies can be reviewed, he added.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, the minister in charge of the civil service, also urged public servants to work closely with their counterparts elsewhere. "Look for opportunities to help colleagues from other agencies," he said. "Don't wait, offer your resources and expertise, especially in times of need," he said.

The call - which has been made periodically by civil service leaders - took on a new tenor last night as Mr Teo pointed out that Singapore is embarking on a new phase of economic and social development.

The country is affected by global uncertainties such as slower growth in major economies and greater protectionism abroad, while at home, Singapore faces challenges including its ageing population and low birth rate.

Such issues need to be comprehensively addressed by all agencies, he said. For instance, increasing the number of infant care and childcare centres to support young families is not just a job for the social ministries. Land agencies can also help make space available for such facilities, and ministries that look at the economy can encourage bosses to be more supportive of employees who are parents.

In his speech, Mr Teo elaborated on how issues such as finance, manpower, land, population, ageing, security, climate change and smart government have effects and solutions that cut across agencies.

For instance, the Housing Board and Economic Development Board are driving the adoption of solar power through the SolarNova programme that installs solar panels on public housing. By working together and using technology creatively, public servants can turn Singapore's constraints such as limited land and manpower into opportunities and strengths, he said.

At the dinner, 122 officers were appointed to the PSLP, launched in 2013 to develop specialists in fields such as security and economics. More than 780 officers are now on the programme.

Mr Teo and Mr Ong reminded public servants their broader goal was to serve Singapore, not just their organisation. "Remember to always put national outcomes over agency outcomes," Mr Ong said.

Said Mr Teo: "It's not just what each agency is trying to get achieved, but what we are trying to achieve collectively... as a whole nation." To chuckles from the audience, he added: "This is what differentiates us from many countries - that we are able to get our act together and act together."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2016, with the headline 'Call for public servants to work closer together'. Print Edition | Subscribe