Trust between political leaders and civil service helps build 'virtuous circle', says Heng Swee Keat

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said at the annual administrative service dinner and promotion ceremony on April 3 that trust between Singapore's political leaders and the civil service "is a rare, precious, and fragile thing".
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said at the annual administrative service dinner and promotion ceremony on April 3 that trust between Singapore's political leaders and the civil service "is a rare, precious, and fragile thing". ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The trust between Singapore's political leaders and the civil service helps to build what Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat calls a "virtuous circle of good politics and good policies".

This, he said at the annual administrative service dinner and promotion ceremony on Tuesday (April 3), "is a rare, precious, and fragile thing".

"Its value to our people and what it brings to our young nation is incalculable," he added. "Beyond appreciating it, we must each play our part in it, and our part to safeguard and strengthen it."

Elaborating on what this virtuous circle means, Mr Heng said that the political leadership trusts that the non-partisan civil service serves the Government of the day by formulating and implementing sound policies that serve the citizens and strengthen the nation.

In turn, the public service trusts that the political leadership has its back, and that leaders will put its effort into winning and keeping the people's trust, so that public servants can continue to do their work with utmost integrity, added Mr Heng in his 26-minute speech at the dinner.

Tuesday's event, which saw 16 officers appointed into the administrative service and 57 promoted, had Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean - also the minister in charge of the civil service - as its guest-of-honour.

In his speech, Mr Heng said that Mr Teo had suggested that he addressed the dinner this year. In previous years, the keynote address had been delivered by ministers including Mr Teo and Mr Ong Ye Kung, who leads the innovation drive in the public service.

Mr Heng on Tuesday also called on the public service to develop "its unique model of innovating, in fidelity to its responsibilities to the public".

It must innovate- question the status quo, consider what should be kept or changed, andexperiment with new ways of doing its work. But even as it takes risks, the public service cannot "fail fast, learn fast" like start-ups do - if so, this could lead to a loss of citizens' trust, investor confidence and more, he cautioned.

This comes as major shifts loom over the horizon: the rise of Asia; technology changing the way people live; as well as ageing, shifting aspirations and growing social divides posing challenges that extend beyond the remit of any single ministry, said Mr Heng, echoing some of the key themes during his Budget speech this year.

He urged the public servants to study these major changes carefully and to take a long-term view in preparing for disruptions ahead.

Speaking at the event was also head of civil service Leo Yip, who thanked three former permanent secretaries, Mr Peter Ong, Mr Tan Tee How and Mr Choi Shing Kwok, who retired over the past year.

In his speech, Mr Yip highlighted that the same driving forces affecting Singapore will affect the public service as well.

There is a need to embrace technology and adjust processes for an ageing workforce, he said.

Outlining the characteristics critical for Singapore's change journey, Mr Yip said the public service should push the boundaries of possibilities, and think and act as one.

Increasingly, the solutions to problems are multi-dimensional in nature, said Mr Yip, who noted that agencies must work together to deal with issues that cut across the domains of different ministries.

He added that in an era of rapid innovation and change, one must not be paralysed from an overdose of deliberation or fear of failure.

"The public does not benefit from just good ideas," he said. "It is only when good ideas are translated into good action can we bring tangible benefits to our people."