Another defence of the public service

Mar 03, 2017 04.09PM |

by Wan Ting Koh

THE public service has been getting a lot of attention from the public lately, all thanks to some Members of Parliament (MPs) who said that the public service seems to have lost its heart.

Today (Mar 3) however, the public service was defended by Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam, the latest in a line of other MPs who have said that the public service has in fact, been doing a good job, even though there is room for improvement.

To Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking in reply to the cuts filed by MPs for the Ministry of Home Affairs, public servants in most cases were oustanding, dedicated, and go well beyond the call of duty and serve with heart.

Mr Shanmugam cited results from the Public Perception Survey, in which he said “gives a perspective to discussions about the public service” at a broader level.

According to the survey which polled 4,800 participants and their thoughts towards the Singapore Police Force (SPF), 87 per cent of the respondents think that the SPF is a “world class crime-fighting organisation”, said Mr Shanmugam. The same survey showed that 90 per cent of respondents believe the police are ready to deal with major law and order incidents.

A total of 88 per cent of participants feel that the police provide high quality service while 92 per cent rated general safety and security in Singapore as “good” or “very good”. Nearly half of those surveyed said that the installation of police cameras at HDB estates made them feel safer, added Mr Shanmugam.

Mr Shanmugam said that the survey results reflected the extraordinary level of faith and trust Singaporeans have in the police force.

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As for issues that arise with the public service, he said that those were the “exception, not the rule”, and that they arise due to “structural reasons”, such as inter-agency issues.

The lengthy conversation about the public service sparked off when several MPs raised concerns about the way they work. On Wednesday, MP Louis Ng said that public servants had turned some people away because they were doing things strictly by the book. He said that the public service had “lost its heart” in the pursuit of efficiency.

Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin said that more could be done for the poor, while MP Lee Bee Wah said public servants tend to be more concerned with the “rules of their own agency” than what might benefit Singaporeans. She asked: “Can’t our civil servants be more result-oriented and objective-driven, instead of just guarding your own turf?”

Since then, numerous other MPs like Mr Shanmugam, have put in a good word for the public service. In Parliament yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean said that public officers work tirelessly to serve citizens.

DPM Teo added that public officers needed a little encouragement.

“I hope that members (like Ms Kuik) will rise, from time to time…to also offer encouragement for the good work of the many public officers who have worked hard and gone the extra mile to serve their constituents and Singaporeans,” he said.

Though, he added that no system was perfect, and that “we are constantly striving to do better”.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee sought a clarification from Ms Kuik, saying that some people might get the wrong impression that the public service had lost its heart based on her speech.

To this, Ms Kuik said: “I actually do not believe that the public service has lost heart, as some reports have said.” She added that she personally knew of “many deeply compassionate civil servants” who had gone the extra mile to help others.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing expressed pride in the civil service on the sidelines of a post-budget dialogue with some 140 professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) yesterday.

He said: “I think overall, if you ask me, I think we have a good Civil Service. I think we have people who go out of their way to do what is right, what is necessary for Singaporeans.”

“There will always be areas where we can improve and I would be the first one to say that, even coming from the Civil Service previously, that is what we always strive to do each and every day.”


Here’s a defence of the public service by a former civil servant.


Featured image by Shawn Danker.

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