Build strong ties with people, private sector, the world to keep S'pore ahead: Chan Chun Sing to public servants

While others "play defensive and try to catch up", Singapore has also managed to break new ground with its free trade and digital economy agreements.
While others "play defensive and try to catch up", Singapore has also managed to break new ground with its free trade and digital economy agreements.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Singapore's global connections have benefited the country in times of crisis, enabling it to keep its supply chains resilient amid the Covid-19 pandemic and attract major investors despite stiff global competition, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on Friday (July 9).

While others "play defensive and try to catch up", Singapore has also managed to break new ground with its free trade and digital economy agreements, he added, urging public servants to be aware of what is happening beyond the public service.

"We will have to stay up to date with the latest trends, see opportunities before others do, and connect ideas, people, and capital to create value," said Mr Chan, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Public Service.

"To do so, we must build stronger connections - with the private sector, with our people and with the world."

He gave the example of how the Economic Development Board and Enterprise Singapore tapped their private sector and international networks to ensure that the country's supply chains remained resilient.

Without these, Singapore would not have essential supplies such as food and vaccines, he said.

It would also not have been able to attract top multinational firms such as Exxon, GlaxoSmithKline and BioNTech to invest and grow their presence in Singapore.

These examples underscore the importance of having public sector officers work with the private and people sectors, Mr Chan added.

Since last year, more than 60 officers have gone on work attachments in these sectors, gaining fresh insights and learning new skills.

"These insights make us better public service officers and policymakers," he said. "This is even more important now than ever before."

The minister was speaking at the One Public Service Observance Ceremony, held virtually for the second year in a row.

The event is part of the annual Public Service Week, which has been held since 2008 to celebrate and recognise the work of government officers.

In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked public servants for rising to the challenge when Covid-19 hit, adding that the pandemic “stretched the service to the limit and put us to a searching test”.

Mr Chan, in his address, also stressed the need for change in the “brave new world” brought about by the pandemic, and added that opportunities will go to those able to adapt more quickly and move faster. 

"In the post-Covid-19 world, there is no guarantee that our previous assumptions will still hold true, or that our old formulas will continue to work," Mr Chan said.

He also called on public servants to do away with less important tasks to make room for work that truly matters, adding that leaders must focus their teams on the most important tasks and create the culture and systems that enable this to take place.

Meanwhile, regular officers can contribute by identifying unproductive activities that should be done away with and work that can be reprioritised, he added.

"This is not easy. To achieve this, we will need to critically review the way we work and question our assumptions," said Mr Chan.

"It takes courage, and I believe many of you have good ideas."

He pledged that the public service will also pay more attention to building leadership teams with "diverse and complementary strengths", rather than simply selecting individuals with the best skill sets.

This is required for resilience in a dynamic world, he said.

"Every public officer must therefore have the mental agility to learn, unlearn and relearn to take on new and more diverse skill sets throughout our careers."

In particular, potential leaders must be exposed to work across different domains - such as policy, operations and communications - as well as work beyond the public sector.

This will make for more well-rounded senior leaders with the ability to appreciate diversity of talents and skills in their teams, Mr Chan said.