Source: Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Commons

Civil servants ought to approach problems with a critical mind, says PSC Chairman

Chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC), Mr Eddie Teo, has called upon public servants to prepare themselves to “speak truth to power” in the face of a new wrongful decision or policy.

In his opening address at the Public Service Commission Scholarships Award Ceremony on 18 Jul, Mr Teo said that civil servants should be brave in questioning and challenging assumptions and prejudices in the effort to produce the best outcome in solving problems.

Mr Teo, 71, will be retiring at the end of this month, after 48 years of public service.

He will be succeeded by Mr Lee Tzu Yang, 63, deputy chairman of the PSC.

Mr Teo, who is also formerly a President’s Scholar, said that one of the perks of his job is having the opportunity to lean in to the voices of the best and brightest students with regards to what needs to be fixed and changed, and the role they hope to play in the process of nation-building.

“I come away hopeful and optimistic, because many of our best future public sector leaders show the courage to express their own views, even if they contradict current thinking and existing policies,” he said.

Mr Teo also spoke about the importance of having diversity in the public service talent pool.

He reasoned that this will enable civil servants to have the ability to truly connect with Singaporeans from all walks of life and to have the capacity to view things from all possible perspectives when it comes to tackling complex issues.

“To remain relevant and effective, the public service must challenge old assumptions, and be open to experimenting with novel ways of tackling difficult problems and delivering services to the people,” he added.

PSC scholarships are awarded on merit regardless of candidates’ backgrounds, Mr Teo said.

There is a “multi-dimensional selection process” that examines a person’s attributes, through which those who have exhibited potential to shoulder leadership roles in the public service will be selected.

Seven scholarships were awarded to students who are from educational institutions including Anglo-Chinese Junior College, Pioneer Junior College, Saint Andrew’s Junior College, and the Singapore Polytechnic.

These schools are not part of the Integrated Programme (IP), where secondary school pupils skip the GCE O-Level examinations and work towards the A Levels and other higher certifications directly.

Others have managed to earn the PSC scholarships, in spite of their challenging personal circumstances.

In reference to a number of scholarship holders choosing “non-traditional countries” for their studies, such as Peking University in China and several German universities, Mr Teo hopes that their unique learning experiences will add to the diversity of views when they return to serve the nation as public servants.

This year alone, the PSC has given out 22 awards under the PSC Scholarship (Engineering) scheme, three times more than last year.

The scheme was introduced last year to strengthen the public service’s talent pool specifically in the sectors of engineering and technology.

Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister-in-charge of Public Service, reminded the scholarship recipients that they did not achieve their success through their hard work and intelligence alone.

“We are here because of the support given to us by our families and the opportunities given to us by society,” he said.

The scholarship holders’ success, he added, can also be attributed to the meritocratic values and system in Singapore, where “one will be able to succeed regardless of one’s ancestry and one’s personal connection”.

However, Mr Chan encouraged them to outdo the current system to “inspire generations of Singaporeans to continue to serve”.

Mr Chan, who is also Minister for Trade and Industry, advised the scholarship holders to “never be complacent that we have arrived”.

Instead, he identified the 4As they should have, urging them to be “alert” to challenges facing the world and not confine themselves to a narrow field of study; to “analyse” events and not accept what people say at face value; to “apply” what they see overseas to the Singapore context; and to “anticipate” challenges the country may face and have the ability to adapt.

Echoing Mr Teo’s message, he also emphasised the importance of cultivating diversity within the public service leadership, while adding that the PSC “spares no effort to continuously build diverse leadership teams for Singapore”.

“Diversity comes with resilience. If we are uni-dimensional in our search for leadership potential, then we’ll become fragile in our leadership capacity,” said Mr Chan.