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How civil service can serve better

(The following letter to TODAY Voices was rejected for publication.)

See Leong Kit

Your TODAY May 14 edition featured two timely reports,  "When grassroots leaders may not provide most accurate feedback" and  "Public Service must connect with those it serves: DPM Teo".

The former report indicated that several PAP MPs now realised that some grassroots leaders may not give accurate feedback and only highlight the positives.

In the latter report, Minister in charge of Civil Service DPM Teo Chee Hean said "There is a clear desire by the electorate for their voices to be heard.  As we seek to strengthen our engagement with the public whom we serve, we must listen actively and work closely with them on issues affecting them."

However, for far too long, our concerned citizens who took the time and trouble to offer frank feedback and helpful suggestions in newspaper forums like TODAY Voices often find themselves  "talking to the Great Wall of China".

At worse, they encountered dead silence from our generously-paid bureaucrats.  At best, they are often given evasive  "half-answer" responses or exasperating "non-answer" replies.

Here are some constructive suggestions that can be implemented rightaway to foster a truly pro-active and responsive Civil Service:

- Get the Permanent Secretaries of ministries and CEOs of statutory boards to put their respective names to public replies that are drafted by their subordinates.  Such a move will clearly demonstrate public accountability and duly earn public respect.  It will help ensure that public replies are properly considered.

- In a truly First-Class Civil Service, there is also no room for  "nameless and faceless" civil servants hiding behind the anonymity of  "Ministry spokesperson".  It is timely now to publicly state their full names and official titles, as is practised in First-World countries like China and the United States.

- The Public Service Division (PSD) of the Prime Minister's Office must also enforce strictly its  3-working day Response Directive issued to all civil servants.  As it is, many public replies can take as long as 7 to 14 days to appear.

- Civil servants who are less-than-helpful through flouting the PSD's  "No Wrong Door" policy in giving citizens and businessmen the "merry-go-round" treatment should be taken to task.

It is most ironic that the Go the Extra Mile to Serve (GEMS) Movement was actively promoted in our private sector service industries but not in our civil service, which is the largest service provider here.

It is time for our civil service to promote and truly live up to this proposed motto of "Try HARDER To Serve The People BETTER".

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Picture from Yahoo News.