“We also have to stay open to ideas from others, and co-develop solutions with the community, the private sector and civil society and people from all walks of life,” Mr Tharman said in his speech at the Public Leadership Dinner on Tuesdayat the Orchard Hotel.
He said the government “have a lot more to do in building the next chapter of the Singapore story, and it is an exciting time to be in the Public Service.”
“But it will be a more complex terrain, with more difficult trade-offs to make,” he said.
Nonetheless, Mr Tharman said Singapore was starting the next phase of the country’s journey “from a position of strength and confidence.”
“Let us keep evolving, keep adapting our methods and developing our people, as we build a better future for all.”
The DPM started his speech with an overview of the global situation, and cautioned that “economic policies will have to grapple with new realities.”
“Globally, we are very likely in for an extended period of slow growth,” he said.
Mr Tharman also pointed out that sectarian strife in the Middle-East “is now endemic, and being propagated globally.”
“The stability of the immediate region, for reasons both external and internal, is less assured than it has been in decades. It will take constant effort and fresh strategies to maintain the social harmony for which Singapore has stood out in the world.”
Back home, the DPM said “Singapore is facing the limits of our own labour force growth.”
“We therefore have to earn our place in the world in new ways.”
But Mr Tharman struck an upbeat note on this.
“With deeper skills, making a determined effort to make the most of technologies and not just be displaced by them, and with entrepreneurial verve and expanded networks abroad, there will be no lack of opportunity for Singapore,” he said.
He then turned to the role of the Public Service and how it too must evolve as citizens’ needs and aspirations change, and the solutions to problems are both more complex and less assured of results.
“The public sector will also face the same manpower constraints as the wider economy,” said Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies.
He highlighted “three priorities in how we must go about the business of the Public Service in this new terrain”.
These, he said, were:
- We must develop the habit of looking at issues through the eyes of ordinary citizens, and bringing policies from different agencies together to serve their needs;
- We must develop deeper pools of expertise to meet emerging and more complex challenges, and to make effective use of new technologies to serve citizens better;
- And we must strengthen a culture where every public officer can learn and develop themselves through life, so as to make the most of their abilities for Singapore.
Addressing each of the three points, Mr Tharman said public service officers “must walk in the shoes of citizens from different walks of life whenever we can, both in the course of the public officer’s work and when we get a chance to volunteer on the ground.”
“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," he said.
Second, he said the Public Service must recognise that the issues that citizens face often do not fall within the responsibility of a single agency, and that the best solutions are often those that bring agencies together and that cut across policy disciplines.
“Developing and coordinating solutions together - usually among two or three agencies, sometimes more - must be second nature to public servants, up and down our organisations, so that we can best meet citizens’ needs,” Mr Tharman said.
The third important point he stressed was the need for others “to discuss, debate and develop the future with us – the community, the private sector, other civil society stakeholders, and individual citizens themselves.”
“Having them all on board will help the Public Service better understand a changing society, and identify more opportunities for progress.”
Mr Tharman said “it is when people get involved themselves, take the initiative, roll up their sleeves and put in the effort to make things happen, that we build broad ownership over Singapore’s future.”
It was a point he had also made in March 2014, when he said that the Civil Service needs "to formulate effective policies and implement them well, involve the public more in working out solutions and not neglect the intangible things that matter to the people’s well-being."
He said then that these three areas of governance needed “special attention” if the Government is to retain public trust and govern well.
You can read Mr Tharman’s speech at the Orchard Hotel in full here.