SINGAPORE - Singaporeans trust that the Government has the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart, and this trust has been key to the country's handling of the Covid-19 crisis, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
This trust also extends to how the Government is competent and will make the right decisions on behalf of Singaporeans, he added on Tuesday (April 12).
At a ceremony to promote and appoint administrative service officers, PM Lee said Singaporeans displayed that trust when they accepted the Government's advice and decisions to tackle the virus, complied willingly with strict Covid-19 safety measures, and came forward to get vaccinated.
This trust is precious, he said, and must continue to be built by ensuring that the public service stays top-notch, with capable and committed officers possessing the right ethos and values, dedicated to serving Singaporeans responsibly and honestly.
"We need first-class minds, able to grasp and tackle complex, interconnected problems, and come up with creative ideas and workable solutions. But also a first-class team, cohesive and mission oriented, focused single-mindedly on getting the job done."
One more vital ingredient of success is the need for the public service to work hand in glove with the political leadership, he said at the event held at Sands Expo and Convention Centre at Marina Bay Sands.
Ministers have to get the politics right - understand the key issues, identify priorities, exercise their political mandate, set the direction, and chart the country's strategy.
But they must also be hands-on to ensure that policies are well designed and implemented, PM Lee said. "Then they can carry their decisions with the public, assure the population, and lead Singapore throughout this journey."
Ensuring that Singapore continues to be a high-trust society has been a key theme in a number of PM Lee’s recent speeches.
Last November, he said the decisive difference to Singapore’s Covid-19 response was not that it has better scientists or better healthcare than the United States or Europe, but that Singaporeans work with one another - and not against one another - because people here trust one another.
In his address to the nation last month, he said Singapore was able to avoid the bleak situation elsewhere of healthcare workers being forced to choose who lived and died through the collective effort of people here to play their part as they trusted the Government, accepted sound medical advice, and abided by safe management measures.
On Tuesday, PM Lee said political leaders must also give public servants the political support and cover they need so that they can focus on their tasks, carry out their duties professionally and not be distracted or intimidated by political theatrics or grandstanding.
At the same time, public servants must appreciate the political context of decisions, be able to translate overall strategy into workable policies and implement and execute the plans, he added.
The political leadership and public service must complement and support each other, and trust each other to play their respective roles, said PM Lee, adding that this partnership is crucial.
As both the political and public service leadership renew themselves, mutual trust between the current generation of ministers and senior public service officers must also be extended to subsequent generations, he said.
Covid-19 was a moment when this happened, noted PM Lee, with the whole fourth-generation (4G) team involved one way or another, working with their permanent secretaries and management teams.
"During the crisis, they strengthened their relationships, and deepened the shared understanding and trust. This sets the foundation for the next generation of leaders - both the ministers and the public service."
When their turn comes to assume the responsibility of leading the country, the two will need to continue to work closely and deliver the same results that Singaporeans expect, and are used to, said PM Lee.
He paid tribute to two retired permanent secretaries, Ms Yong Ying-I and Mr Chee Wee Kiong. Both left the service on April 1.
Ms Yong pressed to create a national electronic health records system when she was permanent secretary for health, back when healthcare workers were still using hard-copy patient records, said PM Lee.
She was in the public service for 36 years and was most recently permanent secretary at the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).
She will continue to share her counsel as chairman of the Central Provident Fund Board and as senior adviser to MCI, said PM Lee.
Mr Chee spent 40 years in the public service, starting off in the Singapore Armed Forces and then as director of the Security and Intelligence Division.
As permanent secretary for foreign affairs, he managed Singapore's regional and bilateral relationships, and advanced the country's national interests and international standing, said PM Lee.