SINGAPORE: Civil servants should adapt existing policies to changes in technology and circumstances, said Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung on Thursday (Apr 6).
For instance, tapping on solar power to generate clean energy is something the authorities have been exploring, but the experiment has led to challenges because of existing policies, Mr Ong noted during the annual Administrative Service Dinner, where approximately 300 public officers were in attendance.
The authorities wanted to experiment with floating solar panels at Tengeh Reservoir, but the issue of rental cost came up. This is because of the policy that market rental must be charged if state assets are used for commercial purposes, he said.
"As technology advances and Singaporeans become more entrepreneurial, many Government assets, both tangible and intangible - water surfaces, rooftops, data, our brand name, our education curriculum - can generate economic value. If we are too eager to socialise the resulting economic gains, we will kill innovation," the minister said.
CHALLENGE YOUR MINISTERS
As such, he urged civil servants to brainstorm and challenge their ministers when it comes to formulating policy.
"Don’t try to second-guess the policy preferences of the ministers,” said Mr Ong, who was recently appointed as the minister to champion innovation in the public service.
“Look at issues, analyse the problems, explore options and express your recommendations and views honestly. We may or may not agree with you, but we want people to come to meetings, ready to contribute their ideas and be open to the views of others.”
The same spirit applies to ministers, whom he said must be open to challenges, confront trade-offs squarely and debate the merits of various solutions to today's problems.
DRIVING CHANGE AND INNOVATION
During the same dinner on Thursday, head of Civil Service Peter Ong said the Government is developing a framework to drive change and innovation in the public sector. The new framework will set out clear expectations for leaders on what it means to be bold and innovative, he said.
“Ensuring that the public service remains at the leading edge of innovation requires more than the efforts of leaders,” Mr Ong said. “We need the collective effort of all our officers.”
He also encouraged them to take the lead to experiment, and learn from setbacks and failures.
Citing the example of the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) National Steps Challenge, Mr Ong said the organisers had took in the lessons of an earlier programme - the Million KG challenge. While the initiative missed its target, HPB officers were not deterred, as they learnt how to mobilise large numbers of people and how to generate excitement for their programmes.
As a result, he said, the National Steps Challenge has been a "huge success", exceeding its initial targets and reaching more than 500,000 participants over two seasons.
"We cannot be satisfied with merely maintaining the system, and with being ‘just good enough’,” Mr Ong said. “The changes we will face are neither gradual nor linear - these include our ageing population, technology disruptions and the impact of the external environment on our economic resilience.”
“We risk being caught in an untenable position if we do not constantly question and re-examine the way we do things,” he added.