'See issues through eyes of ordinary citizens'

Tharman tells public servants to sense concerns underlying feedback, spot gaps in policy delivery

Coordination between different government agencies must become second nature, DPM Tharman told about 600 public servants at the Public Service Leadership Programme dinner yesterday.
Coordination between different government agencies must become second nature, DPM Tharman told about 600 public servants at the Public Service Leadership Programme dinner yesterday.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

When the Tanglin Halt estate was picked for the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers) last year, Housing Board officers went from door to door with audio recordings which explained the programme in different languages and dialects, including Hokkien and Cantonese. The recordings were played to residents who were not conversant in the language of the officers.

After gathering their feedback, HDB took a new approach in the Sers project, the largest to date. For instance, it assigned each home owner a "journey manager", who is the single point of contact throughout the home owner's Sers journey.

It also offered elderly home owners concerned about their retirement savings the option of getting a replacement flat on a 30-year lease.

These measures were cited by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday to show how public servants can raise their game when they "develop the habit of looking at issues through the eyes of ordinary citizens".

Speaking at the Public Service Leadership Programme (PSLP) dinner, attended by about 600 public servants, he said: "We must be close to the ground, listening to feedback, sensing the deeper concerns that often underlie that feedback, and spotting the gaps in policy delivery that should not be there."

The PSLP was launched in 2013 to develop public officers into specialists in fields such as security and economics.

Mr Tharman also identified other ways the public service must evolve to meet the increasingly complex needs of citizens. The coordination among different government organisations "must become second nature to public servants" because the best solutions for issues faced by Singaporeans "are often those that bring agencies together and cut across policy disciplines".

He cited the Health Promotion Board and Alexandra Health System working with Comfort DelGro and SMRT to help cabbies stay healthy by screening them at their taxi servicing centres.

The public service should also discuss and debate the country's future with different stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society and individual citizens.

"It is when people get involved...and put in the effort to make things happen, that we build broad ownership over Singapore's future."

The public service also has to develop deeper capabilities, such as data analytics, to meet more complex challenges and serve citizens better, he said.

Mr Tharman also stressed the importance of nurturing "a culture of continuous questioning and refreshing of what we know" in every public agency.

A system needs to be developed for the officers to know that acquiring and sharpening skills can help them in their jobs.

Pointing to service delivery, he said the 6,000 front-line staff "are the face of the public service for most citizens" but each agency has its own front-line service training.

Now, the Public Service Division is working with five government agencies to meld a common framework for officers to systematically become competent in their jobs.

"No one is made the day he or she enters the service, or even a decade or two after they start working."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline ''See issues through eyes of ordinary citizens''. Print Edition | Subscribe