SINGAPORE – Former top civil servant, State Minister of Development Lawrence Wong has this advice for today's upcoming civil servants: Do not just do documents behind your desk, but exit and engage stakeholders and Singaporeans.
The mode of work of the Government today is not only to develop policies for the Singaporeans, but also to "co-create solutions together with them," he told more than 500 leaders and public sector employees Wednesday (21 November).
The new approach requires public officials to arm themselves with new abilities and skills, including to learn how to negotiate differences and build consensus, he said.
This challenge means "greater effort and time in your work," he added. "But this is essential so we can build stronger ties with the Singaporeans and achieve better results for everyone."
Traveling to partnering citizens in shaping Singapore's future has begun with national-level engagement exercises, such as our Singapore talk, as it urged officers to strengthen partnerships with stakeholders.
Mr. Wong, who became the Chief Executive Officer of the Energy Market Authority before entering politics, spoke at a dinner for officers designated in the Leadership Program for Public Services.
More than 880 officers have been designated in the program since its launch in 2013 to develop specialists in various areas, including infrastructure and the environment.
They work with administrative officials to lead the public service.
The need for strengthening the engagement of citizens was also emphasized by the head of the state service, Lion Yip, in his address.
Mr Yip said the pilot project of a new initiative, an immersion pledge for leaders, was launched last month. It includes officers who work directly with citizens in front positions and collect feedback from the country.
"I do not think it's good for us to read reports of feedback collected by other officials … We develop a stronger sensibility and empathy with a direct understanding of the needs, concerns, anxieties and hopes of the citizens," he said.
In his speech, Mr Wong also said the government must "double its" efforts to create sustainable, inclusive growth and build a fair and inclusive society.
Like other countries, Singapore faces the challenges of a mature economy, rapid aging of the population and issues of social mobility and inequality.
He believes that a well-functioning market is still the best way to develop the economic pie in the long run in order to create new jobs, a better salary and a higher standard of living for all.
But the interests of workers and consumers must be protected, and the government can not retreat and allow markets to rule supreme, he added.
Well-structured regulations are needed, and Mr. Wong gave some examples, such as measures to cool the property and control the inflow of foreign workers.
However, there is no quick fix, he said. "We must constantly question the old assumptions and look at policies."
He also relates the interaction with former head of the state service Lim Sung Guan, to return home the point not to underestimate the meaning of small improvements or to reject ideas altogether.
As a young officer, he told Lim, the then Permanent Secretary of the Treasury, to go only for high-quality ideas in the staff suggestion scheme.
"He gave me this look and I knew I was wrong."
Mr. Lim broke down and gave him a lecture to promote a culture of small improvements, and make suggestions – large or small – by everyone in the organization.
Mr. Wong's call for citizen engagement echoed with Assistant Director Kahehelle Sim, from the Ministry of Communications and Information.
She said all of her police officers were involved in collecting feedback on Reach, which set up mobile cabin pavements in a difficult pawn to involve the Singaporeans.
"While this sometimes means billing time outside working hours, it is a good reminder of who we serve and how our policies are being perceived. The perceptions you collect can often surprise you," said Ms. Sim.